November 4, 2017


Why MLB Is Hot, and the NFL Is Not (Thomas Boswell, 11/03/17, The Washington Post)

This World Series cast baseball in sharp relief against an NFL season that so far is drab, injury-filled, controversy-laden and so full of parity that almost nobody is worth watching. However, the difference between the directions of the two sports is deeper than that and follows long trend lines.

These days, baseball is smart, innovative, in love with change and so dynamic you can hardly keep up with it, while the NFL has been asleep for decades, collecting cash and becoming sclerotic.

MLB is broad-minded, inclusive, not just multicultural, but multi-continental and in touch with the best in traditional core American values. Yuli Gurriel didn't just get booed to the high heavens in Southern California for his racist gesture and remark toward the Dodgers' Yu Darvish in Game 5. The introduction of his name in the heart of Texas brought a strong undercurrent of boos and tepid cheers. And MLB's commissioner said any sort of racist gesture or remark had "no place" in his game and would be disciplined strongly.

These days, baseball is in sync with the lucrative digital world with its enormous marketable MLB data bank. MLB wishes for transformation and progress, while respecting its past.

The half-in-the-bag-before-kickoff NFL, in its often family-unfriendly venues, is cornball and square and doesn't know it has mustard on its forehead and beer spilled in its shoes. New ideas? Hey, congratulations on that zone blitz, 25 years ago. What, you stole the read option from college? That lasted 18 months.

Baseball evolves, sometimes so fast that your head swims. But it's change that is fun, controversial and infinitely debatable. Just five years ago, nobody thought that, by now, most teams would use radical defensive shifts leaving huge swaths of the field undefended, or that hitters would discover "launch angle," transform their value in one offseason and turn hitting theory on its head.

Back then, a blink ago, Stephen Strasburg's fastball was news. Now, in the age of "core strength" and study of biomechanics, most teams have relievers who touch 100 mph and maybe a starter or two as well. Oh, Lordy, what are hitters going to do? Maybe choke up three inches on the bat with two strikes like those bums Joey Votto and Anthony Rizzo. Or, disguised behind one stance, have multiple swing styles so that you can use the whole field like Daniel Murphy.

Who says you're a "starting pitcher" or a "reliever." Once you get to postseason, you're just "a pitcher." Be ready. Rich Hill got pounded on the back with congratulations after a pair of World Series starts in which he got just 12 and 14 outs. Brad Peacock and Charlie Morton, starters, got the final 11 and 12 outs in Houston's wins in Games 3 and 7.

"I'm not trying to bring back the three-inning save," said Astros Manager A.J. Hinch, a Stanford grad. But he was. Everybody from Firpo Marberry in the '20s to Rollie Fingers and Goose Gossage would be proud. If the Dodgers had come back to win Game 7, one hero would have been that long reliever with 12 outs of shutout work: Clayton Kershaw.

We now have starters who, on occasion, are not even allowed to pitch long enough to qualify for a win, but we have "high-leverage" multi-inning relievers, such as Andrew Miller, who worked in the innings of most dire need in 2016 -- 19⅓ innings in 10 games -- and almost got Cleveland a World Series win.

Hello, NFL, are you around here anywhere? Speak up.

About what? The NFL hasn't had a new idea in 15 years, unless Bill Belichick had it. The NFL is just formulaic frat-house-on-the-lawn touch football with conservative five-yard passes that you could throw when you were 14 years old. Bubble screen, shallow pick route, draw, stretch sweep, quick hitch, punt. Yippee!

Unfortunately, popularity brings with it television and ads, prolonging games endlessly.  Soccer and rugby are the only sports you can watch a whole game of anymore.

Posted by at November 4, 2017 7:38 AM