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Sports commentary: Dilution delusion

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Don't be fooled, MLB is strong

By Mike Forster

  You hear a lot of talk about how sports have been diluted.

But, is such talk justified?

In honor of the impending Opening Day festivities, let's take a peek at our national pastime to see if there's any merit to such an accusation.

Baseball had its glory days during the middle part of the last century.  In fact, the 1950s are often pointed to as Baseball's Golden Age.

In 1950, there were 16 teams in the major leagues (eight in the American and eight in the National Leagues).

Today, there are a total of 30 teams (14 in the American and 16 in the National).

That means, by my math anyway, that there are nearly double the number of teams today.  So, that means that there must be a dilution in the talent level.

Ah, but there are confounding factors afoot.

First, while Major League Baseball has expanded, so has the rest of the country.

In the 1950 census, there were roughly 151 million people living in the United States.

In the 2010 census, that number had grown to 308 million, which is more than double what it had been sixty years before.

Looking at it that way (and taking the Toronto Blue Jays out of the mix, being Canadian and all), the growth of baseball pretty much mirrors that of the nation.

Put another way, in both 1950 and 2010, there has been a rough ratio of 10 million citizens per team.

Ah, but in 1920, there were  about 106 million people in America.  And, guess what?  There were 16 teams then, too.

That meant there was the same number of teams serving a smaller number of people.

Now, here's where it gets tricky.  In 1950 (and in 1920, for that matter), those 16 teams were based in a total of 11 cities:

-New York (3 teams)

-Boston (2)

-St. Louis (2)

-Chicago (2)

-Philadelphia (2)

-Pittsburgh

-Cincinnati

-Cleveland

-Detroit

-Washington

Worse, those same teams could be found in a mere eight states:

-New York (3 teams)

-Massachusetts (2)

-Missouri (2)

-Illinois (2)

-Pennsylvania (3)

-Ohio (2)

-Michigan

-District of Columbia

There were a total of two teams west of the Mississippi, each a stone's throw from the Old Muddy (St. Louis Browns and Cardinals).

Additionally, there were no teams in the South.

In essence, until the mid-1950s, Major League Baseball was confined to the Northeast and the Great Lakes (with the exception of the St. Louis teams).

It took the advent of viable commercial air travel to open up the game to the rest of the country.

So?  So, my point is that, rather than seeing a dilution in the game, we're seeing two things.

First, the level of talent has increased.  In addition to sustaining that 10 million-to-one ratio, baseball has also seen an influx of talent from overseas:  Japan, Korea, Latin America.  Heck, we even get the occasional player from Europe.

Second, the sport has done a good job of spreading itself out, becoming a truly national entity.

Today, those 30 teams are spread out over 27 cities. (Only New York, Chicago and Los Angeles have two teams.)

Half a century ago, it would have been unthinkable to have teams in places such as Phoenix.  Yet, today we have the Diamondbacks (thanks, in large part, to the advent of air conditioning).

Yes, there has been a tremendous increase in the popularity of other sports.  True, that rise has likely drawn both talent and fans away from baseball.

In fact, there are few who would agree with baseball still carrying the moniker of "national pastime."

Still, the sport is healthy.  Teams routinely report over 2 million fans in attendance over the course of a season.  You can pretty much watch whatever game you want to on TV.

Therefore, be not deluded:  baseball is anything but diluted.