What is it about football that I hate so much? Is it that I resent its popularity compared to baseball? Yeah, that’s a big part of it. Major League Baseball games still sell out in the U.S., and the game is hugely popular in all across Latin America; that gives me some comfort, but goddammit — we invented this fucking game! Soldiers played town ball and rounders (ancestors to baseball) during the American Revolution. Like the United States itself, baseball was born in Great Britain, emigrated to the New World with the colonists and evolved into something new and unique. The history of baseball is inseparable from the history of America. Everyone knows about Jackie Robinson being the first black man to play in the modern game, be they sports fans or not (a few of us even know about Moses Fleetwood Walker playing the game in the late 19th century). We know about Frank Robinson being the first black Major League Manager. Does anyone know (or care to know) the name of the player who desegregated the NFL? Many will be able to name the first black coach to take a team to the Super Bowl, but only because it happened only recently. Football might be the dominant sport in America today, and for the last twenty or thirty years, but it isn’t woven into the fabric of our history. Baseball is.
Thank God for that, too. Which sport would you rather speak for America — baseball or football? George Carlin did a famous bit of comedy on the subject back in the 70s which highlighted the differences pretty well. Baseball is an optimistic, uplifting game, while football is, as Carlin describes it, “a technological struggle.” Baseball players look like human beings. Even a roided-up baseball player like Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire is still half the size of an average football player. You can see their faces. They walk out onto the field with almost no protection, only a glove for defense and a bat for offense. The most riveting struggle of the game, repeated countless times over the afternoon or evening, the pitcher vs. the batter, is a duel in the simplest terms. The pitcher has the ball and his arm, the batter his bat and his timing. They can look each other in the eye. There are no face-obscuring helmets, no body-distorting protective pads. It’s man to man.
Baseball players must have particular skills to play their defensive positions, but everyone on the team must be proficient in the same basic areas: throwing, catching, running, hitting. There is not specialization to the inhuman degree of the NFL, where many defensive players never even touch the ball and stand no chance of ever scoring a single point. Football players are cogs in a machine; they play a game that is technical and mechanical, that lends itself to dense, meticulous strategy. Some cite that as part of footballs appeal, that a nation of blue collar workers like to sit down on the weekends and watch a tough, hard-hitting blue collar sport. Why a man working 40+ hours a week on an assembly line would want to watch a game that so accurately reflects his dreary, compartmentalized occupation is something I will never understand.
Football is just so goddamn depressing. Sure, so is baseball, if your team is getting its ass kicked, but there’s something fundamentally upbeat about baseball. It’s played outdoors, in the summer, by players recognizable as human beings. They aren’t slaving away against an arbitrary time limit, either — the game ain’t over until it’s fucking over. If you lose, it’s because the other guys beat you, not because you ran out of seconds on the clock. The lack of a clock means the possibilities for a baseball game are endless. You can be down to your last at bat, trailing by 10 runs, one strike away from defeat, but as long as you have that one strike there is the chance you can come back and win it all. Rationally we know that sort of thing almost never happens, but the possibility is there. In football there is no such possibility. There is bleak inevitability. If your side is down, and the game is in its last few minutes, it’s over. There’s no way you can win. You are a prisoner of the clock. What a sad metaphor for the most dismal aspects of life.
So have a nice spring and summer break, football. I’ll be enjoying the fresh air and cheering on the Orioles and the Red Sox, booing the Yankees’ every move, looking ahead to the World Series and pondering the possibilities. After a winter filled with football, the start of baseball season is like coming up for air. Baseball is only a few weeks away. I hope it gets here soon, and the next six months take forever.