Growing the Game: The Globalization of Major League Baseball


Baseball fans are well aware that the game has become increasingly international. Major league rosters include players from no fewer than fourteen countries, and more than one-fourth of all players are foreign born. Here, Alan Klein offers the first full-length study of a sport in the process of globalizing. Looking at the international activities of big-market and small-market baseball teams, as well as the Commissioner’s Office, he examines the ways in which Major League Baseball operates on a world stage that...
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Baseball fans are well aware that the game has become increasingly international. Major league rosters include players from no fewer than fourteen countries, and more than one-fourth of all players are foreign born. Here, Alan Klein offers the first full-length study of a sport in the process of globalizing. Looking at the international activities of big-market and small-market baseball teams, as well as the Commissioner’s Office, he examines the ways in which Major League Baseball operates on a world stage that reaches from the Dominican Republic to South Africa to Japan.
The origins of baseball’s efforts to globalize are complex, stemming as much from decreasing opportunities at home as from promise abroad. The book chronicles attempts to develop the game outside the United States, the strategies that teams such as the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Kansas City Royals have devised to recruit international talent, and the ways baseball has been growing in other countries. The author concludes with an assessment of the obstacles that may inhibit or promote baseball’s progress toward globalization, offering thoughtful proposals to ensure the health and growth of the game in the United States and abroad.
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Editorial Reviews

Tim Wendel

"A superb inside look at how the national pastime has reinvented itself. Alan Klein’s writing is engaging and his research is top-notch. His efforts remind me of that Johnny Cash song. When it comes to the globalization of baseball, Klein has been 'everywhere.'"—Tim Wendel, author of The New Face of Baseball: The One-Hundred-Year Rise and Triumph of Latinos in America’s Favorite Sport

Joseph Maguire
"This is an excellent book, from a first rate scholar who combines theoretical and empirical insights to produce an engaging look into the development of baseball across the globe."—Joseph Maguire, author of Power and Global Sport
Milton Jamail
"Klein enters an important and exciting area of research and is the first to focus on the globalization of baseball. Growing the Game will be a landmark contribution."—Milton Jamail, author of Full Count: Inside Cuban Baseball
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780300110456
  • Publisher: Yale University Press
  • Publication date: 9/18/2006
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 1,251,684
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Alan M. Klein is professor of sociology and anthropology, Northeastern University. He is author of Sugarball: The American Game, The Dominican Dream, published by Yale University Press; and Baseball on the Border: A Tale of Two Laredos. He lives in Boston.
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Read an Excerpt


The Globalization of Major League Baseball
By Alan M. Klein

Yale University Press

Copyright © 2006 Alan M. Klein
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-300-11045-6

Chapter One


The worm turned late in 2003. Major League Baseball rallied as the little guys and the ne'er-do-wells remained in races throughout the season. Teams like the Florida Marlins, the Kansas City Royals, and the Chicago Cubs went into September very much in contention. The Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees battled-literally-for the American League championship. After almost a decade in the doldrums, television ratings boomed; the fans exulted; and Commissioner Bud Selig declared, "There were no negatives the last two months. I had said before that I thought we were in the middle of a great renaissance. I think this confirms it. And we're going to do everything possible to continue it."

By the All-Star break of the 2004 season, the numbers were beginning to show that Major League Baseball really had been able to "continue it." The game was headed toward a very big year indeed. Attendance at midseason was up 12 percent, and local cable ratings were robust. More than half of major league teams were within five games of first place in their divisions. By year's end, the attendance record was shattered, with more than 73 millionfans having attended games. Gross revenues had increased to $4.1 billion from $1.6 billion in 1992. Concern over debt, which had risen by 90 percent among MLB teams, began to ease. The postseason came on, and fans were glued to their seats as they watched the Red Sox make history twice, with an unprecedented comeback from a three-games-to-none deficit to beat the Yankees, then a sweep of the Cardinals for their first World Series championship in eighty-six years. Even before the end of the season, though, Commissioner Selig was convinced that MLB had turned the corner on economic woes, competitive imbalance, and fan indifference: "The truth of the matter is that [by] any criteria that anybody wants to use, this sport has never been more popular. This is the Golden Era of the sport; it has never been more so." This upsurge in popular interest continued through 2005, undaunted even by the steroid scandal that sullied some of the sport's brightest stars.

Selig had done a remarkable job instituting such major reforms and initiatives as meaningful revenue sharing, centralization of all club Internet assets, interleague play, and the wild card. His accomplishments prompted the columnist George Will to declare, "Baseball's golden age coincides with Bud Selig's Commissionership in no small measure because of the service he has rendered to the sport." With things so rosy how can the possibility of a domestic crisis be broached? Talk of a crisis in baseball is valid only if we continue to think of the game in proprietary terms: as by and for Americans. Put differently, for Major League Baseball to continue its recent surge, it has to go global. This is as true for MLB as it was for the Roman Empire.

Built upon semiobscure economic underpinnings, empires tend to be recognizable either by a megalomaniacal optimism or by muscle-bound pessimism. In 1896 Senator Henry Cabot Lodge was euphoric over American worldwide successes. Conjuring up a self-righteous imperialism, tossed lightly with the pseudoscience of his day, eugenics, he gloated: "The great nations are rapidly absorbing for their future expansion and their present defense all the waste places of the earth. It is a movement which makes for civilization and the advancement of the race." The good senator from Massachusetts had it right: the United States' ascent was fueled by its relationship with marginal areas, but the twenty-first century would mark the coming of age of these "waste places."

Progress, destiny, belief in the future-all form an optimistic core that feeds imperial efforts. At the other end of the continuum, however, one finds expansion motivated by the morbid need to fend off age and decay. Empires decline when "the vicissitudes of fortune, which spares neither man nor the proudest of his works ... buries empires and cities in a common grave." Extending life through expanding territory is an anthropological theme associated with theories of state formation and cultural diffusion.

Within the world of American sport, Major League Baseball is poised at a crossroads which invites interpretations of empire both aging and rekindled with vigor. In 2001 baseball was reeling from declining interest, skyrocketing salaries, competitive imbalance, and, worst of all, the fiscal insolvency of the leagues. In the wake of Selig's claim that MLB had lost more than $500 million the year before, he announced the likelihood of jettisoning two teams. Just four years later, at midseason 2004, it seemed that all the news was good. Baseball was buoyed by television ratings that showed remarkable resurgence of fan interest. Ratings were up across the board. Of the twenty-eight teams within the United States, plus Montreal (omitting only Toronto, for which ratings were not available), nineteen had posted increased average ratings. Four clubs were flat and five posted losses. The Boston Red Sox television network, NESN, recorded its highest rated telecast for its local market with a 15.1 on September 1, 2004. The 2004 season was also good from an attendance perspective. En route to setting a new record for attendance, nine teams drew more than three million fans each, and eleven others drew more than two million.

Show Me the Crisis

Despite its recent gains, not only has Major League Baseball been eclipsed in popularity by the National Football League and the National Basketball Association; it also must compete for fans as merely one piece of a burgeoning leisure and entertainment industry. The sweeping ranges of alternatives, both within and outside of sport, have created a highly competitive field of options for consumers and devotees. MLB has worked hard to retain a firm grasp on its fan base, with some success. Yet as we shall see, some sectors have been allowed to atrophy, and these threaten the sport's future.

A second serious threat to baseball-as we have traditionally known it-involves the increased difficulty in maintaining our player base domestically. With expansion to thirty teams, the number of athletes it takes to adequately staff major league rosters and their minor league affiliates has swelled. For most of the twentieth century Major League Baseball consisted of sixteen teams employing a total of 400 players, with approximately 1,600 more in the minor leagues. Today thirty MLB clubs employ 750 major leaguers, with nearly 7,000 more in the minors.

The overall vitality of the leagues also continues to be in question. Critics point to a dilution of talent with the proliferation of franchises and to the growing disparity between large and small markets. The competitive balance so essential to continued fan interest is-depending upon whom you believe-either buoyant or seriously jeopardized. Small-market teams labor (some would say struggle) to remain competitive in what continues to be an era of free spending for impact players.

Fan Demographics: Who's Being Taken Out to the Ball Game?

Demographic studies in marketing are annually paraded out and spun. They generally make for boring reading, but they tell us of "drifts"-and the longer the drift, the better. Who is coming to events? Who is spending, and on what? And perhaps more important, who is not? One kind of survey that gets at general trends is the longitudinal survey of the sort that Harris Poll takes annually. The following survey asked fans, "If you had to choose, which one of these sports would you say is your favorite?" They've asked this question for almost twenty years, and the trajectory is troubling for baseball (see Table 1).

Baseball has declined more than any other sport and is the only sport to have declined over the past twenty years. While all of the major sports leagues have suffered losses of fans since the 1990s, some declines have been modest, or have been partially offset by increases elsewhere-for example, such demographic shifts as the declines in numbers of African-American fans offset by increases among women. Baseball, unfortunately, has been lagging behind its primary competitors. Whereas in 1985 pro football barely edged baseball as the United States' most popular sport, by 2003 the National Football League led easily. The pollsters noted that only bowling and horse racing have experienced popularity declines comparable to the thirteen-point drop in the percentage of interviewees declaring baseball as their preferred sport. This is not good news for "the national pastime."

In their annual report, the leading business publication in sport, the SportsBusiness Journal, validated the Harris Poll figures. In tracking the relative popularities of sports from 1998 to 2002, the publication found that MLB trailed the NFL, as pro football continued to be the nation's favorite sport. In 2002 more people identified themselves as fans of NFL football than of any other sport. Of the more than twenty-one thousand respondents, 67.2 percent claimed to be fans of the NFL. While MLB was solidly in second, at 58.8 percent, it had steadily slipped over the period, while the NFL had see-sawed. In another index, a 2005 Harris Poll on who Americans perceive as the top ten athletes mirrored these findings. Only one baseball player, Derek Jeter, was ranked among the cumulative top 10. Five NFL stars, two National Basketball Association stars (including Michael Jordan, who continues to rank first even in retirement), and golfer Tiger Woods and race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. round out the list.

Race and Ethnicity

There are some bright spots, however, in particular the sport's success among Hispanic Americans. More modest but still heartening have been the gains among Asian Americans and among women. These gains, however, are countered by a continuing erosion of African-American presence both on the field and in the stands.

The SportsBusiness Journal figures in Table 2 present marketing demographics of the three leading spectator sports between 1998 and 2002. Over that five-year period the publication reports show that gains MLB made are not clear cut.

According to MLB, their biggest gains have come among Latinos. The 17.5 percent gain for baseball is significantly larger than those of either of the other sports. Yet if we look at what percent of the sport's fan base is made up of Latinos, we see that they actually constitute a larger percentage of the NBA's overall fan base (14.5 percent, compared with baseball's 11.8) and that the NFL is almost equal to MLB in percentage of Hispanic fans. So to an extent, instead of blazing new market trails, MLB has been playing catch-up with the other two leagues.

MLB can also claim to be the only one of the three leading sports to have increased in popularity among Asian Americans. Still, while the overall numbers are quite small, the SportsBusiness Journal figures show that Asian fans make up a higher percentage of the constituencies of both the NFL and NBA than of MLB. Additionally, as with Latinos, the increased presence of Asian MLB fans must be interpreted against the even faster growth in numbers of Asians playing in the major leagues. One might expect gains in fans when Asians have made significant inroads in playing in North America. With the sole exception of Yao Ming-whose NBA career began at the end of the studied period-no comparable Asian base exists on the rosters of either the NFL or the NBA.

African-American Fan Base

By far, MLB's biggest marketing failure and cultural oversight has been the loss of the African-American community. After pioneering the racial integration of sports, Major League Baseball wore the mantle of American sport's most progressive industry. By the end of 1953, six black players in the National League had won Rookie of the Year awards in a span of seven years. By 1954, twelve of the sixteen major league teams had African Americans playing for them, and the Dodgers faced the prospect of having as many as eight black players on the squad. All of Major League Baseball had become integrated by 1959, when the Boston Red Sox finally allowed outfielder Pumpsie Green to play for them. The numbers of players climbed, reaching their high point in 1975, when 25 percent of all major leaguers were African American.

Big league teams signing black players saw immediate increases in attendance and changes in the fan base, as more and more black fans showed up at games. The marketing potential was readily apparent. The historian Jules Tygiel noted that thousands of African-American fans made a special effort to attend Robinson's games, sometimes traveling long distances and chartering trains-"Jackie Robinson specials." The Chicago reporter Mike Royko, who was at Robinson's first game in Chicago, later recalled, "In 1947, few blacks were seen in downtown Chicago.... That day they came by the thousands, pouring off the north-bound ELS [trains].... They didn't wear baseball-game clothes. They had on church clothes and funeral clothes-suits, white shirts, ties, gleaming shoes, and straw hats."

African-American interest in MLB increased alongside the development of black players entering the formerly white game; it did not however, translate into a permanent fan base for attendance. Bowie Kuhn, baseball commissioner from 1969 to 1984, claimed that statistics he was privy to indicated that "with rare exceptions [black] percentages are low, very low, under 5 percent." In 1986 African-American attendance was 6.8 percent, growing to 9.8 percent in 1990. That figure plummeted to 4.8 percent by 1995-96. MLB's failure to attract African Americans appears in an even worse light when compared with the success of other sports. Of the six sports surveyed in the SportsBusiness Journal's annual By the Numbers, only MLB and the National Hockey League lost African-American fans by every measure between 1998 and 2001. Both the NFL and NBA experienced significant growth among these fans. The NBA has the highest percentage of African-American fans (18.3 percent in 2001)-an unsurprising circumstance, since the almost 80 percent of the players in the league are African American. Nearly as many NFL players-67 percent-are African American.

With few exceptions, major sports leagues have been busier pandering to those communities that can afford their games than to those who produce its talent. The economics of professional sport is partly responsible for this trend: costs have risen so dramatically that in certain cities, with certain teams, even the middle class is being priced out of attending the games. Boston is an extreme but telling example: a family of four attending a 2005 Red Sox game-bleacher seating, parking, hot dogs, and a drink-could expect to pay more than $145.

Aging Fan Base

The results of at least two studies conducted during the 1990s indicate that Major League Baseball's fan base is getting older. Marketing publications noted as early as 1993 that baseball fandom skewed older than any of the other major sports. These results were confirmed by Allen St. John in 1998. Relying on an internal market research document from MLB Enterprises, St. John reported that among twelve- to eighteen-year-olds, 67 percent call themselves baseball fans. By contrast, 82 percent consider themselves basketball fans, and 78 percent are football fans. The converse of that finding-that the fan base is aging-was acknowledged again by Rick Horrow, writing in 2004, for He referred to the sobering fact that 47 percent of 2003's World Series audience was fifty years of age or older. The Washington Times writer Eric Fisher has also noted that baseball fans average more than forty years of age, "much older than [for] other leading sports."


Excerpted from GROWING THE GAME by Alan M. Klein Copyright © 2006 by Alan M. Klein. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Ch. 1 The crisis at the core 13
Ch. 2 The Kansas City Royals : shopping without a credit card 30
Ch. 3 The Los Angeles Dodgers : bright lights, big market 54
Ch. 4 The Dominican Republic : fishing where the fish are 90
Ch. 5 Japan : emerging from the feudal eclipse 125
Ch. 6 Italy, Germany, and the United Kingdom : the European backwater 169
Ch. 7 South Africa : baseball and the new politics 196
Ch. 8 When will there be a real World Series? 215
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