Why Is Baseball So Much Better Than Football?
by Thomas Boswell (1987)
Reasons Why Baseball is so Much Better than Football by Thomas Boswell
Half time with bands.
Cheerleaders at half time with bands.
Up With People singing "The Impossible Dream" during a Blue Angels flyover at half time with bands.
Baseball has fans in Wrigley Field singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the seventh-inning stretch.
Baseball has Blue Moon, Catfish, Spaceman and The Sugar Bear. Football has Lester the Molester, Too Mean and The Assassin.
All XX Super Bowls haven't produced as much drama as the last World Series.
All XX Super Bowls haven't produced as many classic games as either pennant playoff did this year.
Baseball has a bullpen coach blowing bubble gum with his cap turned around backward while leaning on a fungo bat; football has a defensive coordinator in a satin jacket with a headset and a clipboard.
The Redskins have 13 assistant coaches, five equipment managers, three trainers, two assistant GMs but, for 14 games, nobody who could kick an extra point.
Football players and coaches don't know how to bait a ref, much less jump up and down and scream in his face. Baseball players know how to argue with umps; baseball managers even kick dirt on them. Earl Weaver steals third base and won't give it back; Tom Landry folds his arms.
Vince Lombardi was never ashamed that he said, "Winning isn't everything. It's the only thing."
Football coaches talk about character, gut checks, intensity and reckless abandon. Tommy Lasorda said, "Managing is like holding a dove in your hand. Squeeze too hard and you kill it; not hard enough and it flies away."
Big league baseball players chew tobacco. Pro football linemen chew on each other.
Before a baseball game, there are two hours of batting practice. Before a football game, there's a two-hour traffic jam.
A crowd of 30,000 in a stadium built for 55,501 has a lot more fun than a crowd of 55,501 in the same stadium.
No one has ever actually reached the end of the restroom line at an NFL game.
Nine innings means 18 chances at the hot dog line. Two halves means B.Y.O. or go hungry.
Pro football players have breasts. Many NFLers are so freakishly overdeveloped, due to steroids, that they look like circus geeks. Baseball players seem like normal fit folks. Fans should be thankful they don't have to look at NFL teams in bathing suits.
Eighty degrees, a cold beer and a short-sleeve shirt is better than 30 degrees, a hip flask and six layers of clothes under a lap blanket. Take your pick: suntan or frostbite.
Having 162 games a year is 10.125 times as good as having 16.
If you miss your favorite NFL team's game, you have to wait a week. In baseball, you wait a day.
Everything George Carlin said in his famous monologue is right on. In football you blitz, bomb, spear, shiver, march and score. In baseball, you wait for a walk, take your stretch, toe the rubber, tap your spikes, play ball and run home.
Marianne Moore loved Christy Mathewson. No woman of quality has ever preferred football to baseball.
More good baseball books appear in a single year than have been written about football in the past 50 years. The best football writers, like Dan Jenkins, have the good sense to write about something else most of the time.
The best football announcer ever was Howard Cosell.
The worst baseball announcer ever was Howard Cosell.
All gridirons are identical; football coaches never have to meet to go over the ground rules. But the best baseball parks are unique.
Every outdoor park ever built primarily for baseball has been pretty. Every stadium built with pro football in mind has been ugly (except Arrowhead).
The coin flip at the beginning of football games is idiotic. Home teams should always kick off and pick a goal to defend. In baseball, the visitor bats first (courtesy), while the host bats last (for drama). The football visitor should get the first chance to score, while the home team should have the dramatic advantage of receiving the second-half kickoff.
Baseball is harder. In the last 25 years, only one player, Vince Coleman, has been cut from the NFL and then become a success in the majors. From Tom Brown in 1963 (Senators to Packers) to Jay Schroeder (Jays to Redskins), baseball flops have become NFL standouts.
Face masks. Right away we've got a clue something might be wrong. A guy can go 80 mph on a Harley without a helmet, much less a face mask.
Faces are better than helmets. Think of all the players in the NFL (excluding Redskins) whom you'd recognize on the street. Now eliminate the quarterbacks. Not many left, are there? Now think of all the baseball players whose faces you know, just from the last Series.
The NFL has — how can we say this? — a few borderline godfathers. Baseball has almost no mobsters or suspicious types among its owners. Pete Rozelle isn't as picky as Bowie Kuhn, who for 15 years considered "integrity of the game" to be one of his key functions and who gave the cold shoulder to the shady money guys.
Football has Tank and Mean Joe. Baseball has The Human Rain Delay and Charlie Hustle.
In football, it's team first, individual second — if at all. A Rich Milot and a Curtis Jordan can play 10 years — but when would we ever have time to study them alone for just one game? Could we mimic their gestures, their tics, their habits? A baseball player is an individual first, then part of a team second. You can study him at length and at leisure in the batter's box or on the mound. On defense, when the batted ball seeks him, so do our eyes.
Baseball statistics open a world to us. Football statistics are virtually useless or, worse, misleading. For instance, the NFL quarterback-ranking system is a joke. Nobody understands it or can justify it. The old average-gain-per- attempt rankings were just as good.
What kind of dim-bulb sport would rank pass receivers by number of catches instead of by number of yards? Only in football would a runner with 1,100 yards on 300 carries be rated ahead of a back with 1,000 yards on 200 carries. Does baseball give its silver bat to the player with the most hits or with the highest average?
If you use NFL team statistics as a betting tool, you go broke. Only wins and losses, points and points against and turnovers are worth a damn.
Baseball has one designated hitter. In football, everybody is a designated something. No one plays the whole game anymore. Football worships the specialists. Baseball worships the generalists.
The tense closing seconds of crucial baseball games are decided by distinctive relief pitchers like Bruce Sutter, Rollie Fingers or Goose Gossage. Vital NFL games are decided by helmeted gentlemen who come on for 10 seconds, kick sideways, spend the rest of the game keeping their precious foot warm on the sidelines and aren't aware of the subtleties of the game. Half of them, in Alex Karras' words, run off the field chirping, "I kick a touchdown."
Football gave us The Fudge Hammer. Baseball gave us The Hammer.
How can you respect a game that uses only the point after touchdown and completely ignores the option of a two-point conversion, which would make the end of football games much more exciting.
Wild cards. If baseball can stick with four divisional champs out of 26 teams, why does the NFL need to invite 10 of its 28 to the prom? Could it be that football isn't terribly interesting unless your team can still "win it all"?
The entire NFL playoff system is a fraud. Go on, explain with a straight face why the Chiefs (10-6) were in the playoffs but the Seahawks (10-6) were not. There is no real reason. Seattle was simply left out for convenience. When baseball tried the comparably bogus split-season fiasco with half-season champions in 1981, fans almost rioted.
Parity scheduling. How can the NFL defend the fairness of deliberately giving easier schedules to weaker teams and harder schedules to better teams? Just to generate artificially improved competition? When a weak team with a patsy schedule goes 10-6, while a strong defending division champ misses the playoffs at 9-7, nobody says boo. Baseball would have open revolt at such a nauseatingly cynical system.
Baseball has no penalty for pass interference. (This in itself is almost enough to declare baseball the better game.) In football, offsides is five yards, holding is 10 yards, a personal foul is 15 yards. But interference: maybe 50 yards.
Nobody on earth really knows what pass interference is. Part judgment, part acting, mostly accident.
Baseball has no penalties at all. A home run is a home run. You cheer. In football, on a score, you look for flags. If there's one, who's it on? When can we cheer? Football acts can all be repealed. Baseball acts stand forever.
Instant replays. Just when we thought there couldn't be anything worse than penalties, we get instant replays of penalties. Talk about a bad joke. Now any play, even one with no flags, can be called back. Even a flag itself can, after five minutes of boring delay, be nullified. NFL time has entered the Twilight Zone. Nothing is real; everything is hypothetical.
Football has Hacksaw. Baseball has Steady Eddie and The Candy Man.
The NFL's style of play has been stagnant for decades, predictable. Turn on any NFL game and that's just what it could be — any NFL game. Teams seem interchangeable. Even the wishbone is too radical. Baseball teams' styles are often determined by their personnel and even their parks.
Football fans tailgate before the big game. No baseball fan would have a picnic in a parking lot.
At a football game, you almost never leave saying, "I never saw a play like that before." At a baseball game, there's almost always some new wrinkle.
Beneath the NFL's infinite sameness lies infinite variety. But we aren't privy to it. So what if football is totally explicable and fascinating to Dan Marino as he tries to decide whether to audible to a quick trap? From the stands, we don't know one-thousandth of what's required to grasp a pro football game. If an NFL coach has to say, "I won't know until I see the films," then how out-in-the-cold does that leave the fan?
While football is the most closed of games, baseball is the most open. A fan with a score card, a modest knowledge of the teams and a knack for paying attention has all he needs to watch a game with sophistication.
NFL refs are weekend warriors, pulled from other jobs to moonlight; as a group, they're barely competent. That's really why the NFL turned to instant replays. Now, old fogies upstairs can't even get the make-over calls right. Baseball umps work 10 years in the minors and know what they are doing. Replays show how good they are. If Don Denkinger screws up in a split second of Series tension, it's instant lore.
Too many of the best NFL teams represent unpalatable values. The Bears are head-thumping braggarts. The Raiders have long been scofflaw pirates. The Cowboys glorify the heartless corporate approach to football.
Football has the Refrigerator. Baseball has Puff the Magic Dragon, The Wizard of Oz, Tom Terrific, Big Doggy, Kitty Kaat and Oil Can.
Football is impossible to watch. Admit it: The human head is at least two eyes shy for watching the forward pass. Do you watch the five eligible receivers? Or the quarterback and the pass rush? If you keep your eye on the ball, you never know who got open or how. If you watch the receivers . . . well, nobody watches the receivers. On TV, you don't even know how many receivers have gone out for a pass.
The NFL keeps changing the most basic rules. Most blocking now would have been illegal use of the hands in Jim Parker's time. How do we compare eras when the sport never stays the same? Pretty soon, intentional grounding will be legalized to protect quarterbacks.
In the NFL, you can't tell the players without an Intensive Care Unit report. Players get broken apart so fast we have no time to build up allegiances to stars. Three-quarters of the NFL's starting quarterbacks are in their first four years in the league. Is it because the new breed is better? Or because the old breed is already lame? A top baseball player lasts 15 to 20 years. We know him like an old friend.
The baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, N.Y., beside James Fenimore Cooper's Lake Glimmerglass; the football Hall of Fame is in Canton, Ohio, beside the freeway.
Baseball means Spring's Here. Football means Winter's Coming.
Best book for a lifetime on a desert island: The Baseball Encyclopedia.
Baseball's record on race relations is poor. But football's is much worse. Is it possible that the NFL still has NEVER had a black head coach? And why is a black quarterback still as rare as a bilingual woodpecker?
Baseball has a drug problem comparable to society's. Pro football has a range of substance-abuse problems comparable only to itself. And, perhaps, The Hells Angels'.
Baseball enriches language and imagination at almost every point of contact. As John Lardner put it, "Babe Herman did not triple into a triple play, but he did double into a double play, which is the next best thing."
Who's on First?
Without baseball, there'd have been no Fenway Park. Without football, there'd have been no artificial turf.
A typical baseball game has nine runs, more than 250 pitches and about 80 completed plays — hits, walks, outs — in 2½ hours. A typical football game has about five touchdowns, a couple of field goals and fewer than 150 plays spread over three hours. Of those plays, perhaps 20 or 25 result in a gain or loss of more than 10 yards. Baseball has more scoring plays, more serious scoring threats and more meaningful action plays.
Baseball has no clock. Yes, you were waiting for that. The comeback, from three or more scores behind, is far more common in baseball than football.
The majority of players on a football field in any game are lost and unaccountable in the middle of pileups. Confusion hides a multitude of sins. Every baseball player's performance and contribution are measured and recorded in every game.
Some San Francisco linemen now wear dark plexiglass visors inside their face masks -- even at night. "And in the third round, out of Empire U., the 49ers would like to pick Darth Vader."
Someday, just once, could we have a punt without a penalty?
End-zone spikes. Sack dances. Or, in Dexter Manley's case, "holding flag" dances.
Unbelievably stupid rules. For example, if the two-minute warning passes, any play that begins even a split second thereafter is nullified. Even, as happened in this season's Washington-San Francisco game, when it's the decisive play of the entire game. And even when, as also happened in that game, not one of the 22 players on the field is aware that the two-minute mark has passed. The Skins stopped the 49ers on fourth down to save that game. They exulted; the 49ers started off the field. Then the refs said, "Play the down over." Absolutely unbelievable.
In baseball, fans catch foul balls. In football, they raise a net so you can't even catch an extra point.
Nothing in baseball is as boring as the four hours of ABC's "Monday Night Football."
Blowhard coach Buddy Ryan, who gave himself a grade of A+ for his handling of the Eagles. "I didn't make any mistakes," he explained. His 5-10-1 team was 7-9 the year before he came.
Football players, somewhere back in their phylogenic development, learned how to talk like football coaches. ("Our goals this week were to contain Dickerson and control the line of scrimmage.") Baseball players say things like, "This pitcher's so bad that when he comes in, the grounds crew drags the warning track."
Football coaches walk across the field after the game and pretend to congratulate the opposing coach. Baseball managers head right for the beer.
The best ever in each sport - Babe Ruth and Jim Brown — each represents egocentric excess. But Ruth never threw a woman out a window.
Quarterbacks have to ask the crowd to quiet down. Pitchers never do.
Baseball nicknames go on forever - because we feel we know so many players intimately. Football monikers run out fast. We just don't know that many of them as people.
Baseball measures a gift for dailiness.
Football has two weeks of hype before the Super Bowl. Baseball takes about two days off before the World Series.
Football, because of its self-importance, minimizes a sense of humor. Baseball cultivates one. Knowing you'll lose at least 60 games every season makes self-deprecation a survival tool. As Casey Stengel said to his barber, "Don't cut my throat. I may want to do that myself later."
Football is played best full of adrenaline and anger. Moderation seldom finds a place. Almost every act of baseball is a blending of effort and control; too much of either is fatal.
Football's real problem is not that it glorifies violence, though it does, but that it offers no successful alternative to violence. In baseball, there is a choice of methods: the change-up or the knuckleball, the bunt or the hit-and-run.
Baseball is vastly better in person than on TV. Only when you're in the ballpark can the eye grasp and interconnect the game's great distances. Will the wind blow that long fly just over the fence? Will the relay throw nail the runner trying to score from second on a double in the alley? Who's warming up in the bullpen? Where is the defense shading this hitter? Did the base stealer get a good jump? The eye flicks back and forth and captures everything that is necessary. As for replays, most parks have them. Football is better on TV. At least, you don't need binoculars. And you've got your replays.
Turning the car radio dial on a summer night.
George Steinbrenner learned his baseball methods as a football coach.
You'll never see a woman in a fur coat at a baseball game.
You'll never see a man in a fur coat at a baseball game.
A six-month pennant race. Football has nothing like it.
In football, nobody says, "Let's play two!"
When a baseball player gets knocked out, he goes to the showers. When a football player gets knocked out, he goes to get X-rayed.
Most of all, baseball is better than football because spring training is less than a month away.