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The Unbarnacled Truth
Robert Creamer
April 14, 1958
Certain barnaclelike growths of wrong assumption—that baseball is being killed by television, for example, or that the game today is a castrated version of the vigorous sport played in Ty Cobb's day—have been encrusting the body of baseball. The attempt here will be to scrape the barnacles away and look at things as they are.
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April 14, 1958

The Unbarnacled Truth

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THE TV BASEBALL CROWD

Average number of people watching each home-game telecast in 1957 season

YANKEES

1,375,000

DODGERS

1,073,000

TIGERS

925,000

PIRATES

750,000

RED SOX

750,000

INDIANS

700,000

PHILLIES

558,000

WHITE SOX

400,000

GIANTS

390,000

CUBS

340,000

CARDINALS

300,000

ORIOLES

250,000

REDLEGS

220,000

SENATORS

200,000

BRAVES

No TV

ATHLETICS

No TV

Certain barnaclelike growths of wrong assumption—that baseball is being killed by television, for example, or that the game today is a castrated version of the vigorous sport played in Ty Cobb's day—have been encrusting the body of baseball. The attempt here will be to scrape the barnacles away and look at things as they are.

Some hard truths about baseball deserve clearer recognition and appraisal:

1 The game is not declining in popularity, as some allege, but is more popular than ever.

Regularly there are reports from vague sources that football or basketball or bowling or bird watching has passed baseball in popularity. But the American Institute of Public Opinion in a survey of 1957 sports attendance discovered that 23 million different adult Americans paid their way in to see at least one baseball game last year, more than for any other sport. And nine out of 10 of these saw more than one game. Apart from the bare bones of paid attendance, there is the whole complex of Little League, Pony League, Babe Ruth League, Ban Johnson League and the rest of the recently organized boys' leagues; and the nonprofessional games played by American Legion teams, high schools, colleges. Beyond that there is the unparalleled flow of publicity, much of it spontaneous, attendant on baseball. Football and basketball are exciting, immensely popular sports, yet how mute the names of magnificent athletes like Bob Cousy and Frank Gifford sound in the public ear next to the clear and instant meaning of Mickey Mantle, or even Bobby Thomson who, except for one magic moment, has been an ordinary ballplayer. (This spring, 6½ years after he hit the famous home run that won the 1951 pennant for the New York Giants, Thomson's appearance in exhibition games in obscure cities like El Centro, Calif. aroused an excited buzz of recognition in the crowd.)

Millions of people who see no more than one or two baseball games in the flesh during the course of a year, or none at all, sit for unimaginable hours watching a gray-and-white reproduction of the game on television screens. Daily radio broadcasts bring still more millions pitch-by-pitch reports of game after game after game, month after month after month. Newspapers run thousands of miles of copy about the game played yesterday, the game to be played tomorrow, the current state of the chip in the left ankle of the new third baseman just acquired from Chicago for a left-handed pitcher and an unannounced sum of cash. Magazines devote acres of pages to photographs and words about the personalities, the controversies and the old-fashioned meat-and-potatoes conversation about the game. Books are published. Even phonograph records are made.

And the appetite for baseball is not sated. Baseball is far from being vitally necessary to Americans. It may have no great influence on our moral outlook, and probably not a great deal to do with our physical condition (except for that slightly uncertain knee, torn in a slide into second in a softball game some years back). Who wins baseball's pennant races is not so important to the baseball fan as the progress of the U.S. missile program (except, perhaps, to the 12-year-old fan). But, nonetheless, baseball permeates our existence. In its carefree, uncosmic, nonsignificant way, baseball is an integral part of the setting in which we live our lives. It is a major and undiminishing part of our general culture.

Undiminishing? Think of the Little Leagues. Think of the broadcasts. Think of the future. Like the universe in space, baseball's place in our mores is constantly expanding.

2 Major league baseball is a business, and a highly profitable business.

The old debate over whether baseball is a sport or a business is vapid. Major league baseball is, flatly, business. Efforts are being made in Congress to have a legal distinction made between the "business aspect" of baseball and the "sporting aspect." This is foolish. How can the sale of a frankfurter be called business and the sale of a ballplayer be called sport? Or, how can the negotiations of a concessions contract with the frankfurter people be utterly dissimilar to the negotiations of a player contract with a third baseman? Baseball is not "too much of a business to be a sport and too much of a sport to be a business," as Mr. Philip K. Wrigley of the Chicago Cubs (see page 80) is reported to have once said. Mr. Wrigley knows that it is a business whose product, called entertainment, is eagerly purchased by thousands daily.

Most of the time baseball is superb entertainment because it is a superb sport, conceivably the most thoroughly intriguing and satisfying sport ever devised by man. It is great fun to play; it is just as much fun to watch. William Saroyan calls it pure theater. Dr. John F. Weston, an opera lover, once rationalized his fascination for baseball by describing it as "a game of almost limitless dramatic possibility." It is the melodrama of our days, the Globe Theatre of our time, highly marketable entertainment, exciting business.

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