Guest Post: 7 Reasons To Love The Sport Of Baseball
Today’s guest post comes from a great friend of 7 Reasons, Simon Best. When he’s not thinking about baseball or pancakes, Simon can be found working with youths and – having finally finished his doctoral thesis – he is soon to become Dr Beat, a typo that we really hope will catch on.
1. Simplicity. Baseball is essentially very simple. One guy (a pitcher) chucks a ball to another (a catcher). The batter – standing in front of the catcher – tries to hit it and then runs in a diamond, back to where he started, while the rest of the pitcher’s team tries to either catch the ball, or get the ball to one of four ‘bases’ at the points of the diamond before the batter reaches the base. The two teams take it in turns to bat; the team that has got the most people round the diamond wins. Got that? Good. It is so simple that a version of it is played by British primary school children.
2. Statistics. While it is very simple, the sport of baseball also has incredibly detailed and complicated statistics, all with their own abbreviations/acronyms. There are RBIs (runs batted in), SBs (stolen bases), ERA (earned run average), BS, (blown saves), and the brilliantly acronymed WHIP (Walks and hits per inning pitched). There are statistics for batters, pitchers, fielders and teams. There is even a specific term for the study of baseball through statistics (Sabermetrics). Not even cricket, famed for its use of statistics, can rival that. Sabermetrics even uses a Pythagorean expectation to estimate how many games a team “should” have won, based on the number of runs they scored and conceded. There are even two universities that have courses in Baseball statistics – universities that no woman has ever attended, probably.
3. Uniforms (i.e. kit). In particular, their purity. Almost all baseball teams have virtually identical kits: white for when they play at home, and grey for when they play away (or ‘on the road’). There are some notable exceptions of course, particularly the New York Yankees’ racy pinstripes. In recent years, some teams have introduced a third change uniform and the use of primary colours like red, blue and black, but there are no gaudy stripes or chevrons, no large sponsors’ logos and no new kits every season, as in football. The distinguishing feature of a team’s uniform is the cap – another great thing about baseball – which has become a fashion item the world over. The off-the-field adoption of this piece of sports attire is something without an equivalent in other sports – aside from British thugs who wear football kits while holidaying in the Algarve to show off their lobster-coloured ‘tan’, and a few chaps in Fulham who regard cricket sweaters as ‘casual dress’ – to be worn with chinos, an oxford shirt and deck shoes.
4. The Seventh Inning Stretch. With no half-time interval and a quick turnaround between innings, the game needs a break for all fans to get more beer and hotdogs. As well as providing that opportunity, the seventh inning stretch includes a public aerobics session (to work off all the beer and hotdogs). This is accompanied by the collective singing of Take Me Out To The Ballgame, a song written by Jack Norworth and Albert Von Tilzer, who wrote it without ever having been to a game – you can’t say that about Skinner and Baddiel, though obviously we’d all rather they’d stuck to attending football matches and hadn’t started writing songs.
Brilliantly, the seventh-inning-stretch doesn’t come half way through the game, but towards the end (thirteen-eighteenths of the way through to be precise), thus avoiding a post-half time lull in action. If the game is close, it provides a break before the climax; if one team is well ahead then it gives the other hope for a change in fortunes, a comeback, and possibly even a glorious ninth-inning rally. Or not, if you support the Red Sox.
5. Cost. Baseball is ridiculously cheap to watch. You can sit in a seat with a slightly obstructed view at Yankee Stadium for $5. That’s right, five dollars. That’s £3.25. The cheapest seat that you’ll get at Everton FC is £29 – almost ten times as much – and watching Everton isn’t ten times as good as watching the Yankees (even in my own imagination). When you watch baseball, you can spend the £26 you’ve saved on other things. Americans spend it on food.
6. Racial desegregation: Yes, there was Martin Luther King and Brown v Board of Education, but one of the most culturally significant events in the civil rights movement was the ending of racial segregation in baseball, which was brought about when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson in 1947. Robinson became the first black man to play in major league baseball since the 1880s. Black players – even those of exceptional talent – had been confined to the Negro leagues for six decades. As Dr King might have said, Robinson was judged not by the colour of his skin, but by how well he played baseball – and that was brilliantly. The Dodger’s manager, Leo Durocher, took a gamble in signing Robinson and he received much criticism, but he stuck to his guns and was rewarded, as were baseball fans all over America, by seeing Robinson in action.
7. The Opening Pitch: Another piece of razzamatazz. Celebrities are often chosen to throw the first pitch of a game. They’re of varying degrees of fame; from pop singers to presidents, actors to astronauts, TV stars to talk-show hosts. Can you imagine John Prescott kicking off the FA Cup Final or Angela Rippon bowling the first over in a Lords’ test match (actually, I quite like those ideas). I know the opening pitch is largely ceremonial but nevertheless, it symbolises the involvement of these personalities in America’s national pastime. It is in a totally different league than television pictures of Cliff Richard eating strawberries and cream at Wimbledon, and offers the possibility that the celebrity might be humbled by throwing a baseball badly. One day, Americans may be able to see that Barack Obama is human because he can’t throw a split-fingered fast ball. Though being Barack Obama, he probably can.