The Lifeline of Baseball

Erik Brady of USA TODAY notes that McLuhan was wrong about the demise of baseball, but he neglects to mention why he was wrong. Brady does point out that television is a medium better suited to football than baseball, but doesn't explain the reason for baseball's decline and how it is able to hang on in the popular imagination to this day.

The reason: more than any other sport, baseball is about information. Batting average, ERA, RBI, and thousands of permutations and combinations to describe every interaction between pitcher, batter and fielder. Every baseball fan interacts with this information in different ways, from reading it in the sports pages of the newspaper, to playing sport videogames, to watching a highlight reel on television, to playing fantasy games like Strat-O-Matic, to filling out one's own scorecard on a warm summer's evening at the park. It's baseball's richness of information that allows it to survive in the electric age, and it is surprising that McLuhan missed this, given his ability to see almost everything as information.

So while television may have wounded baseball, the Internet offers respite, given that it facilitates the broad distribution of information. Does this mean that McLuhan is completely wrong about the fate of baseball?

I don't think so. As the cultural effects of the Internet become more widely apparent, we will see a new global paradigm for living, with interconnectedness the root basis. Mathematical tools like game theory are part of that global paradigm, as they describe the patterns of competition and co-operation present in an interconnected society. Sport will soon reflect this paradigm (David Ronfeldt's excellent article describes such a scenario), and it is at that time I fear baseball's linearity will be its downfall.


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