Honus Wagner, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, and Joe DiMaggio. All of these names are American sports legends produced by baseball, but they also all played before 1950. Baseball was the sport to watch and follow in the early twentieth century and no other sport rivaled it. Walt Whitman, one of the great American poets and journalists, said that “[he saw] great things in baseball. It’s our game – the American game”. But by the mid 1900s, football and basketball emerged and baseball was forced to act to fight these new sports. Baseball was not able to act appropriately, efficiently, or intelligently and they started to lose fan interest and viewers. Baseball has been on a decline since the mid 1900s and there were huge effects felt from outside forces and society. New technology changed how baseball was played as well as the competing sports and each sport was able to use the new technology to their advantage except for baseball. Finally, baseball had several internal issues that led to its fallout and it is still recovering to this day.
America became urban and created very densely populated cities in the early 1900s amidst the Industrial Revolution. As baseball started out and began to grow, teams were created in these densely populated cities because that was where the fan bases were. Chicago had two teams, New York had three teams, Boston had two, and several other cities like Cincinnati and Pittsburgh had teams. With such densely populated areas and because these cities continued to sprawl, neighborhoods began to spring up literally right around the stadiums. Famous neighborhoods such as the Bronx and Wrigleyville were established where all fans had to do was walk a block or two to go watch their teams play. This carried on for a few decades but after World War II there were government orders to build highways and infrastructure that made it easier to commute to major cities (Suburban Growth, par. 4). The mass influx of new cars and highways was especially felt out in the open and much less densely populated west. What this meant was that teams had to make a decision as fifty year old stadiums began to deteriorate. They either had to perform long and expensive renovations in the tight quarters of these downtown cities or simply move west and acquire a large quantity of land to work with. The New York Giants left for San Francisco and the Brooklyn Dodgers left for Los Angeles and baseball began its slow decline.
By becoming a more suburban society and the introduction of television baseball started to lose fan interest to sports like football and basketball. Towards the end of the 1940s, average baseball attendance for American League and National League teams were at a new high. But from the 1950s to the 1980s, attendance at baseball dropped drastically and failed to make much progress (Schmidt and Berri, Figure 3 and 4, 152-153). Because football and basketball were created and established during the suburban movement, their stadiums were built farther out of the cities and closer to these new suburban families. Also, the advent of television left more and more fans at home and owners scrambling to find ways to attract more fans to their ballparks. Owners tried exploding scoreboards, giving signs to the fans that the managers had to obey, and signing everyday citizens (History of Major League Baseball). Baseball however refused to change the game to accommodate the growing number of television audience while football and basketball started to flourish in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s with television. One of the issues was that baseball was not an easy game to film. Football and basketball both essentially required one camera in the early days that panned sideways as the action moved up and down the field or court. Baseball had the pitchers view, batters view, and fielders view and it was hard getting a good image on TV that allowed for a pleasurable experience at home. Football and basketball also had rectangle fields of play that were easily able to be captured on camera while baseball had a diamond within a large, strangely designed field. As baseball failed to adapt to the television market, fans slowly began to lose interest in the national pastime and started to pay attention to the new, fast paced games of football and basketball.
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