As we inch closer and closer to the start of another baseball season, I find myself once again the reluctant participant in conversations with people who feel the need to disparage the national pastime's merits while extolling that other sport so many folks like to follow.
Do we really have to go there?
This debate over which sport is better for fans is as loathsome as it is tedious, especially since the main argument is always the same.
"Baseball is so boring. It's not nearly as action packed and interesting as football. Football is much better for fans."
While I have listened to this conjecture my whole life, it is only now, as an adult, who has watched both sports for years and has followed the inner workings of both the NFL and MLB, that I feel I can finally address this issue with some cogent points that those critics should consider.
Let's address the issue of "action" first.
A baseball game, while at times is slow to evolve, is always doing so. It is a game that remains in motion from the onset of each contest.
To the casual observer, baseball is a plodding game, replete with moments where "nothing" is going on. The pitcher plays catch with the catcher, the batter awaits his opportunity to hit the ball, infielders prepare dutifully at their positions waiting for said batter to hit said ball in their direction, and the outfielders, who are even further from the nucleus of activity, simply stand around and do absolutely nothing.
This goes on for two, sometimes three hours. Boring? I think not.
This same exercise in drudgery, to the baseball aficionado, is a symphony filled with tireless drama. The pitcher, in concert with his battery mate, spends an entire game contemplating the most effective approach to each hitter.
His methodical ruminations may not be visible to the naked eye, but they are very real and equally exciting to those of us who know to look. It is this artful planning that occurs in between each pitch that is often perceived as inactivity.
The batter is doing virtually the same thing, trying to discern the pitcher's approach so that he is better equipped to manage the next offering he will face. This may include but is not limited to adjustments in the batter's box, different hand placement on the bat and a specific, situationally correct plan of attack once the ball crosses into the hitting zone. This goes on with every pitch as well.
Now for our fielders.
On the baseball diamond, there are seven other players aside from the pitcher and catcher. Each of these individuals has a specific and vital role. Defensive alignments and positioning based on each hitter's count, game situation and inning are all germane to the successful execution of keeping the opponent off the scoreboard.
There are many things to remember with each pitched ball, ranging from bunt coverages, cut-offs, shading here or there to neutralize a batter's strengths, etc. It is truly a work of art.
True, much of this "action" is of the cerebral variety, but those of us who find thinking stimulating and, yes, dare I say entertaining, recognize baseball's allure over some other less cognitive endeavors.
Besides, preparation is indeed action. If you do not believe me, just ask anyone who has ever served in the military or continues to do so. But let us not fail to mention that when the ball is put in play, there are few things in this world more beautiful to watch.
What a treat it is to witness the majesty of a pitcher carving up the opposition with an artistic amalgamation of brute power and well-timed guile, or to observe a double play, or to watch an outfielder fire a baseball from 250 feet away with pinpoint accuracy to cut down a runner at home plate.
Equally awe-inspiring are the long, arching, prodigious blasts that scrape the sky, eventually falling somewhere beyond the outfield fence somewhere off in the distance and the well-placed bunt that hugs the grass and rolls softly up either baseline.
I could go on and on.
Anyway...second point to consider. I wonder if the average fan of the NFL realizes that all of this action he is bragging about amounts to actually somewhere between 11 and 12 minutes per game.
That’s all it amounts to, folks.
That's about a half inning's worth of action-packed fun and entertainment stretched arduously over three hours. Not much game action at all, especially when one considers all the time we are forced to spend waiting for inane commercials to conclude and absurdly lengthy video reviews to be resolved.
Point three: All of this spell-binding action occurs just once a week. What would these NFL enthusiasts say if football was more like baseball, and they had to watch just 11 minutes of action every night? Not so sure these same football folks would be extolling the merits of their favorite sport with as much zeal and alacrity.
The fourth point is perhaps the most compelling. The 11 minutes aside, what every football does know, and what needs to be mentioned here, are the other more distasteful, rather egregious monikers of the NFL—things that separate it from baseball and other sports as well.
How about Ray Lewis and Rae Carruth involved in murder? If that's not bad enough for you, consider Mike Vick running dog-fighting rings, Donte Stallworth’s vehicular manslaughter, Plaxico's Burress's concealed weapon charge and nightclub debacle, Brett Favre's little twisted photo shoot and, of course, concussions, Spygate and now, most recently, the infamous bounty program.
Yes, there is certainly plenty of "action" in football these days. Unfortunately, most of it is of the tawdry, immoral, illicit nature, and very little of it actually occurs on the field.
So even though I follow football and love my New York Jets, I think when it comes to watching real action, I will stick to baseball. It is, after all, "the thinking man's game."
And if you don't mind me saying so, there just ain’t enough of that sort of thing going on these days.