"Why Baseball Matters," Susan Jacoby, Yale, 200 pages, $26.
When avid fans — including Susan Jacoby, author of “Why Baseball Matters” — describe their love of baseball, it is done with a kind of reverence that, while wholly sincere, can often sound ridiculous.
Yet owing to the Age of Distraction and the dwindling numbers of black, young or female fans watching the game, she asks whether baseball needs to broaden its appeal in order to endure. And she warns that, while baseball is enjoying “an unprecedented era of financial success,” there is a real “dissonance between a game that demands and depends on concentration, time, and memory and a 21st-century culture that routinely disrupts all three with its vast menu of digital distractions.”
Jacoby isn’t thrilled with the efforts Major League Baseball has made to modernize itself. Adjustments designed to shorten the game have shaved off several minutes at most — hardly enough to redeem those who want instant gratification and believe, to their core, that in baseball, most of the time, nothing happens.
In the end, she fastens on the only real cure for the vulnerabilities she diagnoses. Baseball will not be saved by catering to the Age of Distraction. Instead baseball will retain its audience by doing what it is already doing — tailoring more youth programming for demographics like girls and blacks, for example — and providing a sanctuary from a culture that needs to slow down.
And it is baseball’s timeless remove from the speeds and appetites of everything happening outside the stadium that will ensure its appeal.