Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?
A couple generations ago, the opening of the baseball season was an event. There were two givens, the National League season would start in Cincinnati and it was a good bet that the President of the United States would throw out the first pitch of the American League season in Washington. Stadiums would be dressed up, bunting on the facade, and events of the field with VIPs. Baseball was very important in the American cultural. But those days are long gone.
Television changed baseball.
Back in 2000, I was asked by Susan Michaels, the sister of the sports announcer Al Michaels, to appear on a cable TV show with Frank Deford as part of the Arts and Entertainment series “Histories Mysteries” which was hosted by the “Scud Stud” Arthur Kent. In all honesty, the show wasn’t very good as the producers attempted to compress 2,000 years of sports history into two one hour long shows, but there was one portion of the show worth remembering.
Frank Deford talked about the importance of the introduction of television to the post-World War II culture in America and how that had an impact on sports. Deford noted that in the calendar year 1950, baseball. boxing and horse racing were the three most popular sports in the United States and within a decade that had changed and professional football, which had been a step above semi-pro, skyrocketed in popularity and by 1965 had surpassed baseball as America ’s favorite sport.
Television made football; football was the perfect TV sport as everything that happened in a game could fit into the 13-inch screen. By the end of the 1960s, there were many stories that baseball was dying.
Boxing and Horse Racing fell off the map although boxing was a major part of programming in TV’s early days. TV made Arnold Palmer, a great golfer, a household name and not necessarily for golf. Arnie’s Army followed him in the golf course and into the store as Palmer became a major pitchman. Baseball is just another sport today. It is television programming lost in a maze of sports shows and does not stand out. It is still thriving financially but draws older people not younger people’s interest and that is a problem.
George W. Bush was a baseball owner and had no problems throwing out first pitches.