You can’t talk about the decline of baseball without also talking about the parallel rise of the N.F.L. We’re a sports-crazed culture, gorging on the all-you-can-watch buffet of ESPN, fantasy leagues and video games. But even the 24-hour sports cycle lasts only 24 hours. Decisions must be made, and they invariably favor football. Not only is “Madden NFL 25” America’s hottest sports video game; fantasy football has far surpassed fantasy baseball in popularity.
The N.F.L. has certain structural advantages over Major League Baseball: teams play only once a week, and when the postseason arrives, every game is an elimination game. But its real advantage is that it’s louder, faster and more violent — which is to say, better in tune with our cultural moment. “We are a shouting culture now, shouting connotes excitement and engenders excitement,” says Daniel Okrent, who is considered the founding father of fantasy baseball. “Baseball is quiet and slow.”
It’s telling that professional football has been around for about 100 years, but that it didn’t find cultural traction until the age of television.
If baseball was a game you followed, football was one you watched. Beneath the surface, it was an enormously complicated sport. But the passing, the running, the tackling? This was great television. And under the lights, on Monday nights, with Howard Cosell making you feel like the country’s fate hung in the balance of even the most meaningless game? Forget about it.