Let's play the $25,000 Pyramid. Here are the clues:
Watching hairlines recede...Reading the dictionary...Waiting for Godot...Cross-stitching...Alphabetizing your canned goods...Attending a workshop somewhere on sorghum....
You holler: "Things More Exciting Than Watching Baseball!"
Ding, ding, ding! You win! You also get the complete audio library of Jim Palmer explaining why Sid Fernandez sometimes throws screwballs on 2-and-1 counts to hitters missing one or more fingers.
August 28, 1988
Admit it: Baseball is to thrills what beets are to taste buds. If baseball is so exciting, why is there the seventh-inning stretch? You ever heard of the third-quarter stretch in football? Forget it. Nobody gets drowsy watching football.
In this country you're not supposed to say the D word about baseball: dull. Or dumb. Or dreary. If you tell people you would rather be stripped naked, covered in tuna oil and lowered into a tank full of barracuda than watch an entire baseball game on TV, they give you the standard. "Well, you're not sophisticated enough to appreciate the subtleties of the game."
From what I can tell, "sophisticated" means you don't mind watching a game in which out of 80 at bats—about 400 pitches—you might see five hits. "Subtleties" means you don't mind paying $12.50 to watch it in person. If baseball is so subtle and graceful, how come the guys in the bullpen never watch it? They're either trying to spit tobacco juice on each other's socks (very subtle) or figuring out how they can get Chinese food delivered.
Football is much too quick-fix for baseball fans. After all, who can find sports sophistication in a 60-yard diving-catch touchdown bomb? And it's true, there's no subtlety in a guy's getting hit so hard that the first thing he says when he comes to is, "Mom, let me sleep 10 more minutes."
Football is so terribly unsubtle that if you're at a game, you're afraid to leave your seat because you think you'll miss something. Baseball is so wonderfully sophisticated that you leave your seat in hopes of missing something.
How was the game, Fred?
"Terrific. Had a corn dog in the second, some Jujubees in the fifth and a twist cone in the seventh."
Yeah, but who won?
"It depends on how well you know the balk rule."
The best player in football history was Jim Brown, a granite statue of a man. The best player in baseball history was Babe Ruth, a Jell-O parfait of a man. The best arm in football is John Elway's. The best arm in baseball is John Elway's.
Football has cheerleaders. Baseball has batboys. Football has Joe Montana. Baseball has Bob Knepper. Football has instant replay. Baseball has Don Denkinger. Football has Dan Reeves nattily turned out in a $500 suit. Baseball has Don Zimmer spilling out of an ill-fitting uniform.
In football, an upset means something. The worst team beats the best team maybe one time in 25. In baseball, the worst team beats the best team two out of five times. What's to celebrate?
If you're at a football game, there are 11 different matchups you can watch on every play. Set your binoculars on the wide receiver trying to outjuke the cornerback or the center trying to bull the noseguard. In baseball, try setting your binoculars on anybody other than the pitcher or the batter.
What did the rightfielder do that time?
"Well, first he put his glove on his knee, then he bent over, then he stood up straight again. Just like last time."
Baseball lovers say that their game is timeless, that it has kept the traditions that link it to the past. Right. Let's go to the Seattle Kingdome and watch designated hitter Steve Balboni—here's a real athlete—get an AstroTurf double that the outfielder loses in the roof.
Which game is more athletic? Football players come off the practice field looking as if somebody had used their helmets to boil lobsters. Baseball players come off the practice field wearing their hats backward after a grueling game of pepper. Baseball is so taxing that sometimes guys can get in only 18 holes before a game. Put it this way: Nobody's surprised that guys like Charlie Kerfeld, Mickey Lolich and Terry Forster have played baseball. What's surprising is that Dom DeLuise never did.
So let's call baseball what it is—a nap aid. And the next time somebody tries to make you feel guilty about hating baseball, remind him of what ESPN college football commentator Beano Cook said in 1981 when commissioner Bowie Kuhn announced that the U.S hostages recently released by Iran would all receive free lifetime baseball passes:
"Haven't they suffered enough?"