I admit that when I consider the role baseball has played in America's cultural history, I get a bit choked up. And when I think of the unmatched elegance and grace that define what was once referred to as "the national pastime," I become emotional. Which is why my eyes are now moist. Here are 10 reasons baseball is the greatest game ever invented.
1. Moderation. It's not a game of outlandish physical proportions. You don't have to be 7-feet tall or weigh 330 pounds to play it. If you can run, throw, field and hit with distinction, they'll find a place for you. The beauty of baseball is that it's still a game where the 5' 11", 180-pound athlete can not only compete, but excel.
2. Egalitarianism. It's the only game with a well-represented mixture of whites, Latinos, African Americans and Asians. While the NBA is heavily African American, and the NFL has few Latinos and Asians, and the NHL is blindingly white, Major League baseball is so diverse and multinational, its players could serve as poster boys for the United Nations.
3. Drama. What is more dramatic than a manager marching out to the mound, in front of 50,000 spectators, and removing an ineffective pitcher? Not allowing the poor guy to throw even one more pitch! The shame! Imagine an NBA player shooting two air-balls, and the coach calling timeout, walking onto the court, and banishing the player to the bench. Or an NFL coach stopping the game, entering his team's huddle, and removing a wide receiver who has just dropped two consecutive passes.
4. Accountability. There's no escaping blame. While an NFL or NBA coach will notice a missed assignment when studying game film, in baseball everybody -- coaches, players, umpires, fans, hot dog vendors -- is aware of the goof the moment it happens. When the shortstop boots a grounder, we not only all see it, but the scoreboard flashes "E6," just in case there was any doubt it was an error.
5. Integrity. There are no artificial time constraints. Because both teams get their full complement of chances (27 outs), no one has to resort to stalling tactics or other gimmicks. There's no spiking the ball or running out-of-bounds to stop the clock, as they do in football, or repeatedly fouling players near the end of the game to prolong the agony, as they do in basketball. There's none of that tedious nonsense in baseball. Each team gets the exact same number of chances.
6. Logic. Although it is logical and orderly, baseball is not arbitrary. It always makes sense. No team captain or star player has to leave a game simply because he committed his sixth foul. That's the NBA. And a spectacular 98-yard kickoff return isn't called back because someone made an illegal block on the other side of field, 30 yards away the action. That's the NFL. Baseball always makes sense.
7. Perfection. There are many 9-inning games where zero errors occur. Indeed, when a team makes more than two errors, it's considered a "sloppy" game. And unlike basketball, football and hockey, there are no turnovers. Oddly enough, even though I enjoy ice skating and boxing, I never became a hockey fan. Obviously, hockey is a great sport, so the problem clearly lies with me. It's just that the frantic back-and-forth action, produced by all those turnovers, reminds me of a video game.
8. All-Stars. Because it's not a "team" sport in the same sense football, basketball and hockey are (where anticipation and synchronization are crucial), the baseball all-star game is a pleasure to watch. You plug-in the best 2nd baseman and the best shortstop (even though they've never played together), and you're going to see beautiful double-plays. Compare this to an NBA all-star game, where there are 20-25 raggedy turnovers, mainly due to miscommunication.
9. Audacity. Baseball is a spatial, station-to-station game. You hit a single, and you gain sanctuary on first base. The next batter bunts, and you gain sanctuary on second. Etc. But baseball has a feature no other sport has: the stolen base. If you're willing to risk your safe haven, you can "steal" a base. Indeed, if you're brave enough, you can even steal home. You didn't earn it and you weren't entitled to it. You "stole" it. And of course, if you're caught stealing, you lose everything (just like in real life). How cool is that?
10. Difficulty. It's the hardest game to play. Ask Michael Jordan. The man many regard as the best player in NBA history gave up basketball to play baseball, and was properly humbled by the experience. Not only did he advance no further than minor league AA, he found he couldn't hit breaking pitches, and, even at 6' 6", couldn't hit with power. After seeing how difficult baseball was, Jordan returned to the NBA with his tail between his legs. And won three more championships.
David Macaray, a Los Angeles playwright and author ("It's Never Been Easy: Essays on Modern Labor"), was a former union rep. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org