By Grant Chapman

In the commentary booth, they were lauding the Black Sox as New Zealand's most successful sports team.

In the newsroom, they were debating whether men's softball was even an international sport.

On social media, fans were demanding to know why a national team gunning for its seventh world title couldn't get live TV coverage.


Perhaps no code polarises Kiwi sports fans as much as softball. What's not to like?

In terms of international dominance, no other team has as many world titles. In fact, the Black Sox have now contested the last 10 world championship finals since 1984, winning six of them, including three in a row from 1996-2004.

You could argue that comparatively few countries contest softball as an international sport. Clearly, the Halberg Awards judges have bought into this logic, since the Black Sox have never won Team of the Year honours, despite their many victories.

Actually, the International Softball Federation has 127 members, more than hockey (125), cricket (105), rugby (102 & 17 associates), netball (49 & 25 associates) and rugby league (45).

But while those other sports might claim to be more competitive at international level, clearly many aren't.

The All Blacks - an obvious pick as our best team historically - have only won three World Cups, although their reputation is based just as much (probably more) on achievements between tournaments.

The Silver Fern netballers also have three world titles to their name and have finished runners-up eight times in a virtual two-horse race.

The Kiwis have captured just one Rugby League World Cup, while some on social media, perhaps influenced by recent events, were prepared to count our three America's Cup sailing wins - two successful challenges and a defence.

Glaring absentees from that list are the Black Caps and All Whites, although the strength of international football means we'll probably never hold that particular World Cup aloft.

The obvious discrepancy across all those teams is TV content. With SKY now holding a virtual monopoly on sports coverage, most of those codes enjoy financial return for their rights.

All of them have their world championships screened live back home ... except one.
Maybe it's a generational thing, because most of us Baby Boomers grew up playing softball at school or in our backyards.

There's no doubt that the sport has played a significant part in our sporting culture over the decades, but now finds itself shunted to the sidelines on a shifting landscape, driven by cable TV and the internet.

Out of that, baseball has emerged as a very loud and brash challenger to softball's place in our social fabric.

Twenty years ago, the only real way to follow American Major League Baseball was through US newspapers that often landed in New Zealand a week later. Nowadays, you can watch games live on SKY or streamed online.

MLB has aggressively pursued a campaign to extend global reach, sending players and games around the world to promote its product in ways that softball has never dreamed of.

At the Olympics, baseball is played by men and softball by women, so you can imagine how the baseball advocates spin that.

In New Zealand, it possibly helps that SKY TV chief executive John Fellett is an active baseball coach and was recently inducted to the Baseball NZ Hall of Fame. A daily dose of MLB across our screens has done as much as anything to brainwash a generation.

And each year, a substantial TAB payout from MLB betting goes straight into Baseball NZ coffers to help promote its progtramme. Softball gets nothing.

This is now a rivalry along the same lines of rugby/league and netball/basketball, but there's an unfortunate and unnecessary edge to it.

To survive, softball recently reduced the gap between world championships from four years to two, in an effort to provide a more meaningful international calendar. That's a start.

It needs to keep adapting to the changed times, creating a clear, elite and regularly televised pathway, from domestic competition through to international level.

At this stage, it's probably too much to hope these two bitter adversaries can put their differences aside to work for the good of both.