This being America in 2017, I wouldn’t want to waste an opportunity to bring a political debate into the sports pages.
So indulge me for the next few hundred words in the vetting of New York State Senate Bill S4288, introduced this past Wednesday by Jim Seward, a Republican from the 51st District.
The bill proposes making baseball New York’s official state sport, a designation that wouldn’t carry any actual consequences, other than earning the game a position alongside the official muffin (apple) and the official shell (bay scallop).
Still, debating the bill’s merits makes for an interesting thought experiment in ways the periodic fights over other state symbols don’t.
(Unless you really want to talk about whether Eurypterus remipes deserves to be the state fossil. And don’t even get me started on the snapping turtle as the state reptile — I almost had to quit Facebook over that one.)
So let’s discuss: Is baseball New York’s game?
The bill makes the case:
New York State has so many connections with the sport of baseball, most notably housing the official Baseball Hall of Fame located in Cooperstown.
No argument there. Look at that, America — something we can agree on!
Baseball was, it is believed, founded in Cooperstown by Abner Doubleday, and New York offers a “Birthplace of Baseball” license plate.
OK, here’s a problem: Historians are pretty certain baseball was not invented in Cooperstown. Its origins aren’t entirely certain, but it’s likely our modern baseball emerged out of a game played in the United Kingdom. Sorry, but that license plate is FAKE NEWS, people.
Aside from this attraction, baseball has always been known to be as American as apple pie.
That’s true, except for the time when it was invented in Europe.
In fact, for all the nostalgia and good feeling wrapped up in baseball, the numbers suggest it’s neither our preferred sport to play nor to watch:
In New York high schools outside the five boroughs, there are about twice as many high school basketball players as there are baseball players, according to a state high school athletic association survey. Baseball participation also lags far behind soccer, lacrosse and track.
A 2016 Siena Research Institute poll found that football is the favored sport of most New Yorkers, though not by much: Twenty-five percent of respondents listed football as their favorite sport, while 20 percent choose baseball. (Worth nothing, though: The same poll showed the Yankees are by far the state’s favorite team.)
But this isn’t to say the fourth-grade class at Cooperstown Elementary school was entirely off-base (sorry) when it proposed this legislation to its local senator.
If you agree with the notion that we ought to have an official state sport — we do, after all, have both saltwater (striped bass) and freshwater (brook trout) varieties of state fish — then baseball certainly seems better than the alternatives.
Football? We’ve got the Bills. ‘Nuff said.
Basketball? Not with the Naismith Hall of Fame across the border in Massachusetts.
Hockey? That’d be borderline treasonous.
Listen, I have as much trouble as anyone keeping my eyelids open during the fourth hour of a Yankees-Red Sox game, and I’m pretty sure the Paris Peace Conference came to a conclusion faster than some of Derek Jeter’s at-bats. The sport has its issues.
Still, the fact that spring training gets underway this week was of great consolation to many of us heaving snow from our driveways. As a passage to spring and summer, baseball stirs a sense of hope that transcends the game itself (even for Mets fans!).
The bill states:
It is a sport loved and watched on by many, and this legislation is a means of honoring all that this iconic sport has done for the people of New York.
My fellow New Yorkers, on that point, I do believe we have a bipartisan consensus.
firstname.lastname@example.org • 518-454-5425 • @peteiorizzo