For as long as baseball has been a professional sport, people have lined up outside stadiums and crowded around radios to see and hear baseball greats like Joe DiMaggio and Babe Ruth hit. The unmatched excitement and overwhelming glee that hits fans after a key home run is still indescribable 80 years later. The 2017 season has seen a resurgence in home runs. On Wednesday, Sept. 20, Miami Marlins slugger Giancarlo Stanton hit his 57th home run of the season. Stanton’s 57th home run came shortly after he surpassed Mike Lowell in the Miami Marlins team-wide RBI record. Stan- ton’s career season high of 57 home runs is the highest since 2008, when Ryan Howard finished the season with a career season high of 58.
The 2017 MLB season has seen the greatest number of home runs in baseball history, currently 5,694. This is a huge milestone considering that it passed previous highs during the infamous Steroid Era. Furthermore, this boom in home runs and the newfound excitement that comes with it could be instrumental in baseball reaching the hearts of young people, like it has in the past.
During the late ’80s and ’90s, baseball legends like Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa duked it out for the home run title each year. Barry Bonds had a season-high and MLB record of 73 home runs, while Mark McGuire and Sammy Sosa trailed close behind with 70 and 66 home run seasons, respectively. During their time in the MLB, baseball was exceedingly popular among fans of all ages. This was largely due to public infatuation with the home run phenomenon. As players continued to put up huge home run numbers, more players felt pressured to use performance-enhancing substances to remain competitive. Because of the widespread use of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, the disappointment that came when fans found out their childhood heroes had cheated was unprecedented. Despite the unrivaled abilities of Bonds, McGuire and Sosa, not one is likely to ever be voted into the baseball hall of fame. Worse yet, there will always be a negative stigma around baseball and the players that played during this period.
Now that strict rules against performance-enhancing drugs have been enacted, the resurgence in home run numbers is a significant milestone for Major League Baseball. This could not have come at a better time, since MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred has openly discussed his concerns about the future of baseball. While Major League Baseball teams continue to increase in revenue and player contracts grow higher-priced than ever before, Manfred’s concern lies in baseball’s popularity among the youth.
Among the NBA, NFL and MLB, the average age of baseball viewers is the highest, with 50 percent of baseball viewers being age 55 or older. To reach out to a younger audience, the MLB—as well as the individual organizations that make up the MLB— have all increased social media outreach. Statistics show that the clear majority of social media users are under the age of 35. While many people will not take the time to watch an entire baseball game, highlight clips taken from games are increasing in popularity and are among the endless clips being constantly shared around the web. Most of these popular baseball clips showcase great defensive plays and home runs. Thus, an increase in home runs equates to more shareable content and hopefully more excitement among young viewers.
To add to the excitement, many players are following up their home runs with small celebrations in the form of bat flips, prances or other forms of showmanship. While these celebrations tend to upset pitchers and may break some of the unwritten rules of baseball, they have also made the sport more exciting to outsiders. As a result, clips of home runs have become less repetitive and can carry more weight depending on the game situation or matchup between players.
The multipronged approach of greater social media outreach, greater interaction among fans and their teams and MLB run programs to build fields for youth leagues seems like a step in the right direction to reaching young viewers. This boom in home run numbers and a satisfied audience are going to be pivotal in preservation of America’s pastime.