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 (7)

  1. performance-enhancing drugs aren’t as much of a factor in the NFL because one player can’t make as big a difference

    I hope that is a joke. If it isn’t, it could be the most pollyanna comment I’ve ever read.

    Also: Score. XP. Commercial. Kickoff. Commercial. Which sport is boring again?

  2. It’s absolutely correct. There’s no doubt in my mind that one player can change a baseball game more easily than a football game. That’s something Dustin didn’t even try to argue against.

    It’s the reason the world is outraged whenever a baseball player is exposed as a steroid user and no one seems to give a s— whenever a football player is.

    It’s obviously not quantifiable, but watching the two sports with your own eyes makes it plainly obvious. Juiced baseball players get 4-5 open chances every game to make a difference on their own at the plate. You think a juiced Shawne Merriman had a chance to influence results as much as a juiced Sammy Sosa? No way in hell.

    As a guy who’s spent his entire life playing both sports, I don’t BELIEVE this to be true, I KNOW it to be true.

    It’s likely that as many football players have used PEDs as baseball players. But baseball has been forever tainted and the record books have become a joke. Football hasn’t been affected at all.

  3. Wait, so all the players who are accused of using PEDS – pitchers and hitters – they only work for hitters? The pitchers, the dozens of relief pitchers caught and suspended, don’t benefit, only hitters who do well thanks to magical HIT HOME RUN NOW drugs?

    It’s garbage. Lazy, uninformed, unverified garbage.

    The NFL rulebook is a complete joke, considering how radically different the rule book changes over the years. The league changes to the rules at the drop of the hat to please the advertisers. It doesn’t make a 330 pound man running the 40 yard dash in 4.8 seconds any more “natural.”

  4. Yes, a pitcher on drugs can affect a one-on-one battle (at-bat) as well. Why is this so complicated for you? The fact is that individual battles, by simple logic, have a better chance of being affected by PEDs than team battles. In football, it’s always 11-on-11.

    That is verified. It’s math.

  5. So a left tackle on steroids doesn’t impact the game? Or a speed rushing end? Because the cornerback is clean, that makes it okay?

  6. No, he impacts the game, but generally not to the same degree that a clean-up hitter can. And it’s not “okay” in either case.

  7. First, let me say this: It’s hilarious that the only commentators on this post are two writers of Score’s blogs. Not that it’s pathetic or anything — just that you have more passion about it than your guys’ readers. (This doesn’t include me.)

    Let me say this: The notion that a juiced baseball player has more of an impact on his team than a juiced football player would is absolutely, 100 percent accurate.

    We never see only one or two players doing something at any given moment in football; when the ball is snapped, 22 men are in motion, fast-paced and relentless in their movement.

    In baseball, the pitcher throws the ball, the guy at-bat takes a swing, while the other 16 men wait to see where the ball goes, if anywhere. (It’s no coincidence that the two “positions” that are the primary focus of the game at any given point are also the ones that are more likely to be juiced up.)

    You can out-smart juiced-up beasts in football because the game is cerebral. If you’re the offensive coordinator who knows that the lead corner is on steroids and having a beastly season, what would you do? Throw towards him? Hell no. You avoid him and find other receivers with a one-on-one advantage. You throw screens at him to off-set his impact, and you pound the ball on the ground.

    There are a ton of ways to avoid or off-set a juiced up player having a great year. There aren’t ways to avoid juiced-up baseball players, other than walking him, and even that’s detrimental to your team.

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