Instead of looking ahead to 2014, I'm going to look ahead to 2114. What will baseball be like 100 years from now?
The idea was inspired by Jim's series about ‘round-the-world tour barnstorming tour that the White Sox and New York Giants did 100 years ago. Even though it's fun to look back on the YE OLD TIMEY nature of the newspaper accounts of the trip, you have to remember that everything at that time was considered state-of-the-art.
I'm a Titanic geek (among my many areas of geekdom), which means I have read a fair amount of books about the first half of the second decade of the 20th century. The Human Race had undergone a technological makeover.
At the dawn of the 19th century, we traveled the same way as the Romans: by horse and by sail. The steam engine was the most important invention in human history. By the end of the 19th century, steam ships and steam trains were common.
By the turn of the 20th century, a well-heeled Chicagoan could travel from the Midwest to London in less than two weeks. The New York Central Railroad introduced the 20th Century Limited in 1902, allowing a wealthy traveler to make the journey between Chicago and New York in 20 hours.
In fact, a passenger on the 20th Century could look out the window and see Charles Comiskey's new ballpark peeking out over the buildings that lined Wentworth Avenue. The New York Central shared the same right-of-way as the Rock Island, which is just east of Comiskey on 35th. Upon arrival at Grand Central Station in New York, that passenger could head over to the 59th Street Pier and board the Lusitania for the trip to England. With a top speed of 28 miles per hour, it was the fastest ship in the world.
Communication technology also made the world a smaller place. One of the high-tech features of Comiskey Park was the electronic out-of-town scoreboard that operated in what amounted to real time. Scoreboard operators would get the results via telegraph. News that used to travel at the speed of horse now traveled at the speed of light.
Now imagine if you took one of the people who followed the Sox/Giants barnstorming tour and dropped them into 2013. What would they think? The game hasn't changed all that much. The Designated Hitter was an idea that had been marinating for decades before it was adopted by the American League in 1972.
Your time traveler from 1913 might be taken with the physical appearance of today's ballplayers. The game is integrated, of course. Ballplayers are also taller, faster, and stronger than their counterparts from 100 years ago. Our knowledge of nutrition and fitness has improved exponentially in the past century.
Our time traveler also comes from the deadball era. U.S. Cellular Field would probably be too small compared to the cavernous dimensions of 1913 Comiskey Park.
Now, let's move ahead 100 years.
Star Trek says professional baseball will end in 2042, but it appears that the game will remain financially healthy through the 2040's and beyond.
The building known as U.S. Cellular Field/New Comiskey Park is probably gone, replaced by a plaque acknowledging the great feats that took place on that spot (assuming The Cell has the same 80-year lifespan as its predecessor, the Sox move into a new home some time in 2071).
Let's assume that the fourth Sox Park is still at 35th and Shields. In fact, it's on the old Comiskey Park site.
The Sox park of 2114 might even have the same dimensions of the park that was built 200 years prior, simply because the baseball player of the 22nd century will be even stronger. Line drives will go even longer, and pitchers throwing over 110 mph will be common.
There are two reasons for this:
- We might know even more about nutrition, the human body, and how it regenerates.
- Gene therapy or genetic engineering might be a part of daily life.
The typical baseball player of 2114 might be 7 feet tall. The more we know about taking care of ourselves, the taller we get. Edward Longshanks, King of England 1272 to 1307 (and the bad guy in Braveheart) was considered a giant of his era, and he was 6'2''.
The umpires are gone, replaced by cameras. A human might make judgments based on the footage, but the idea of umpires at first, third and home will be as laughable as the idea of separate American League and National League umpiring crews. A machine like QuesTec will call balls and strikes.
Baseball will follow the population. Milwaukee, Cleveland, and Detroit could eventually lose their teams to cities in the Carolinas (Charlotte is a larger media market than Milwaukee, Baltimore, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. They will eventually get an MLB team). There might be major league teams in San Juan, Havana, Caracas, and Mexico City.
There might even be a merger between MLB and NPB. In 2114, a "west coast road trip" might mean a swing through Japan.
Transportation will play a major role in the breadth of baseball expansion. Magnetic levitation trains that run in vacuum tubes, like the proposed Hyperloop, could move people at supersonic speeds.
The economics of baseball circa 2114 are a little harder to predict. People will buy tickets. Baseball teams will probably do away with selling broadcast rights to media outlets in favor of apps on the 22nd century equivalent of a smartphone.
In the last 100 years, real-time baseball coverage jumped from telegraph to radio to television to online. Expect a similar progression in the next 100 years.
Billboards have been a constant. But baseball teams will also have to find ways to monetize the new media that will develop over the next century.
The hard part about predicting the future is that the greatest discoveries are also the smallest. We don't have flying cars or live in cities on the moon (dammit!), but we do live in a world where all information is available in the palm of your hand.
In 1967, Walter Cronkite tried to predict the living room of 2001. He was pretty close to the mark:
The 2114 White Sox will not be all that different than the team that plays today. Technology may change, but the basic fundamentals of baseball will remain the same.
Also: it goes without saying that the Sox Park of 2114 will also have a statue of Jose Abreu. I'm an optimist.