Baseball v Football

Back in the golden era of 1970’s “cutting edge” comedy, George Carlin first did his famous bit about baseball and football (1990 update), in which he proclaimed football superior to baseball based upon its manly qualities. It is interesting to note that Carlin, so well regarded for his understanding and use of language, should so clearly demonstrate a misunderstanding of why baseball is what it is.

Look, I certainly love football. It is the game I was raised on and the game that I played. I was a Junior in High school before I became enthralled with baseball. But when I finally did catch baseball fever, it engulfed me for life. I watch football today with a professional interest, but I enjoy baseball.

So why is it that Baseball instinctively draws us in?

Both Football and Baseball have their roots in other games, but the truth is that both are uniquely American. Both football and modern baseball really came into being around the turn of the 20th Century. Yes, both had been played for decades prior, but it is then, with the coming of the new Century,  that both games begin to take on the forms that would be recognizable to us today – dated and old fashioned to be sure – but recognizable as the games we know. Still, in the first decade of the 20th Century, there was a clear difference between football and baseball as far as perception in the national conscience went.

Both are team games, which Americans have always loved. Baseball was the gentler of the two games, but also the most reachable for the average American of the day. Baseball has the element missing in football – at least on the macro and visible scale – that of the mano-a-mano, the one-on-one of the Pitcher facing the batter. Until the one man versus one man game is played out, the team cannot get involved.

In many ways this is representative of the American character. Consider for a moment the lesson that I often teach – that of the concepts of freedom and of liberty. Ask most Americans today and you will find that many, if not virtually all, understand the words as synonymous and interchangeable. The men and women who fought for independence, however, held no such understanding.

They saw “Freedom” as the abilities that they had simply because they were Englishmen. Freedom coming from a high German word which literally implies a union, if you will, an interdependence of a group of people to accomplish a given task. Teamwork, if you will allow.

Liberty on the other hand, was what Patriot after Patriot would tell you was for what they were willing to die (see Patrick Henry). Liberty comes from a Latin word that implies self-determination, self control and self-accomplishment. As I often point out, Joseph had freedom, but not liberty (Genesis 39). Our Fathers saw it clearly in these terms, reflected even in the motto, “E Pluribus Unum.” From many, one.

In Baseball, it is the interdependence on both the freedom and the liberty, the team and the individual, that most reflects the innate American view of both himself and the national purpose. Football has it’s elements, but only baseball reflects them so clearly for everyman to see.

And that’s the real difference between the two sports. Baseball has always belonged to the everyday American. Even when baseball banned African-Americans from Major League baseball, African-Americans simply formed their own leagues, by all argument easily equivalent (if not superior) in play and skill.

Football on the other hand, was almost exclusively the purview of the gentry. For most of its early days, football was a college game, played by men who had no other concerns other than classes and college events. The game was played almost exclusively by Ivy League schools, far beyond the connective reach of the everyday average American sports fan. Football was seen as the play of the rich elites, which is ironic, given the disconnect between salaries of players and fans today.

“But Dave,” you say, “Baseball has outrageous salaries as well.”

True, but Baseball lastly has something that football does not have – the Minor Leagues, which even with the excitement and passion of the Majors is where most fans connect with the game. Football has nothing to compare with or compete with Minor League baseball. And the minor leagues add the element of American success – work hard, work long, make it here and move up to the riches of the Major Leagues. Only to discover the most American truism of all – it’s hard work to get to the top, and it’s even harder work to stay there.

George Carlin may or may not have known all of that, but he certainly understood that it’s harder to stay on top than it is even to get there in the first place, which is why even he updated his famed routine through the years. Somehow though, he never got that Football might be a warrior game, but Baseball is THE American game.

If you have not read Frank Deford’s, “The Old Ball Game,” you might want to. The idea of this article on Baseball as the “American game” started with his descriptions of 1900’s baseball fans found there…


Posted on April 10, 2012, in Baseball, Minor Legue, MLB and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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