For nearly 50 years, football has been an American religion, relegating baseball to an important but secondary status in the sports pantheon.
That may be changing. Football still sits atop the American sports pyramid, but baseball’s historic claim as the National Pastime gained steam with another compelling World Series.To the New England sports fan, the seven-game victory by the Houston Astros over the Los Angeles Dodgers may not carry much meaning. Nationally, though, it resonated in parts of the country that normally don’t embrace Major League Baseball, and TV executives took notice, too.
Ratings were not quite as high as in 2016, when the Chicago Cubs appeared in their first World Series in 71 years and won for the first time in 108. But the 2017 numbers were still impressive when matched against prior years, with a spike-up that culminated in Game 7, a 5-1 victory by the Astros that gave Houston its first-ever World Series title.
For a city still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, and one that never took to baseball as it does to football and NASCAR, victory was a tonic that healed and unified. Boston experienced a similar jolt of inspiration in 2013, when the Red Sox won the World Series and bonded a city bruised by the Boston Marathon bombing that April.Houston’s opponent still retains a national following that dates back to its days in Brooklyn. The Dodgers maintain allegiances from coast to coast and represent a mammoth TV market as well.
As baseball fans celebrate consecutive seven-game World Series that rank among the most exciting and dramatic in the game’s history, the NFL is struggling with a host of problems – controversy over the national anthem, devastating statistics about concussions, the growing perception of a league of misbehaving players and overkill as TV saturates fans with the sport from Thursday nights through Monday.Is football still No. 1? Looks that way, but the positive talk these days is about the summer game with new stars, compelling matchups and balanced competition. Baseball is still plagued by long games and gaps of non-action within each contest, and its demise has been often predicted by analysts who call its pace ill-suited for the fast-action 21st Century.
But on the contrary, it looks like baseball is back. Whether or not it’s still the National Pastime, its national impact is giving sports – and a Texas metropolitan area in recovery – the type of positive vibes we all need in a stressful world.