HAS BASEBALL REPLACED THE NFL AS THE NO. 1 PRO SPORT IN AMERICA?
It's not like the Writers' Bloc to kick the great game of pro football when it's down, but some WBers are beginning to wonder if baseball hasn't reclaimed the coveted title of Best Sport.
They still call it, 'the No Fun League' | From Tim Keown
Not coincidentally, it's the only sport that continues to put out a better product, year after year. Fair despite its apparent unfairness, unpredictable despite its alleged predictability ("Hello, Mr. Steinbrenner?"), Baseball The Game continually overcomes the people who run Baseball The Business.
The NFL is too busy legislating sock length and counting its money ("One for you, one for you, and even one for you, Mr. Bidwill ...") to realize the deterioration of the game -- or "the product" to be more precise -- on the field. The way it looks to me, parity is another word for no one left to win.
And look, this baseball thing isn't about poetry. The baseball-as-poetry argument went away with puberty. Ninety feet between bases, 60 feet, 6 inches -- all perfectly wondrous, but if the bases were 85 feet apart, the shortstop would play a half-step in and the runner would still be out by a half-step. Besides, I played the sport long enough to experience the kind of failure that purges any thoughts of poetry. When you're 20 years old and discover the true meaning of the word curveball (as it's thrown past you, not by you), the only poetry involved is finding a line that rhymes with "... and then I did duck."
Screw poetry | From Steve Wulf
Wake me in October | From Shaun Assael
Major League Baseball tried to speed things up with Questec, the robotic umpiring system. But all that did was bring out Curt Schilling's inner grump. I have a simpler answer: Throw out Questec and hire Laura Gaines, who recently told the New York Times that her company, Prime Image, can shorten audio and video recordings by up to 12 percent with "no discernible results." That's nearly 20 minutes off a three-hour game. Tape that on TiVo, and I can get all my Mets suffering into a manageable hour.
Which, not coincidentally, is about the amount of time that it takes to pit the Braves against the Pirates on Play Station, the place I believe where baseball really lives. In that world, players hustle to first base in April, and you don't have to wait until October for plays that look as crisp as the latest graphics. Best of all: Games start when school lets out.
Who are you kidding? | From Jim Caple
Smoke and mirrors | From Tom Friend
Because the seats are full!
Look, it's all how you were raised. I'm sure all you "baseball" guys grew up with a parent who loved the game, who took you to the ballpark, who played catch with you in the backyard. But some of us grew up in places like I did, like Washington, D.C., where the Senators were gone when I was 10, and where the Redskins were the only game in town. Nobody could get a season ticket, but my Dad finagled to get them, and so RFK Stadium is my Ebbets Field. Yeah, the hard salary cap has ruined the product to a degree -- not to mention dumbass 35-year-old owners -- but I root for the uniform anyway. It's the uniform that brings me back, the uniform why I never miss a Sunday.
But I'm jaded against baseball, too, because, as a sportswriter, I've been in the locker rooms. I'd been an NBA beat writer for a couple years in the early '80s when I got hired to cover the San Diego Padres -- and I couldn't believe all the chain smokers. Templeton and Wiggins were bumming cigarettes off each other, and Gossage, and Hoyt and Kruk were openly drinking Rolling Rocks, and I'm thinking, "These are athletes? At least mix in a salad."
Of course, this was pre-THG. Maybe the ballplayers look better now.
'I believe that Lee Harvey Oswald acted alone ...' | From David Schoenfield
2) I don't watch just to see a superstar perform, even though the game has turned into a boring affair of physical, unathletic isolation plays with guys who can't shoot jump shots.
3) I don't watch to hope a fight breaks out, even though fighting isn't really part of the game.
4) I don't watch to see commercials drive around in circles.
5) I watch because one game can mean everything, even in June. Ask the Astros, who missed the playoffs by one win, or the Mariners, who missed by two wins. I watch because the mystery of baseball is more unknown than other sports: Will he pitch well tonight? Who will get the big hit? Will Bonds hit Johnson? I watch because the game is more important than the hype, because the unexpected (Steve Bartman?! Josh Beckett?!) might occur, because nobody ever calls a baseball manager a "genius," because you can't hit a home run off someone's skate, because players don't dance around when making a tackle trailing 77-0, because we have the ultimate Evil Empire to root against, and because some year, just maybe, the Cubs or Red Sox might actually win the damn thing.
Bow before Lord Stanley | From Steve Wulf
But I honestly believe that the best sport of all is postseason hockey. Not regular-season hockey, which is about as exciting as steeplechase, but Stanley Cup hockey. It's played with such intensity and speed and skill, and without the sweater-pulling breaks, that it leaves you breathless. And there's nothing like the suspense of a tight hockey game as the clock ticks down, or the overtimes pile up.
It's the speed, stupid!
Oh, sure, I love watching Mike Vick cover 40 yards in four seconds. I'd just rather watch any NHL player cover the same distance in, say, two-and-a-half. Of course I admire Josh Beckett for propelling a small object at 100 mph. I'd just rather watch any NHL player do the same after covering 40 yards in two-and-a-half seconds. And I love watching Ben Wallace swat away an incoming salvo. But again, I'd rather watch any NHL goalie swat away a projectile traveling at 100 mph off the stick of an NHL player who has just traveled 40 yards in two-and-a-half seconds.
People, it's about speed. Barring NASCAR, where the athletes travel at 0 mph, and horse racing, which deserves some mention here, hockey has the most speed. And hockey has the most decisions at full speed. Ever seen a penalty shot? Can anything in sports top that? Go ahead and complain about not being able to see the puck, or the lack of scoring. Those clichéd gripes easily slip away when you watch the game in person. Guaranteed the usual four hours spent sitting through TV timeouts will feel more like, say, two-and-a-half.
There's no pleasing ya | From Jim Caple
It's football ... and the Kinks! | From Chuck Hirshberg
I've always been a baseball guy, probably because it's the only sport for which I ever had any aptitude (my best athletic attribute, by far, is my eyesight). I believe in every damn one of those weepy, hoary clichés about Our National Pastime -- it's mathematically perfect, it's an allegorical play about America, its success-to-failure ratio uncannily reflects that of life in general -- I buy all of that crap. But I also prefer the Kinks ("You Really Got Me", "Lola", "Come Dancing") to the Beatles, even though I know in my heart that the Beatles were a much, much better band. And football is a much, much better sport than baseball, for two reasons: Parity and complexity.
The answer, of course, is that in life, you have to make choices and compromises, and sports is part of life. The price of parity is greatness. So which is better, parity or dominance? It's exactly like asking, which is better, fairness or unfairness?
I agree, the Red Sox-Yankees series was outrageously good. But I'll bet you'll agree that the basic financial structure of baseball is just plain outrageous. This year's Milwaukee Brewers' payroll will be roughly equal to Manny's and Pedro's combined salaries.
Someone said "just because the folks in Carolina feel they have a chance to win the Super Bowl doesn't make the actual play more entertaining." Well, I'm afraid it does, if you live in Carolina. Most of us sportswriters live in big cities and might not realize what it's like to not have a hometown team. You feel as if you're peeping through a knothole in a fence. If we really wanted to see nothing but great football, we could always reduce the league to six teams, with 100 players each (so play wouldn't suffer when somebody went down with injury) and then we'd have both parity and excellence ... and very few fans.
Real men drive cars | From Bob Lipsyte
Pro basketball and football have become human freak shows. They have helped higher education corrupt itself. I appreciate LeBron never pretending to be a "student-athlete." And baseball -- ah, baseball -- that craft show you revere not so much for its varied skill sets but because it somehow evokes dad, your privates and beer.
When stock car drivers and their crews start throwing punches, it's because someone has tried to run someone else off the track and into the wall.
That, you sissies, is sport.
Dad, can I borrow the car? | From Tim Keown
Having a family background in moonshine doesn't hurt, but it's by no means a prerequisite.
'... and I believe in long, slow, deep, soft, wet kisses that last three days' | From Jim Caple
I love baseball.
I love baseball because I love history and, in a culture plagued by amnesia, history still matters in baseball. Basketball and football start fresh and new every year, but baseball never forgets last season or the season before or the season before or even the season before Pete Rose's last decent haircut. What happened 80 years ago is as important as what happened yesterday. This year's postseason was so compelling not just because of how incredibly close each game was, but because we all knew the Red Sox hadn't won a World Series since WWI, the Cubs hadn't played in a World Series since World War II, and neither will win one before WWIII.
I love baseball because Hank Aaron is the first name alphabetically, because of Steve Bartman and Pedro vs. Zimmer, and because of all the other many bizarre circumstances and moments that make it clear that, while God doesn't play dice games with the universe, he does play Rotisserie Ball. I love it, not just because of the numbers, but because they're the only numbers people recognize, because .406, 56, 755 are more familiar than our cash machine numbers. I love it because where the game is played is almost as important as the game itself. I love it because they let you keep the ball when it goes into the stands. I love it because of the home run trot. I love it because of box scores.
I love it because you almost never see players taken off the field in a stretcher. I love it because even though there are the same number of boors and SOBs as anywhere else, more people laugh and joke about themselves than in other sports. I love it because it's fun.
I love it because when players talk about baseball, they refer to it as a game instead of a war.
And there's no Santa Claus, either | From Bob Lipsyte
.406 was only happy when he was either shooting down MIGs or killing fish.
56 roughed up Marilyn Monroe.
755 got death threats because a lot of other guys also believed in baseball history and in the fat, white throwaway baby who made his cohort feel good.
How do I get your faith?
It's quite a combo | From Chuck Hirshberg
Because those are a few of my favorite things.