Major League Baseball has finally overcome its millennial problem.
Historically, baseball has provided a form of entertainment that is incompatible with millennialism. While young fans now understand sporting events through condensed highlights on social media, baseball offers a slow-moving, strategy-based game that is best consumed through a Sunday afternoon radio broadcast. When thinking about current viewing habits, excluding the comedy film “Major League,” when was the last time people actually cared about following a Cleveland Indians game in the middle of September?
This season has provided progress toward baseball’s adjustment to modern entertainment, Netflix-style consumption habits.
Baseball’s own millennials have led this evolution in the league with their intensity, charisma, and, most importantly, home runs. “Five-tool” players (who hit for average and power, and field, throw and run well) like the Nationals’ Bryce Harper and the Angels’ Mike Trout relate to multiple generations of fans with their old-school hustle, jaw-dropping catches, and mammoth swings.
From viral hair flips to emphatic bat flips, Harper in particular plays with a passion that is recognized even by fans with the shortest of attention spans. Videos of him flipping his hair in the All Star Game and throwing a helmet at San Francisco Giants pitcher Hunter Strickland have led to countless tweets, YouTube videos, and memes.
His popularity can be explained by a simple recipe that has worked since the days of ancient Rome, and continues to be used by professional sports leagues, such as UFC and the NFL. People, and especially millennials, love watching action-packed sports where athletes passionately put their bodies on the line and achieve improbable physical feats for the sake of competition.
Perhaps no other players in professional sports today embody these modernized gladiators better than Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton. With physical statures somewhere between an ideal video game create-a-player and an NFL tight end, both players have been launching baseballs out of stadiums at historic paces.
Judge has secured a spot in Yankees lore as he continues to set rookie batting records with over 45 home runs. Similarly, Stanton is catching up to another great Yankee, trailing Roger Maris by five in the all-time single season home run list. Both players have surged in popularity, reminiscent of the 1998 McGuire-Sosa race. As made evident by Roy Hobbs in “The Natural,” there is some sort of mythical aspect to watching an offensive juggernaut sometimes literally knock the cover off the ball.
With a plethora of talented young players, rising overall home run numbers, and rumoured pitch clocks to shorten game times, Major League Baseball seems to be in better position with its young generation of fans. The extent to which the league can market the game's evolved play and captivating stars to millennials while maintining the integrity of the game will be the biggest determinant in whether baseball will continue to be America’s pastime.