Where Smart Picks Go to Die
I know our show is all about college football, but to be honest my first love was baseball. Like many kids my age who grew up in our area, baseball started as soon as we could stand and hold a bat. It helped that the Atlanta Braves were in the middle of their historic run when I began paying attention to baseball. To a 9 year old, there was no greater dream than to play in the MLB.
It was with this passion that I approached the game. I’ve never been physically opposing or exceptionally gifted, so I couldn’t compete trying to use only my physical tools. The edge I sought was a more thorough understanding of the game we were playing. I watched baseball differently, asked questions, listened when legends talked about the game. I began to learn about signs, deliveries, how to look in the “box” when the pitcher threw, how to tell batter’s weaknesses by the way they lined up in the box. Because of all of the little things happening between pitches baseball became an exciting and intriguing game for me. I still love to watch a baseball game and marvel at the coding and decoding of messages, stances, and form in which the players and coaches play the game.
Unfortunately, none of this excitement can be captured in a televised game. Rarely do you see signs being sent in or break downs of a batter’s stance. The coverage is exceptional in showing the pitcher’s motion and grip on certain pitches, but this is lost on most viewers. Baseball’s intrigue is in the details, the continuous battle to gain an edge. Our society has become less and less detail oriented. The prevailing mentality is “as long as we get the big picture we can just Google any insignificant detail if we need it”. So the game of details has become a game of insignificance.
But surely this isn’t the only explanation for baseball’s steady decline. Ask 100 people who don’t like baseball why they don’t almost all 100 will mention that they believe the game is too slow. The average MLB baseball game is 2 hours and 58 minutes long (however, when the Yankees and Red Sox play, stretch that to around 4 hours). The average NFL football game is 3 hours and 6 minutes long. Given these statistics why does baseball, a game that on average takes 8 minutes less to play than football, seem slower?
Football is played with a play clock. As long as there aren’t time outs, we get to see a play about every 40 seconds (25 in college). Baseball has no play clock. A pitcher can theoretically take as much time as he wants between pitches. But this isn’t the most offensive misuse of time in many viewer’s eyes. Baseball gets a bad wrap for its “nothing” plays. It feels like “something” happens every play in football. Even a dive up the middle that is stuffed by the defense sees all 22 players moving during the play. Baseball has many “plays” where the only two people involved (seemingly) are the pitcher and catcher. A 1-0 pitch that misses low and outside sees the pitcher throw the ball and the catcher catch the ball. Even during an exciting double play only 63% of the available players are in motion (assuming the runner on first and a batter puts 11 player on the field. If the shortstop and second basemen turn the double play and finish by throwing to the first basemen that gives us 7 of the 11 players involved). But once again, this is a deceiving picture of a much more complex reality. The outfielders are in motion to backup the ground ball to the shortstop, the catcher is moving down the line to backup the throw from the shortstop, everyone is in motion. It just can’t be seen by the camera. Details.
Other arguments include the steroid scandal, slow moving policies when it comes to technological advances, and too many games played. These are also largely unfair claims. Football has had its problems with substance abuse and performance enhancing drugs but haven’t come under nearly as much scrutiny. Football hasn’t adopted full instant replay and is very slow to react to new technologies when it comes to equipment. Baseball does play a lot of games, but the NFL plays 25 weeks (4 preseason, 17 regular season, 4 playoff) and the NBA plays 68 regular season games and what seems like a 3 month playoff.
The one argument that offends me more than any other is that baseball is boring, that there are no story lines. Let’s only take 2012 as an example. The biggest name in baseball was traded after winning a World Series and then did NOTHING in his new town. Miguel Cabrera won the triple crown for the first time since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. The Athletics were 13 games back on June 30th and trailed by 5 games with only 9 games left. They won the division. The same Athletics were down 2-0 in a best of 3 series with the Tigers (Athletics Payroll = 49.137 Million, Tigers Payroll = 119.276 Million) and came back to tie the series 2-2. It took an 11 strikeout complete game from Justin Verlander (arguably the best pitcher in baseball right now) to quiet the pesky A’s. Every division series went the full 5 games and had games decided in walk-off fashion. The excitement is there…if you’re watching.
So why does baseball’s relevance continue to fade into obscurity? Baseball is America’s pastime. I think this is the biggest problem. Baseball is considered an “old man’s game”. Most people from the newspaper and radio generation grew up to listening to or going to the game. It was a unique source of entertainment without much competition. Today we have thousands of TV channels and internet sites dedicated to sports. With so much competition and so many negative connotations that are associated with baseball, I don’t think it can ever repair its image.
But until it fades completely, I will always watch with excitement as the battle for every pitch is waged. Even if I’m the only one.