A national pastime isn't about favoritism. It's not about practice, entertainment or even viewership. Instead, "A national pastime … doesn't necessarily refer to the spectators. It refers to how people pass their time," stated sports economist Andrew Zimbalist.
Baseball has always been America's pastime – and it still is. Baseball has been America's appropriate pastime ever since its early practice in the 18th century. As baseball grew in popularity over the next few centuries, it became the new American sensation that everyone played, regardless of gender, age and race.
In comparison, football didn't reach colleges and universities until the mid- to late 19th century. The Harvard University and McGill University match-up in 1874 acted as a kickoff for the modern American game. Collegiate football became the dominant version of the sport until the first half of the 20th century. Professional football, however, wasn't practiced until the 1890s. The first professional league formed in 1903, while the first professional championship game wasn't competed for another 10 years.
But maybe Zimbalist is wrong. Maybe factors, such as prevalence, amusement and fan base do matter in a sport's qualification to be a national pastime. Even so, baseball still tops football.
Throughout baseball's history, many different leagues of all various levels were developed. Baseball expanded its practice to minor leagues, collegiate level, high schools and even youth leagues, allowing children as young as 4 years old to play. Football, however, didn't, and still cannot produce the same leagues, since 4-year-olds tackling each other is just a bad idea.
While some argue that football should be America's pastime because of the viewership statistics, they do not consider the fact that baseball yields a similar sized crowd and fan base. Last year's World Series yielded about 115.7 million viewers over the seven games. Super Bowl XLV, the most viewed television broadcast in the United States history, attracted a 111 million-member audience.
While that speaks to television viewership, how about regular season attendance? In 2008, over 78 million fans went to MLB games, while only 17 million attended NFL games. Baseball must be somewhat fun to play and watch, with that many supporters. Football fans may think baseball is too slow, boring and the same old thing over and over again, but football isn't much better. I would rather sit and watch a baseball game in full than a football game, not only because football takes up an entire day, but because baseball is more exciting. Walk-off home runs, stolen bases, diving catches, Jim Joyce-like mistakes and the occasional fights trump football's usual touchdown.
Throw me a glove or pass the remote, ‘cause I would rather spend my time having a catch or cheering on the Yanks than have anything to do with football on any given day.