Saturday, February 25, 2006

Why baseball is the greatest game...

Baseball season is just around the corner, and it's going to be terribly exciting this year. The Brewers have their best team in a decade on paper, and on the field the Crew should be interesting to watch--some vetaran power hitters, a very solid pitching staff, and a bunch of young kids...given the Cardinals' losses here-and-there, the NL Central should be very close at the top, and the Brewers have every reason to think that they will be competitive this year...

But, I've recently got to thinking...

Apart from my love of the Brewers, what makes baseball such a great game?

There are many other great games: especially basketball and football. Excellent sports to watch, and the nuances of the game are intense and manifold. Yet, baseball edges them out....why is that?

Baseball has perfect games. This has to be the big difference between baseball and other sports like basketball and football. No matter how good a basketball game is, or a football game, there can never, by definition, be a perfect basketabll game, or a perfect football game.

Baseball's perfection is built into its system: one pitcher pitches nine innings, whereby all 27 batters are retired in order and not one batter reaches base.

This cannot occur in other games; there is no mathematical system built into other games. In other sports, one can get a perfect score (gymnastics, figure skating, etc.), but that's not entirely the same as a perfect game...

The other aspect of the game, the aspect that in turn makes the perfect game more compelling, is the relationship between the pitcher and the remainder of the fielders, and the batters, as well.

Unlike other games, there is no game clock in baseball. The pitcher is the vital player of a baseball game because he controls the pace of the game. There are fast pitchers (Buehrle of the White Sox and Sheets of the Brewers), and there are slow pitchers (see Tomo Ohka of the Brewers and Victor Santos, now of the Pirates).

Basketball is marked by a coordination of individual movement of players on offense, and either team or man-to-man defenses. Football is marked by an unmatched amount of teamwork...the quarterback depends upon the blocking assignments and movement of the linemen; defense in football works much the same way, with intricate blitzing and coverage schemes...

Baseball is entirely different. The pitcher is the key to the game because the pitcher holds the ball to start the game. Rather than a drive (football) or a possession (basketball), baseball is dominated by the start-and-stop of purely individual moments and isolated instances (at bats).

The pitcher begins every play in baseball--to the catcher in the form of a pitch or a throw-out, to any number of the infielders for a pick-off play, etc. Because of this disjoint between at bats and other moments in the game (pick-offs, caught stealings, etc.), baseball can be an incredibly rough sport to watch sometimes. But, the flipside is, when baseball moves out of its herky-jerky tendencies and gains some momentum, some rhythm, there is nothing more poetic than a baseball game...

The offense creates rhythm as much as the defense; but, its objective is much more difficult: the offense, in attempting to score runs, must take the rhythm from the pitcher. Just as the defense has its disjointed moments, so too does the offense (e.g., one hit). But, a rhythm comes about when multiple hits occur....this is the rally....

Taken as a whole, baseball is poetry because of its nuances. There are trends and key outcomes when one particular game is taken as a whole; but there is almost an endless amount of nuances and individual instances that can be taken and analyzed within a baseball game. Now, the same can be done for other games, such as basketball and fooball. But, the difference with baseball is that these instances all originate from the same point (the pitcher), and thus every instance in baseball is marked by the attempt of the offense to steal the rhythm from the pitcher, to take control of the game and score a run.

The pitcher's objective is rarely ever to throw a perfect game every time out. But the beauty of a baseball game truly is that every baseball game one goes to, one very well may get to see a perfect game...

2 Comments:

Anonymous Vinnie said...

I'm definitely a person who shares your assessment of baseball as "the greatest game," and I think it's predominantly because of its nuanced nature that you mentioned. While any sport has its nuances, baseball--particularly in terms of results--may be the most difficult to understand and explain. I think it's the way that physical instinct, psychology, strategy, and good old random error all play such crucial and sometimes solitary roles in given instances, which in effect can determine the outcome of an entire game or even playoff series, and which on the whole somehow manage to establish the merit of teams and players.

In this way, baseball is also probably the most statisticall fascinating sport to study because of how indecipherable the true meaning behind individual (or small scale) outcomes can be and how meaningful the statistics and results can become on an aggregate scale. I think these types of contrasts in general make baseball great, whether it's a contrast like the co-dependence of teammates (in terms of wins and losses, that is) despite the highly independent role and performance of each team member or the contrast of baseball's perpetual lull to its sudden bursts of action.

Maybe it's just nostalgia or bias, but I find everything about baseball--from the equipment used to the range and uniqueness of required skills--incomparable to any other team sport. And it embodies all of the other great life insights we get from sports in general, like diverse individual approaches toward a common end or the transience and brilliance of greatness--especially as they relate to our appreciation of these things.

One thing baseball may lack in relation to other sports, particularly soccer or basketball, is the constant interplay and the harmonious element (the word "fluidity" is sticking in my head) of team play. But for some, including myself, this adds to an appreciation for baseball--in part, I think because of our upbringing in a more specialized, individulistic, and less harmonious culture.

p.s. The Brewers definitely look good this year, but I wouldn't count out the Cubs (I can't help it; I'm a Chicago suburb kid), especially if Prior and Wood somehow stay off the DL. Then again, I feel like the NL on the whole is down this year, though I like what some teams (Mets, Dodgers, to name a few) have done. I feel I may be watching more White Sox games or out-of-town games.

12:41 AM  
Blogger Nick Z. said...

Nice post, Vinnie, I agree completely...thanks for taking the time to respond!

I agree about the Cubs and the NL as a whole (esp. the NL Central). If you told me today that at the end of the season, there were only 10 games between the Astros, Cards, Cubs, and Brewers, I wouldn't be the least bit surprised: the division is completely up for grabs this year.

I agree about Wood and Prior being healthy...hopefully Dusty keeps their pitch counts down this year; he's a terrible manager for pitchers' health.

5:30 AM  

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