How Much Baseball Do Today’s Fans Really See?

Who's really watching?

Who’s really watching?

Friend and fellow SABR member Tony Cavender recently sent me this link to a Wall Street Journal article in which they disclose the results of their attempt to put the clock on “how much action” really takes place these days in your average three-hour baseball game (with the value emphasis on action over stillness in the field as important to the fans).

Time was when tuning into the stillness moments – and where the players were positioning themselves on the field – were both parts of the game that fans watched. Not today. They are too busy consuming – or getting blasted by tee-shirt slingshots – or texting – or waiting to be awakened by a home run.

Here’s the WSJ article link:

According to the WSJ piece, the average three-hour game today contains only 17 minutes and 58 seconds of “action” as their researchers define action for this study. The details are all laid out for you in the article.

The point here is that – if we have finally reached the point of trying to define baseball as only valuable by the volume of action it generates, we have totally lost our appreciation for what made the game great on those earlier pastoral fields as the closest game to “chess in motion” ever devised as an athletic competition.

If baseball has to be sped up, or put more in motion for continuous action, or loaded with more gimmicky side actions, just to keep today’s crowds entertained between slurps and texts, then we may as well just surrender all the stadium fans to football and basketball right now. Those sports were made for continuous motion, but baseball was not. It’s what managers and players do, and fail to do, in between action plays that most often determines a baseball game’s outcome, but you won’t see any of these things, if you’ve not been taught what to look for on the field that simply looms before your very eyes, begging for an attention level you either cannot, or will not, give it.

On a related note, I received a professional flyer in the mail yesterday that came as a reminder that my mental health counseling field is now shifting gears to the new “DSM-5” diagnostic and statistical manual as a tool for diagnosing psychological and emotional disorders in children and adolescents. The flyer was prepared by a group of educators who are hoping that people like me will pick them as a source of continuing education on how to best use the changes in the new device.

There are now six new diagnostic “disorder” categories for children that all have something to do with shorter attention spans.

Gee! How hard is this picture to figure? We have become a culture of short attention spans. Is it any wonder that we are seeing more children born into this world today with some kind of attention deficit disorder already built into their systems? In effect, we seem to be in the middle of a neurological re-wiring process that emanates from our increasing dependency upon the always evolving technology that drives our cravings for more.

Whoa! That’s a heavy thought!

I’m not sure that there’s anything we can do about it, but let’s start with developing a clearer recognition of what’s going on. It isn’t all that pretty, but it is very real – and its threat goes way beyond people losing interest in baseball. Shorter attention spans breed less patience and an increase in anger and a faster trip to polarization on political issues.

I have no interest in going political here. I’m just concerned that the old ways we used to have for finding our middle ground on political problems that scream at us are now disappearing for everyone. And it all seems to share a common thread. People just cannot pay attention to anything for very long these days.

Have a nice day, everybody – and don’t forget to be patient with yourself and others along the way.


9 Responses to “How Much Baseball Do Today’s Fans Really See?”

  1. Jerald Havener Says:

    This is helpful!

  2. Greg Lucas Says:

    The “time” thing has been done before and really is a joke especially in comparing to football. The numbers for minutes of “action” in that sport are not good either. But the perception is different. Ironically Hockey and Soccer have players moving around more constantly than any other yet those are two sports criticized for lack of scoring. Its not “action” but what is done with it. Perhaps more importantly as Bill pointed out– what FANS do with it.

  3. Patrick Callahan Says:

    BILL: – I saw that article and opted not to send to you, but sent the one ref. Mario Rivera instead. Agreed – these things (computers and i-phones; i-pads can be monumental thieves of a person’s time – as I move on in age I find that I cannot multitask as well as I used to – so I am probably one of the minority in Bell County that does not have an i-phone….OK with me there are still surprises in my life, rather than knowing about everything the instant after it takes place. Have a great day – keep up the good work
    Semper Fidelis,

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Patrick – Thanks too for the wonderful article about Mariano Rivera. I was happy that baseball honored him as the MVP in his last ASG appearance. His 8th inning shutdown of the NL allowed him to end his career with his first ASG hold to go with 4 previous saves in the midsummer game. – Thanks, Bill

  4. mikey v Says:

    Greg beat me to the punch on what I was going to say about football being the exact same thing as regards active plays. But I think there are a couple of really important things to remember here. Technologies’ advances have always been driven on the human desire for “more”. That’s what keeps the brain moving forward.

    As for what we should be concerned about now, well, going to a baseball game is still a leisure activity, and as much as I’d like to slap the back of the guy’s head who is texting instead of enjoying the game, that’s his choice. As you say, Bill, the real crux of the issue is what these time sinks take away from human interaction, not what they take away from sports viewing.

    People need to place value on in-person conversation to fully understand one another. We are communicating with each other more than we ever have, it’s just not as personal. And that’s the definition of dehumanizing, is it not? Of course we started substituting for in-person conversation when someone invented writing, and that worked out okay.

    • Bill McCurdy Says:

      Yes, the damage to our human interaction with others is the major casualty here from shorter attention spans that thrive upon the new technology. With texting, people are always “in touch” with one who is not physically present while the texter ignores those who are with them. The “craving for more” takes a turn for the downside when it allows texters to distractively light up the darkened movie theatre in a blatant display of selfish action that shows no regard for how this suddenly glaring little blue light effects others who came to watch the movie.

      I might argue that writing is something we might not have survived without. It gave us an opportunity for developing common terms for all kinds of ideas that are important to our expressions of experience, our shared learning, and our ongoing discourse with each other in all matters of interactive life. In fact, writing gave us the language we would use as the base for developing the technology we now enjoy today.

      Now that same technology is being used to substitute a form of abbreviated language that allows us to minimize reflection and concern for how our actions sometimes negatively impose upon others.

      “BRB” when something new occurs to me – and I just used far too many characters to portray that last sentence of thought.

      Thanks for checking in, Mike. You are right on top of what the subject here is really all about on its deeper level.

  5. Sue Says:

    Interesting, and depressing. Incidentally, some of us see even less of the action because our view is blocked by the continuous stream of “fans” trekking in and out of the rows, and up and down the aisles. I couldn’t count the number of pitches, swings, and plays I have missed while trying to keep score. (I don’t care if the guy in front of me texts so long as he stays seated to do it!)

  6. Bill McCurdy Says:

    …. from Shirley Virdon by iphone to my e-mail address:

    “Interesting! We were just attending a MLB game on Sunday and a friend (former player’s wife) remarked: ‘Don’t these fans(?) ever watch the game anymore?’——-There was constant going in and out to do whatever fans do every 1/2 inning throughout the game! The park was packed to capacity! Concessions did very well!!!!”

  7. Cliff Blau Says:

    What made baseball great on the pastoral fields is that the pitcher would lob the ball in, the batter would hit it and start running, and the fielders would try to put him out. That’s how we played as kids (except in games organized by adults). I’m not sure what we’re supposed to be looking for on the field when the batters go back to the dugout after every pitch to check their e-mails and the pitchers count the blades of grass to avoid pitching.

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