Somebody asked me recently why I like baseball. Usually, I just answer: “because it’s the best sport ever and if you don’t agree, you are wrong.” But since I’m not doing anything important today, I thought I’d think about it a bit. Most of the reasons I love baseball have been said many times before, but it doesn’t make them any less true.Here we go….swing batter, batter, batter…swing!
1. I’ve played baseball most of my life. For as long as I can remember, i’ve always wanted to play for the Cubs. I still do. Don’t ask me why. I played all through my youth and one year in high school. My neighbor Chris played shortstop and I played second base. He was much bigger and stronger than I was. By my junior year, I realized that I wasn’t getting any bigger and I gave up and played music. It’s a hard thing to realize your own physical limitations when it comes to sports. Especially when you’re a kid. I pretty much stopped caring about baseball until 2001 when I noticed a tiny Japanese guy playing for the Mariners. Ichiro Suzuki hit .350 his first year with Seattle. His arm was a strong as someone twice his size. The guy was smaller than I was. Ichiro re-kindled my love for a sport that I gave up on.
2. I’ve noticed a lot of similarities between baseball and music. Baseball is a game of failure, it’s been said. Music is kind of the same way. I figure, writing a song is a lot like hitting. They say you have to write a bunch of bad songs before you get a good one. Seems to me, it’s like hitting. If you can write 3 good songs for every 10, you’re doing pretty damn good. It sort of works for albums too: If there are 3 hits on a 10 song record…. (hey, we even call them “hits”)…Wow!! If there are 4 hits on a 10 song record…..that’s like a Ted Williams album cycle right there!! (Who was the last recording artist to hit over .400?)
Bob Dylan’s lifetime musical batting average is probably .390. He’s like the Ty Cobb of songwriting. Some say he’s just as much of an asshole too. Go figure.
3. Not unlike music, Baseball has had a history of (although never really fatal) drug use. (And I don’t mean steroids.) Music has Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison. Baseball has Dwight Gooden and Daryl Strawberry. Sandy Koufax stopped pitching because he was tired of taking pain killers after every game he threw. They say Joe DiMaggio smoked a pack a day. I used to not believe it until he died from lung cancer. I have this picture of Hank Aaron after a game smoking in the locker room. Legal and illegal substances in baseball goes back a long way. I mean they used to have a “Beer and Whiskey” League for crying out loud. That’s SO rock n’ roll!!! Then there’s the weird deaths of Stevie Ray Vaughn and Roberto Clemente. Vaughn died in a helicopter crash. Clemente died in a plane crash. Both were in their 30’s.
4. Most people who don’t like baseball tell me that it’s boring. Not enough action. There’s plenty of action, it just doesn’t happen all at once. It only seems slow because there’s no clock. There’s no time limit. Much to the chagrin of fans who have to work the next morning, a baseball game can go into the wee hours of the night. It’s the only sport (besides golf…which really IS boring) where time isn’t an issue. There’s no shot clock. There’s no half-time. It takes as long or as short as it needs to complete a game. Often, with remarkable conclusions.
5. It’s the only sport where the defense has the ball. Most other team sports (football, soccer, basketball) will look the same to aliens viewing from outer space. A court or field, and a mass of bodies running from one side to the other. Defending their goal and charging at the other teams goal. Back and forth. Baseball is a sport that would look drastically different from outer space.
It’s also the only sport where the field itself can legitimately affect performance. Got a team with right handed sluggers? They might have trouble in Boston. A football field is always 100 yards. A basketball hoop is always 10’ high. A baseball diamond is always the same dimensions, but the outfield walls can very quite a bit. The shape can be different, too. Baseball fans are attached to fields like no other sports fan. (Can anyone say Ebbets field?) The Green Monster, The Ivy, McCovey Cove….you get the picture.
6. It teaches us how to lose. (It doesn’t teach us how to lose gracefully, however!). You can’t dwell on things. (As the old baseball adage goes). If you hit the game winning home run the day before, you could just as easily hit into the game-ending double play tomorrow. And there always is a tomorrow. The biggest challenge a ball player faces is coming back from a bad “something”. A bad throw, a bad at bat, a bad inning, a bad game, a bad two weeks, etc. Chase Utley came back from his costly postseason throwing error with some giant lumber in the Series. That’s a ballplayer. Baseball is a losing game, it’s been said many times. The teams with the “best” records still lose an awful lot. This year, the Yankees won 103 games. Which means they lost 59. As unbeatable as they seemed, they still lost nearly 36% of the time.
Even more to the point of losing are the teams with amazing season records who don’t make it all the way. Think of the 2001 Seattle Mariners. They won a staggering 116 games. What happened? They lost to the Yankees in the AL Championship series. The Yankees then lose the World Series to the Diamondbacks, who as it turns out had won 92 games that year. The 2001 Yankees won 95. The point is, over a long season…the best teams in baseball still lose 30-40% of the time. Which is a lot. (In case you’re wondering…yes I had to look these stats up. No, i don’t carry them around in my head. I’m not THAT nerdy)
7. Baseball statistics are almost as old as baseball itself. Which means that every player, no matter how good, is always compared to his peers of the past. A 12 year old kid could go watch the Cardinals play and cheerfully declare: “Albert Pujols is the best hitter to ever live!!” His older brother would chime in quickly: “Are you crazy? Mark McGuire is!!!” Dad rolls his eyes and says: “You’re both crazy. Willie McGee used to play here and he’s clearly the greatest.” At which point, Grandpa pipes up and wheezes: “Stan Musial could’ve eaten those guys for breakfast.” Just when Grandpa thinks he has the last word, a big booming voice from the heavens says: “This is God. You are all wrong. You will all be condemned to Hell unless you recognize Rogers Hornsby as the greatest.”
This of course adds to the Myth of Baseball. The “what if’s” are endless. What if Josh Gibson, Cool Papa Bell, Satchel Paige and countless other Negro League stars had been allowed into Major League Ball? What if the 1920s Yankees played the 1970s Angels? How would Babe Ruth do against Nolan Ryan? Or for that matter, Barry Bonds Vs Bob Feller. Ty Cobb vs Sandy Koufax. Ted Williams vs Roger Clemens. Who thew harder in their prime, Randy Johnson or Walter Johnson? The combinations of what-ifs are endless and we’ll never really know. But it’s fun to think about.
8. The last thing I like about baseball is that it causes people to ramble on and on. I’ve just wasted an hour of my day writing this and I couldn’t be happier. Oh yes…the best baseball player of all time? Willie Mays, of course. Duh!!