Baseball is back, finally, and not a day too soon. To paraphrase Gerald Ford, our long NFL nightmare is over. No more YouTube videos of elevator violence, no more bungled press conferences, no more plausible denials, acting out, and halftime shows that belong at the MGM Grand in Vegas. Good riddance.
With the exception of basketball, which is played with the tips of the fingers and balls of the feet, no sport comes close to the grace and rhythm of baseball. Well, if you don’t count bench-clearing brawls like the one between Kansas City and Chicago the other day, or bean balls like the one Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels threw at Bryce Harper of the Nationals. You’ve also got to overlook steroid use and asterisks in the homerun column. At least A-Rod is back in pinstripes, for what it’s worth.
There has been a lot in the mainstream media lately about both the pace and place of baseball. It seems to be the narrative du jour among sports writers (Jason Gay, Matthew Futterman). The narrative goes like this: baseball is slow and boring. Players take too long in the batter’s box spitting and adjusting their under armor. David Price of the Detroit Tigers even takes 27 seconds between each pitch! This must be an excruciatingly long time for some people, since it has been described as “torpid.” Anybody’s who been to the DMV knows what torpid is, even if they have to look it up. Twenty-seven seconds between pitches is not torpid.
Then there’s the place of baseball. Although it is still the national pastime, football has surpassed it in overall popularity and television ratings. That’s the way things are evaluated now: who’s watching on ESPN. Jo Craven McGinty of the Wall Street Journal has published what I believe is a reasoned and disinterested approach to the football vs. baseball debate. She notes that football generates more revenue and has greater per game attendance. But when you consider that 74 million people attend baseball games every year, not counting minor league, college, and Little League, that’s an incredible number. It’s more than most countries.
Comedian George Carlin used to do a set in which he compared baseball and football, noting how ironic it was that both sports epitomize the American character, yet they are so different. Baseball is played in a park. Football in a stadium, a War Memorial Stadium. Baseball is a spring and summer game. Football is best played in cold weather with rain, sleet, and snow. Baseball, if it goes over time, goes into extra innings. Football has sudden death. Baseball fields don’t have regular shapes, other than the diamond. Football is played on a grid. You stay on the grid or you will be penalized. Don’t even think about stepping out of bounds.
I don’t want to see baseball changed to make it more “competitive” with other sports, although it seems to be a fait accompli. It’s not football and never will be, even if they introduce 350-pound infielders. Neither is it ice hockey, where trying to follow the puck is like being annoyed by a fly. And it’s certainly not soccer, which reminds me of trying to thread a needle and is just as pleasurable.
I am not a purist by any means. But before I give up completely and turn my attention to cricket (I understand the players drink gin during the game), I have to point out that speeding up baseball is not just wrong, it’s stupid. Baseball is already being ruined by multi-million dollar scoreboards (Yankee Stadium has a billion-dollar one), life-sized mascots jumping around as if they were at Chucky Cheese, blaring music, and gimmicks of all kinds. Then there are those special events like Navy Seals parachuting into the park on opening day. When I go to a ballgame, I want to see a ballgame. If I wanted to see The Lion King, I’d take the 1 train to Times Square.
Actually, I blame metal bats. It all started with college baseball introducing metal bats. Now they’re everywhere: college baseball, women’s softball, Little League. I went to one college baseball game and one women’s softball game this afternoon. The clink was everywhere. I’ve gotten used to it, so I don’t wince anymore.
And when you go to a game this season, leave your cap on for Kate Smith’s “God Bless America.” You only take it off for the national anthem. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.
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