I don’t really care about baseball.
I feel like, and I’ve thought about this a lot, hockey is indisputably a superior sport to the other big North American sports. I’m willing to allow that soccer is probably on par with hockey somewhat, and I don’t know enough about rugby (or cricket, although I’m pretty sure cricket is too complicated to be good) to make a firm call there. But up against baseball, basketball, and football, I’ll argue for hockey all day long.
Hockey players are tougher than football players (the hits are faster, there are immovable physical objects that you can be rammed against [i.e. the boards] and disputes often descend [or ascend] into actual, mano a mano hand-to-hand combat where guys are sometimes knocked out. Oh, and players lose teeth midgame and keep playing. And yet, the game’s still light-years faster and the roster is composed more of skill than brawn. Hockey players make nimbler, slicker moves than basketball players (they do everything at greater speeds, yet on skates, and they handle the puck with a stick rather than their hands, adding an extra layer of difficulty), and yet those moves have more import. Any given move in basketball, no matter how clutch, is just a straw being added to a camel’s back. In hockey, any given goal, even one very early in the game, can be a two-by-four to a camel’s back.
But those two sports, for all their shortcomings, at least stand a fighting chance. Baseball is a sport the same way chess is a sport; the same way poker is a sport; the same way darts is a sport. You don’t need to be an athlete to be good at baseball. You just need to be a person with big arms. Here’s a thought experiment: If you can be a dominant force in your sport and still sport a sizable beer belly, you’re not an athlete. You’re a guy wearing a dorky uniform that was designed in the first half of the last century. Any sport where your team can play six games in six nights; or twice in the same day—is not a sport. The human body needs to be taxed, in some way. Consider this: the energy required to hit a grand slam, which is the strongest and best play in all of baseball, comes down to this: you need to twist your arms and torso around real hard at the right moment, and then you need to amble/jog for about 20 seconds. The most dangerous part of this exercise is usually avoiding getting trampled to death by your teammates at the end.
Recently, when I accidentally watched a “Top 5 Plays” clip relating to baseball, I realized that in baseball there is no such thing as a ‘play’ in the sense that I understand the word ‘play’ in a hockey context (one or more players from one team conspire to create a goal or deny one over a period or time and/or space). In baseball, there are really only four things: bat hits ball, guy catches ball, guy throws ball, guy runs. Of these four things, which comprise all of baseball, the most important three take about less than a second. A SECOND. Basketball has its dribbling. Football has its running plays. Hockey has its puckhandling. Baseball pretty much happens in an instant. So, yes, I’ll make the comparison. Baseball is a lover who ejaculates prematurely. A lover with a beer belly, wearing a silly outfit.
The quaint part about baseball is that so many people care. But there’s something beautiful about that. The whole nation of Japan cares about this stupid pastime only because of how fervently America believes it’s a real thing worth having real emotions about. I watched Moneyball for the second time recently and I was struck by the comparison between the New York Yankees’ and Oakland Athletics’ payrolls. They’re shown to express than the Yankees’ payroll is about four times as big as the Athletics’, but what struck me was that the two organizations were paying their players a combined $160 million that year, or about $2 million a player, on average. Two million for a year (one year! And they do it again the year after!) of premature ejaculations, beer bellies, jogs/ambles, and avoiding getting crushed when you hit a grand slam. If you hit a grand slam. Which almost all of them don’t.
Here are some more facts about baseball:
- Baseball is not a sport.
- Major League Baseball is still comprised of two leagues, for some reason, when they could just merge into one league and get it done with. Literally they have thing this where two teams in the same city will barely play against each other during the regular season, because they’re not in the same ‘league’ (fake concept). For instance: The Los Angeles Angels play the Houston Astros (random example) more times this season (19) than the six teams located in the same city as another team (Los Angeles Angels & Dodgers, New York Mets & Yankees, Chicago Cubs & White Sox) play their cross-town counterparts (8, 4, 5) combined. That sentence may appear confusing, but I assure you it was written with far greater care and attention to logic than the arrangement of the teams in Major League Baseball currently.
- The MLB also still has two staunchly racist team identities (the Indians and the Braves), and one team with, as far as I can tell, semi-complex racial roots (the Browns, which were named after Joe “the Brown Bomber” Louis but don’t appear to have ever used imagery or concepts explicitly relating to racial minorities). North American major league sports have a couple of teams in various states of moving away from bad names, logos and general identities (incl. the Blackhawks (non-reductive name, but offensive logo/concept), Redskins (offensive name + logo + highly racist team founder/owner who wouldn’t allow black players long after the rest of the National Football League had), Warriors (incredibly offensive original logo, long history of non-racist logos since) and Chiefs (low-level racism but continued use of stereotypical name + themes/motifs).
It’s possible to me that the Padres might include some weird white/Hispanic type situation but I’m not really aware of any stereotypes regarding Hispanic priests. Let me know if I’m off-base about this. Anyway, now might be a good time to remember that there is a team of baseball players based in Cleveland, Ohio, the United States of America, whose name literally refers to people from the country of India and whose mascot is a racist caricature of a Native American. That’s all I have to say about that. Also, the ex-mascot of the Atlanta Braves was called Chief Noc-A-Homa.
- I think the best thing about baseball so far has been the additions it has made to the North American lexicon. “He really knocked it out of the park with that one.” “There’s a little bit of inside baseball.”* “Swing-and-a-miss!” “They’re throwing curveballs at me!” ”Man, I can’t wait to get to second base with this chick.” Et cetera. Someday, when baseball is no longer played, because it sucks and is a sport (pastime) for suckers, these remnants will live on in our language, like a vestigial tail, reminding us of the weird freakazoids we once were.
*I feel like I knew what this meant at some point but no longer do, nor care to look it up.
Listen. I was there, you know, like everyone else, that Sunday night, when Ortiz walked up to the plate with the bases loaded and the Sox down four. And yes, he swung, and yes, grand whatever. Was it exciting, when he crushed it? Was it exciting, when the camera got the sense of where everything—ball, outfielder, audience, all—was going? Was it exciting, when said outfielder, balletic, flipped over the wall, one assumes, into the Styx, never to be seen again? Yes. But it also proves my point: Baseball is the mayfly of sports. The whole comeback had been born, grown up, lived a full life, and withered away in the span of time it would have taken to tweet, “Holy fuck, Ortiz with the grand slam! #GoSox.”