Here is a link to my Thursday column. The full text also appears below.
Baseball has advantages over football. Baseball is probably a better game.
I believe what I just wrote, even though I love covering the NFL and wrote a book about Bill Walsh, by far the most fascinating person I’ve met in more than three decades of covering sports.
I’ll say it again: Baseball has advantages over football.
Baseball players are average-size people like you and me, although there always are exceptions. I am not aware of one position in baseball where a player must weigh 300 pounds. I am not aware of one position in baseball where a player is considered “undersized” if he weighs 260.
Football encourages — needs — men to be giants, to be oversized, oh, let’s face it, to be abnormal. The A’s can play Eric Sogard, who looks like a librarian. On a football team he might be a kicker, but he could be nothing else except water boy. Coco Crisp is a normal-looking adult. Away from the ballpark you would have no idea what he does for a living. Can you say the same about Justin Smith?
You think PEDs are rampant in baseball? I’ve often wondered how so many NFL players grow so large. They look like hormone-fed cattle. Don’t you suspect PEDs are part of the deal in the NFL, at least for certain positions?
Baseball is for the common man — and woman. It is not a specialized game. I take that back. It has become more specialized, but it is nothing like football where everyone is a specialist. A guy plays offense or defense, not both. A guy plays on first down but not third down. And on and on.
In baseball, sure, there are closers and set-up men and they are specialists. But the ethic of baseball — there is an ethic — is you have to play the field to earn the right to hit.
Right now, you’re thinking designated hitter and that explodes my argument. Only in the American League, which uses that abomination of a semi-position. The DH always has been a phony deal and it violates the baseball ethic because the DH does not earn the right to bat. He sits in the clubhouse pedaling a stationary bike.
In baseball, what you see is real. That is not always the case in football.
When a guy hits a single in baseball, it’s a single. When a wide receiver catches a long pass in football and runs into the end zone, it may not really be a touchdown, not if an official threw a flag for holding at the line of scrimmage. The touchdown never happened. Wipe it out. Never mind.
Real becomes unreal all the time in football. Baseball uses replay for some plays like home runs. But baseball’s need to undo reality is nothing like football’s.
Baseball plays games every day. There is very little discussion in the media or among fans about what might happen. Not necessary. Rarely do you read features about a guy’s college coach or stuff like that. Football is pure filler. It’s one game a week — unless it’s a bye week — and six days of fluff and anticipation and buildup. Actual games trump hype every time.
The game of baseball does not shorten your life span. And rarely are there concussions. Football? Good grief.
Baseball strategy makes sense. A manager never has to say, “I need to look at the film” to explain what happened in a game. In football, coaches say that after every game. What happens on the field often is obscure to lay people and even to the coaches. In baseball, the strategy is obvious and what happened is obvious. An 11-year-old Little Leaguer can understand baseball with no sweat. A Ph.D. from Cal would have trouble understanding line play in football.
Baseball managers don’t hide strategy because there is nothing to hide. Football coaches routinely fib because, in their minds, they are leading the invasion of Normandy. Baseball managers are just playing a game. Before Game 4 of the ALDS against the A’s, Tigers manager Jim Leyland predicted he might use Max Scherzer in relief. Can you imagine Jim Harbaugh or Bill Belichick being so up front? It would not happen.
Baseball is a player-oriented game. The manager writes out the lineup card and does a few things in a game — calls for a bunt, brings in a reliever — but the players play and the players determine the outcome.
Football is coach-oriented. A coach calls every play. The coach has way more to do with wins and losses in football than in baseball. Not even close. In football what happens in the coaches’ booth is just as significant — maybe more significant — than what happens on the field.
Baseball uniforms are like regular clothes. Players wear belts. Their jerseys have buttons. You can see the players’ faces. Football players wear helmets. You never see their faces. The players look like Cyborg infantry, like robots.
There is nothing in football like the one-on-one confrontation between pitcher and batter. Many interesting one-on-one confrontations exist in football — wide receiver vs. cornerback, defensive end vs. left tackle. But half the time you don’t see them. And not one of those confrontations is the essence of the game. Not like pitcher vs. batter. Not like Sergio Romo vs. Miguel Cabrera at the end of last year’s World Series. That at-bat, that defining moment, was incomparable.
Baseball takes place in one calendar year. They play the World Series at the home parks of the league winners, not some foreign stadium with no relation to the event.
So, yes, I love football but baseball has advantages.
For more on the world of sports in general and the Bay Area in particular, go to the Cohn Zohn at cohn.blogs.pressdemocrat.com. You can reach Staff Columnist Lowell Cohn at firstname.lastname@example.org.