When I was first asked this question by a friend, the answer seemed to be simple... Of course they are! Then, after thinking on it for a while I started to see why he asked me.
We have all see the images of the fat, out of shape baseball players standing around chewing dip. It is an image that makes millions of couch potatoes think they can do that job too! But, we tend to look at the bad images more than the good! Obviously there are many players that are in great physical shape. But, to play baseball, you do not need to be in great shape necessarily! If you are overweight, you will more than likely play 1st Base, 3rd Base or Catcher... Not that these positions don't have big responsibilities... but, they have the least requirement to be in shape!
Now, to answer the question I will have to leave it somewhat open... For a large majority of the league I would say that they are athletes! When you watch an Outfielder sprinting and diving to make an amazing catch for an out or a Short Stop lay out to nab a ground ball headed to the gap, then rise from his stomach and make a throw to 1st base in time for the out... you have to sit there in amazement! You have to have great hand-eye coordination, instincts and ability to make those kinds of plays! Not to mention the motion of actually throwing a baseball is not the most natural motion for your body to go through. In order to whip a ball that hard and that often, you are rivaling that of an NFL Quarterback, and your precision must be even better as the target is a glove.
While on the subject of the actual throwing motion, we have to look at the Pitchers! Sure, they are not avoiding the rush of a Defensive Lineman, like a Quarterback... but, they are still responsible to cover bases and make plays as a defensive member of the team! Not to mention that when a batter gets a hold of a pitch and sends it back up right at them, they need to have the reflexes to make a play or not get hit. Most people may not be aware of the fact that when a ball is hit, it is traveling much faster than it was on the delivery. Meaning, the Pitcher threw a 90 MPH fastball, the ball may be coming back at speeds ranging from 100-160 MPH... And more! So, for a Pitcher or a Infielder to make a play on a ball moving that fast, you have to have pretty good athletic abilities! They must also posses the ability to throw a variety of pitches, and this alone forces their throwing motion to change on every pitch!
Now, I understand why this question looms out there for some. When you watch a baseball game, it may be over b before some of the fielders have even moved a muscle on defense! But, every player in the lineup will need to take his at bats (unless there is a DH, then the Pitcher does not have to). If you have ever stepped up to bat, you know how difficult this can be. This motion requires great skill, maybe more than any other motion in baseball! Look at it from a statistical point of view... if you were to have a career batting average of .300 you are in consideration for the Hall of Fame! But that is only 3 out of 10! And if you are batting .300, you are a GOD! In any other sport, 4 out of 10 is a failure, period! If a golfer only hit 3 of 10 putting shots to save par, he would not last on the tour very long. Basketball players who shoot .300 will have a hard time finding a job soon! So, this is must mean that either baseball is OK with failure, or it is an extremely challenging sport! Obviously no professional athlete is OK with failure... and even if they were, the owners and managers would not deal with that for long!
So, it is my opinion that Baseball players are indeed athletes. However, they do not rank as high as any of the other sports. For the sake of argument, here is my list of the most athletic sports. (in NO particular order)
1. Football - No matter what position you play, you are going to get hit and hit hard! The physical demand on the body is greater than any other sport for the simple fact that you must be able to perform all of the basic running, jumping, catching and blocking, but do it while someone is looking to knock your block off! Oh, and you need to do it in as part of an 11 man team!
2. Basketball - Some people refer to basketball players as the best athletes on the planet, and they could be... except for the fact that their idea of contact is a foul every time! Their ability to leap, and position their bodies is second to none however!
3. Hockey - I want you to try and skate on ice, holding a stick and swinging at a little puck while trying to get it past a huge goalie into a little net... oh, and have the defense looking to knock your teeth out with every bone crushing blow. Oh, and your face is exposed to all of this! When you’re done, let me know where you place these gentlemen!
4. Soccer - To run none stop for an entire soccer game has to be one of the toughest things to do... but at the same time it is mainly about endurance! Yes, there is a lot of physical play in soccer and mixed with he endurance demands, I give these athletes all the respect in the world!
5. Tennis - This sport seems like it cannot be that hard... yeah right! Serving is hard enough, but they still need to react and return it on the other side... then, hitting a top spin or slice back over with not as much power as you wanted, now your opponent has it in the cross-hairs and now the ball is coming back as hard as the serve, but to the other half of your court and you have to run it down and still hit it back! The athleticism required in tennis amazed me the first time I tried to play! There is no slacking off... if you do, your done!
6. Baseball - Since the big athletic plays happen so far and few between for most of the player on the field, it is hard to put baseball above any of these other sports! I would rank certain positions higher, but the sport as a whole, this is the right position!
7. Golf - Not that they are athletes, besides Tiger Woods, but the skill required here is so high they had to make my list!
There are other sports out there that I could have included, but I wanted to focus on the majors. Some of the others would make this list, and would be somewhere in the middle. Sports like Rugby, Water Polo, Boxing, and Lacrosse and so on!
I am interested to know what others thing... so, if you like, please post a comment to this and rank your top sports in order of Athletic demand.
Blog originally posted on www.thebwrightreport.com on 6/25/08