Baseball Has LOST Popularity Since Implementing DH
For over a century, Baseball was the most popular sport in America. As a result, it more than earned the title of the National Pastime. That changed over time.
In 1972, Gallup did a poll, and arguably for the first time, Football surpassed baseball as the most popular sport in America. Major League Baseball was aware of their losing their stronghold on America, and they moved to resolve the issue.
As outlined by the History Channel, Major League Baseball moved to institute the DH. As we are well aware, due to the resistance of National League, it was implemented only in the American League. As noted by the History Channel, its implementation was targeted at growing the sport’s popularity:
By the early 1970s, Charlie Finley, the colorful owner of the Oakland A’s, had become the designated hitter rule’s most outspoken advocate, arguing that a pinch-hitter to replace the pitcher–a player that usually batted poorly, exceptions like the legendary Babe Ruth notwithstanding–would add the extra offensive punch that baseball needed to draw more fans.
Now, it’s fallacy to say the DH was implemented solely due to football. At that time, the AL was trying to close the gap in attendance with the NL. As noted by Daniel Brown of the Mercury News, the DH was partially implemented to resolved a 2 million gap in attendance between the two leagues.
Let’s fast forward to 2021 which is 48 years after the DH was implemented. After a universal DH was purportedly instituted in 2020 due to COVID19, there is a push to institute it permanently.
With the push comes the same talking points. One which we hear is no one wants to see pitchers hit, and that the DH will increase fan interest. While people constantly say this, these statements are rarely held to any scrutiny.
Going back to January 1973, Gallup polls showed 38% of fans classified football as their favorite sport as opposed to 19% for baseball.
In 2018 (most up to date information from Gallup), football held somewhat steady at 37%. Meanwhile, baseball dropped not just to 9%, but they also fell behind basketball. Generally speaking, that’s where things are with football with baseball and basketball battling for the second spot.
We also see the NL remains more popular than the AL. In 2019, as detailed by Baseball Reference, 10 of the 15 worst drawing teams are in the AL. The top two and six of the top 10 drawing teams are in the NL. By and large, that remained true in 2018.
Looking at everything, someone associated with MLB needs to ask what exactly has the DH accomplished in growing the sport?
Since it’s implementation, MLB has not only lost ground to football, but it has also lost ground to basketball. The disparity in interest between the NL and AL still exists.
Yes, there are a number of reasons why MLB’s stature has declined and the interest in the NL still outpaces the AL. This speaks to a lot of what MLB has gotten wrong as well as just how great David Stern and Paul Tagliabue were guiding their sports.
That said, one of the reasons for the implementation of the DH was to combat all this and to really put the AL on par with the NL. It’s incredible to think since the implementation of the DH, MLB has been worse off, and if you break it down, fans continue to want to watch baseball where pitchers hit for themselves.
At some point, someone associated with MLB needs to actually look at what has transpired to baseball and the respective leagues since the implementation of the DH. If they actually did instead of being tethered to unsubstantiated talking points, they would unequivocally see the implementation of the universal DH will not help baseball.
In fact, we may see baseball further lose ground much in the same way it did since the DH was first implemented.