In 1960, the great Roger Kahn wrote in Sport magazine that “There is no denying America’s love for baseball, but increasingly the greater excitement seems to be coming from football fields, and that is where it’s likely to be coming in the future.”
This was two years after Johnny Unitas, the Baltimore Colts, and the National Football League burst onto the national scene when the Colts defeated the New York Giants in a sudden-death championship game. Historians call it “the greatest football game ever played,” though a better title might be “the first pro football game that most Americans noticed.”
Kahn’s piece, to my knowledge, was the first shot in the ongoing “baseball vs. football” debate. But 63 years later, the topic still heats up again every year around World Series time, and sure enough, in the September 29 New York Times, Jonathan Mahler asked, “Is the Game Over?”
“Baseball,” he writes, “has never been healthier”—in terms of attendance, revenue, and, unlike the NFL and NBA, freedom from labor strife. “So why does it feel so irrelevant?” According to Mahler, baseball has fallen from prominence in the last decade and a half since the home-run race between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, and he posits that perhaps baseball’s demise has been a result of expansion teams ending up in cities without rich baseball traditions. The best indicator of baseball’s decreasing significance, Mahler writes, is baseball’s national TV ratings compared to those of pro football.