June 15, 2008

Attention, George Will: Baseball Sucks

WE NOW HAVE PROOF POSITIVE that George Will's sociopathic love for the game of baseball has clouded his faculties. This proof may be found in Dr Will's latest column, published in The Washington Post and many other newspapers, in which he argues against the use of instant replay in the sport. I would not normally argue with Dr Will's observations on baseball, as he loves the game and I do not; but he crossed a rather sharp line in his latest work. Namely, he dragged football into it.

In doing so, Dr Will dragged America's greatest sport in the mud, delivering an insult that was not only maliciously unfair and unwarranted, but remarkable for its preening hypocrisy. He wrote as follows:

But it is not true that cameras positioned around a ballpark can answer every question, or even be more definitive than are baseball's remarkably skilled umpires, who render judgments close to a play. And even if cameras could deliver certainty, it is foolish to think that all other values should be sacrificed to that one.

In the NFL, coaches' challenges, which trigger replays, contribute to the sense that a game consists of about seven minutes of action -- seriously: Use a stopwatch, and you will confirm that -- encrusted with three hours of pageantry, hoopla and instant-replay litigation.

Oh, no he didn't.

Football's pace and timing, although sometimes unsettling to the outsider, is indicative of the strategy and cunning each team must employ throughout the game. Just as wars require devotion to planning and logistics, so too does football. Unlike baseball, with its petty emphasis on individual achievement and occasional tactical brilliance, football focuses on cooperative success and strategic excellence.

Furthermore, the questions facing referees in football are far more complex than those umpires in baseball face. For the umpire, there are two main questions: whether a runner is safe or out, and whether a hit ball is foul or fair. For referees in football, there are many more questions that regularly crop up, ranging from whether a player unfairly held an opponent to whether a player had possession of the ball as he was heading out of bounds. Since these questions are often decided when a dozen or more men are fighting for the ball, instant replay helps answer questions the human eye may detect imperfectly, in situations that are far more complex than the one-on-one interaction typical in baseball. Besides, the stakes in football are so much higher.

Also, as a baseball fan, Dr Will has some nerve in criticizing football for its pace and timing. In football, there is generally about one play a minute, perhaps a little less. Compare that to baseball, where one can get up, go to the bathroom, stop by the concession stand, talk with a colleague from the office, buy a souvenir and return to one's seat all while the same batter is at the plate. Then, after a stultifying session of futility, in which the batter vainly swats at the balls hurled at him, he will fire off a long fly or useless ground ball that will result in him being out, if not retiring his entire side. This perhaps explains why baseball became America's national pastime prior to the development of the Model T. It also perhaps explains why Dr Will is not a fan of the designated-hitter rule. I mean, God forbid The Powers That Be try to make the game more exciting.

As much as Dr Will may not like it, the era of Babe Ruth -- just like the era of leather helmets -- is over. Accept it and move on. However, Dr Will's unwillingness to accept modern improvements to the game is perhaps best summed up in his final analysis. He writes:

Baseball, like many sports, involves fast, muscular, semi-violent striving. There are inherent limits to how much precision is possible in enforcing rules. Or desirable: Human error is not a blemish to be expunged from sports, it is part of the drama.

Baseball probably will and probably should adopt replays, but only for the few "boundary" decisions. And only after considering how to make this concession to technophiles a prophylactic accommodation, one that prevents an immoderate pursuit of perfect accuracy until the rhythm of the game is lost and the length of the game is stultifying.

I've got news for you, Dr Will: the rhythm of baseball was lost a long time ago, and the length of its games, its season, and its wretched postseason are already stultifying. I'm sure it could be made worse, but it's already pretty grim: particularly in the miserable depths of summer, when the pre-season is just days away and baseball crawls to its 100th game of the year.

Finally, I would note with disdain Dr Will's bizarre claim that officiating errors are dramatic as opposed to blemishes. These are not the words of a sports fan: they are the maunderings of a sadly-detached mandarin suffering a bad case of ennui. Back here on Planet Earth, sports fans invest a lot of time and energy and love into the games they so enjoy, and they deserve officiating that is correct, just and fair. Given Dr Will's thoughts on other matters, I would have thought he was a passionate supporter of the rule of law, fair play and excellence unmarred by official incompetence. Sadly, we see he is prone to supporting tradition for its own sake -- and last time I checked, blind obedience was not a trait encouraged among free men.


For a rather profane -- and funnier -- look at the trouble with baseball, The Rant would refer readers to Every Day Should Be Saturday's canonical essay on the topic, "Die, Baseball. Die."

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at June 15, 2008 08:44 PM | TrackBack

"a sadly-detached mandarin" . . .

Well said, Benjamin.

"Dr. Will" -- what a pompous gas-bag.

Posted by: Rev. Uncle Dave at June 16, 2008 08:20 AM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?