Money Talks and Fans Walk

By BILL SIMMONS  |  December 14, 2011

"Young people are just not turned onto baseball," says Glenn Ordway. "All Burns's miniseries did was solidify baseball's place in the past. What about the present? What about the future?"

Unfortunately for baseball, you can only win children over once, and today's world moves much faster than it did in 1975. Now kids have computers and MTV and the Shaq to keep them busy. They have no allegiances, they don't have time for losers, and they certainly don't have time for stupid people. Nobody likes a sinking ship. Especially kids. That's why, when the middle-aged baseball fans all advance into their later years, there won't be another generation to take over the torch . . . which is what kept baseball going. Fathers took their sons to their games . . . who took their sons . . . who took their sons . . . always a constant cycle . . . spring training . . . the season . . . the World Series . . . winter.

Baseball never marketed itself to the children as basketball and football shrewdly did because -- snobbishly -- people in the game believed that cycle could never be broken.

The final break

By ignoring the youngest fans and by canceling the Series last season, the owners and the players broke that final, cyclical link. Two decades of mismanagement. Two decades of neglect. Two decades of greed. It's pretty sad when Cal Ripken Jr.'s 2,131st consecutive game becomes an unforgettable event not because he broke Lou Gehrig's all-time record, but because the startling sentiment and goodwill released from the 23-minute standing ovation seemed so foreign on a baseball field.

"I think the Ripken event will have a profound effect on baseball much the same way Fisk's home run did," Steve Buckley says. "If it had happened in 1989, it wouldn't have served the same medicinal purpose because the real gloom and doom of labor hadn't hit yet. Remember, every time people counted baseball out, it came back. After the White Sox threw the 1919 World Series, along came Babe Ruth to save the game. When the game was dragging along in the late '60s and early '70s, along came the Fisk home run and the Yankees and the TV influence. Baseball always bounces back."

But when a nice moment stands out like such a sore thumb, as Ripken's night did, maybe it proves how far the game has fallen. How much damage can a sport take? And how much can we take? Few people realize that the players and owners have still failed to settle their differences; another strike would be the final straw for most fans, especially the younger ones. If that happens, and when the lifetime baseball fans start dying in the years to come, there might not be another generation to replace them.

Maybe in the ear 2015, the question won't be whether people remember the 40th anniversary of Carlton Fisk's home run -- but whether they remember Carlton Fisk at all.


Bill Simmons dressed up as Fred Lynn for Halloween from 1975-'77. He is a frequent contributor to the Phoenix.

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