What is your favorite sport to watch?” The Gallup Poll first posed this survey question in 1937. At the time, and for decades thereafter, baseball was preeminent. In 1948, 39% of those Americans polled named baseball as their favorite sport, far more than football (17%) and basketball (10%). The margin was narrower in 1960—34% for baseball against 21% for football—and completely reversed by 1972, when 38% preferred football and 19% baseball. By 2017, Gallup’s most recent survey that included the question, baseball had fallen to 9%, placing it third behind football (37%) and basketball (11%), and barely ahead of soccer (7%).

This is a startling decline for the “national pastime,” a term journalists were applying to baseball as long ago as 1856. American exceptionalism is about many things, but disdain for soccer—a sport where competitors pretend they lack arms and hands while running back and forth to secure an insurmountable one-to-nothing lead—is one of its salient and proudest features. That baseball is, in the land of its birth, scarcely more popular than soccer indicates not only how far baseball has fallen but that it could decline even farther. The New Yorker reported this year that baseball executives are “terrified of losing younger fans and worry that the sport is at risk of becoming the next horse racing or boxing”—niche competitions

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