“The National Pastime…a unique game!”
By: Phil Rognier
The game of baseball has been considered the great American national pastime for over a century and a half. Although it may have originally derived its basic concept from the English game of “rounders”, it has evolved into a truly American pastime. Whether Alexander Cartwright or Abner
Doubleday founded the game is moot, the game has survived numerous crises, a major scandal in 1919, several strikes, the “steroid era”, and a glut of over-paid underachievers. The love of the game and its generational discussions/debates have transcended the tarnish of the professional game and endured a bridge between father and son, generation to generation.
George Carlin did a stand-up routine regarding the uniqueness of baseball and its comparative qualities to football. His definitions were clever, sardonic, and insightful. He, as have others, boiled the game down to “going home” and playing in a pastoral setting. Baseball is a competitive exercise rather than a “war” between dueling powers. Its uniqueness is extraordinary and has many baffled as to the rules and guidelines as well as who was/is the very best player(s)? Hitter? Pitcher? Team? Era? All are rhetorical, but fun fodder for generations and fans to enjoy and discuss.
Baseball is the most intricate, complex, varied, and intriguing of all team games. As it is a team game, it is primarily based upon individual skill sets. The only thing that counts is the team score, albeit, historical arguments recur as to individual statistics/glories and which players should be deserving of Hall of Fame induction. There are no teams in the Hall…merely a heterogeneous grouping of individual heroes. Moreover, baseball broke the professional “color barrier”, which changed not just the composition of baseball, but lead to integration in all the sports.
Analyzing the game of baseball truly exposes its uniqueness. The game is timeless as the number of outs determines a game’s conclusion not a clock or predetermined time allotment. Theoretically a single game could go on forever and many seem as if they do! One game in the early 1990’s actually lasted 33 innings over a two-day span; there are thousands of extra inning games and few, if any, are determined by a time frame. In baseball, the defense, not the offense, has the ball to initiate play. Furthermore, only the defense is allowed to touch the ball. If an offensive player touches a ball “in fair and in play” he is out! To make it even more difficult and unique, the pitcher is deliberately attempting to deceive the batter(and runners) in order that they do not score. The controversial balk rule adds a very special flavor to the game as well.
In playing the game, each team is assured an equal opportunity on both offense and defense. This is not negotiable and pertains to shortened games as well as extra-inning ones. Each team will have the exact same number of outs unless deemed unnecessary in the final inning; if the home team is ahead they need not bat in the final frame. Each team is allowed the same number of innings, outs, and at bats. The change from offense is not instantaneous, frequent nor unexpected as it happens equally for each team in a schedule fashion.
In most competitive games/sports played with a ball, the offense scores with the ball. In baseball the ball prevents you from scoring and the other team(defense) has it. Interesting as well is the foul line and foul pole: if a ball strikes either one the ball is fair not foul! Possibly the most amazing and extraordinary facet of baseball is that no two plays are ever exactly the same with the variations being infinite in number. Each and every game brings new occurrences and happenings despite having the same basic rules since the mid-1800s. The ball may travel to anywhere on the field at different heights and speeds with players moving to anywhere or in any direction that they deem necessary. Though all teams set the defense basically the same, many have employed special and creative “shifts” to impede exceptional or predictable hitters, utilized five-man infields, and have even used the dastardly hidden ball trick!
A number of rules indigenous to baseball make the game even more intricate and unique. The infield fly rule has confused, mystified, and frustrated fans, players, coaches and even umpires since its inception. The balk rule has been a controversial rule since it was introduced and is further impacted by the umpires’ interpretation(s). Moreover, the strike zone is not “clearly delineated” in everyone’s minds and makes each game, umpires’ decisions, and teams’ reactions an infinitely fun and “emotional” experience.
Baseball truly is unique and an integral part of our American ethos. Besides adding many colorful clichés and metaphors to our lexicon/language(it ain’t over til it’s over”) it has also historically kept us amused during holocaustic times(World Wars, 9-11, etal)..in fact, during the Civil War many times the combatants stopped fighting long enough to actually play a baseball game against each other! Now that is unique! Baseball is not a game where a team can stall for time or “hold on for a win”; it must played “out”. It is the only game where a 12” bunt can be as devastating as a 500 foot home run!
Lastly, the seductiveness of baseball is universal. It seems such an easy game but it requires great mental acuity and focus. The “inner” game of strategy and guile seem to over shadow the skill sets of many of the physicality of the opponent. Pitchers can be “perfect” but hitters can not(.300 or 30% is considered outstanding). Each time one goes to a game, the score can range from 0-0, 1-0, 10-0 or even 28-27(the first college game was 63-47)…heck, go to a youth game and it could be infinite! The game both teases and seduces: ANY team can win a game..the goods ones can lose to the bad ones, almost any team can win the World Series(not so fast mariner fans), and a team can actually have six(6) hits in an inning and not score!
Baseball is our national pastime and despite naysayers, it is the foremost American game/sport.
It has been passed down generation to generation, is talked about everywhere(just get in a NY taxi), it consumes collectors’ lives, and provides the fodder for many vicarious fantasy leaguers.
There is nothing greater to see a kid’s face when he/she hits the ball and runs the bases for the first time, “it just ain’t over ‘til it’s over!”
“Baseball is the only game you can see on the radio” Phil Hersh