I am a long time resident of Manila. I still remember, in the late 60s and early 70s, when elder members of the family would talk about baseball over meals or while watching the news.
The game has a following then, but somehow it just dissipated. Now, base on what I can read online, the following is limited in the provinces and it appears to be in patches and not in contiguous geographical areas.
I have my beliefs as to why the game declined in following in Metro Manila and it may even apply across the country. I can think of 3 reasons.
- Disappearance of venues.
Here in Manila before, there were enough open public spaces where kids and young adults can go to play or watch the game. Offhand I can mention Harrison Park which was not yet Harrison Plaza. Central Market was one big open space that serves as a playground. There is a small section at North Cemetery where Manila North Green Park is now located where weekend little league games were played. There is also this place near Paco PNR station along Quirino Avenue Ext where little league games were played.
Not too many schools, especially public schools, have open grounds to have this game in their P.E. curriculum. Neither do most private schools. So, it was in public venues mentioned above that the game was supposed to be cultivated.
But the encroachment of expanding vertical and horizontal concrete structures ate the small open spaces available for the game to thrive. Now we are left with almost nothing.
To prove that the availability of open spaces is crucial, one only has to visit Rizal Park the field across Quirino Grandstand in January to summer. In the few instances I pass this place, I would see baseball teams practicing and playing here. One can just imagine if there are just a few other open grounds even 1/8 the size of this field, those scenes of kids playing this game will be replicated in other locations.
How can there be any grassroots program if there is no ground to grow grass? Pun intended.
- Absence of a professional league.
I read this in a column at Bulletin Today over 2 decades ago. The resource person for the columnist was Filemon Codinera. He is more known as the father of PBA HoF Jerry Codinera. But the elder Codinera is a baseball legend if one would care to research about Philippine baseball.
Codinera said the league they played then was strictly amateur in status. Players only get allowances. For some corporations that have baseball teams the players can be formally employed at the company and also play baseball for the same company. They are salaried employees of the company and draw extra income in the form of allowance by being a player.
But some teams were strictly baseball clubs. There wasn’t any money to derive a livelihood from this clubs. Inevitably, players will have to look for livelihood and many would leave the game because of schedule conflicts with their work.
Codinera also said that there was a proposal to professionalize the league they were playing. IIRC this was the Manila Bay Baseball League. But the team owners voted against it. I can’t remember what were the reasons for vetoing the proposal. But in hindsight, this may have been what killed that league.
If players can’t make a decent living out of the game, their time will be split between the game and work and what would prevail over the long term?
Mr.Filemon Codinera is very much alive. He can easily be contacted through his son who is now the coach of the UE Warriors in the UAAP. We can assume he wouldn’t mind talking about the game that he loves. He can describe what the game was like before and how and why it declined and what can be done to revive it.
The third and last reason why the game declined was, imo, the advent of TV as a popular medium for entertainment and advertisement. Or, in the case of baseball, the absence of TV coverage of the games.
Even during the heyday of baseball in the country and when remote broadcast became possible, the games were not televised. The very nature of the game just makes it incompatible with the medium. Baseball has no time limit. It has no game clock. A game can last from 2 hours to 5 hours , even 6 hours. Given this, one can imagine the amount of airtime and the corresponding ad placement needed to make the coverage a viable venture.
One can argue that the game is extensively covered in the USA, Japan and Korea. Well, in the case of the USA, the game is an integral part of the American way of life long before the advent of TV. When TV came, the medium cashed in on what is prevailing in society. Nowadays, the games are mostly covered by “sports networks”. TV networks have evolved to have separate channels to independently cover news, sports and even music/ movies. In the case of Japan and Korea, last time I followed the game, for a good number of years the most extensive coverage were carried by the government stations.
Here, there is an initiative to revive the game through the Baseball Philippine Series. I haven’t followed the league, but given how “TV unfriendly” baseball is—with its undeterminable length of play – I seriously doubt if any network or production will pick up to broadcast the game in the same manner as it does for other events like the PBA, collegiate basketball and volleyball and football.
Without TV, there can be no big advertisers. No big advertisers, no big money. Money is an end and also a means to provide incentives to get a good number of athletic kids to take up the sport and stay with it.
In summary the factors of venues, livelihood and TV-- their absence-- dealt the blow that killed the sport by the late 70s. But this same factors-- their availability or presence-- will be instrumental in the initiative to revive the game.