I turned the television on last night so I could watch the season finale of the first season of The X-Files, and caught the top of the second inning of the Yankees-Angels game. Playoff baseball is here again. I don’t have cable, so I can’t watch all of the games, but I can pick up WCBS from New York at night here in North Carolina, so I imagine I’ll be listening to John Sterling and Suzyn Waldman the next few weeks (hopefully).

Ronan over at Headlife, in a post about American sports culture vs. the rest of the world, recently made the claim that “Cricket is, absolutely, definitely, the world’s greatest sport,” in part because “the tension, the skill, the sportsmanship of cricket is second-to none.”

He’s wrong. I’ve never even watched a cricket match and I can say that. Here’s how I know: name one great cricket movie. Can’t do it, can you? (Ok, maybe Lagaan. I haven’t seen it. Name two). Name one great baseball movie. The problem here isn’t coming up with a candidate, but picking from among the many choices. Field of Dreams, The Natural, Pride of the Yankees, Damn Yankees!, Eight Men Out, The Bad News Bears, Bull Durham, The Rookie, The Sandlot — heck, you could just limit the list to movies about the Yankees and still have a decent list.

Baseball is a storyteller’s game. The pace is such that there’s lots of time for talking during the actual game. The game itself has a rich oral tradition, spread throughout the country by radio and television announcers. I actually often prefer listening to games on the radio over watching on television. The season is long, and careers are relatively long as well, with slumps and streaks that create innumerable opportunities for failure and redemption. Drama builds over the course of a season, over the course of a game, and comes to a head in the pivotal at-bat. Unlike the timed games, there is no point in game in which it is not theoretically possible for a team to come back.

Baseball provides dramatic moments with such frequency and intensity that in fact it’s difficult to reproduce on-screen. For all of the grandeur of Robert Redford’s Rob Hobbs’ fireworks-generating home run at the end of The Natural (and what a cop-out that was, changing the ending of Malamud’s book like that), it pales in comparison to Bobby Thompson’s shot heard ’round the world, or Kirk Gibson’s dramatic shot in Game One of the 1988 World Series, or, if you’re a Yankees fan, Jim Leyritz’s three-run home run in game four of the 1996 World Series off of Mark Wohlers.

NFL Films does a great job of editing football games to tell compelling stories. Baseball doesn’t need an NFL Films — great baseball games can be viewed again without editing. In fact, they are probably best viewed that way. But when October rolls around, forget recorded footage — the drama is live.


20 thoughts on “Baseball

  1. Right on! A good friend of mine was always telling me that October is the best sports month of the year for sport, mostly because of the MLB playoffs, but also because football (both pro and college) are in full gear. I used to say March is the best, but that’s only because of one event. I agree that October is great, if for no other reason than baseball makes for compelling drama, like you suggest.

    One of my favorite aspects of baseball is the potential for unpredictable hero/goat. Francisco Cabrera of the Braves in ’92, Mookie Wilson in ’86/Bill Buckner for the Bosox in ’86. In sports like basketball and football you know who is going to have the ball in the waning seconds – Jordan would always take the last shot, Joe Montana will be throwing the ball, for example. Not true in baseball where lineups are set and you can’t always get your star player the crucial at bat. You can’t take Alex Rodriguez and put him third up in the bottom of the ninth unless his spot in the order happens to come up in the ninth. You never know where the ball will be hit, either. A great defensive play could come from anywhere on the field, or a great error (see: Buckner). That’s why it’s so great. Everytime the ’86 World Series is on ESPN Classic, I gotta watch.

    It’s not like your stars won’t have their heroic moments – Schilling’s bloody sock last year is a great example of that. And that’s good stuff too. But when you find yourself rooting so hard for a Cabrera or a guy named Mookie, there’s nothing like that.

    Not having cable growing up, I used to love listening to Mets games on the radio. You almost develop a friendship with the announcer. I got so used to Bob Murphy calling Mets games that it seems odd to watch a game now without hearing his voice. Agreed that it is the best way to enjoy a game other than being at the park.

  2. Love the Mets talk. Yeah Bob Murphy! Boo Fran Healy! Speaking of playoff underdogs, I miss Timo! And goats? I’ll never forgive Kenny Rogers for walking in the winning run against the Braves in the ’99 NLCS. The shame.

  3. That’s bollocks, Bryce, and you know it. Americans have to make movies about sport because their sports are so lame. The rest of the world just has sport.

    Yanks…always getting Hollywood to gloss over their insecurities. Bothered that it was the Brits not the Yanks who stole and decoded the Enigma machine and thus won the war? That’s OK, just make U571 and rewrite history.

    The lastest “baseball” movie, Fever Pitch? The book was about Arsenal Football Club you gimps. Yanks! Bloody Yanks!

  4. Running, women’s soccer, ballet-dancing – they all need popcorn support. Cricket and football don’t. I’m not ducking your question, just questioning its relevance, monsieur.

  5. Seriously, Ronan, you’re putting the cart before the horse. People don’t make movies about subjects they think need attention (at least not sports movies). They make movies about subjects that people find interesting. I find it odd that given all of the passion for cricket in the Commonwealth nations, no one has tried to capture it on film.

    Heck, even Wimbledon got the film treatment last year. And it’s not Hollywood vs. the rest of the world; all of the films I’ve cited are British projects.

    Here’s one link I found:

    I’m open to the possibility that cricket is a great spectator sport. Like I said, I’ve never watched.

    In the meantime, Clemens vs. Smoltz tonight at 8. Don’t miss it.

  6. Last night’s Astros vs. Braves, Game 4 is an instant classic. One of the best playoff games ever. More proof that baseball in October is sports at its very best.

  7. Another reason why baseball is so great is that when it goes to extra innings, there’s no clock to limit the drama. The game could end now with a home run, or 9 innings later – you just don’t know, so of course you have to watch every minute. It adds to the tension like last night.

  8. That 18-inning game was definitely one of the most exciting ever, reminiscent of the Mets-Astros in 1986. Unfortunately, some of us don’t have ESPN. It’s unconscionable that one of the most exciting games ever was relegated to cable, while boring NFL games that were not even close in score continued to be broadcast.

    Right around the time the game ended, 60 Minutes had a feature on NASCAR and how they plan to build a stadium on Staten Island. Maybe they’ll get a lot of New Jersey fans, but I can’t see a lot of city-dwellers taking the ferry over. There’s almost no interest in NASCAR around here. Sports-talk radio is baseball 24-7. Even in the middle of January, when one would expect the conversation to turn to NFL, NBA, and NHL, you get endless calls talking about trades and what lineups or pitching rotations the Mets or Yankees should use. Of course, this is exactly how I like it.

    Last year when I went to England in September, I was starved for pennant race information, and only the internet could satisfy me. In a London paper, thirty pages of sports coverage dealt with nothing but soccer, rugby, cricket, formula one, and sailing. And o yes, golf and tennis.

  9. A great thing about that Mets-Astros game 6 was the specter of Mike Scott looming over every pitch. The Mets HAD to win that game. They weren’t going to beat Mike Scott in game 7 since he was unhittable that year. That’s another thing about playoff baseball that’s great: in football, basketball, hockey, you’re facing the same players every night out. In baseball, you get a different “defense” (read: pitcher), every night – so you have to plan accordingly to win the games you know you can win and it makes you almost desperate to win those games. The Mets were desperate to win that game.

    Someone on ESPN said that if the Astros don’t win last night, they waste Pettite on game five and can’t start him more than once in the St. Louis series – which means they probably lose the St. Louis series, if not the Braves series in game 5. That’s partly why Phil Garner threw the kitchen sink at the Braves – he liked his chances to take the next series better by winning game four. There are so many details like that in baseball that make it intriguing.

  10. The whole city is alert with anticipation for game 5 tonight. Yankee fans, even though they won yesterday, cannot get over the fact that they came back to take the lead on Friday, only to squander it. New York is never more alive than when the Yankees are in an elimination game.

    Another question: if the Yankees win, who pitches game 1 tomorrow?

  11. While watching the Pack completely demolish the Saints (52-3, baby!)(and, as good as the Atlanta-Houston game was, nothing can compare to seeing the Packers win their first game of the season that way, even if it was lopsided), I read the essay “George Will vs. Nick Hornby” in Chuck Klosterman’s book “Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs: A Low Culture Manifesto.” Some excerpts are here. Can’t say I completely agree, but I will say this: at least cricket is better than soccer. But baseball is better than both. And football better than baseball.

  12. Pris, I am going to continue with you an argument I am having with my daughter-in-law, who grew up in Green Bay.

    Football is good, but NO WAY is it better than baseball! As George Will has noted, football combines two of the worst aspects of American life: violence and committee meetings. Thomas Boswell, a sportswriter for the Washington Post, wrote an essay called 99 Reasons why Baseball is Better than Football You can read ithere. I especially like #’s 9, 49, 69, and 77.

  13. Football is a fine sport, but there’s no way that it’s better than baseball. Football is the number one sport in the US for one reason: gambling. It’s not the sport itself that people get excited about, it’s the vicarious thrill of victory. More people are interested in their fantasy football leagues than the actual game itself — who cares if Green Bay won, did they cover the spread? and did Favre play the whole game?

    Same test: which sport has better movies? No contest, it’s baseball.

  14. That’s an interesting link, Mark. The guy makes some good points, some of which I agree with. (Like, umps are generally better than refs–though after last night, I’m not sure I agree anymore.) And he makes some claims (like #20) that are really just his personal opinions (frankly, I’d rather it be 30 deg, have a hip flask and six layers of clothes).

    I mean, I like baseball. I think Bryce is right, Baseball makes the best movies. Baseball is the funnest sport to read about. Being a math geek, I love the stats. But, in terms of enjoyment from watching, I have to go with football. It’s precisely because there’s so much going on that makes it a great game to watch.

    Inherrently, perhaps, baseball is better because it doesn’t require “the best” to participate. Ever watch high school football? Horrible. College? Not as bad, but not as good as pro. However, amatuer baseball is okay and perhaps as fun to watch as MLB. So, I’ll give you that. But in NFL vs. MLB, in terms of sitting home and watching the game on TV, I’ll pick NFL.

    Besides, this way I won’t have to listen to Tim McCarver. Man makes me want to jab sharpened chopsticks into my ears.

  15. Pris, you’re right that football is a better spectator sport in general, and it’s probably more fun to watch a random football game than baseball bame on TV. You’re wrong that amateur baseball is ok to watch — the amount of skill and experience required to play baseball well is incredible. In football, you can get by on raw athletic ability to a certain extent. Baseball requires a long apprenticeship to gain the experience to play well.

    There’s a reason minor league teams have playgrounds, wacky races between innings, and other silly stuff to entertain the fans — the on field action isn’t that entertaining.

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