I went to Yankee Stadium for the first time on Sunday. It’s an impressive place, easy to navigate, and spacious enough to legitimately have a section called The Great Hall. The game was a high-scoring one, in the early innings at least, as the teams put up 6 runs. It was mildly exciting as baseball goes.
But, as I explained to Eric, I was bored. Because baseball is an inherently boring sport. There is one reason, unrelated to Joe Morgan, why this is so: defense is just defense.
In every other sport – indeed, in every other great human endeavor – defense can mean offense. Football. Basketball. War. Chess. Boxing. Tennis. Monopoly. Love. Soccer. Rhetorical debate. Poker. Arm wrestling. Hockey. Personal bankruptcy. You can score off a steal, a deeply-placed return of serve, a talented accountant.
But not in baseball. While on defense, all you can do is stop the other team. Then you stop them again. Then stop them one more time. Make perhaps the greatest catch in a decade – I’m thinking, in particular, of leaping over a wall, pulling back a home run, bobbling the ball, then grabbing it with your free hand while falling to the ground – and it’s just that. A catch, one of many in a game, signifying nothing (For a mildly-related debunking of the myth of momentum, or more specifically, “getting hot,” in sports, skip 22 minutes into this episode of Radio Lab.) Incredible play! Now go, umm, do it again!
Imagine the scene, if you will. It’s 1987, the Eastern Conference finals. Your team is down one to the Detroit Pistons, who are inbounding the ball with 5 seconds to play – you, by the way, are Larry Bird. Isaiah Thomas makes a sloppy pass and you – Larry Bird – steal the ball away, and turn to find a streaking teammate for the game-winning bucket.
But wait! This is baseball, so you must politely give the ball back to the other team, or, if you’re fortunate enough to have already stolen the ball twice, you may amble back to your dugout, wait through three minutes of some Nickelback song, and then you can go make a play that could win the game for your team (if, of course, you are one of the next three batters allowed to participate in the game).
Cricket is the only sport that comes close to baseball in its spurning of those who specialize in forced fumbles, outlet passes, and short-handed goals. And we all know how exciting cricket* is.
*I actually think cricket is more exciting than it is given credit for, much more exciting than baseball. I will explain in a subsequent post.