BASEBALL SUCKS // SOCCER SUCKS | WE ALL SUCK

Now that the World Cup is over and the “summer classic” MLB All-star game has given Derek Jeter the chance to J.O.-sesh his career all over the sport, it seems like an appropriate time to muse on what most Americans (or at least most begrudged sports writers) frequently refer to as the two most ‘boring’ sports in America’s sporting lexicon.[1] Given the variety and breadth of arguments for and against baseball and soccer, I’m going to try and list a few here.

1. NOTHING HAPPENS

I think we can safely say that both sides have compelling arguments to make here. Even though the “ball is always moving” in soccer, we can all agree that after the Argentina-Netherlands semi-final the mere locomotion of a soccer ball (even in the context of a high-stakes game) is not enough to provide entertainment. Similarly, nothing happens in baseball for insanely long stretches of time.[2] And even when something does happen in either sport the result is rarely a goal or a run. Rallies in baseball usually fizzle out. 1-0 games are pretty damn common in soccer, but hey at least it has a time limit.

The arguments that both sides throw out in response are pretty much the same. In soccer, you have to possess a strong understanding of when chances are eminent even if they don’t appear. Michael Bradley neatly flicking a ball into open space just past his own midfield can become a chance—and this provides entertainment even when the chance doesn’t actually materialize. America’s general ignorance on this matter was on full display during the Belgium-U.S knockout match. The U.S. had a few mediocre chances during the first half, and everyone gasped in disbelief at our inability to score. A more nuanced fan[3] would have realized that USA’s “scrappy” style was really just the team getting out played, but I digress.

Baseball has a beautifully bullshit phrase to describe the same phenomena: “the game behind the game” A.k.a. all of the little stuff that happens between pitches. That runner on first has a big-lead, maybe he’ll steal? Oh, look, they got the shift on for this lefty. He’s batting .274 against left-handers and only .189 against righties—interesting. There’s a reason why baseball was one of the first games to incorporate statistics—you need them to be continually entertained. The better argument for both of these sports is that you’re still watching human beings, and human beings can become characters on a sports field.[4]

WK-AX847_SP_MAI_G_20110512174401

2. THE CULTURAL CONTEXT IS ANNOYING

Look, I get it, most of America’s recent soccer fascination is associated with bearded liberals from Portland and Seattle, but come on that’s really not fair to the rest of the world. Everyone else understands how awesome it is to scream your head off at a soccer match—take a cue from South America and just roll with it. Besides, did you see the crowds in Kansas fucking City? Ten years ago who would have seen that coming? Soccer is only annoying if you think about it as a liberal take over of America’s sporting world, but that’s pretty narrow sighted because Soccer already owns the rest of the world.

It seems safe to say that Baseball is only popular in America because it’s “America’s game” and the only people who are still into it, grow up with it. But history is a legitimate reason for why a sport is entertaining, and once again this ignores the rest of the world. Japan, the Dominican Republic and Cuba all love baseball and the ghost of Babe Ruth isn’t constantly hanging over them. There’s been a lot of faux-controversy over playing baseball “the right way” (another bullshit baseball phrase) particularly regarding things like flipping your bat after hitting a homerun. Unsurprisingly, this mostly comes from white American males. Fortunately, Grantland’s Johna Keri is fighting this by promoting videos of awesome bat-flips. Yasiel Puig is the current champion. Would baseball be popular if it was created now? I don’t know, but it’s pretty irrelevant. The proper way to enjoy a baseball game is to go to a beautiful outdoor stadium with your friends, have a bunch of beer, eat some hotdogs and pay attention when things get interesting.

r-LONGEST-BASEBALL-GAME-EVER-PLAYED-METS-CARDINALS-large570

3. THERE ARE DRAWS???? / IT LASTS FOREVER

For some reason American sports writers conveniently forget that you can have a draw in hockey, but the point doesn’t really matter anyway. A draw still means something in soccer. You get points for it. It helps your team in the standings. If Swansea gets a draw with Manchester United while playing in Manchester, that’s a huge win. It’s also one of soccer’s most underrated assets—the games don’t take longer than two, two and a half hours. No commercials. Playing time is less than two hours. Contrast that with American football where it takes about four hours to watch a game. Unless you really love football, there’s no reason to watch a game in its entirety.

Now, baseball’s refusal to end without a winner is a beautifully American sentiment—we want a result. You play to win, not to draw and if our national pastime has the distinct possibility to turn into a war of attrition so be it—we won the cold war anyway, right? That being said, does anybody watch a regular season game that lasts fourteen innings? Soccer has this one right—go to extra time when it counts, and establish a system to deal with a draw when it doesn’t.

4. IT’S ALL LUCK

An oft-heard complaint about the beautiful game is that goals also seem more like a stroke of luck rather than skill. Never mind about the skill involved about being in the right place at the right time. Sure, some goals are luck, but anyone who has ever watched one of Messi’s free kick goals and still claims some product of luck is stupid.

Baseball, by nature is a lucky sport. As a hitter, if you get a hit more than a third of the time you’re at bat, you’re a perennial all-star. Stat-heads have even created stats that try to incorporate luck like Batting Average on Balls In Play and Home Run to flyball rate. But luck has always been an important part of the game and what really makes baseball amazing is overcoming odds. It’s really, really, hard to move a player from first to home. Watching people do it against professional pitching is impressive when you understand how hard that is. So, yes, baseball involves a lot of luck, but that’s why it’s fun. That’s why teams like the Yankees can lose to teams that have far less talent with something resembling frequency.

*          *         *

There are more arguments to make, but the world would be a better place if no one ever tries to make them. Worrying over sports pretty much destroys the point of them. Right now Americans treat soccer the same way they treat Olympic swimming: every four years, every one wants to know what the hell a 400-IM is, and can Michel Phelps win it again? Same thing with the World Cup (what the fuck is a Neymar and how do you break your back playing soccer?). It’s going to be awhile before soccer overtakes baseball in the American sporting paradigm[5], and when it happens lets all just relax and try to enjoy a longer World Cup run.

NOTES:

[1] I’m not even going to mention golf. Any physical activity you can participate in until you’re seventy-five isn’t a sport. Besides, there’s really no debate—golf is boring.

[2] Perhaps the most famous example of baseball time-wasting is batter-rituals between at bats. Nomar Garciaparra’s absurdly long pre-pitch ritual is still my favorite.

[3] Wow, what an obnoxious phrase.

[4] See Manny Ramireiz, Puig, or any number of baseball legends. Ditto for players like Zidane and Robben.

[5] I’m assuming that Football keeps its strangle hold on the number 1 spot and basketball stays a solid number two. Baseball is the most vulnerable, even with the amount of money coming in.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: