“Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.”
“Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.”
“The one constant through all the years has been baseball. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and erased again. But baseball has marked the time. This field, this game, is a part of our past. It reminds us of all that once was good, and what could be again.” – James Earl Jones in Field of Dreams (1989)
Tranquility: Harbor Park, Norfolk VA
It’s football season again…not that there’s anything wrong with that, but my heart is elsewhere, the lush green diamonds where baseball is played. The minor league season is over, the Norfolk Tides have gone home and baseball is only on television for me. I don’t see how I will see a game in DC or Baltimore before the end of the season; the schedule isn’t going to work out. Football, Hockey and Basketball will all be going soon; football of course has already begun and my winter has already started.
I have nothing against football. I find that it is an occasionally interesting diversion during dreary fall and winter days. Football does not hold the same fascination for me that I have for baseball. I have played football in my sophomore year of high school. We’ll I went to a lot of practices and got into two games for a total of about 6 plays at the end of the season. However as a scrawny defensive lineman I did get in on two tackles and a sack. I also had two penalties called on guys who committed personal fouls on me. Of course they were both a lot bigger than me and somehow when I got around them one took a wing at me and another gave me a block in the back. Now I was not very good, I worked hard but I was small and slow. Somehow I got my sophomore letter and was named as “most inspirational player.” Now being most inspirational means that they know that you suck but appreciate the effort. I later became one of the team trainers in my senior year. That was a better fit, I got to fix guys rather than be clobbered by others.
So anyway, football is merely interesting to me. I can get interested in a really good game on television. However, going to a professional game doesn’t do it for me. Even in good seats you are pretty far from the action. For me it’s like watching 22 center fielders scrambling around the field from the upper deck. And I’m sorry I don;t like big bucks park a half mile from the stadium. Nor do I find that having to watch the game on the Megatron scoreboard while I am sitting in the elements freezing my cold wet ass off to be my particular style. Likewise drinking $10 domestic beer and eating a cold soggy hot dog is just not what I enjoy doing. I don’t need to do that. I can actually enjoy a football game more at home, or actually the best place at Gordon Biersch brewery restaurant bar. I actually like Biersch the best for it is the good beer and the great people that make it fun..
There are some things that make football just a game for me, versus the one true faith, the Church of Baseball. One is the limitations of the field, I find the gridiron to be simply confining. It is a battlefield where the limitations of time, space, time outs and other stoppages of play break up the flow of the game. The parity imposed by the league has in my opinion taken away from the the luster of the game, we don’t really have great dynasties now like the Raiders, Steelers, Cowboys, Broncos and 49ers. Now we have a lot of mediocre teams mixing it up with a few really good teams. Sure it means that the game is “more competitive” and that small markets get to see their team in the playoffs. However the lack of dynasties and big time rivalries between dynasties has made professional football rather ordinary. The big NCAA programs still have that but not the pros.
I find that the insufferable amount of replays does nothing for the flow of the game. Likewise the use of the video review for almost anything seems almost to be a way remove the human element out of the officiating a football game. In an attempt to make things “fair” the NFL has taken away much of the controversy which made the the game memorable. Who can forget the Franco Harris catch against the Raiders in the AFC Championship, or the “immaculate deception” when the Raiders beat the Chargers. To make mistakes is human and adds to the drama of the game. Reply and review kill that and when I see a coach throw down the flag to request a review I want to throw up. What I like about baseball is that bad calls are still legal because no one is perfect, especially umpires. It is part of the game. Sometimes I wonder if the NFL is taking humanity out of the equation. This even comes down to silly penalties for “excessive celebration” by guys that score touchdowns. Assessing a 15 yard penalty because a team or player is happy?
“The job of arguing with the umpire belongs to the manager…” Earl Weaver
Now I have to admit that the NFL has the best television production of any sport. They manage through an incredible amount of talk, animation, commentary and replay from every possible angle with the exception of the Center’s sphincter to show the game in all of its gory glory. Can you imagine the sphincter cam view of the center-quarterback exchange? I can just see and hear the John Madden commentary now “Did you see how Brady got his hands on that snap?” Or “wait a minute those fingers aren’t supposed to be there…when I was a coach….” The TV production is awesome and it does make football on TV a pretty good deal. But for me football with all of its self imposed limitations is not the same is baseball which is not bound by arbitrary time limits nor defined by replay. Baseball is played on a field that with just a few aspects is different in almost every stadium, how big the outfield is, how fast the infield is, how much foul territory between the foul line and the stands and even the outfield fence or wall give a stadium a personality all its own. There is only one Fenway Park, or Wrigley Field. A football field is a football field maybe one has better turf than another but apart from that there is little difference between one and another.
Then there are parts of the game itself that make me wonder. The “extra point” or as it is officially known as the “Point After Touchdown” is something that makes little sense to me. A team that scores a touchdown gets 6 points. If they kick an abysmally short kick they get an extra point. Of course they can do a 2 point conversion where they try to run or pass the ball into the end zone to get two points from like the 2 ½ yard line. Now if there was something similar in Baseball it would get weird. Think about it. A guy hits a home run and scores. The play stops, the pitcher turns around and the guy who hit the home run goes to second base with his bat and faces home plate. Once they are set up the pitcher pitches off the back side of the mound and the hitter gets another run by hitting the ball into the grandstand behind home plate.
Then there are “special teams.” Are these guys really that special, unlike Jerry’s kids, and if they were why aren’t they getting more than the league minimum? I mean really people hit on the American League for the designated hitter. In football everyone is a designated hitter, everyone is a specialist and there are coaches for everything, Head Coach, offensive and defensive coordinators, quarterback coach, running back coach, offensive line coach, special teams coach, receivers coach, defensive line coach, linebacker coach, defensive secondary coach, strength and conditioning coach,and probably more that I am not counting. That’s like 12 coaches, maybe with all the legal problems of the players they should have a court and jail coach? Now I’m sure in many cases having all these specialized coaches makes the players better but once again I think it takes some of the life out of the game. There was a time there were just a few coaches and when were not so specialized. There was a time when some football players played both offense and defense and the majority of special team’s players had roles on the offense or the defense.
The time limit that allows teams to simply run out the clock when they get a big lead takes the excitement out of the game. How many times have you turned from a game because the game got really boring about the middle of the second quarter because one team has a huge lead and the other team is sucking like a Hoover? In baseball you can’t run the time out, you have to pitch to each batter until you get the 27 outs.
Now I don’t take anything away from the players. There are a lot of tremendous athletes playing football and the rate of injuries and normally short career of a player that you have to respect them for the efforts that they make and the risks they take to play the game. However, I think that the way the pros get their players is somewhat detrimental to the game and to education. Football gets almost all of its players through college football programs and invests little in player development. Major League Baseball teams invest a huge amount of resources into layered minor league systems taking the time to develop their players. Even the Yankees do this.
Now football, despite all the delays, replays and other stoppages can be exciting when big plays are made or when a quarterback methodically leads his team back in the final minutes of a game to win the game. At the same time there are plenty of times that the game devolves into a scrum of short gains and losses, the “three and out” that many games turn into series after series.
But most of all the games represent two distinctly different views of life and sport. Football has become the technological gem of professional sports, but in my opinion has lost a lot of its humanity in doing so. It has become a high tech battlefield of speed and violence. Baseball on the other hand as George Carlin said is more pastoral game from a bygone era. A game that calls us back to more timeless American values exist. A game which like life is played over a long season filled with ups and downs, great plays and errors. Bad calls and weather delays keep the game real to what people experience at work or int their family. Baseball is a game where people still matter and the public has higher expectations of the players and organizations. I think his is why the steroids and performance enhancing drug scandals that have rocked Baseball for more than similar allegations in any other sport.
For the record my dad was a Raider and 49er fanatic who really got into the game. He taught me baseball, but he could get very spun up about football. He always talked about how he saw the first Oakland Raider game against the “Dallas Texans” which became the Kansas City Chiefs in the old American Football League. I do have my favorite team, the San Francisco 49ers and my favorite player of all time is Joe Montana.
Anyway, my game is baseball, as George Carlin once remarked:
“In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line. In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!”
Moon Over Harbor Park
Having gone to war and having studied it for years, I can say that I need the peace of baseball, may April 8th come quickly.