Reasons to love Baseball

Now that MLB has been back for a few weeks now and the NBA is winding down to the slog of the playoffs, it’s time to turn attention once again to the marathon of the baseball season. The Boston Review has unearthed a letter from philospher John Rawls on the six reasons why he loves baseball.

The letter was written in 1981.

First: the rules of the game are in equilibrium: that is, from the start, the diamond was made just the right size, the pitcher?s mound just the right distance from home plate, etc., and this makes possible the marvelous plays, such as the double play. The physical layout of the game is perfectly adjusted to the human skills it is meant to display and to call into graceful exercise. Whereas, basketball, e.g., is constantly (or was then) adjusting its rules to get them in balance.

Second: the game does not give unusua1 preference or advantage to special physical types, e.g., to tall men as in basketball. All sorts of abilities can find a place somewhere, the tall and the short etc. can enjoy the game together in different positions.

Third: the game uses all parts of the body: the arms to throw, the legs to run, and to swing the bat, etc.; per contra soccer where you can?t touch the ball. It calls upon speed, accuracy of throw, gifts of sight for batting, shrewdness for pitchers and catchers, etc. And there are all kinds of strategies.

Fourth: all plays of the game are open to view: the spectators and the players can see what is going on. Per contra football where it is hard to know what is happening in the battlefront along the line. Even the umpires can?t see it all, so there is lots of cheating etc. And in basketball, it is hard to know when to call a foul. There are close calls in baseball too, but the umps do very well on the whole, and these close calls arise from the marvelous timing built into the game and not from trying to police cheaters etc.

Fifth: baseball is the only game where scoring is not done with the ball, and this has the remarkable effect of concentrating the excitement of plays at different points of the field at the same time. Will the runner cross the plate before the fielder gets to the ball and throws it to home plate, and so on.

Finally, there is the factor of time, the use of which is a central part of any game. Baseball shares with tennis the idea that time never runs out, as it does in basketball and football and soccer. This means that there is always time for the losing side to make a comeback. The last of the ninth inning becomes one of the most potentially exciting parts of the game. And while the same sometimes happens in tennis also, it seems to happen less often. Cricket, much like baseball (and indeed I must correct my remark above that baseball is the only game where scoring is not done with the ball), does not have a time limit.

The most satisfying part of the article may be the comments afterwards. They are just as intelligent as you would expect from readers of the Boston Review and many of them offer counterpoints to consider. Boston Globe columnist Alex Beam provided his thoughts on the article. Not living in Boston, I never realized how much I missed reading Alex Beam’s column on the T every morning. He doesn’t raise any serious objections ot Rawls’s assessment, which is a big disappointment.

I would add that as a Sox fan, one of the things I’ve enjoyed is the constant one-ups-manship between the spoiled garbage of the Yankees and how the Red Sox have slid in to become the “new” Yankees. It’s a strange thing, but it only reinforces how Red Sox and Yankees fans are closer in nature than either of us would care to admit.

Take, for example, the recent burying of a shirt in the concrete during the building of the New Yankee Stadium and how the Yankee organization didn’t just shrug that off, they actually took an active search through the concrete to dig up the shirt and remove it from the construction site.

Yankees President Randy Levine said the team at first considered leaving the shirt.

“The first thought was, you know, it’s never a good thing to be buried in cement when you’re in New York,” Levine said. “But then we decided, ‘Why reward somebody who had really bad motives and was trying to do a really bad thing?'”

Of course, all of that has nothing to do with the actual game of baseball, just one petty rivalry between two organizations that are essentially different sides of the same coin.


Discuss: Why do you love baseball? Or, why do you hate the game?

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