Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Baseball -- the Greatest of All Games

Here we are in the middle of football season -- rivalry week for many -- and I want to comment on baseball. Over the past few weeks, I re-watch Ken Burn's 1994 PBS Baseball series. Twenty hours of fascinating commentary on America's past time.

I really enjoy football, both college and the NFL. I am a die-hard Buckeyes, Browns and Vikings fan; season ticket holder for the Utes; and NFL fantasy addict. But I love baseball.

My breed is dying. I got it from my dad who got it from his dad and maternal grandfather. My oldest son gets if from me. My youngest son is more NFL and NBA. My daughters are not all that interested -- they can take it or leave it. My wife rarely shows an interest.

Prior to the avent of TV, baseball teams, games and players were the topics of convesations in most households and places of employment throughout the nation. Fans dressed up to attend games: men wore ties and hats, women dresses. The characters are legendary:
Hank Aaron, Grover Alexander, Cap Anson, Ernie Banks, Yogi Berra, Mordecai Brown, Roberto Clemente, Ty Cobb, Leo Durocher, Joe DiMaggio, Bob Feller, Whitey Ford, Jimmie Foxx, Lou Gehrig, Josh Gibson, Bob Gibson, Hank Greenberg, Ken Griffey Jr., Lefty Grove, Tony Gwynn, Rogers Hornsby, Ban Johnson, Walter Johnson, Sandy Koufax, Nap Lajoie, Kenesaw Landis, Buck Leonard, Connie Mack, Greg Maddox, Mickey Mantle, Christy Mathewson, Willie Mays, John McGraw, Stan Musial, Mel Ott, Satchel Paige, Branch Rickey, Kirby Puckett, Cal Ripken, Brooks Robinson, Frank Robinson, Jackie Robinson, Pete Rose, Albert Pujols, Babe Ruth, Nolan Ryan, Al Simmons, George Sisler, Ozzie Smith, Warren Spahn, Al Spalding, Casey Stengel, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Ted Williams, Carl Yastrzemski, Cy Young.
In 1987, Thomas Boswell penned 101 reasons why baseball is better than football. We all have heard Abbott & Costello's Who's On First routine. Less heard is George Carlin's comedic commentary on a comparison between baseball and football...
Baseball is different from any other sport, very different. For instance, in most sports you score points or goals; in baseball you score runs. In most sports the ball, or object, is put in play by the offensive team; in baseball the defensive team puts the ball in play, and only the defense is allowed to touch the ball. In fact, in baseball if an offensive player touches the ball intentionally, he's out; sometimes unintentionally, he's out.

Also: in football,basketball, soccer, volleyball, and all sports played with a ball, you score with the ball and in baseball the ball prevents you from scoring.

In most sports the team is run by a coach; in baseball the team is run by a manager. And only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do. If you'd ever seen John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform,you'd know the reason for this custom.

Now, I've mentioned football. Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

I enjoy comparing baseball and football:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything's dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs - what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups - who's up?

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog...
In baseball, if it rains, we don't go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.
Football has the two minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not too much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you're capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! - I hope I'll be safe at home!

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