By Rob Long
Over the last two-plus years as the host of a sports talk radio show on WNST, I've heard from listeners everything that's wrong with baseball. Some fans have told me they refused to go back to the game after the strike-shortened 1994 season. Others have said they have been turned off by the endless steroid scandals. Many Baltimore fans have blamed Peter Angelos for killing their love for baseball.
Maybe all of these reasons are valid.
Or maybe the reason baseball is no longer America's pastime is the same reason you can't find a large selection of stovetop popcorn anymore.
I know you're thinking, "That's it, the brother has lost his mind."
I haven't. Stovetop popcorn is no longer en vogue because it takes too long. Why would I want to sit and wait for the aluminum pan to heat up before the kernel-popping process even begins when I could just open a box, unfold the bag inside and have what I want in three minutes? Results without the process.
People can get results without the process in basketball and football. In these two sports pure athleticism can make up for skill deficiencies. Look at Michael Vick; he got a huge contract based on his talent before anyone realized how many holes he had in his game. Or look at the NBA. Every year guys are drafted on "upside" alone.
Baseball is the one game in which the "process" must take place. There is no way around it and that is why the game is not as popular as it once was.
Is the 1994 strike really a reason? All major sports have suffered shortened seasons. But MLB refused to make a mockery out of its postseason like the NBA did, and refused to put "scabs" on the field to save the bottom dollar the way the NFL has done.
Steroids have become overwhelming too. But is it true performance-enhancing drugs don't play a huge role in other sports as well? Don't be fooled, there's nothing "all natural" about a six-foot-five, 320-pound man running a 40-yard dash in under 4.7 seconds.
At my country club (barber shop), the talk is that there are no African Americans in the game today. I'm assuming that means there are no African North Americans in the game today, since there are a fair number of black Latin Americans in baseball. The general sentiment is that because there are very few African North Americans, there are no heroes for young African North American kids to look up to.
As an African American kid, I loved baseball because no one tainted my opinion of the game. I learned the game on my own and while I used to regret this fact, I now consider it a privilege. There was no one telling me baseball was boring or slow or that it was a white man's game. I was left to discover the unique qualities of the game on my own.
When my mother and I moved to northeast Baltimore, I met an elderly man named Mr. Ray. Mr. Ray was a baseball historian and I used to sit with him for hours listening to the O's games and talking baseball.
Sitting next to Mr. Ray, Coke in hand, I listened to his baseball stories. He gave me my first baseball book, Third Base is My Home. After I read that book, Brooks Robinson became one of my all-time favorite players.
Baseball became a part of my being. While other kids developed interests that led them astray, the game became my rock. If what I was doing did not contribute to making me a better baseball player, I wasn't interested in it.
I didn't have baseball on television every night. I couldn't check my favorite player's stats on the Internet. All I had was my radio and my imagination. Baseball was my first love and I couldn't live a day without it.
Baseball is not a "microwavable" sport, it's a long process. The kids that the Orioles drafted this year will probably not be relevant for at least four years. They may be forgotten before they ever play their first Major League game. That's the beauty of it.
I love football and I coach college basketball, but I still love watching stovetop popcorn as well. For some reason, it just tastes better.
The Rob Long Show can be heard Monday-Friday from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. on WNST AM-1570.
Issue 1.10: June 29, 2006