1 of 3
Rich Pilling, Getty Images
Yankee Stadium in New York will host next week's Major League Baseball All-Star Game. The stadium will be torn down at the conclusion of the season.

As baseball nears the end of an iconic era with the imminent tearing down of Yankee Stadium — brace yourselves for the impending lovefest with Babe Ruth's old stomping grounds at this week's MLB All-Star Game — some might find symbolism with the sport's current status in the country.

For some, the closure and eventual destruction of one of the most revered yet archaic stadiums could be taken as an analogy of baseball losing its premier position among U.S. sports.

Others, however, might view the construction of a shinier version of New York's ballfield as bridging the gap between the glory days of yesteryear and a bright future for baseball.

Former major league star Dale Murphy admits baseball probably isn't as popular anymore as, say, football and basketball. But the longtime Atlanta Braves star, who now lives in Alpine, refuses to admit his favorite sport no longer has a vice-grip-tight hold on the hearts of many in the nation.

In other words, Murphy strongly believes baseball remains America's pastime even if some consider it to be past its time in America.

"I still feel like there's a historical connection that's kind of deep ... that's unique to baseball," Murphy said. "There's something there that kind of transcends generations with the game of baseball. I think the nickname 'America's pastime' is still appropriate."

Murphy recalls how when President Bush threw out that famous pitch at the Yankees' game seven years ago, the sport helped the United States — and maybe even the world to some degree — begin healing after the 9/11 terror attacks.

Baseball, Murphy pointed out, helped bring out feelings of security and patriotism in that shining moment. It also, he said, allowed the country to heal from world wars, and Jackie Robinson's role in baseball played an integral role in breaking down racial barriers.

Though other sports have risen in popularity, Murphy believes you just can't take that history out of the hearts of Americans.

"It seems like its popularity is hanging in there," he said.

Murphy also believes the "nuances" and "everydayness" tend to keep people interested in it. He is encouraged by the trend of building old-era-type ballparks that become an attraction almost as much as the game itself. He also believes it's a very family-friendly sport, including for finances.

It doesn't hurt, he added, that the sport probably now has more talent than ever.

"It seems like there are a lot more better players than when I was playing," he said.

Murphy isn't the only one coming to the defense of the tattered-of-late sport.

"Obviously football, the NFL and college football, are the most popular sports in the country right now. Baseball has slipped behind them," admitted Steve Klauke, who is the voice of the Triple-A Salt Lake Bees. "But ... in the long run when you think of the fabric of the country, I think baseball is still the pastime."

All the seats in the seats is indicative of baseball's continued popularity, according to Marc Amicone, an avid baseball fan and the Bees' vice president/general manager. Just in minor league baseball alone this season, attendance is up 900,000 from last year's record-breaking mark.

"I see good participation from fans and players at every level, so I think it's still America's pastime," Amicone said.

"I think it's got staying power," he added. "Every kid in America ... at some point's played baseball or attempted to play baseball. We don't all grow to be tall enough to play basketball or big enough to play football, but every child, no matter what size, can play baseball. I think that gets into you. And if you've played it, it's hard to get out of your blood."

Like Murphy, Amicone believes one of the endearing charms of baseball is how it can bring families together. Murphy remains amazed how grandparents pass it down to their grandchildren, and how it's even popular in places like nursing homes.

"We have a generation that's still following baseball," he said. "It gives a link to our posterity."

Amicone believes many Americans have cherished memories — or are creating them now — of hucking fastballs to dad in the backyard or bringing your mitt to the yard with your family.

"To me," he said, "it's Americana."

On this subject, even a Boston Red Sox fan and a New York Yankees fan can see eye-to-eye.

"I definitely still think it's the pastime," said Ely McGinty, a 19-year-old Red Sox fan from Sandy. "It's just that sport we all grew up with."

"There's something about it," said his uncle and devout Yankees' fan Jay Goins. "It's American history. It makes you want to bring an American flag and wave it."

That's not to say all of these baseball defenders believe it doesn't have room for improvement. They mentioned the Steroids Era, labor problems and the infamous strike, some athletes' poor behavior, a dwindling ratio of African-American players (only 8 percent of MLB players nowadays compared to a high of 27 percent), a lack of NFL/NBA-quality marketing, diminishing participation in Little League programs by younger kids and even the intricacies and strategy of the sport.

But Murphy is confident his sport will overcome those challenges.

"Things tend to rebound. It seems to be a resilient sport," Murphy said. "Yeah we've had some tough times ... as every sport does. (But) to me, it'll always be America's pastime."

"The Biz of Baseball" recently published an article about the state of baseball in which a collection of 30 national baseball experts and officials almost to a person agreed that the sport is in a "golden age," as Bronx Banter founder Alex Belth put it. The writers and MLB execs mostly concurred that baseball looks to be doing even better than in 2007, when it had record attendance, revenue and profits, according to Forbes.

But while he and the other authors of this article agreed that the boys of summer do have it going on right now, Tim Marchman, a baseball writer for the New York Sun, said it isn't likely that baseball will dethrone football as the nation's current king sport.

"Football is the national game largely because of demographic and cultural shifts and settlement patterns over the last 50 years. America is more suburban and, honestly, more violent than it once was, which gives football an advantage," Marchman wrote. "If we're coming up on a time of broad economic dislocation, and profound demographic changes, though, there's probably a chance for baseball to become even more popular than it is now, central to people's lives the way it once was and no longer is. With strong leadership, baseball just might seize that chance."

Murphy, a two-time National League MVP, laughed, however, about how baseball isn't exactly the Murphy family pastime. Not all of his eight kids share his passion for dad's sport.

"They probably hover between football and baseball," he said. "I wouldn't say baseball dominates the interest of the Murphy kids."


E-mail: [email protected]