The Weaknesses of Baseball

It’s been about four months since I posted to this thing. I am still alive and still ready to keep posting, but I’ve been quite busy in the past while. I’ve thrown myself deep into Magic: The Gathering. I’ve recently been promoted, which means this upcoming summer is going to be very hectic. But none of these excuses hold weight. I will return, hopefully tonight. I’ve got a couple things percolating in my head. I need to discuss Comic Geek Speak’s Super Show 2010, which I attended last weekend. I’ve got about five pages of a new story down that I’d like to run out and see what’s going on. But what I’d like to do to mark my return is write about why I’ve completely lost all interest in baseball, considering I currently live in Boston, and the Red Sox begin their 2010 campaign against the hated Yankees in just over an hour. I couldn’t care less.

There are four major sports in America right now. People can argue what they want, but football, basketball, baseball, and ice hockey are the four major sports that people follow in this country. If I had to personally rank them by my interest, ice hockey would hold the top spot, followed by football. There would then be a pretty wide margin, at which point baseball still sneaks in much higher than basketball, which has taken up its spot in the sub basement of the sub basement of modern team sports. I should also mention that Mixed Martial Arts is currently in a knock down drag out fight with football for the overall number two spot, but I’m talking specifically about major team sports here, so we’ll leave that out of the conversation.

There have been two specific times in my life when I liked baseball. The first instance was when I was very young, surrounded by the madness that was the 1993 Philadelphia Phillies. They were crazy, with all kinds of characters like Lenny Dykstra and Darren Daulton. They made a run to the World Series, lost in a pretty agonizing way, and the anguish from my parents really turned me off the sport for a while. I came back to America’s pastime after I moved to Boston for college in 2002. When you first come to the city, the allure of the Red Sox is hard to deny. This is especially the case when you are living on-campus at Boston University, and you are practically living in the shadow of Fenway Park. Obviously, the championship runs in 2004 and 2007 made for very exciting times. And, to the benefit of baseball, the NHL had their lockout season during this period. But something was missing. It was exciting, but not too exciting. I’ve slowly realized that I know exactly what the issue is. Baseball has the same problem inherent in its current design that makes me hate professional basketball. All things being equal, the final moments of both of these games actively change the pace in a negative way.

Take a look at the last minutes of a close game of basketball. Let’s say that Team A currently has a three point lead. The soundest strategy at this point for Team B is to commit an intentional foul on a member of Team A, thus forcing them to earn their victory at the stripe shooting foul shots, and then hopefully make up the difference by aiming for three pointers. This is sound strategy, don’t get me wrong, and since the current rules of the NBA do not in any way discourage such actions, there’s nothing wrong with it being the predominant strategy for the end of close games in modern basketball. There is, however, a problem here. To watch this happen is incredibly boring.

Baseball does not have nearly as much of a problem here as basketball, because the overall tempo of baseball is slower than basketball. When the first 46 minutes of a basketball game move at a pretty brisk pace and the final two minutes take fifteen to complete, it just ruins everything about it. Obviously, this won’t be the case in a blowout game, but you could make the argument that a blowout game isn’t nearly as interesting to watch in the first place. With baseball, the slow down in a close game occurs thanks to the rise of the dreaded situational relief pitcher (cue the “back in my day, starters pitched the whole game! In the snow! And they liked it!” rant). Each team has their crazy sidewinder lefty or righty that is only there to pitch to other lefties or righties. And that’s it. So if you’re in a situation where it’s a close game in the seventh, eighth or ninth inning and you’re looking at a righty/lefty/righty split in the batting order, you might run into the situation where you start with a right-handed specialist, make a pitching change for a left-handed specialist for the second batter, and make another pitching change to bring in a set-up guy or closer or something. Each pitching change takes a good ten minutes to complete. Suddenly, this half inning takes forever to complete, even if it’s a 1-2-3 inning, let alone if the opponent puts anyone on base. When you’ve got one half inning that can last upwards of half an hour (and it’s not even because of something exciting like lots of runs being scored), you’ve completely ruined the flow of the game. It’s a sad state of affairs. I’ve always had marginal problems with the way baseball is set up in general (I have a completely different issue with the sport, in that it is the only major team sport where only one team can score points at any one given time, but that’s a different discussion), but this just exacerbates the problem.

Compare this to the last minutes of a one or two goal hockey game. Complete and total insanity. There is nothing more exciting than the pulled goalie in the last minutes of a game. You’ve got a power play situation, most likely six attackers on five defenders, with the added tension of having a wide open net on the other side of the ice in a game where points are incredibly hard to score. Craziness ensues. People are flying around trying to throw as many instances of the puck on the net as possible on a rapidly dwindling clock, knowing that one mistake will most likely cost the game. This is extremely high stakes on an extremely short clock, which leads to the most excitement possible. It’s good stuff. I’m reminded, of course, of Boston University’s National Championship win last year, where a two goal deficit against Miami of Ohio led to BU pulling the goalie with three minutes left, and eventually scoring the first goal with 57 seconds left and the game tying goal with 14 seconds left, leading to the eventual overtime win. That’s good sports right there. You don’t get situations like that in baseball. It’s too slow. You don’t have explosive situations taking place over the course of seconds. This is one of the many reasons why I will always consider hockey the superior sport.

Football’s also got an interesting tempo, because you’ve got the back and forth between the speed of the no huddle after the two minute warning matched with the possibility of time outs, spiked balls and running out of bounds to stop the clock. It’s not as madcap as hockey can get, because you have a tendency to move in fits and starts. But that rush to get everyone on the line so you can start your next play or spike the ball is always entertaining to watch. Hockey obviously takes the cake because the clock is much more of an issue and stops less often, but the tension that gets so bogged down in baseball and basketball is still there (and believe me, as a fan of the Philadelphia Eagles, whose two minute offense has been inept for years, it’s quite tense indeed). What this really points out is the elegance of the way hockey is set up as a sport, and it’s a shame it’s been relegated to the position that it’s currently in, fighting for exposure with a national television contract on a marginal network while the best young players we’ve seen in two decades are strapping on skates and doing wondrous things on the ice.

This turned into an article a little more focused on hockey than I intended, but the point remains clear. The Sox game started an hour ago, and all I’ve seen are short glimpses as I walked through the living room to get to the kitchen. I’m really over the whole sport at this point. It’s amazing what a couple years will do to you.

This post was written to the tune of Local H’s Here Comes the Zoo


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