September 9, 2008

THE 27TH OUT:

Why We Still Watch Baseball (Chuck Klosterman, 9/09/08, Esquire)

Here is what happens in (seemingly) every soccer game on the planet: Two teams are battling 0--0. It's compelling. But then the slightly stronger team scores one goal and the lesser squad immediately starts pressing; they replace a defender with an attacker, and the superior team scores again. Now it's 2--0 and the game is over. The lead seems insurmountable. Football has a similar problem--because it requires a change of possession after every offensive touchdown, a team trailing late in the game is forced to take unusual risks to make up the deficit (even if that deficit is tiny). Football teams have to radically change their style of play when the game matters most. Basketball has so much scoring, and in such small increments, that hoops can feel meaningless. Intentional fouls become the lone option for desperate underdogs. But baseball has it right. Imagine a 3--0 game in the bottom of the ninth inning: The leading team is clearly in control. But if the leadoff hitter gets a bloop single, the pressure immediately reverts to the pitcher--now, if the next guy gets on base, the game has the potential to be reinvented with one swing. The fact that you can instantly score a variable number of runs (in a game in which scoring is rare) keeps baseball fascinating. That's why we care about the drama, even when it isn't there.

So, I've been making a good faith effort to follow the Premier League this season and see if there really is something we Americans have failed to grasp about the beautiful game. There isn't. Even the analysts complain abut how boring the games are and the entire country hates their national team because their play is so predictable and mediocre (kick the ball as far as you can and maybe it will bounce off of one of the guys up front and into the goal). What is kind of neat is how seriously the fans take the whole thing, but they deserve a better game to follow.

Posted by Orrin Judd at September 9, 2008 8:12 AM
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