Note: I wrote this last off-season, but as it is relevant more than ever I wanted to share this with the readers here at MLB Mayhem. As I was going through to update some player names to reflect this off-season I was proofreading through the column and I stopped dead for a moment at the name Jose Fernandez. He was such a special player to me and I could not bring myself to edit his name out. I apologize if reading his name makes you feel uncomfortable or if you feel that it was inappropriate to leave his reference in the column as if he is still playing the game, but I felt like deleting his name was taking him from the game and that I can’t do.
If you ask Average Joe (or Jane) American what is the biggest sport in United States; the answer very well be the N.F.L. Ratings don’t lie, it is the most watched sport, but that doesn’t mean it stays number 1 forever. The N.B.A. ruled the 90’s for a time when some guy named Michael was playing hoops. Today, the N.B.A. sits in 5th place behind NASCAR and NCAA Football according to a recent Harris Poll.
But here are nine undisputed reasons why baseball still is and always will be our National Pasttime. Wait, nine? Yes, nine. Nine innings in baseball, nine reasons.
Longevity and players for decades – Aside from the quarterbacks and kickers football players take so much physical abuse it is not surprising that a player’s career lasts only 3 years on average, no matter how good you are, your body can only withstand a few hundred hits between 300-pound men. Seeing a player like Tom Brady who has been around for over 15 years is more surprising than hearing that a 29-year old like Marshawn Lynch is hanging it up after only 9-years. More power to you M.L., get out while you still have your knees and your mind.
Aside from a few stars most N.F.L. rosters are more active than an airport departure board, it seems just as soon as you beginning to identify a player they are injured or someone a step faster is taking their snaps. Most players have a longer NCAA career then they do with the NFL.
Baseball, on the other hand, star players are typically hanging it up around 18 to 20 years. Not to say players in ball don’t swap rosters, but your mainstays are there in the same uniform year-after-year. Guys like Miguel Cabrera, Joe Mauer, David Wright, Yadi Molina and Andrew McCutchen have grown old with a city and if they move on, they will play well into their 40s with another club. And for the young guys like Kris Bryant, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout and Noah Syndergaard won’t be expected anywhere new for a long time. Yes, guys on money strapped clubs like Carlos Correa will probably find a new home in New York or LA, but that is the economy of baseball.
Kids grow old with their baseball heroes, kids born in 2012 will likely start college before Bryce Harper hangs up his glove for the last time. How is that for Harper jersey longevity? Being able to identify a player like Clayton Kershaw over 20 years not only gives fans continued player recognition it also transitions into a legacy, kids can grow into their dad’s favorite players while they wrap up their career. I was able to sit with my 8-year old son and share the final games of Derek Jeter and David Ortiz, he was able to find the excitement of a player I had been watching long before he was born and take in their final years.
All sports have their legends, but the number of baseball players you can identify from past generations compared to other sports is just no competition. You can ask a 10-year-old today who Franco Harris is and he may likely stare at you and throw out a guess, but throw out Yaz, Willie Stargell, Johnny Bench or Yogi Berra they will say, “baseball.” Maybe they can even tell you 3 teams Reggie and Nolan played for over their careers.
The All Star Game v The Pro Bowl – This is a no brainer, find me one N.F.L. die-hard that looks forward to this game and I will show you a liar. Not only do the fans not care, but the players can’t be bothered. Honestly, can you blame them? If they are a playoff team they are likely a week or two from playing and just too sore to play another game. And if you are a regular season failure then it is dead smack in the middle of off-season and you are just back to home routine and family, no one needs that trouble.
But I don’t need to tell you the reasons the All Star Game is not only better than the Pro Bowl, but the best All Star showcase in sports. Baseball is a game that works at a casual level.
Unless you live in WY you can watch pro baseball – There are 30 Major League teams, 240 affiliated Minor League clubs and 50 or so Independent League teams spread across the Continental United States. There are about 30 pro teams in each of the major sports, Baseball and hockey are the only 2 sports with any kind of successful development league with their fans.
Getting to a game can be time-consuming and expensive. Going to minor league games can be fun to see new young stars and also convenient because some days you just don’t want to have the kids in traffic and parking lots for half the day.
Cooperstown Hall of Fame – Canton, Toronto and Springfield have their place but they are just not the hallowed hall. This is the easiest argument to make, every year in December you start hearing the talk: “Who should get in?” “No he won’t be elected!” “Will Ken be the first unanimous vote?”
Sure Jordan and Wayne have coverage when they entered their Hall of Fame, but without Wikipedia can you name last years HoF inductees in football, hockey or basketball? Probably not, but most people can tell you who was elected to Cooperstown the last decade. Baseball’s Hall is just special.
Cost – As much as fans of the Red Sox and Yankees complain of their league high $50.00 average ticket price, that sum is nothing compared to their N.F.L. counterpart’s in the Patriots and Giants who shell out an average of $125.00 per seat. The average price league wide in the Majors is $25.00 per ticket with four teams averaging under $20.00, with one of those teams being the Pirates who have been hot the past few years. Compare that to the N.F.L. who averages $85.00 a seat with the lowly Jaguars still getting $57.00 a seat. There is a large factor of supply and demand also here with baseball having so many games and the N.F.L. having just 8 regular season contests, but that leads us to…
A game a day from April to November – While there was once something to be said about Football being a Sunday thing it is a time of the past. Now we have football Monday night, Thursday night, Saturday night and Sunday. Baseball has always had its place as a long grueling season of 162-games across 200 days.
Baseball cards – Kids don’t put Gronk cards in their spokes, well they don’t really ride bikes anymore… but if they did, it would be the ole Topps originals and probably the checklist. Kids and adults alike have always be drawn to collecting and sure people want a Brady jersey insert or a Newton rookie but people don’t collect football like they collect baseball cards.
Flow of the game – Don’t confuse this with length of the game. Football is a 3 hour game with 11 minutes of action. I don’t mean 11 intense minutes, I mean 11 minutes of players doing work. the other 2 hours and 45 minutes are huddles, snap counts, players walking around post play and the field being measured.
You go to a football game expecting to see running and hitting and it is like waiting in line for the concession stands. A lot of waiting for a stomach ache.
Baseball is like a chess game, slow and methodical. The action is in the precision. Seeing Jose Fernandez make a batter look stupid, left standing with the bat on their shoulder still banking on an off speed as the fastball is by him before before he can even shift his weight. Baseball is meant to be played in the mind before it is played with athletics. Why else is it the most stat filled sport we have? It is a mathematicians supermodel.
Legacy – No sport has a legacy like baseball. Lou Gehrig and Jackie Robinson still to this day hold an effect on our society. Jackie Robinson is considered by some as second only to Martin Luther as a civil rights pioneer for playing baseball. MLK himself cited Jackie as an inspiration and hero.
How many of you dumped ice water on your head for Pete Frates a few summers ago? A baseball player from Boston College inspired a nation to raise awareness for ALS, a terrible disease more famously named for Yankees legend Lou Gehrig.
What other sport could draft, trade and retire Will Farrell in the course of 24-hours?
Not only are the stars there from our childhood to the grave but baseball itself holds a legacy in our own pasts. Children celebrate their first glove, their first catch with dad. Communities come out to little league. Baseball is a game the community celebrate together. As we age we remember play catch with our friends, and our first game with our uncle or our last game with our elderly father. Baseball is not just a game; it is a memory that connects to who we are and where we came from.