The Debate: Baseball vs. Football

Brad Gagnon is addicted to football. He’s covered the sport for theScore.com as the site’s NFL blog editor for four years. He has a hard time seeing how anyone could love another sport as much as what he calls “the ultimate chess match using humans as pawns.” He’s also pompous enough to quote himself in the third person. He enjoys baseball and hockey and golf, but those sports remain in his peripheral.

Dustin Parkes is addicted to baseball. He’s the co-creator of the popular Drunk Jays Fans blog and editor of theScore.com’s Getting Blanked baseball blog. He understands how other people might enjoy sports other than baseball because he assumes that a good amount of North Americans are complete and utter morons. He’s also pompous enough to admit this without fear of repercussion. He only pretends to enjoy other sports so that he can chat about something other than the weather with non-baseball fans.

Right now and right now only, there are no regular-season games being played in either the National Football League or Major League Baseball, giving Gagnon and Parkes a chance to do battle in the greatest debate in the history of sports: football vs. baseball.

Gagnon: The numbers tell the story, Parkes. When our parents were growing up, America’s pastime was baseball, but in modern society we no longer need something to pass time. Our time is freakin’ valuable, and we’ve all become too busy to sit around and watch the unbelievably slow-paced game of baseball. Unless it’s October. According to the latest Harris Poll, 31 percent of Americans called pro football their favourite sport, while just 17 percent named baseball. In 1985, it was nearly even (pro football 24, baseball 23). Baseball is soooo 1920.

Parkes: Oh, it’s on, Gagnon. You raise a very good point, because obviously, America has such a great track record when it comes to voting, so football must be better than baseball. That was me being sarcastic. And this is me winning the argument: I will never dispute the popularity of football over baseball. But you know what, we’re not arguing about that. We’re arguing over which is better. Hot dogs are more popular than filet mignon, there are more Corollas than Jaguars on the road, and your typical reality television show gets better ratings than Mad Men. Popularity has little to no relation to quality.

Baseball’s slow pace is what makes it beautiful, because the game’s fans are smart enough to actually sustain a conversation while the action unfolds. The entire sport is about pace, about buildup, about delaying gratification to the point where there’s an almost sexual satisfaction that comes from seeing a run scored. It’s not a coincidence that in high school, you brag to your friends about getting to second base with a girl.

My work life is filled with enough racing and chasing. Why on earth would I want my recreation to mirror that? But even if you do want to play the numbers game, how do you think the television viewership and stadium attendance would respond if the NFL were to stretch its regular season schedule to 162 regular-season games, then have wild-card teams compete in a best-of-five series, then the winners play for the conference championship over seven games, and then turn the Super Bowl into a best-of-seven series as well? I’d wish the NFL much luck in coming anywhere close to the numbers that MLB sustains.

Gagnon: You’re right, popularity doesn’t necessarily equate to greatness, and there’s a chance that football would be just as boring and uninteresting as baseball if we were to add 146 regular-season games. But that’s exactly why football’s better. Every NFL game matters, while only select baseball games ever do. Who’s idea was it to play 162 freakin’ games? Have we not determined who’s good and who’s bad by the time we hit triple digits? Hell, even basketball and hockey keep it within reasonability.

Fans nowadays want to be able to actually watch their team’s every down (or pitch) and Major League Baseball has made that virtually impossible to do unless you have no social life. Football only requires fans to give it their attention 16 days a year. Because of that, football carries with it a sense of importance — whether it’s Friday night lights high school games, college football Saturdays, NFL Sundays or the prime-time Sunday and Monday night games. It almost always matters.

And football appeals to people more than baseball because it’s the ultimate team sport. The individualism of baseball is what has killed the sport — performance-enhancing drugs aren’t as much of a factor in the NFL because one player can’t make as big a difference. But a juiced ball player can change everything. Sports are supposed to be about a group of guys coming together to compete and — get ready for the cliche — “achieve the ultimate goal.” Baseball doesn’t really bring that to the table.

Parkes: Brad, I feel sorry for you. I truly do. It must be difficult going through life with the attention span of a gnat, only appreciating that which can be doled out in sound bytes and video clips. True, baseball is slower and takes longer than football, but it’s deliberate and purposeful in its meandering. It’s a long and lurid love affair, not the drunken quickie in a bar bathroom stall that is the football season. A long love affair ensures that you’re with the person you’re meant to be with, a drunken quickie usually results in more questions than answers. It’s the same thing with a long baseball season. There’s no any given Sunday in baseball. The best have proven themselves to be so over 162 games.

And each one of those games packs within it at the very least 55 individual battles that are often more exhilarating than the most hyped of boxing matches. People can’t relate to individual battles? Our history text books beg to differ. Martin Luther King wasn’t the only person preaching the gospel of civil rights, but he’s remembered with the same love and respect as the movement itself. In Canada, we have Pierre Trudeau ensuring that our people are protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights And Freedoms. North American history is an ongoing narrative of the rugged individual rising above circumstances to succeed against the odds, just like a baseball player attempting to do the seemingly impossible by swinging a cylindrical bat at a round ball.

If you want to talk about the difference that performance-enhancing drugs make in each sport, I think we have to look at how PEDs are commonly believed to contribute to increased strength in users. In baseball, players use increased strength to perform violent acts on a baseball. In football, players use increased strength to perform violent acts on each other. You tell me which is more negatively affected.

Gagnon: Is it “deliberate and purposeful in its meandering”? Or is this just another baseball writer waxing poetic, trying to turn a sport into some sort of art form? Why can’t you people just admit that if you were born without bias in the last two decades, you’d have become football fans. I don’t need my life restricted to sound bytes and video clips, but I like a healthy balance, and I also don’t like doing things halfway. In 2011, it’s almost impossible for someone to be an avid baseball fan while also maintaining a healthy dose of life’s other pleasures. You pull it off, but it’s your job. Football deserves your undivided attention. It’s not just a distraction while cleaning your apartment.

And since you’ve so bravely reached into Canadian and American politics to support the argument that we must relate to sports with heavy inidividual-vs.-individual presences because of the way in which we admire pioneers like King and Trudeau, I better throw a little of it your way. One word: democracy — everyone gets a chance. But there’s nothing democratic about the way in which baseball continues to let teams in small markets survive while giving them no chance to actually compete. It’s a nasty oligopoly. The owner of your sport’s most lucrative team won’t tolerate it:

“At some point, if you don’t want to worry about teams in minor markets, don’t put teams in minor markets or don’t leave teams in minor markets. The socialism, communism, whatever you want to call it. It’s not the American way. I think at some point, if you don’t want to have a problem with really bad minor market teams, don’t leave teams in minor markets.” — Hank Steinbrenner.

It’s not the American way. Baseball is losing the battle with football because the flawed revenue-sharing system allows small-market teams to essentially steal money from the heavy hitters (but then not use it on players). Football does revenue sharing right. The NFL playing field is a lot more even. The difference between the top and bottom MLB team payrolls in 2010: $170 million. The difference between the top and bottom in the NFL: $69 million.

Every year in baseball, the same god-damn teams — the Yankees, Mets, Dodgers and Red Sox — land the top free agents. In football, almost every team has a chance to sign any player, which is a big reason why more teams have hope every year. There are a thousand stats that measure parity in different ways, but at the end of the day you and I both know that the NFL is significantly more balanced than baseball.

That’s why football rules.

Parkes: Quoting Hank Steinbrenner on payroll variance is like quoting Jerry Jones on customer relations at the Super Bowl.

You’re suggesting that the NFL is better because free agents sign with a wider variety of teams? As great as it is when your favourite team brings a new big named player aboard, it’s nothing compared to a championship. Over the last 30 years, Major League Baseball has had 19 different teams win the World Series. Compare that to the number of teams over the same period of time that won the Super Bowl (16), Stanley Cup (14) or the NBA (8). Even more recently, over the last ten years, both the NFL and MLB lead all North American professional sports in parity numbers by having 14 different teams compete in their respective championships.

No league is perfect, and the way in which some small-market teams simply pocket their revenue sharing income is sickening, but I’d much prefer to have that be the worst part of my league than say, oh, I don’t know, a lack of player safety. And besides several organizations use revenue sharing income strategically to compete on the field by finding market inefficiencies. Everyone loves the story of the underdog and as we saw last season, the typical underdog is well represented in baseball. Four of the eight playoff teams in 2010 were from the bottom half of the payroll rankings.

Arguing in favour of a salary cap is a silly attempt at siding with billionaire owners over millionaire players. It does nothing for league parity.

Gagnon: Championships are obviously a good indicator of parity, but as I said, there are dozens of stats that favour the NFL in that argument. While both sports have “rich” and supremely successful teams — the Patriots, Steelers and Cowboys in football; the Yankees, Red Sox and Phillies in baseball — baseball has a lopsided amount of bad ones. Every year in the NFL, half of the league’s division winners change and every franchise has made the playoffs at least once in 12 years. Meanwhile, the Nationals/Expos, Pirates, Royals and Blue Jays have all gone 18-plus years without a making postseason appearances. That’s disgusting.

I suppose we could go around and around in cirles, Parkes. You’re too stubborn to admit that football reigns supreme and yet you’re too damn good at debates for me to claim a clear, undisputed victory. Maybe we should agree to agree that our sports kick ass and thank the heavens that we aren’t hockey or basketball fans.

Parkes: I suppose it was only a matter of time until we got down to it being a matter of different strokes for different folks … except when it comes to hockey. Seriously, what’s with hockey players’ footwear? It looks like they’re wearing boots with knives.

Gagnon: If they’d only institute some of the changes suggested by The Onion. Oh well. Anyway, I love my baseball. Some of the best sports experiences of my life have taken place on road trips to Fenway Park, Yankee Stadium (old and new) and Wrigley Field. I’ll never forget what “Carter did to Philly” and can’t wait to watch Roberto Alomar get inducted in Cooperstown in July. I’m married to football, but baseball’s my mistress.

Good talk, Parkes. Next up: abortion.

Comments (15)

  1. Last time I watch an NFL game, it took 3 hours, so about the same as a baseball game. It was looooooooonnnnnggggg. I’d rather watch the slow pace of baseball than the score-commercial-PAT-commercial-kickoff-commercial nonsense of football. Plus, baseball players usually don’t end up dying of dementia after becoming homeless.

  2. Let’s wait until the Jose Canseco saga completely plays out before making those claims.

  3. lol i rofl’d at Brad Gagnon’s description of football, “the ultimate chess match using humans as pawns.”

  4. If you replace “chess match” with “afternoon nap”; “using” with “not needing”; and “using humans as pawns” with “pillows or a mattress,” he’s exactly right.

  5. There’s something about a bunch of huge men in tights bending over and groping each other for 3 hours that just doesn’t appeal.

  6. Wrong about 55 individual battles. I mean, even in a 1-0 game, there can be as few as 52, and there are also rain-shortened affairs. Way to both overthink and underthink at the same time.

    Meuhhhhhhh

  7. Also, most of football is people standing around. It sucks.

    That’s right, my intelligent argument is that it sucks.

  8. This conversation begins and ends with “baseball does not cause brain damage.”

    Chess match? More like Human Demolition Derby.

  9. 4 second play
    38 seconds of huddle
    4 second play
    commercial
    4 second play
    38 second huddle
    4 second TD
    commercial
    2 second PAT
    commercial
    7 second Kick off
    commercial
    HALF TIME

    etc etc

    I love NFL football as much as the next guy, but it really does stop and start just as much as baseball. The only difference is that the 4 seconds of action can be MUCH more exciting than the average baseball play.

  10. The replay challenges in football grind the pace of the game to a halt. It is excruciatingly painful.

    If we want continuous action and excitement, Rugby is the way to go!

  11. Are you kidding me here? Baseball or Football! Who the fuck cares they’re both awesome… and their schedules don’t conflict so we can watch two awesome sports all year round. This is the dumbest argument!

  12. As a former athlete having played both sports and now with two brothers that play professionally, I’ve had my fill of both sports. Both of these sports are great and I love them both. Very difficult to compare ~It’s like apples to oranges.

  13. Every year in the NFL, half of the league’s division winners change and every franchise has made the playoffs at least once in 12 years.
    Ummmmm the Lions have made the playoffs? I dont think so

  14. Don’t watch much football, and have no problem with it, other than the fact that it’s popularity draws a lot of the top atheletes to play it, Michael Vick would have been a helluva center-fielder.

  15. Mad Men has become the most overrated show on television. i’m starting to hate it from sheer fandom annoyance and that is an, erm, honor that should be reserved for vidya games and sub-genres of metal.

    …the rest of the article was fine. the focus on individual battles is a personal favorite of mine – I love that all the anticipation in baseball comes from one-on-one matchups between the batter and the pitcher. when the two are spectacular enough, i can forget about everyone else – the umpire and catcher become props.

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