RateWatch #379 – Baseball
October 25, 2003 by Dick Lepre
Baseball - A Universe Parallel to Life
I am a big baseball fan. I was born in The Bronx and was a kid at a time when the Yankees won 5 World Series in succession. They had excellent teams until I went off to college. (Not that I am
suggesting any causal connection.)
When I was a kid, baseball was, essentially, the only sport that folks paid attention to. Baseball
now shares a much larger stage with football, basketball, hockey and (despite it being well-
disguised here in Northern California) NASCAR.
For me, baseball offers one compelling force. More so than any other sport, it resembles life.
1) The majority of the time nothing is happening and when things happen they happen too quickly.
2) small changes in what happens result in disproportionately large results in the outcome.
A guy drops a routine fly ball and his team is eliminated from the playoffs. An umpire calls a marginal 2-1 pitch a ball and the situation is monumentally different with a 3-1 count than
it is with a 2-2 count.
In this manner, both baseball and life are unfair.
3) it has developed a "melting pot" aspect. This is a game played by whites, blacks, Latinos and
4) Basketball players seem to average 6' 9". Football players weigh 280 pounds. Lineman weigh 340 pounds. Baseball players, for the most part, look like human beings.
5) It mirrors some of the social problems in the rest of life. Drugs for example. Little is said about the following: this past season saw baseball introduce steroid testing for the first time. For the first time since 1993 no player hit 50 home runs. In fact, there were as many 50 home run
seasons after the 1994-1995 strike as there were before 1993. The other statement that sounded
almost comical came from TV announcers all season long. "Yeah, so-and-so really decided to lose weight in the off-season."
Baseball culture is more affected than other sports by the use of steroids because records are so much a part of baseball. It is impractical to divide records into "on steroids" and "not on steroids."
6) Baseball has its winners. The fact that the Yankees win so often may be distressing to the a fan of other teams but it makes the game much more interesting. In football there are no teams
like the Yankees. The Dallas Cowboys may have been America's team for a while where you had to either like them or hate them.
Every time that I go to an A's game when they play the Yankees or the Red Sox there are a large, vocal number of fans there rooting for the visitors and it makes the game a heck of a lot more fun.
7) Baseball has its lovable losers: the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago Cubs set the standard and the White Sox, Indians and Giants are the second tier of losers. As much as I might intellectually know that there is no such thing as a curse it was hard to watch the 1986 World Series (Mets-Red Sox, Bill Buckner) and not believe that paranormal forces were involved.
8) Size matters. Like much of the rest of life - money talks. The Yankees have a massive cash-flow from media, spend the money wisely and win. Money may be a necessary condition but it is not a sufficient condition. Ask the Texas Rangers.
9) Everybody has an opinion. Baseball is a wonderful sport for after-the-fact second guessing. Why was Pedro Martinez left in to blow game 7 of the LCS. Why was Marino Rivera in the bull-pen rather than on the mound in game 4 of the World Series? Why did we invade Iraq?
10) Baseball is for the middle-class. The tickets for other sports are so expensive. The best data that I could find is two years old and shows the following average ticket prices for professional sports:
My ticket for the NASCAR race at Infineon Raceway (Sear's Point) this summer cost me $125.
11) Baseball allows for dreaming and hoping. The faces of Cub's and Red Sox' fans in the League Championship Series said it all. Baseball unfolds at a pace to allow for hope, dreams, joy and anguish. Hockey, for example, happens so quickly that if you are at the game, half of the time you can't see who scored.
12) Baseball is about frustration. The best hitters fail 70% of the time. No one is a born baseball
player. Basketball, yes. Baseball, no. Ask Michael Jordan. It requires and enormous number of hours of practice to become a professional baseball player. Annoyingly, life is often like that.
13) When baseball moves off the field and into other aspects of life it can still reveal the true nature of human greed and stupidity. On October 7, 2001, right here in San Francisco, Barry Bonds hit a baseball into the stands at Pac Bell Park breaking the single season home run record. The ball hit the mitt of Alex Popov but Patrick Hayashi wound up with it - for the time being. Rather than sell it and split the proceeds they decided to sue each other. It went to trial. The judge ordered the ball sold at auction and the proceeds split 50/50. The ball sold for $450,000. Alex got $225,000. His legal bill was $473,530.32.
This drama could never have transpired over a hockey puck, basketball or football.
14) Exogenous forces can greatly affect the outcome. A Chicago Cubs fan reaches for a foul ball coming right at him and becomes responsible for the continuation of the Cubs' history.
"Baseball is a ballet without music. Drama without words. A carnival without Kewpie dolls. Baseball is continuity. Pitch to pitch. Inning to inning. Season to season."
-- Ernie Harwell