Baseball vs Other Sports

After another long day at work, I’m watching the Detroit Tigers take on the New York Yankees in game 3 of the ALCS. The Tigers won both earlier games, and I understand no team has come back from an 0-2 start. With Justin Verlander on the mound, the Tigers have a very good shot at winning, which would put the Yankees in an even deeper hole.

Putting a little icing on my oatmeal cookie, the San Francisco Giants beat the St. Louis Cardinals last night, so those two are tied 1-1 in the NLCS. Dare I dream that the World Series will be Giants vs Tigers?  (I do, I do!)  The Championship series is best of seven, so—assuming the Tigers win tonight—they just need to win one more game.

Tonight I’m republishing an article I wrote earlier this year on my baseball blog. This is about some of the reasons I’ve come to love this sport so much.

from April 4, 2012…

The Twins are off to a very poor start this season. It would be nice to say there’s no place to go but up, but “famous last words” and so forth. It’s arguable that this season’s start series against the Baltimore Orioles was even worse that the season start series against the Toronto Blue Jays last year. We won one of the three games last year, but got swept this year.

Last year, after three games we totaled eight runs, whereas this year we’ve racked up only five. Starting pitcher Carl Pavano did better this year, as I mentioned yesterday, but Francisco Liriano did a bit worse in his start this year. Last year, Frankie went 4.1 innings and earned four runs; this year he went 4.0 and earned five. And in today’s game, started Anthony Swarzak went 5.0 innings and earned only one run (which coincidentally is close to Nick Blackburn in game three last year: 5.2 innings with only one ER).

But the bottom line is we lost all three games, and a large share of the reason was our poor hitting. In all three games, we scored runs in only one inning of the game, never more than two (in one case, just one), and those innings came late in each game. Today’s game was very nearly a no-hitter, until doubles by Justin Morneau and Josh Willingham got us on the board with our one and only run (and our only two hits).

Tomorrow is the Target Field opener, and we’ll play the California Angels. The Orioles were thought by many to be an easier team to beat; things get harder now, so we’ll see how it goes. Baseball, like life, is funny, and you never know. Sometimes things work the opposite of what you’d expect.

But enough about these games; they’re better forgotten and left in the rear view mirror for now. I want to talk about something else.

“Baseball is Boring” (Not!)

Sober Simpson

It’s not uncommon to hear people say that baseball is “boring.” Homer Simpson once made the observation that baseball was boring if you’re not drunk. And my ex-wife recently mentioned she can’t get into baseball (although she is a football fan).

So this post is a bit for her, but in particular for those who think baseball is boring. Of course, our hobbies and sports and interests are personal. One can certainly choose to follow any sport that appeals (or no sport at all). One can certainly find baseball not their choice, but it shouldn’t be for thinking that baseball is boring.

Because baseball really isn’t boring. In truth, once you begin to fully appreciate the game, it turns out to be a very interesting and exciting sport. Personally, I think it’s a lot more interesting than any other sport, and I’d even make an argument it’s actually more exciting.

Chess: so boring!

I will grant that sports such as football, basket ball and hockey, have more movement on the field (or court or ice), and if you only watch them casually, that can make them look more interesting. Baseball is more sedate visually. In some regards, baseball is more akin to chess than to, say, boxing.

And mentioning boxing brings up a key point that may or may not impress you, especially in light of the recent news report about football players being instructed to attempt injury to the opposing players. Injuries in football and hockey are often deliberate, and if not deliberate, are a natural outcome of normal play. This seems to me somewhat like crashes at auto races; the chance of destruction being part of the draw for some. In baseball, injuries are almost always due to accidents. Many baseball rules explicitly forbid contact. For example, a catcher cannot block the plate unless in possession of the ball.

Pitcher tries to fool batter.
Batter tries not to be fooled!

Baseball contains a lot more strategy and subtlety than the other pro sports. Every pitch involves a choice by the catcher (what pitch to signal), a choice by the pitcher (what pitch to throw) and a choice by the batter whether to swing or not and what kind of swing). All these choices depend on who’s pitching, who’s batting, and what bases are occupied and by whom (fast runners, slow runners). Even the pitch count factors in to what pitch a pitcher will throw. Whether the pitcher or batter is right- or left-handed is the least of it!

The way the defense positions itself on the field is also strategic. Those positions depend on who’s batting and who’s on base. This means that baseball players, especially catchers and pitchers, need a strong knowledge about the capabilities of each batter on the opposing team. The batters, in turn, need a good knowledge of the opposing pitchers.

Which brings up another key point: baseball is hugely about individual performance. The other pro sports are often about team work. Football, for example, other than the Quarterbacks and a few key receivers, has an offensive and defensive line. And while those who get deeply into football may appreciate the contributions of individual players, generally speaking, most fans seem to know only the key players. In baseball, every player has a very distinct position with a very distinct job, and usually even the most casual fans know every member of the lineup and what they do.

This extends to another unique thing about baseball: the prevalence of statistics. Every player has a boatload of statistics representing their performance in the last game, in the last XX games (take your pick of XX), in the season and in their lifetime. And these only scratch the surface. You can, for example, look at “splits.” How does a player do in night games versus day games? Or in home games versus away games? And, of course, there is another whole boatload of stats for the team. It’s not just about the number of wins and losses, although, in the end, that is the one stat that matters most.

And I haven’t yet touched on the whole quintessential American-ness of baseball; how it’s our national pastime and deeply ingrained in our national consciousness. The saying is, “As American as baseball, hot dogs and apple pie.” (And it is, perhaps, no coincidence that hot dogs are thought to have been invented for baseball fans.)

Getchyer hot dogs!

Nor, for that matter, have I mentioned any of the classic books and movies made about American baseball. (I recently had a chance to see The Natural again, and I plan to watch Bull Durham tonight.)

Americans have been playing baseball for a very long time (since the mid-1800s, and the earliest known reference is in a 1744 British publication by John Newbery), and it has spread to other countries (most notably, Japan).

Meanwhile, “Football” is actually a completely different sport in most parts of the world.

And, so to my dear ex-wife, consider this: I was right about beer and dogs, and you love them now. If you give baseball a chance, you might just come to love it as well.

“Basketball, hockey and track meets are action heaped upon action, climax upon climax, until the onlooker’s responses become deadened. Baseball is for the leisurely afternoons of summer and for the unchanging dreams.” ~~Roger Kahn

About Wyrd Smythe

The canonical fool on the hill watching the sunset and the rotation of the planet and thinking what he imagines are large thoughts. View all posts by Wyrd Smythe

21 responses to “Baseball vs Other Sports

  • Wyrd Smythe

    Talk about exciting baseball! Verlander pitches 8.0 innings of of shutout, gives up only two hits (both to Ichiro Suzuki), walks none, strikes out three. Detroit is 2-0 going into the ninth. Then Verlander gives up a homer on a full-count ninth pitch. Gets the next batter out in seven pitches and is taken out after 132 pitches.

    Phil Coke comes in, gets the second out in two pitches. On a 3-2 count, Teixeira singles. On a 2-2 count, Cano singles. Finally on another 3-2 count Ibanez goes down swinging.

    Holy butt pucker, Batman; three batters, all three one strike away from winning or disaster!! This whole postseason has had games like this that come down to the wire!!

  • Marcella Rousseau

    I think baseball is more like flying a plane: hours and hours of boredom and then seconds of sheer terror. This is why we need hot dogs, peanuts, and beer: to fill up the hours of boredom. I would rather go to a baseball game than a football game any day. I can’t keep track of where the football is so that’s no fun. At least in baseball I can usually see where it is and then there’s the possibility that I or someone near me can catch a stray ball! That would never happen in football or basketball, although I do like a good basketball game.

    I wish I could explain the conversation my son and I had many years ago about when I asked him what does 3 and Oh mean? It will only get lost in the translation but we discussed it for at least an hour, I never got a good understanding of what he was talking about probably because the two of us were laughing so hard. I managed to tape the end of the conversation but it really didn’t do justice to the whole conversation. You just had to be there. Needless to say it was memorable. I still don’t know what it means. I don’t even know if that was the original question but I think it was. He is such a sports fan and good at sports himself, that I’m still at a loss as to why he couldn’t explain it to me. Maybe he was putting me on!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      For me it’s also like flying a plane in that, the more I know about it, the more interesting it is! Every battle between the pitcher and the batter is interesting, and there are over 50 of them in each game. Under the hood, there is a surprising amount of complexity and strategy in a game of baseball. The “three and oh” question is a good example.

      First: there are (at least) three different things “three and oh” can mean, so context is important in knowing which one we’re talking about! Second: it always means one thing has three and some other thing has zero. It could be the game score; one team has three runs, the other has zero runs. It could also be a series score; one team has won three games, the other has won zero.

      The most common use is between a pitcher and batter. There it means the pitcher has thrown three balls and no strikes. And here’s where the strategy kicks in. Generally speaking, no batter swings at a 3-0 pitch (unless the pitch is perfect and cannot be resisted). If the pitcher throws a 4th ball, the batter walks, which is a Good Thing. So the batter doesn’t risk turning a ball into a strike by swinging at it. Which means the pitcher has to throw some kind of strike. He can’t risk throwing any kind of ball and putting the batter on base. It’s a tense pitch for the pitcher!

      I wonder if it isn’t a life truism: the genuinely interesting things get more interesting as you explore them more deeply. (And there is personal taste: hockey and basketball don’t grab my attention that much, but I find NASCAR very compelling.) It’s that fractal thing again; increasing detail when you zoom in.

      • Marcella Rousseau

        Thank you for explaining! No wonder nothing got settled between my son and I! Most likely there are many people who don’t know about all the complexities in baseball. But I thought it was football that was a complex game – more complex than baseball. No? I learned about sports through osmosis: my father was a big sports fan, my ex-husband is a big sports fan, and of course my son, who probably tops both of them. Yes, I could see how it would be a tense pitch for the pitcher. What would make a pitcher throw 3 balls? Would he just be tired or figure it’s better to throw a ball than to risk a hit from say, a powerful hitter at base? (Assuming that a pitcher can be THAT exact.) I went to a hockey game once. It’s too violent. A player began hitting a fan in the crowd with his stick! It was nuts!

      • Wyrd Smythe

        It’s very possible a football expert (which I’m certainly not) could explain how football—or any sport—is equally complex. Many of the genuinely interesting things in life are complex once you really dig into them!

        Yes, one reason a pitcher might end up in a 3-0 count is fatigue. He could also be having an off day. He could also be facing a savvy batter who is able to “see” his pitches well and isn’t fooled by those that start off looking like strikes but which veer outside the strike zone by the time they reach the plate. That’s a big part of the pitcher’s toolkit: throwing pitches that look like strikes but aren’t as well as throwing pitches that look like balls but which turn out to be strikes once they reach the plate. If the batter is harder to fool, the pitcher has a harder task.

        On a good day, pitchers are very exact. One of the many things you can pay attention to in a baseball game is noting the catcher’s glove position when the pitch is thrown versus where (if) the catcher has to move it to actually catch the pitch. When a pitcher is really on his game, he’s hitting the catcher’s glove dead on every time.

      • Marcella Rousseau

        lol, yes the “wild” pitch that makes a catcher reach! I wonder what pitchers shoulders must feel like when they reach their older years. That can’t feel too good from all that over-use.

      • Wyrd Smythe

        You may know this already: there is a formal thing called a “Wild Pitch.” It’s when the pitcher clearly blows it and the pitch goes flying past the catcher. It’s a error on the pitcher (part of his stats) if it results in base runners advancing. That’s different than if the pitcher just “misses his spot” and the catcher has to adjust to make the catch (but does make the catch).

        The flipside is a “Passed Ball” which is when the catcher blows a catch he should have caught and base runners advance. (In both cases, if no runners advance, no harm, no foul, no error stat.)

        Pitching takes the human body (the arm, shoulder and wrist, anyway) to the limits of what a human is capable of. Many pitchers sustain career-ending injury just from pitching — just from doing their job normally. And various surgeries are almost expected during a pitcher’s career. It’s really pretty amazing what MLB pitchers do. Watching a really good one is a joy to behold!

      • Marcella Rousseau

        When the catcher blows the catch, does he get an error stat? I often marveled that after squatting for so long that they are able to get up (spring up) to reach for a ball. Not only is that hard on the knees but it is a challenge for their blood pressure! How old are catchers usually?

      • Wyrd Smythe

        Yep, you betcha! In both cases (pitcher’s Wild Pitch or catcher’s Passed Ball), there must be runners on base who are able to advance due to the loss of control of the ball. (In some cases, it means a man on third comes home and scores!) If there are no runners, there is no error.

        Errors in general are given when the official scorer feels the player failed to make a play that any normal experienced player would normally make “with normal effort.” It’s a judgement call, and it can be appealed (you sometimes notice the hit/error count change days after the final score is posted). And to be an error, the other team must benefit in some way.

        Catching is not only rough on the knees, but rough in general. Running for home plate is one of the few times physical contact is allowed. The runner has the “right” to the base (plate), so he can smash into the catcher as hard as he likes (so long as he’s not obviously attacking the catcher). And the catcher isn’t even allowed to block the plate unless in possession of the ball. There have been plenty of broken bones in plays at home plate!

        Most pro ball players are in their 20s or 30s. I would guess most catchers are on the younger side of that.

  • charmarie221

    I was not an avid baseball fan. I had gone to games and watched. I understood the rules, except for the more obscure ones (infield fly rule comes to mind, although I’ve “got” that now) and followed the action. Action being a salient point here, as it is a sport where true ACTION is often missing, or at least slow and short lived. The people who prefer basketball and hockey do have a point–you are given much more action (visual, as you said) to attend to in those games.

    That being said, since my daughter has become more of a fan, I have been forced to pay attention to answer her questions AND to figure out who in the hell she’s talking about. As she memorized the batting order, so did I; as she said random things like “It’s 10:29 and 29 is Beltre’s number” I had to have the presence of mind to acknowledge this association was not just odd, it was correct!

    Then suddenly I realized I was aware that Elvis Andrus was a great shortball player, an acrobatic infielder, and had hit in every single game in his career against the Indians… that Michael Young defined Utility Player… that Ian Kinsler and David Murphy wore their pants the same way, unlike any of the other players on the team–until Derek Holland started wearing his stockings long… that Yu Darvish really did have the potential to become a phenom and we had borne witness to his MLB debut, live…

    So, bottom line, in my case it became interesting to me because I became interested in the team. Players became personal. And thus the game became more personal. Like our 2nd family. The downside to this is when the game shows its business side and decisions are made that tear up the family. And there really IS crying in baseball, am I right?

    • Wyrd Smythe

      You are right, Tom was wrong! (And I’m pretty sure he knew it was wishful thinking or irony at best.)

      I’m a late-bloomer baseball-wise. As any American kid I’d played my share of sandlot baseball, and—as you said—knew the basics. I was the uber-geek in school and not very sports; my dad was a pastor and sports didn’t exist in our house (there was nothing against them; just utter ignorance). In 2010, due to job stress, I needed something that didn’t aggravate me, and I stumbled on baseball. The more I watched, the more I liked it.

      Then, as I do with most hobbies, I started getting really into it. Learned about stats and the finer points of the rules. Learned how awesome pitching is and how many subtleties are involved in every pitcher/batter face off. I do a lot of work with data, so I love the stats (loved Moneyball!).

      Football lasted a year. Skydiving lasted about two. Handgun sports lasted about three. Computer software has lasted almost 40 and is still going strong. Baseball is feeling lifelong. There’s something about it. Do you know the George Carlin bit comparing baseball and football? Spot on and really funny.

      The brutality of football (and hockey) bothers me a bit, especially since so many kid programs are really into the sport. We have so many messages of violence in our society (and so few of love). Basketball seems claustrophobic to me and ultimately very repetitious and “much of a sameness” (I suppose that’s different if you know the sport). And I cannot not fathom why people play, let alone watch, golf. Bowling is at least fun to play, although I can’t fathom why people watch it.

      I do rather like NASCAR, though. Not sure why, but it’s fascinating. Actually being at a race… when they turn on all those engines (“Gentlemen, start your engines!”)… that’s almost an orgasmic experience!

  • charmarie221

    Yes, LOVE the Carlin bit… war! versus “he’s running home; he’s going home” etc… my fave part is when he talks about the managers wearing the baseball uniforms and I always envision the football coaches suited up on the sidelines, hahaha

    I can’t get into NASCAR because any form of car racing ranks up there with golf as far as excitement for watching for me… I feel like it’s just an ongoing left hand turn

    Basketball I actually like to watch because I canNOT shoot a basket to save my life so to watch fadeaway jumpers and off balance 3 pointers that go INTO the basket are amazing… and the last 5 minutes of a close game are always fun to watch as there is a lot of strategy with timeouts and intentional fouls, etc. But I have a very hard time watching all 4 quarters.

    Ah, football. I live in Texas. Texas and football is a scary, scary combination. It really is like another religion down here. They play full out tackle starting in 3rd grade. High school football games in small towns, and even big towns, are beyond just being supportive. The money spent is astronomical. They have a sports complex at a big local high school that costs 60 million dollars. We have cut fine arts out of many, many area schools, can’t afford classroom copies of textbooks, but by god, those kids in Allen, Texas have the finest big screens to watch gamefilms on and a training facility to rival many college teams. For the football team.

    And the injury potential grows and grows in that sport. The number of head injuries, I read, has increased rather than decreased despite better and thicker padding and equipment. Reasons cited included the facts that they kids start younger, the playing seasons are longer, and the kids (eventually adults) hitting them are bigger. And there just miiiiiight be some hormone/steroid issues. But of course never on your own team.

    Meanwhile my hubby also has season tickets to the Cowboys games. He shares a pair of tickets with my brother. The difference in the environment at Rangers Ballpark and Cowboys Stadium is like night and day.

    Everything Carlin mentions about the difference between baseball and football very much transcends to those who come to watch the games. Baseball being so much more family friendly. It takes a lot to piss off a baseball crowd. A single interception, or a wide kick on a field goal attempt, however, can cause a stadium wide eruption of cursing and screaming that about made my ears bleed. And I consider myself a fairly seasoned cusser.

    • Wyrd Smythe

      The part that still always cracks me up is the line about how, if it’s raining, “we won’t come out and play.”

      Here’s a thing I seem to have noticed (haven’t looked into it carefully, so I could be wrong): I recall in the original version of this he compared the closed-in football gridiron to the [Carlin happy hippie voice] “ever-expanding angle.” The text I found merges that into the park/stadium bit:

      “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.”

      I think I also remember the lines above (surely without “gridiron”). I wonder if he realized (or had it pointed out) that the outfield fence is the boundary of the playing field, so there really isn’t an “ever-expanding angle.”

      Or it’s all in my head, or my memory is faulty. Both are possibilities.

      I’ve heard about football and Texas (and there have been those movies and TV shows), and it sounds like we’re on the same page vis-a-vis the sport. True about the crowds, too! Think of what Cubs fans so cheerfully and hopefully endure every year. (Some teams do have a rep for more aggressive fans. Yankees fans are certainly said to be vocal, and I think it’s Phillies fans that have the worst rep.)

      I love that patch of grass beyond center field you guys have at Arlington (as you probably know, in fact, it’s a the “batter’s eye” and a rather unique one—most just have a wall). What’s that several-level structure behind it? I’m trying to learn all 30 MLB parks now… I’m planning an All-Park Tour for after I retire!

  • charmarie221

    I think I’ve only heard the “gridiron” version, if indeed there is another version.

    Those multi level things at the Ballpark are offices that people can rent–I know at least one is owned by a law firm–and I think the GM Jon Daniels uses one of the offices out there. Pretty hefty rent, I’m sure, but def prime real estate. We took the ballpark tour on Mother’s Day, if you saw that blog. My college son was all “Is this for you or for her?” (referring to the 6 year old) and I said I had wanted to take the tour, so it was fine to do it as a Mother’s Day event. He is not so enamored of sports, so he suffers through his sister’s phone calls lamenting a loss, or trying to describe a crazy play that happened at home plate, or how angry she was at the Tigers pitcher for hitting Nelson Cruz AGAIN with the ball.

    Our plan is to do some destination games this year. Wait, I just realized that would be in addition to owning season tickets. Heavens, how much baseball do we want to see? Oh well, like I said we’ll sell at least half of the season tickets. If we do it right, we might break even on the whole shebang.

    We will definitely go to a Houston game down there, and then hit the beach. My husband has an open offer to come to Boston to watch a game with tickets, and Fenway would be cool. My brother wants to take his kids to Maryland, and we could catch an Orioles game if we went to do that. And I have an aunt who lives in the L.A. area so we could see the Angels play, although we might be sick of that matchup! Thing is, Riley would only want to go if they were playing the Rangers. We told her if we do go and wear our tshirts, we would def get on TV as they always show the destination people on local TV. Well, maybe not at a Houston game, but def if we hit Fenway!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      Offices! I’ve wondered if they were hotel rooms (obviously haven’t wondered very hard or could have easily looked it up). It’s cool; makes Arlington one of those immediately recognizable parks. We have a new one, as you probably know: Target Field. (I have a post about my first visit in 2010.)

      Wow, inverted world: college-age son not into sports, but young daughter who is! 😀

      I know what you mean about how much baseball. For two-and-a-half years now, I’ve tried to watch every regular game. The day games are tough, but the MLB GameDay site makes it easy to freely monitor any game in near real time. (Cool site, you can also go replay games, check out the pitches and plays. Actually, come to think of it, if you’re not already aware of it, it might be something for your daughter in a few years if the interest keeps up. It really takes you into the game. I love it!) It’s exhausting! It pretty much sucks up what free time I have in the summer; it definitely kills any other TV viewing (I can only stand to watch so much TV).

      And it’s not like the last two years have had a whole lot of Twins baseball worth watching. (Ben Revere is a hoot to watch, and it was nice seeing Mauer in good form, and for a while Willingham was exciting, but mostly it’s just been sad.)

      We have a few teams close enough that Minnesota fans regularly go visit: KC, definitely (they call that the Twins’ second home); Chicago is common; I’m guessing that Milwaukee will be more common with NL/AL being balanced (I haven’t looked at the schedules, but I’m assuming there will be a lot more inter-league play now). Those fans in the northeast have it easy; lotta ball clubs in a close area. (Let’s see: Jays, R.Sox, Yanks, Mets, Nats, Phillies, Pirates, Orioles… do we include Ohio and also pick up the Reds and Indians? If so, you could practically include the Tigers and Braves, then. That’s 12 clubs in car range. Sweet.)

      Cute that Riley is, very specifically, a Rangers fan, not a baseball fan! 😀

  • charmarie221

    Yeah we went to see the Globetrotters play and she was VERY confused as to why we would be going to see, much less cheer for, any team other than the Mavericks. If it’s not Rangers baseball, she’s not much into watching during that season. Although after we didn’t make the playoffs, she was eager to see New York get beat, and she was hoping that neither the Cardinals nor the Giants would be back in the “World Serious” because if we couldn’t go back, neither should they.

    That didn’t work out so well.

    Not sure if you remember her aversion to Albert Pujols during the Cards WS games (mentioned in that WS blog), but when he went to the Angels and we’d see him all the time, she was appalled. And somehow (honest to Pete, I don’t know when or how it started) she started referring to him as Stinky instead of Albert. And, I’m sorry, but Stinky Pujols is FUNNY, I don’t care who you are. Although it helps if you have the snickering sense of humor of a 15 year old boy.

    And wow, you have a lot more car trip venues available than we do. Houston is 5 hours. Everything else is a plane ride. I need more $$, ha!!!!

    • Wyrd Smythe

      She and I both got our wish regarding the Cards (although, boy, it came kinda close) and the Yankees. I was less invested in WS 2010, so I don’t hold it against the Giants (rather like them, in fact). Cards and Yankees, though… [grrrr]

      I remember; Pujols is funny. 🙂

  • charmarie221

    she’ll say “Here comes Stinky” when we’re at the games and I always wonder if the people in front of us can hear her… and if they put the names together… and whether they are snickering… or are horrified at the classless trashy people they are forced to sit in front of, and weep for the future! ha

    and now we’re watching the Cowboys last chance for the post season… congrats to Peterson for taking the Vikings in this year… if you’re watching, that is….

  • charmarie221

    no… that would be the cowboys…..

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