Thursday, December 23, 2004

My Favorite Things (about Baseball)

When I was listening to the jazzy version of “My Favorite Things” on the D.C. City Council webcast, it prompted me to think about my favorite things about baseball. So here are the top ten, in no particular order. I’ve tried to limit to those things that distinguish baseball from other sports, in my mind (I have favorite things about those other sports, too, if anyone is interested).

(1) History – Even after the hot stove has cooled off, you can survive January and February off of the ample stores of baseball history. No other sport has all the aspects of history covered: a wide cast of characters and heroes, epic events, and organized objective records that prompt a multitude of theories and interpretations. Note that this is closely related to number 2.

(2) Stats and Records – I can’t spend 10 minutes on baseball-reference.com without coming up with something new and interesting from baseball’s past and present (like the fact that of the 89 DC natives who played in the majors, only 10 debuted since 1971). When it is combined with Retrosheet, it is overwhelming.

(3) Batter v. Pitcher – A conflict between two athletes like no other in sports, as much mental as physical. To get to see it 70-80 times a game is really something. When it occurs when all is on the line, it’s almost unbearable, especially if your team is involved.

(4) No Timeouts – Many like the fact that baseball has no clock, and I generally agree, but mostly because there are no timeouts. One of my favorites quotes is from Lenny Dykstra, during the 93 Phillies frenetic NLCS with the vaunted Braves, where every game featured the Braves threatening to blow the Phils’ house of cards over at any moment. During one touchy spot with Mitch Williams on the mound, Dykstra said “I wanted to call timeout. But this ain’t basketball.” Also closely related to number 5.

(5) No Change of Possession – unlike almost all other team sports, the offense need not quit when they score. This makes for some enormous pressure and dramatic comebacks in the right circumstances, but mercy rules in the wrong ones (e.g. little league). But I still like it.

(6) The Ball Doesn’t Do the Scoring – Not sure why I like this, I just find it very interesting.

(7) Lineups – In baseball, you have to wait your turn. No ball-hogging, no feeding the hot man, no hiding a guy from the spotlight. To me, the bad thing about the DH is not that the pitcher doesn’t hit, but that guys like Greg Luzinski don’t have to play to field in terror like an 8-year-old.

(8) Ballparks – Not only are they fun to visit, but they are an integral part of the game. That’s very neat.

(9) Lots of Games – It’s played every day, which is a nice reliable comfort in the summer, and gives you hope after failure. It’s a false hope, though, as success requires constant attention, which the good teams achieve.

(10) Roger Angell – Many baseball fans are put off by the fawning over him and his literary airs, but the guy knows his stuff, and describes it with an accuracy and precision that only a novelist can achieve. He is absolutely the only reason ever to pick up The New Yorker. He has also had a remarkable baseball life, and I defy anyone to read “Early Innings” (in Game Time) by him and not be jealous.

10 Comments:

At 4:13 PM, Blogger Yuda said...

For some freakish reason, the first link in the History item lands me at Microsoft's webpage.

 
At 4:37 PM, Blogger DM said...

The "freakish reason" was an HTML typo, which is now fixed.

 
At 1:04 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

11. Radio (when done right, a mighty big caveat). Baseball is the ideal game on radio because of its pace. In the hands of a master like Harry Kalas, Ernie Harwell, Jon Miller or Vin Scully (all of whom have distinctly different styles), it makes for magnificent listening. I hope the Nationals can find someone who one day can be placed in the class of the four greats listed above.

 
At 3:37 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice list, good comments.

Angell signed my copy of his book, Game Time, when he was at Politics and Prose in DC several years ago. I told him,

“I enjoyed your article, “Pure Pleasure,” Mr. Angell.” (The New Yorker, about Pac Bell).

”That was an easy one to write,” he said softly.

Great writer indeed.

 
At 3:46 PM, Blogger Josh said...

Check out the latest Nats site, which also includes commentary on all things DC and some politics for good measure.

It's at:
http://www.nationalsreview.blogspot.com

 
At 10:07 AM, Blogger dexys_midnight said...

This one would be near the top of my list, DM: Strategy and the time to discuss it.

While I think that baseball is indeed too long and needs to be sped up a bit (time between innings, between pitches, throws to first, etc.), there is something special about having the time to actually discuss WHAT should be done in given situations.

Baseball's strategy is so multi-layered, and with the inability to bring players back in, so different from other sports, that it is so simple and complex at the same time. Just about anyone can understand even the most intricate parts of baseball strategy and discuss them (even if they might not think of them when the time comes). The delay between pitches, pitchers, innings, etc. gives you an opportunity to have a discussion that I don't feel you get from other sports.

This makes me think of some other favorite things of mine:

A connected one: The ability to have real conversations while still paying attention to the game. Something about being outdoors on a warm evening just shooting the breeze with a friend for a few (formerly 2 1/2, now 4) hours gives baseball part of its feeling; makes you feel part of the history and gives you a real feeling for why there have always been so many games in a season.

Scoring a game: I rarely do it anymore, but come on, who doesn't get a sense of true nostalgia scoring a game? My daughter is 1 and I already look forward to teaching her how to score a game. Again, no other game makes you feel a part of its history like baseball.

See something new or special every game: In actuality, every sport has this, but I never seem to go to any football game thinking "I hope the QB doesn't miss a single pass today." If I go to 81 Nationals games this year, I will spend the first inning of every game thinking "I hope I see a perfect game. I hope I see 20Ks." Mid-way through the game..."can this guy get the cycle?" etc.

"Buck-says": A DM special. You can do this in any sport, but it really is so much fun at baseball games (again a function of the time between action). If you have never done it, here is how it works. Before any pitch, inning, batter, whatever, just announce to your cohorts at the game: "buck-says ___" such as "buck-says this guy either strikes out or hits into a double play"; "buck-says he gets out of this inning without letting up a run"; "buck-says he swings at the first pitch" etc. etc. ETC. Whoever takes you up on the offer (we usually do the first person to take the bet, but you can let everyone in on your buck-says if you want), you have a bet with. Best buck-says inning in history: DM and I had an inning where a guy stole home and another guy tagged up from third to score to be called out for leaving too early on the appeal--imagine one guy begrudgingly hands over a dollar only to look like he just lost his virginity 30 seconds later when an appeal overrules the run (and the other guy looks like said virginity was lost to his mom).

 
At 3:15 PM, Blogger dexys_midnight said...

reading the links from your post DM, I realized that Francisco Cabrera was featured in not just one, but two of them, and that Schilling won the 93 NLCS MVP despite not recording a win. I wonder how many other pitchers have ever won a series' MVP award without getting a win or a save?

 
At 3:49 PM, Blogger dexys_midnight said...

The answer at least in the last 20 years is: none (only checking WS and Champ Series, not Div. series). My research did make me ask, however, is Eddie Perez the worst player to win such an award (1999 NLCS MVP), and why does no one ever talk about the great Reds pitching performaces of the 1990 playoffs? (Jose Rijo in WS: 2-0, 15.3 innings, 1 ER, 9H allowed, 14Ks; Rob Dibble in NLCS: 4 games, 5 innings, 1H allowed, no walks, 10 Ks).

 
At 10:56 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

DM here, on the road with a shady internet connection, hence the Anonymous posting. Dexys, my favorite weak NLCS MVP is Mike Devereaux, 1995 Atlanta. Is there a baseball award with more mediocre characters than "NLCS MVP"?

 
At 3:47 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

How about NFL Pro-Bowl MVP?...

 

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