Now that the NFL season is thankfully behind us with all of its macho violence and general inanity, we can finally look forward to the end of winter. While I was surprised at the number of folks who commiserated with me and the beefs I raised in my column on the Super Bowl last week, it still managed to raise the hackles of many a football fan. And that's a shame since I still consider myself as one of them, though dismayed at the direction the game and its packaging have taken.
But soon the buds will bloom, the sun will lengthen its daily visit, and we will smile as we acknowledge the many blessings of God, one of which is that spring training is imminent. And when the beloved sound of horsehide striking leather once again fills our ears, and the sight of pure white lime dusting red clay and green, green grass widens our eyes, we'll know that the real American pastime is back.
Thirty or so years ago George Carlin, one of our many foulmouthed philosophers, managed to come up with a witty routine outlining the differences between football and baseball. And although it was meant as a critique of football as a symbol of America's dreaded military industrial complex bent on land acquisition, it was nonetheless quite funny in its own right.
But there really are differences between the two sports and those who televise them and follow them. One of the biggest was on display two weeks ago. American football, particularly the professional game, is underpinned by gambling and to deny this is to ignore that the NFL itself requires teams to publish weekly injury reports.
Now don't get me wrong, I've been known to place a bet or two and certainly there are those who wager on baseball. Indeed, my husband, a confirmed Yankee-hater, delights in taking the Bombers in the playoffs in order to guarantee himself a happy outcome no matter who wins. But he and those like him are in the distinct minority. But take out football betting and particularly the accompanying pools, and the only interest most folks would have in the big game might be the insulting commercials and mindless halftime "entertainment."
Another difference is in record-keeping. Statistics were virtually made for baseball fans and long before collecting them became a cottage industry, children who could barely memorize their times tables could rattle off the entire contents of baseball cards at will. Stats are the lifeblood of baseball and of baseball arguments. Sure, there are stats used in football but they are hardly ever indicative of anything relevant: "When so-and-so rushes for over 100 yards his team wins 75 per cent of the time" -- what a revelation! The fact that the purveyors of football telecasts use such graphics is an insult to the game's fans.
But TV coverage is one of the major differences between football and baseball. For all who buy into the bogus assertion that baseball is boring -- which it most certainly is not -- then it is the fault of networks and not the game itself. In the earlier days of baseball telecasts, one occasionally got to see something other than the pores of the pitcher and batter. Why was the two-base steal of Johnny Damon in Game 4 of the World Series such a shock to all those not at the ballpark? It was because Fox in its wisdom never bothered to show that third base was uncovered due to the fact that the Phillies had employed a shift against Mark Teixeira. Nor are we often treated to those ancillary goings-on that make the game so great: live shots of bench-jockeying, coaches flashing signs, infielders deking base runners or vice versa.
But as I said, these glaring errors occur only in October or the weekly network games. Televised as it is mostly at the local level, baseball retains a charming homer-ism when it comes to broadcasting. Here in the New York metro area, as in most of the country, each team has had its favorites like Phil "The Scooter" Rizzuto or Bob Murphy -- one of the best summer voices of all time -- who although a Mets broadcaster, endeared himself to yours truly by refusing to refer to Jack Murphy Stadium by any other name; corporate sponsorships be damned!
Baseball, when properly shown in all its lazy, sun-drenched glory is, unlike football, truly a pastime, which by definition is meant to be a leisurely diversion. And oh, do we need it after the mind-numbing events of the past year. But not to worry, as my eyes return to my newspaper after scanning the snowy landscape outside my window, I catch sight of the five words that are sure to melt the ice in the hearts of all real American sports fans: pitchers and catchers report tomorrow.
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