You don’t have to believe me, it’s fine, when I tell you that ESPN burgled my idea, those bastards. Sure enough, two weeks ago I was going to pen a PressBox about how baseball has recaptured the throne as national sport of preference. Then I got lazy, ate a few Fruit Roll-Ups and postponed it. Sure enough, those commies at ESPN Page 2 hamstrung me and published their debate on the matter just last week. I’m sure there’s a lesson to be learned in all of this, but I’m too busy playing “RBI Baseball” to pick up on it.
Nevertheless, I felt that my points on the matter – poignant, if not tangential – went untouched by ESPN, so I’m continuing as scheduled with my coupla’ cents. Plus, I’m bitter about the whole thing.
As predicted, the main detractor the ESPN folks provided for baseball was the idea of parity, and, indeed, baseball does have an offensive amount of disparity within its financial system, much like, say, the financial parity existing between myself and anyone who held a real job this summer. When an entire team’s budget, such as a small-market club like Milwaukee Brewers in ’04 – is roughly equal to the salary of a single player on another – hell, A-Rod could fund the entire National League – there’s an inherent dissonance that leaves things unbalanced. However, I ask of you, just how much of an impact does a high salary have on the performance of your team? Or, more importantly, who cares?
The way I see it, there are two key differences that establish baseball as the dominant sport. The first is the fanfare surrounding each sport.
When it comes down to it, football is a regional sport. Every city has their team, and every team has their chance. The city of Cincinnati is collectively spitting their beverages across some sprawling, metaphorical table as they realize that not only did their Bengals dethrone the mighty Chiefs, and not only is quarterback Jon Kitna surpassing all expectations, but that with a remaining schedule that features three teams with sub-par records, the ol’ Bungles are likely en route to the playoffs.
Meanwhile, defending Super Bowl contenders Tampa Bay and Oakland are playing more like the Bengals, if not the Bangles of yore, floundering at the bottom of their divisions. Those cities, it would seem, had their time in the spotlight, and that’s how it goes in football – there’s no chance to develop a dynasty or a national scourge, because a team’s quality of play changes too frequently. That may excite local fans, whose team gets a chance at rebirth every year, but on a national level it provides less a sense of loyalty than it does an opportunity for exciting gambling.
Baseball, on the other hand, truly is the nation’s sport. Look at baseball’s League Championship Series and try not to wet yourself with anxiety – hell, I was ripping through skivvies during the closing weeks. The entire country picked sides, with incorrigible Yankees fans rooting for their own, while anyone with any sympathy for the plight of the downtrodden pulled for good ol’ Boston and the Cubbies. Lack of parity?
When I think of disparity, I think of a Hummer vs. a Huffy. Janowitz vs. Holyfield. Shakira vs. all other females. I don’t think of the American League Championship Series, which, in pairing the spendthrift Yankees against the wild card Red Sox, provided one of the most exciting athletic spectacles of my day. Even better, the World Series didn’t offer an equal pairing, but rather an underdog walloping delivered by the Marlins, a small market team with a grade-school line-up and Civil War-era grade-school manager, as they pulled the proverbial carpet out from under the Yanks. That’s sports, right there. Football can keep its championship-in-one-game format. I’ll take a seven-game series between the national scourge and the national sweetheart any day.
Meanwhile, not to be forgotten, the other key difference, the one that truly places baseball stories above football in the skyscraper of professional sports? Stealing bases.
The day Peyton Manning giddyups his Colts 15 yards before the defense is set up is the day I hand the title back to football. When I see Tracy McGrady fake an inbounds pass and then dash to halfcourt along the sidelines, or a NASCAR driver take a few extra spins during a yellow flag, or Oscar De La Hoya sneak around and blast his opponent a few times between rounds – well, dammit, that’s what I’m talking about.
There’s a rather distressing amount of morality during athletic gameplay. For some inexplicable reason, all felonious activity on the part of athletes takes place off the field. But not baseball! It not only allows, but encourages, the furtive filching of bases, and that, along with all that other nonsense I rambled about before, it’s why it’s the best sport in the world.
Janowitz can be reached at email@example.com.