Friday, September 9, 2011

Are you ready for some...September baseball?

Baseball Glove
Last night kicked off the 2011 NFL season. And...I...don' You know what I was doing while two titans of the NFC were having a good old fashioned shoot out? That's right, I was watching game number 143 of the Red Sox season (actually I was at a 1-year-old's birthday party, but that's not important right now). And you know why? Because baseball is better than football. Let me count the ways...

1) 90 feet to first base. There are few things in this world that are more perfect than 90 feet to first base. It's like Stonehenge. It's unfathomable to think some dude in the 1800's decided on this exact length. Besides Eagles cheerleaders, what does football have that even approaches this perfection?

2) The hats. Though snapbacks are making a comeback, which gives the NFL a boost, what is better than a crisp MLB fitted? This Brewers hat says it all.

3) Spring Training. The MLB pre-season is like a month long vacation. Players and fans ascend on sunny Florida and Arizona to get a glimpse of their teams. Everybody is relaxed and happy and filled with hope and tickets to games cost no more than $15. Football pre-season has no fun name. Players practice in 100 degree heat twice a day, sometimes to their demise. Teams charge the same exorbitant prices for pre-season games as they do for regular season games.

4) The record book. 56. 2,632. .406. 73 (or 70, 61, 60). 1.12. 7. All I have to do is say a number and a baseball fan will know what record I am talking about, who holds it and when it happened. Let's try that with football. 274? 352? 70.623? 28? In order that is consecutive games with a reception (Jerry Rice), consecutive games played (Jeff Feagles), single season completion percentage (Drew Brees) and rushing touchdowns in a season (Ladanian Tomlinson). Even a hardcore football fan probably did better on the baseball numbers.

5) Pace of the game. This is one I will never understand. Football backers say that baseball is too slow paced and that football is nonstop action. Apparently they choose to ignore TV timeouts, touch backs, fair catches, kneel downs, 35 second play clocks, clock killing plays, reviews, penalties, half-time and injury time outs. There is actually less time between pitches than there is between football plays. Also, baseball has built in commercial breaks between innings that are all natural unlike the extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial-first down scam that the NFL has. Aside from the intentional walk and mound visits, there are very few unnecessary stops in play in baseball.

6) The Hall of Fame. The baseball Hall of Fame sure has its flaws (why is Jim Rice in but Dwight Evans isn't?), but at least it is a fairly straight forward process. Can anyone explain to me how exactly the football Hall of Fame is voted on? There is also the romanticism of father and son hopping in the car and driving through the windy roads of upstate New York to stay at a flea bag motel in Cooperstown to marvel at the history and the greats of baseball. Has this story ever been told about Canton, Ohio? And don't get me started on those horrible gold blazers that make the inductees look like security guards at a high end strip club.

7) The One year season. This may not seem all that important, but I like that every event on a baseball field happens in the same year from pitchers and catchers reporting until the final out of the World Series. First of all, I like that when I say "the 2004 World Champions" I know that means the 2004 World Series and the 2004 season. In football (and hockey and basketball) I don't know what to call the champions. The Patriots won their first Super Bowl in 2002, but it was for the 2001 season so I am supposed to call them "2001 Super Bowl Champions" but the game happened the next year. The baseball season is also so poetically entwined with the seasons of the northern hemisphere. The players emerge from their holes at the end of winter and hope springs eternal. Teams grind it out through the dog days of summer in order to play for glory in the Fall Classic. Then we cozy up by the Hot Stove until the next year begins. Beautiful.

8) The number of games. Some people see 162 games as a mind-numbing amount of games. I see it as a chance to live my life. I am an absolute baseball fanatic, but if I miss a Wednesday night game in July I'm not going to lose sleep over it. For football fans, life stops every Sunday for 17 weeks in the winter. From 1-midnight, football fans won't do anything but sit their asses in front of a TV.
"Hey guy, you want to go catch that new Ben Affleck flick?"
"Can't bro, Browns are playing the Cardinals at 4:00."
"Um, dude, aren't you a Patriots fan?"
"Ya bro, but Montario Hardesty is my starting flex on my fantasy team, Brees Nuts"
"So you can't go to the movies because you need to watch the backup running back for the Cleveland Browns?"
"Kill yourself, right now."

9) Blackout rules. MLB has some crappy black out rules that don't allow people to watch games online if there is a nationally televised game or they are trying to watch an in market game. But the NFL pulls the scam of all scams. If an NFL team doesn't sell out its stadium, the NFL will black out the game locally. That means if the good folks of Nashville, TN don't feel like they want to shell out $300 to go to the stadium and watch Matt Hasselbeck lead a 4-11 team against the Luke McCown led 2-13 Jacksonville Jaguars on Christmas Eve, then people throughout the state won't be able to watch Chris Johnson's chase for 2000 yards on their television. Real nice fellas.

10) The Movies. Bad News Bears, The Natural, Major League, Sandlot, A League of Their Own, Field of Dreams, Eight Men Out, Bang the Drum Slowly, The Pride of the Yankees , 61*, Sugar, Bull Durham, The Bingo Long Traveling All Stars, Cobb, Moneyball, and Ken Burns's Baseball. Compare that with Brian's Song, Remember the Titans, We are Marshall, The Blind Side, The Longest Yard, Rudy (hate this movie), Invincible, Friday Night Lights, Radio, Any Given Sunday, North Dallas Forty, The Replacements, and The Program. This is no contest.

11) 9 Innings. No team is ever out of a game in baseball until they create the final out. As long as a team keeps getting on base, nobody can tell them to stop playing. In football, you could be putting together a great drive to try and win the game, but if the clock strikes zero it doesn't matter how well you played on that final drive.

12) Ties. How can an American professional sport end in a tie? The only thing I can think of that is a bigger letdown than sitting through over 3 hours of a game only to have it end in a tie is the sequel to Dumb and Dumber (I really should have known that a sequel without Jim Carey and Jeff Daniels was going to be horrible).

13) Performance Enhancing Drugs. Hear me out for a second. The result of the steroids craze in baseball was high scoring, 100 MPH fastballs, quicker recovery time from injuries, less tired players at the end of the season, and beautiful, majestic home runs. The result of the (ongoing) PED era in football is life threatening injuries, domestic violence and extreme rule changes (have fun watching flag football in 10 years because the size and speed of players got so out of control).

14) Player movement. I hate salary caps. They are confusing and socialistic. Instead of trying to figure out which players are the best fits for teams you have to first consider whether that player fits under the cap. When Michael Vick signs a $100 million contract it is not really a $100 million contract. There are also hardly ever trades in football and even when they are it is usually a player for a draft pick. The Hot Stove season and Trade Deadline have become nearly as exciting as the play on the field because there is so much movement. In football, the Trade Deadline usually comes and goes without anyone noticing.

15) Farm systems. I love having minor league baseball. It is a great way for fans of crappy franchises to get excited about their teams. It makes for better trades. It also brings live baseball to a wider audience (there's a team in Iowa!).

16) Going to games. I will make one concession that tail gating at a football game is way better than at a baseball game. But once you step into the stadium, baseball takes the cake. The seats are closer to the action. The players stay in the dugouts and don't stand on the sidelines blocking the views of the fans. The weather is scientifically one million times better. There are no artificial stopages in play when you have to watch players standing awkwardly on a field waiting for some guy to tell you the Snickers commercial is over and you can resume play. Modern baseball stadiums are architectural marvels and the quirks of every stadium adds a level of excitement to the game. And if that isn't enough, free souvenirs!

17) The World's game. Even though I am extremely patriotic (xenophobic), I find it awesome how far baseball stretches across the world. Just this past week, Alex Liddi became the first player from Italy to ever play Major League Baseball. The closest thing that football has to an international presence is Troy Polamalu.

18) Exclusivity of Playoffs. Baseball only accepts 8 teams into its playoffs while football accepts 12.  This is how we get the 7-9 Seahawks hosting a playoff game.

19) Any Given Day. The NFL and Al Pacino like to say "on any given sunday anything can happen," but largely this isn't true. The best teams almost always beat the teams they are supposed to beat. In baseball, however, there are absolutely no sure things on any given day. This year Baltimore, the worst team in the AL, has wins over the following pitchers: David Price (twice), James Shields, Clay Buchholz, Felix Hernandez, Ricky Romero and Gio Gonzalez (twice). That luck tends to even out over the course of the season, but on any given day you have a chance to see your team play well.

20) Any Given Day Part 2. This is probably my favorite part about baseball that almost no other sport can match. On any given day something can happen that you have never seen before. Sure a record can be set on any day in football, but is seeing someone gain 298 yards any different than seeing Adrian Peterson gaining 296 yards? In baseball, it seems like there are anywhere from 5-10 events that happen each season that we have literally never seen before. I can't wait for the first pitcher to throw a no-hitter and hit a walk-off home run in the same game.

There are dozens of other things that make baseball better than football, but this was the first 20 I thought of. Just because football has the Super Bowl and is easier to bet on doesn't actually make it a better sport. As Chris Berman spouts whatever horrible new catch phrase he created about Cam Newton this weekend and thanks God (who I'm pretty positive is a baseball fan) for bringing football back (even though no games were missed), just remember how much better baseball is than football. As the number 1 baseball fan of all time, Annie Savoy, said, "The only church that truly feeds the soul, day in and day out, is the Church of Baseball."

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