The Uniqueness of Baseball
OK, so you might have deduced from the fun “What’s the best thing about baseball?” thread we did on Monday (seriously, check it out; the answers are great), I am neck-deep in the writing of my next book WHY WE LOVE BASEBALL.
Well, that’s not exactly right. I’m not writing the book yet. I’m definitely doing some research — next week I’ll be in Cooperstown to use some of their incredible resources — but I would not say that I’m researching the book right now, either.
Instead, I would describe what I’m doing now as shaping the book — that is to say I’m turning baseball inside out, immersing myself in it, trying to look at the game in what I hope are novel ways. And for that, I’m putting together countless lists. I have lists everywhere, in about a dozen different notes apps, on a bunch of different pieces of scrap paper, on voice memos.
One of the lists I’ve been updating is called “What makes baseball different?” The inspiration was George Carlin’s brilliant and essential “Baseball and Football” routine, which I memorized years ago and can still do, in its entirety, on command. There are so many insights in that routine that still boggle the mind, but the one that I think of most is this one:
“In football, basketball, soccer, volleyball and all sports played with a ball, you score with the ball. In baseball the ball prevents you from scoring.”
What a mind he had. This is, of course, exactly right. No end zones, no goals, no baskets, no holes, no nets or lines. In baseball, you have to beat the ball home.
Anyway, I started this “What makes baseball different?” list … I have absolutely no idea what role, if any, it will play in the book (which is, after all, built around a countdown of the greatest moments in baseball history). But I was looking at it the other day and thought: Hey, people might like to see this. They might like to contribute to it.
So here’s the list as it currently stands — what makes baseball different.*
*Note, some of these are true in other sports — for instance, in soccer the coach is called the manager, too. But I’m trying not to be too technical here; this list is not what makes baseball UNIQUE but what makes baseball DIFFERENT.
— Baseball, of course, does not have a clock but instead measures time by outs.
— In baseball, every play is started by the defense, not the offense, and defensive players are the only ones allowed to touch the ball.
— In baseball, the locker room is called the clubhouse.
— In baseball, the coach is called the manager.
— Many people will talk about (as Carlin did) how the manager wears the same uniform as the players, something that would be ludicrous in pretty much any other sport. But I think it goes beyond that.
The baseball uniform is the only one I know of that is not in any way designed for the sport. Like, football and hockey uniforms are designed to include pads to cushion the violence. In basketball and soccer (and tennis) they wear shorts, for comfort. But what’s the actual point of a baseball uniform?
— In baseball, they wear a cap. Is there another sport where the players just wear stylish headwear?
— Baseball seems to me the only sport they stop to let people warm up.
— Baseball seems to me the only sport where the manager/coach is regularly allowed on the field of play.
— Baseball seems to me the only sport where they make a major production out of taking someone out of the game. The closest, I’d say, is soccer, where they hold up the number of the player coming out of the game, and then everyone stops to cheer or boo as they come off the field. But even this does not match a manager coming out to the mound and taking the baseball away from the pitcher.
— In baseball, fans bring gloves to the ballgame. In football, fans do not bring shoulder pads to the game.
— I’ve been thinking a lot about this one — baseball seems to me the one sport that appeals to all five senses. When you hear people talk about baseball, you will routinely hear them talk about sound (crack of the bat!), smell (nothing like those ballpark smells!), taste (“A hot dog at the ballpark is better than a steak at the Ritz,” Humphrey Bogart said), sight (of course, but baseball is a particularly beautiful game) and touch (foul ball coming your way!). I can’t think of another game that gets all five.
— Baseball, I believe, is the one game you play in a park.
— Baseball, I believe, is the only game with a specific advantage in the rulebook for the home team … the home team bats last.
— This is opinion more than fact, but I feel pretty sure that baseball is the only game where a sizable number of fans believe the game is better on the radio than on television — better HEARD than WATCHED.
— In baseball, you can have an unlimited number of fouls without penalty.
— Baseball is the only sport that offers the fans a special moment to stretch.
— You cannot kneel on the ball, run out the clock or ice the puck in baseball. To win, you have to get the final out.
Anyway, that’s what I’ve got so far. I’m sure you’ll have some to contribute as well.