MLB is stuck in its own way: The death of a national pastime


(Graphic illustration by Elliot Stemen | The Collegian)

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Chase Hontz, Collegian Columnist

Proudly touted as “America’s national pastime,” Major League Baseball has fallen a long way in recent decades. The sport that has long been considered a staple of American society has significantly faded in relevance as of late.

Whether it’s for a lack of innovation in the game, mishandled cheating scandals, poor marketing or financial greed from both owners and players alike, it seems that, since its origin, the MLB has always been behind the eight ball in regard to advancing the sport and satisfying its fans.


These issues have manifested into rapidly declining viewership and attendance among fans. Last year, the MLB reached a 37-year low in total game attendance during the regular season. In doing so, 2021 attendance dropped a staggering 33.9% when compared to just two years prior in 2019, which could also partially be attributed to the recent pandemic. However, the 2021 MLB season also acted as the eighth-straight season in which the sport’s attendance declined. As for viewership, the MLB experienced a 12% drop in leaguewide household average from the 2019 season to the 2021 season.

Steven Weiss, a senior instructor for Colorado State University’s journalism and media communication department, has over 30 years of experience as both a national and Denver sports reporter and television anchor. Within his 30 years of experience in the field, Weiss has either covered or worked with the Triple-A affiliate of the Oakland Athletics, the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies.

“It isn’t the least bit surprising that owners and players continue to prioritize profit over product.”

“I believe Major League Baseball fell behind the marketing efforts of the NFL and NBA, and even the NHL, in terms of cultivating new and younger fans,” Weiss said. “They relied too much on their history and traditions and not enough on marketing and promotion.”

As if these issues weren’t damning enough for the sport, the league currently finds itself engaged in a player-owner lockout that’s spanned roughly 2 1/2 months thus far. This lockout has already delayed the start of spring training and is likely going to delay the start of the 2022 season.

For a sport that is steadily self-imploding its way out of relevance, this lockout couldn’t have come at a worse time. Considering the bleak reality of baseball’s current state, a shortened or canceled season could cause irreparable damage to the league.

For loyal fans of the dying sport, the natural first instinct in the midst of frustrating situations is to assign blame. The issue in this instance is that there’s more than enough blame to go around for all parties involved.

It isn’t the least bit surprising that owners and players continue to prioritize profit over product. However, it’s incredibly disheartening that, despite the waning state in which baseball currently finds itself, neither group is willing to consider the greater good of the sport they supposedly love; instead, they refuse to bend even in the slightest during negotiations with each other.

As for MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred, he too seems disinterested in both the revitalization and preservation of baseball.

Since becoming the league’s commissioner in January 2015, Manfred’s tenure has been plagued with controversy. From his failure to provide anything more than a slap on the wrist to those involved with the Houston Astros’ 2017 cheating scandal to his completely botched COVID-19 league response to his complete failure to evolve the game and address its massive pacing issue, Manfred has done far more harm to the sport than good.


“I think (Manfred) could have had a stronger impact on the Astros incident,” Weiss said. “I do not have a problem with any of his COVID response as that is simply too much of a wild card, … and the lockout is still a story in progress, although he has not been able to help resolve it, so that too is a disappointment.”

Disappointment, in my opinion, is an understatement on the matter. Before joining the MLB on a full-time basis, Manfred worked as a high-profile lawyer specializing in labor and employment law. In fact, Manfred was first brought into contact with the MLB in 1987 to assist in negotiations of collective bargaining. From there, he worked as outside counsel to the league’s owners during the MLB’s most recent lockout in 1994-95. If there’s one thing that Manfred is uniquely qualified for, it’s mediating negotiations and making deals.

So assuming that a deal is eventually reached between the league’s players and owners, how does baseball move forward?

For the MLB to move forward and begin to regain popularity, Weiss said, “Something needs to be done, and I am not above tinkering with the rules to make the games faster, more exciting and less traditional. … Better marketing and getting fans to the ballpark is right there behind it.”

I agree wholeheartedly with Weiss’ assertion that both rule changes and effective marketing should be at the forefront of the MLB’s current agenda. However, neither of these two initiatives can begin until the current player-owner lockout concludes.

Unfortunately for fans, neither the players, owners nor commissioner seem to be particularly interested in resuming league operations anytime soon. 

For those who have fallen in love with baseball at one point or another, the MLB’s unwillingness to act while the sport lays on its deathbed is infuriating. If it wasn’t already made clear before, it appears that fans care more about the advancement and preservation of America’s national pastime than those who are actually “running” the beloved sport.

Reach Chase Hontz at or on Twitter @HontzCollegian.