Why Baseball is the Best Team Sport
Today is Opening Day, one of the best days of the year that is not designated as a holiday. The start of the baseball season is a reminder that summer will soon be here. It is a symbol of optimism for, on the field, it is the one day where everyone is in first place, even Pittsburgh. That makes today as good a day as any to explain why, of all the team sports, baseball is best.
Baseball is unique amongst team sports. On hand, it is the most individualistic as every bit of action begins with the pitcher versus the batter, but on the other hand it is the one where the team matters most.
Mike Trout, the game’s best player, has made the playoffs just once since beginning his career in 2011. That is because Trout, while a great player, is just one guy who, after his at-bat, has to wait for eight other players to have theirs before getting another one. If the rest of the team is not good enough, Trout’s ability to damage opposition pitching is severely limited.
On the pitching side, a similar pattern occurs. Even if you have the world’s best starting pitcher on your team, he only throws once every five days, meaning that if you do not have depth on those other four days, your team will still struggle.
In basketball, the team is arguably the least significant. Whatever team LeBron James is on will be the one that is expected to win the NBA Finals.
Football has 22 starters, but the one guy at quarterback can carry the team, just look at how Tom Brady carried a made a average team in Tampa Bay Super Bowl champions in just one season.
Soccer and hockey teams can be carried be either prolific goal scorers or goalies who act as brick walls.
It can be a cliché, but in baseball it is true that you never know what you are going to see when you sit down to watch a game. You could get a 2–1 pitcher’s duel, or a 11–10 slugfest, or an average 5–4 or 4–3 game. One thing you will never get, is a tie. In the event of a tie, the game moves to extra innings where you play until you have a winner. Baseball is only the sport where the team that scores does not have to give the ball back to the other the team, they just keep hitting until the other team gets them out.
In soccer, scoring is so rare that 2–1 is considered high scoring and matches often end in ties and matches, even the biggest, can end in penalty kicks, a deviation from the game’s normal course of action.
In hockey, scoring is slightly more common, but regular season games, like soccer, ends with a penalty shootout.
In basketball scoring is so common, especially in the professional ranks, that defense is appears optional.
Football, like baseball can has greater variety in its scores. A 28–21 football game has seven touchdowns, the same amount of runs as a 4–3 baseball game. But, in the NFL games can still end in a tie.
Every sport has its drama that can leave viewers on the edge of their seats wanting more. In baseball it is, the pitcher versus the hitter. If the offense is down to its last out with the tying and or winning run on base, the batter could theoretically keep fouling pitches off forever which would prolong the drama just as long as the audience does not know whether this will be the one that ends the game or way or another.
Even when the ball is put in play, a range of things could happen. The defense could mess up a routine play or make a great play or the ball could be hit in such a location where it does not matter what the defense does.
In other sports, the winding down of the clock means time is running out, meaning the drama will end soon or way another. On this three point shot, fourth down attempt, or last fury of shots on goal, only a defensive rules infraction can save the offense if they fail. The range of possibilities from strikeout to home run and everything in between is larger than converted or not converted.
Rebutting the Counterarguments: Pace of Play
One of the arguments against baseball is that it is boring, that it is a lot of standing around waiting for stuff to happen. This is not an invalid concern especially as walks and strikeouts continue to increase, but while there is always room for improvement, other sports are not non-stop action as their proponent seem to indicate. In baseball, there is also no halftime or intermission.
Soccer is a game where the clock is always moving, giving it the allusion of constant action, but meaningless kicking of the ball back and forth is not unusual. Even if the game is in constant motion, the content of the game leaves much to be desired.
Football may have a better case, but during most of the game, the offense will use most of the 40 second play clock before running a play which leads to a lot of time in which nothing particularly exciting happens.
Basketball can have a nice pace to it, until the final minutes where it moves to a snail’s pace as the losing team starts intentionally fouling in their attempt to catch up. In addition to slowing the game way down, this makes it the only sport where the team that is losing can intentionally break the rules as a strategy to get back in the game. Similar, a team that is winning by three points can intentionally break the rules to hold on to their lead during the final seconds.
One must concede however that hockey may have a legitimate claim to be the gold standard for pace of play as there is not that much down time during play or during lulls in action.
None of this is to say that other sports are terrible or lack traits that make them great, but when taken as a whole the great American game is still number one.