T-minus two days and counting until the start of the NFL Football season. At this point, I suspect many of you reading this article are happy to shift into football mode after a long eight months since the last Vikings game. But, while I understand Twinkie Town readers are obviously a biased crowd, I'm one for whom football (especially the NFL, less than college) is an afterthought while the baseball season is still going strong. So rather than write some article asking whether the Chicago White Sox will ever lose another baseball game, or whether the Twins can live with losing that critical 40th guy on the roster, I decided to give you all 20 reasons why baseball is simply better than football...and leave it at that. First of all, I should note that I love to watch football, especially college football. I live and die by the Vikings, read the Daily Norseman constantly, but I'm not nearly as invested in the football season as I am for baseball.
In no particular order, except perhaps chronological:
20. Hot Stove League: Baseball has a relatively short offseason, lasting only a little over three months from the end of the World Series to the start of spring training. And during that short time, free agency and trade rumors are pretty much constant. Will my team sign the big free agent? What can we do to improve and contend for a division title? With football, the offseason is about twice as long and dominated by two days: the start of free agency and the draft. I'll take the Hot Stove League any day.
19. Spring Training: There's just something about the words "pitchers and catchers report..." during the end of winter. I don't know if it's the light at the end of a long wintry tunnel, the hope that "this could be the year" (I'm looking at you, Cubs fans), or simply being in Florida or Arizona, but spring training is easily the best preseason in pro sports. The games are just as meaningless, but unlike the NFL, owners don't see the need to charge season ticket holders a full 25% surcharge, full price for two games of scrubs against scrubs. With baseball, spring training is a destination for thousands of fans (especially looking for a week or two away from the northern winter) who can't wait to see the up and coming minor league star in batting practice, fielding drills, or a simple bullpen session.
18. Opening Day: I love the pomp and circumstance of opening day. Every player is 0-0 with zero homers, every pitcher's got a blank slate, every team is in contention. Sure, the NFL starts with the same blank slate, but after four preseason games, two of which are played at the team's home ballpark, football's opening weekend feels more like the third or fourth game of the season to me. With baseball, at least for half the teams (those who didn't play a three game exhibition series the weekend before opening day), it's the first game of the year for the ballpark.
Reasons #17 through #1 follow after the jump:
17. Ballparks: This one is simple. Baseball games are played in "parks", where the fans are much closer to the action in a more intimate setting. The act of attending a baseball game is fundamentally a leisurely activity, much like the pace of the game (more on that later), like visiting a park with your family. Football games are played in "stadiums", where the fans are removed from the action, music is constantly pumped at deafening volume between plays, more of a coliseum type of setting. And especially nowadays, football stadiums have such a corporate air with one stadium feeling just like the next, it seems like so much of the home field advantage (e.g., RFK versus FedEx Field in Washington) is a thing of the past. One more thing, for the most part baseball games are played on grass while so many NFL and college stadiums have moved to the Field Turf. There's just something about the smell of fresh cut grass. Add the fact that baseball players don't wear helmets and are more visible to the average fan, and it's just a better experience to be at a ball game.
16. Pace of the Game: Most baseball haters despise the slow (I consider it "leisurely") pace of the game. Have you attended an NFL game lately? Between the endless TV time outs, intermissions, and breaks in between plays, I feel like I'm watching a TV show during sweeps where the network tries to squeeze as many commercials as possible into a three hour period. At least with baseball a game doesn't feel like a vehicle to get as many commercials in front of the viewers as possible. Sure, baseball games can get slow when the batter steps out to adjust his gloves, shoes, jock, helmet, belt, sleeves, beard, etc. But at least there's a flow to the game rather than 5 seconds of hell followed by 40 seconds of large men catching their breath. Except for games involving the Boston Red Sox or New York Yankees.
15. New York Yankees: Speaking of the Yankees, I consider it good for baseball that there's that one team that everyone loves to hate. Or in the case of the Red Sox, two teams, at least since 2004. It gives the other 29 teams a common bond, but it also helps to set the bar higher for the other contenders. Take the Twins, who have struggled to say the least against the Yankees the past few years. Of course, the division is no sure thing, but how many discussions the past few months have started with "In order for the Twins to have a chance against New York in the postseason, they need..." In the NFL, there's really no equivalent. Pittsburgh? Oakland? Not the same.
14. The Numbers: All of you know by now that I'm a numbers guy. In any sport with hundreds and hundreds of discrete events (at bats, pitches, outs) and each play beginning with a one on one matchup between the batter and pitcher, there are so many possibilities for statistics and other metrics. Could any other sport have brought us sabermetrics?
13. The History: Ty Cobb, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Harmon Killebrew. There is such a rich history of Major League Baseball over the past 100+ years. And while the game has changed, statistics and the record books help to weave a common thread across the decades. Babe Ruth's 714 home runs, or Ty Cobb's 4,191 base hits, Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak, Ted Williams' .406 batting average, so many of the numbers are instantly recognizable by the common fan. Who can cite the record number of touchdown passes, yards rushing, etc off the top of their head? Not to mention the NFL didn't really take off until the 1958 NFL Championship between the Colts and Giants, generally considered the "Greatest Game Ever Played". By that point, baseball had many "greatest games".
12. Always a Chance To Win: It doesn't matter if a team is down by one run or ten runs, their opponent still has to get that 27th out. There's always a chance, however small, without a clock in charge. In a football game, it's all about the clock. If a team is up 20 with two minutes left, they can simply kneel and run out the clock. In baseball, there is no such thing as kneeling. Perhaps Dennis Green would be a better baseball manager than NFL Head Coach...?
11. Extra Innings: Of all the major pro sports, baseball has it right when it comes to a tie game after the end of regulation play. Football's sudden death overtime, while very exciting, is so artificial. And don't even get me started on the artificiality of college's overtime. With baseball, it's simply a continuation of the game until someone wins.
10. Everyone Bats*: At its core, the game of baseball comes down to the matchup between the batter and the pitcher. And in baseball, every team member has to come to bat at some point. In football, it's always the quarterback and other "skill" positions, and virtually no one plays both offense and defense. (*) Don't get me started on the DH. I love watching Jim Thome or David Ortiz' careers extended by a few years, but it's never felt right to me.
9. Hall of Fame: With the baseball Hall of Fame, fans can have hours and hours of arguments about whether players like Bert Blyleven are worthy of a spot, or whether Pete Rose should be reinstated, for the sole purpose of becoming eligible for induction. This is mostly because the bar is simply set higher for baseball players to get into the Hall. In a given year, only one or two players are inducted into the baseball Hall of Fame, whereas the NFL requires four to seven players to be inducted every year. I just don't see the same kind of discussion about potential inductees in the NFL.
8. Regular Guys: Quite simply, football is more a game of genetics than baseball. Only a very small subset of the population will have the size or raw athleticism to be a pro football player. In this sense, the NFL is much like the NBA, for the most part short guys need not apply. In baseball, so many of the players do not at first glance appear to be genetic freaks. Guys like Dustin Pedroia, Ozzie Guillen and David Eckstein could pass for an average Joe walking down the street. I think this helps fans identify with baseball players in a much different way than with football players. Throw in a pretty much required 4+ year stint riding the bus in the minor leagues, even for first round draft picks, and you get a much more humble bunch of guys as well.
7. Trades: So much a part of the game throughout the baseball year, teams are constantly looking to wheel and deal in an attempt to improve themselves. In the NFL, you may see a few offseason trades, but trades are pretty few and far between. Not to mention such an early trade deadline in the NFL, less than halfway through the season, makes it impossible for a team to set itself up for the stretch run.
6. Pennant Races: There's nothing like a great pennant race during late September. Every game feels like a do-or-die situation, you're constantly watching the scoreboard and counting down the magic number. With football, it's all about the playoff scenarios, "The Vikings make it to the playoffs with a win, or a Green Bay loss or tie, or a Dallas and New York loss or tie." Not the same.
5. No Hitter: Every time you watch a ball game, there's the chance you might see history. A no hitter, perfect game, four home runs, the tension becomes palpable inning by inning, and even the opposing team's fans begin to root for history to be made. With football, what's the equivalent? A quarterback going the entire game without an incompletion? Adrian Peterson going a full game without a fumble (sorry, cheap shot there)?
4. No Penalty Flags: Whenever something great happens in a football game, there's always that voice in the back of your head that asks, "Was there a penalty, where's the flag, I think I see yellow at the 45 yard line". It's not possible to be truly into the touchdown, interception, whatever. In baseball, with very few exceptions, a home run is a home run. When Jim Thome hit the walkoff home run against Chicago, there was no need to look for a penalty flag. Just screaming.
3. No Kickers: This one drives me crazy. For 60 minutes, guys have pounded on each other relentlessly, leaving everything they have on the football field. And with the outcome of the game (and in some cases, the Super Bowl) on the line, it all comes down to the lonely kicker. What would be the baseball equivalent? Playing 8-1/2 innings and then having the manager come out and try to hit a fungo into the batter's eye in center field? At least baseball games are decided by the players, not a pseudo-player like the kicker.
2. Having a Catch: This is really a father and son thing. Sure, a father and son can throw a football, or shoot some hoops together, but it's not the same as having a catch. And could you ever imagine a football version of the movie "Field of Dreams", where a guy has a chance to have a catch with his long-dead dad. I don't know about you, but my eyes have a hard time staying dry with that one.
1. 162 versus 16: The Major League baseball season, for me, is a metaphor for life. You have to get out there each and every day, it can be a grind at times, you have your good and bad days, and at times you have to go out there and win without your "A-game". With football, it's a week of intense preparation and recovery from the previous battle, followed by another battle on Sunday. This makes football great for television, but by the end of a baseball season a serious fan has so much more invested over 162 games and nearly 500 hours of time. Heck, that's a full quarter of a year for most 40 hour a week jobs.