So, it's officially autumn. The stores deck their halls with Halloween decorations, while the TV networks deck their programming in clever new costumes, pretending to be anything other than the same retread plotlines and punchlines. The leaves on our trees are falling faster than French octogenarians in a heat wave. And oh...yeah...it's football season again.
I HATE football season -- and the barbarian hordes of thick-skulled, light beer-swilling troglodytes who embrace it. Infidels! Usurpers! Don't you drool monkeys know that there's still baseball going on?!
When I was young, I wasn't aware of all this football hoo-ha. Sure, I knew all about the sport. The same aunt who raised me up on a steady diet of Paul Blair, Jim Palmer, Brooks Robinson and the rest of the Baltimore Orioles kept me balanced with the fleet-footed exploits of O.J. Simpson and the Buffalo Bills. But baseball commanded the spring, summer and fall. It was the premier sport from Spring Training to the last out at the World Series. Football? Sure, after it got cold enough to snow at Lambeau Field. Maybe around Thanksgiving, when there was time before dinner to toss the pigskin (or the Nerf) in the narrow street outside my great-grandparents' Towson rowhouse.
But baseball...baseball was IT, man! I remember listening to the neighbor lady relaying the radio play-by-play to her husband ("Roenicke got a home run, Herb!")...sitting in the bleachers at Memorial Stadium, the nose-bleed seats at Busch...even watching the minor-league exploits of the Hawaii Islanders. And then slugging my own yard-clearing fungos with a wiffle-ball bat and a tennis ball, or bouncing the ball high off the house to practice shagging flies. Try doing that with a football.
At some point, though, some brainiacs somewhere decided that football needed a marketing blitz. Jazz it up. Stuff it down our throats. Get some long-haired, boozed-up country boy to scream its new anthem. It's not a game anymore, it's the Monday Night PARTAY! Not enough yet? BOOM! There's Madden. BOOM! There's a "telestrator." BOOM! Now the guys in the booth are yelling at the game just as much as the guys in the living room or at the bar. And lo, the testosterone didst flow in a pungent cascade like urine under the stands at the Vet.
Baseball, meanwhile, slugged away through thick and thin, weathering strikes and bargaining agreements, Pete Rose and Marge Schott, and even the occasional earthquake. For our loyalty, we got Cal Ripken, and McGwire vs. Sosa vs. Maris. Did the media follow so closely when Emmitt Smith broke Walter Payton's rushing record last year? Not even. There's an essential connection between baseball and America that not even Jimmy Kimmel can sever.
And so I'm making my case: why baseball is (still!) better than football. The winner gets October.
THE SETTING: The days of the multipurpose stadium, thankfully, appear to be behind us, to the benefit of either sport. Baseball is a best suited for horseshoe-shaped arenas, as action happens in the round. Football is an end-to-end sport, like hockey and basketball and tennis. Of all the football stadia I've seen, however, none has the appeal of nearly any baseball yard. Let's face it -- you don't hear about the "friendly confines" of Alltel Stadium...all 80,000 seats of it. And even though many of the baseball parks of legend are gone now, most of the new ones being built are throwbacks, blending old-time styles with modern conveniences. Despite the occasional dud -- the Metrodome may be the worst stadium in the world -- baseball wins here, no contest.
THE PLAYERS (On Field): I know football players are athletes, too. Any one of 'em could toss me over their shoulder and run the 40 in under 6 seconds. But it's tough for me to see athleticism when it's buried under all that sissy gear. I mean, come on -- is there actually somebody under all that? Our boys in Iraq wish they were so well protected! NFL players don't have half the 'nads their rugby scrummin' cousins do. Baseball players, the catcher excluded, are Out There. You can see their faces. They are limber and fleet of foot. They are hit by pitches, they collide with the outfield wall, they are knocked down in the base paths. Then they stand up, adjust a cap or a cup, and get on with it. Barry Bonds, though, has been looking like the bionic man lately. There's something wrong if you need to wear an exoskeleton to step up to the plate.
THE PLAYERS (Off Field): When was the last time you heard about a baseball player shooting someone or being shot at? When was the last public trial of an active baseball player? Sure, Steinbrenner may not approve of Jeter staying out so late, and Chuck Finley had the problem last year with his wife tossing shoes at his head, but really...apart from steroids, Roger Clemens and the occasional assault on a jogging sausage, baseball is clean living!
THE MEDIA: Baseball has Bob Uecker. Baseball has Vin Scully. Until last year, baseball had Jack Buck and Ernie Harwell. What do we get with the NFL? Howie and Terry, with Jigglin' Barberie doing the weather. Dennis Miller and Rush Limbaugh. Lisa Guerrero. Is this a game or a circus? The carnival that football telecasts have become, that's the clincher for me. The entertainment has superceded the sport. Does it even matter who's playing? We just wanna hear the guys mocking Bradshaw again.
THE SEASON: Not including interminable playoffs or spring training, baseball is 162 games per team. Not including interminable playoffs or spring training, football is 16 games per team. How slow! How unsuspenseful! You have to wait a whole week to see your team play? Oh, but they're off this week? No wonder people call football a religion; it's something you only do once a week, on Sunday. With the exception of a couple of days for the All-Star Break, baseball's got game every single day from April through September. Every day, the standings change, the lineups shuffle. Follow any team in the majors and you're pretty much assured of a chance to cheer them on at least five times each week.
The clear winner? Baseball. Even Don Denkinger ought to be able to see that. Have I won anyone over? Doubt it. I suppose I should be grateful that football limits itself to these 22 or so weeks. Every attempt at expanding the sport (USFL, XFL, NFL Europe, Arena Football) in an attempt to feed off the alleged masses of football-starved fans during the offseason has met with at best apathy, and at worst abysmal failure and financial ruin. Football purists don't want to see the game watered down, and I respect that.
But all you football fans out there, grant me this: As this season rumbles to its climax next January, take a minute sometime during the second hour of the Superbowl pregame show and acknowledge that not once has baseball rudely shoved your sport out of the way during the playoffs. During the halftime show, sometime after midnight, when 50 Cent and Randy Newman are singing a tribute to Johnny Cash, respect the fact that Fox dutifully programmed the World Series games to start late at night, so as not to disturb your Sunday afternoons.
For my part, I'll be satisfied knowing that no matter who wins the Superbowl, the only thing people will be talking about the next morning are the commercials.
And then I'll start ticking off the days 'til Spring Training.
If the media is the eye on the world, Russ Carr is the finger in that eye. Tune in each month to see him dispersing the smoke and smashing the mirrors of modern mass communication. The world lost Russ on 2/7/12, but he lives on.
ABOUT RUSS CARR
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IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
9.24.03 @ 12:45a
Oh Russ, you're so, so, so wrong, my friend!
The setting I'll give you. Baseball wins. Easy.
The players? You can't tell me David Eckstein or any pitcher is more of an athlete than a football player. Baseball players don't have to be fast (see: pitchers and most catchers). They don't have to be strong. They don't take the physical punishment that football players routinely put up with. Football players win hands down.
Players off the field - John Rocker? David Wells? Sure you hear more about football players - that's because there are twice as many per team. Football players are also tested for every substance under the sun - that's why players get caught. We all know if baseball players had to undergo the same drug testing, dozens and dozens more players would be in trouble. There's about an average number of bad apples for each. Result - push.
The media - Pat Summerall. Until recently, Frank Gifford. Al Michaels is one of the best sportscasters in any sport. And in the studio, you don't get better than Berman and Jackson. Advantage - football.
The season - you're right, baseball has 162 games, so most of them mean absolutely nothing. Lose a series here and there in baseball? No problem. Lose two games against a division opponent in football - you probably don't even make the playoffs. Every single game in football is life or death if you're in the hunt for the post season. And once you're in the post season, you win or go home. It doesn't get any more exciting than that. Standings change in baseball? When was the last time the standings changed in the NL West? Or the AL East? And how exciting can baseball games be when every 3rd, 4th and 5th day 99% of the teams trot out a pitcher who should be bagging groceries? Advantage - football in a landslide.
The beauty is, you don't have to choose. Sundays are for football. The rest of the week is for baseball. Well...for another 5 weeks until my Giants win the World Series.
9.24.03 @ 8:26a
I grew up listening to the Rochester Red Wings games on the AM radio with my grandfather or watching them from Silver Stadium with my grandparents. While I'll forever be a Buffalo Bills fan, it's baseball that gets me to watch the games on tv and baseball that calls to me each spring.
I've lost all interest in watching football on tv because I can't stand the announcers they choose. If I wanted to listen to someone babble, I'd tune into a talk show. If you're gonna show me football, show it to me and for cripes sake shut up.
9.24.03 @ 10:18a
I don't believe Erik hasn't commented on this yet.
I find baseball far more interesting to watch than football because you can see the player's faces and watch each individual in action much more easily than you can watch individuals in the middle of a pile of football players.
Also: no cheerleaders, no hyped-up half-time show, no bullshit.
9.24.03 @ 10:20a
I'll tell you what football is good for: it's good for screwing up the Sunday night TV viewing schedule. It makes "60 Minutes" late, and if you're only going to watch CBS programs that's fine. But if you watch HBO on Sunday nights as I do after "60 Minutes," it screws up the eight o'clock show or you have to miss part of "60 Minutes." That's what football's good for. Screwing up something. Hmmmpppphhhh!
And that's not even taking into consideration the magic, poetry and ballet of baseball, or the psychological events taking place between the pitcher and the batter. When I first started watching baseball on TV I complained because I "couldn't follow the ball all the way." Now I've grown addicted to those close-ups of the unwritable drama going on between the two protaganists of the moment.
Football is a war filled with violence and ugliness.
Baseball is a duel in which nobody dies fraught with incomparable drama and beauty, part of which is provided by the "chorus" in the field the second a bat hits a ball. Caraaaack! Ooh!
9.24.03 @ 10:38a
Shave baseball down to something like 60 games and maybe I'll care. Nothing more pathetic than looking at a game on tv during the day and seeing hardly anyone there.
9.24.03 @ 12:34p
There's ballet in baseball? I think there's much more ballet in football.
Can we please not compare football (or any sport) to war?
Baseball and hockey are the two sports that are much better live. Football and basketball are much better on TV. (That's why the latter two sports are America's favorite.)
9.24.03 @ 12:41p
I don't believe Erik hasn't commented on this yet.
I can't believe I haven't, either. Where have I been?
Russ, I'm with ya buddy. I can't tell you how much it pisses me off that I can't watch baseball games on Monday nights because I have to contend with football being on.
Goddamn it -- playoffs are next week! Every single game is important, right now! The National League Wild Card is completely up in the air -- the Mariners have been chasing the Red Sox -- and that's still up in the air -- I want to see this happen!
Football fans would riot if the last few games before the Superbowl were pre-empted by some random NHL game -- I demand the same respect.
The other thing that pisses me off -- all the advertising -- do you actually need to advertise football? Hell no! People follow their teams, they know when it's going to be on, if they don't know, they don't care. No self-respecting Bengals fan is going to be shocked on a Tuesday night when every single commercial that plays is about football to learn that -- Shit! The Bengals are playing? On.. Sunday? Did I get that right? Maybe I'll have to watch that commercial again.
9.24.03 @ 1:43p
I love the ambiance and experience of a live baseball game, but when it comes to excitement, football wins hands down. It's the urgency of everything about it that demands America's hearts.
Really, do we need 150 games to know who the best team is? Bor-ring!
9.24.03 @ 1:45p
Football not compared to war? Fine, no problem. But face it -- when we're not waiting for the umps to move the chains again, when we're not waiting for another call to be contested, when we're not waiting for each team to make player substitutions on each subsequent play, we're watching 11 guys do their level best to get the guy with the ball and shove his face in the turf, while the 10 other guys on the opposite team try to protect the ballcarrier by shoving the other team's faces in the turf. It's a physical confrontation of pursue, collide, capture and disable on every single down. If you're not a QB, running back, receiver or kicker, the totality of the game is about taking out your opponent; usually 17 out of 22 players on the field on any given down are all about the tackle.
Baseball -- looking for a moment past the DH, which I also hate -- is nine guys playing defense and offense all game. And once a player leaves the game, he's out. No jumping in and out. Players aren't judged by how fast and hard they can hit each other, they're judged by how well they can hit the BALL, how fast they can run the bases, how accurately they can pitch. To play baseball by football's rules, you'd have the other batters rushing the fielders so they couldn't catch a fly ball...
9.24.03 @ 2:32p
You didn't seriously just talk about the speed of a baseball game versus the speed of a football game, did you?
In baseball you're waiting for the pitcher to rub the ball, mess with his cap, waive off a few signs and get on the rubber. Then you wait for the batter to adjust his helmet and batting gloves, kick at the dirt, and take some practice swings. If you're lucky, there's no one on first, otherwise you'll wait while the pitcher throws over to first 3 or 4 times. Then, after he finally throws ball one, you wait while both players do it all over again. Repeat 5 or 6 times per at bat. Then wait some more between each half inning - a total of 18 times.
Yes, baseball players play both offense and defense...a whole 4 (maybe 5) plays on offense per game, and what, maybe 5 or 6 defensive put outs per game tops?
In football, the offensive and defensive line is getting hit on half the plays. Running backs are blocking or getting tackled on half the plays. Linebackers are tackling or running to cover tight ends on half the plays. The kicker and punter are the only players who don't do much.
9.24.03 @ 2:56p
Oh, I don't think there's anyway of convincing any baseball fan that football is a better game of vice versa.
I'm a baseball fan, I think football is insipid and there's nothing anybody will say that will change my mind... BUT!
That doesn't remove the fact that you football people need to lay the hell off until the World Series is over. Jesus, let us finish our season before you start stealing airtime.
Even if you have deluded yourself into thinking that there's only football-related programming on Sundays -- hey -- there's baseball games on every Sunday afternoon at 1:05... and you know what? I can't watch 'em now.
Thanks a lot.
9.24.03 @ 3:04p
I'm not a sports fan in general (unless you consider figure skating a sport) but I'm with Heather here. Going to a baseball game is one of the most fun things in the whole world. Watching one on TV is sort of like getting a shot of time-released Novacaine. Football, on the other hand, is fun to watch, but I am in COMPLETE agreement with Russ and Erik on the hype. Bleeeah. Ruins the whole thing for me.
michelle von euw
9.24.03 @ 10:09p
I adore both, but baseball is my first love.
However, one aspect that hasn't been mentioned is the business side of the two sports. Football, with its revenue sharing schedule and salary cap system work a million times better for the average fan than baseball's completely uneven and out of control big-market monopoly system. Football is much more interesting because every team that isn't based in Ohio has a chance to compete at the beginning of the year. We've had five different Super Bowl winners in the past six years -- while the World Series has been a rather boring display of Pinstripes, thanks to Steinbrenner's bottomless pockets.
Advantage? Definitely Football.
9.24.03 @ 10:28p
baseball has showed that its not necessarily the biggest payroll that takes the championship, but the best team. the yankees haven't won a title in three years and probably won't win one this year. the marlins and twins will make the playoffs this year and they have payrolls in the lower bracket of teams while the mets and dodgers and d'backs spend away and lose.
parity in football is good for point spreads. there has to be a middle ground b/w the two sports. i think the (new) luxury tax will even things out in baseball a bit.
9.25.03 @ 9:51a
As a reformed baseball fan, I find it hard to swallow any defense of the sport post-1994. Owners and players alike care as much about the fans as politicans. This shouldn't be about football v. baseball, that's an aesthetic choice, but when you talk about the NFL vs. MLB, you couldn't find two more diametrically opposed organizations. The NFL has taken great strides to bring fans closer to the game, and keep the game healthy and competitive. That's where you find the major difference - and the fact that more people will watch the Monday night football game that goes up against any playoff game - and why more people know who Tony Gonzalez is than do Eric Gagne.
9.25.03 @ 10:08a
Who doesn't know who Eric Gagne is?
And.. who's Tony Gonzalez? Does he play for the Rangers?
9.25.03 @ 5:38p
I have little time so i an't read all this stuff.
I can't deny baseball's place as America's pasttime, and it definitely has the historical thing going for it. But, it's boring. Season's too long, games are too long, STRIKES are too long.
And Matt's right, there's no parity. The Braves win the division EVERY year, like the Yanks, and the Tigers and Brewers always suck.
I can't even stomach the athletic argument. Put A-Rod up against T Owens. Please. And Russ, the pads argument? What a load of crap. A catcher wears pads too, but he doesn't have 350 pound lineman falling on him and smashing his chest into the ground. The pads argument is hogwash.
Football is more exciting, there's more parity, there're more upsets. It's not the marketing, anyway, that got the NFL up top, it's the amount of games, the day long ritual of it, and THE GAMBLING.
I don't deny the majesty and excitement of great baseball games, and it's tough to beat the MLB playoffs (especially this year in Boston!) on that level.
But don't denigrate football for bullshit reasons.
Baseball players and their union and the owners and their crew are a bunch of assholes and everyone knows it. 250 million? Please.
The NFL does its fans and its league right; the MLB has to rely on once-every-20-year records like the WHO CARES Ripken crap (mediocre player). Football doesn't always need context to be exciting, the games are taken on their own merit and get even better when the stakes are raised. Baseball is only its best when stakes exist. And most of the time they don't.
9.25.03 @ 5:38p
Oh, and Matt, Berman has gotten as unbearable as Austin Powers. Drop the frickin' shtick and just call the highlights.
9.25.03 @ 11:53p
Oh, sweet shit. The athelete argument? Owens, David Boston, Chris Chambers, Ricky Williams, Ladanian Tomlinson, Eric Moulds, Julius Peppers, Mike Vick, Gonzalez, Clinton Portis, and on and on, these are the biggest, fastest, toughest guys in the world.
Off the field: Pete Rose. Straw. Rocker. Yeah, that's clean.
Media: Al Michaels, Cris Collinsworth, JOE Buck, and Madden, who can't stop winning Emmys. Most of them guaranteed to live beyond the next few years.
Season: Football fans will watch ANY football game. Not only that, the win and the loss mean something every week. You live and die during those games. And yeah, baseball plays every night. Big Shmeal. So does my local news.
9.26.03 @ 3:19p
Who doesn't know who Eric Gagne is?
Umm. Who's Eric Gagne?
9.26.03 @ 4:31p
A pitcher who plays for the worst team on the planet.
9.26.03 @ 11:54p
michelle von euw
9.28.03 @ 2:03a
Oh, I gotta disagree about the media. Madden sucks -- he got everything wrong during the Jets/Redskins opening game. ABC's Monday Night has been a rotating disaster for years. Plus, the NFL has Jerry Glanville. Jerry Glanville!
I like a lot of the national baseball guys -- OK, I may have a bit of a bias since I was raised on Sean McDonough -- but they don't bug me as much as the football idiots do.
I love football (and I'll be at FedEx field tomorrow) but, really, it's still baseball season. GO SOX!!!
9.29.03 @ 5:19p
Agreed, Madden sucks. All the so-called pillars of Football Broadcasting SUCK. Madden is done, he's lost it. Berman only does schtick and his "analysis" means nothing to noone. Tom jackson knows what he's talking about but he plays up to Berman too much on PrimteTime. i like Steve Young.
The best broadcast team is the Aikman/Buck/Collinsworth one. Aikman is quite good, somehow, and Buck is unobtrusively knowledgable. i could do without the Prick known as Collinsworth, tho.
And those buffoons on the network pregame shows are disgusting.
10.3.03 @ 4:48p
Chris Berman -- STFU already!