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“Willie, Mickey and the Duke”

April 4, 2015

Its opening day on Monday! (Sorry I refuse to recognize the Sunday night start for the Cards and Cubs as “opening day’). This is a time of year where every baseball fan has some hope for his team (though some can truly have more hope than others). Baseball was the first sport that I watched AND played.  Baseball was also the only sport that I have followed almost continually since I was 7. In that year, my mother explained the basic rules to me when she set me in front of the TV to watch a Yankees game circa early April 1962. (“That’s the pitcher and the catcher and the batter and you can see second base on the top of the screen. Now you can’t see first base, that would be over here on the right, or third base that would be over here on the left”).

After that, I was hooked. I watched (when I was allowed to watch TV on the weekends) and/or listened to on the radio virtually every game of the season in 1962. For many years after, I saw, watched or listened to most Yankee games. I knew all the Yankee players, kept track of their batting averages, ERAs , was elated by every Yankee win and literally had a temper tantrum when they lost (which fortunately for my family was infrequent during 1962-64 when the Yankees won the pennant in the American League). By 1966, I had also started playing Strat-O-Matic Baseball, a highly realistic baseball board game that simulated the previous season stats for every player. I started my own league.  So when I wasn’t watching real baseball during the summer, I was playing Strat-O-Matic (often with my brother or my friends). I calculated batting averages, ERAs, and kept track of all of the other stats for all of the AL players in my league. (I am fairly convinced that one of the reasons I did well in math in school was my calculating “by hand” batting averages and ERAs for EVERY player in my annual Strat-O-Matic league). During my teen years, I started going to games more frequently, often taking my younger brother or going with friends. We would buy upper deck grandstand seats for $1.50 in the late 1960s, then during the game as other fans inevitably left early (as the Yankees invariably would be losing in the late 1960s) we would move down into the more “expensive” upper deck seats which I remember cost about $3.

Baseball is not the same obsession for me today as it was then. It started to fade a bit when I went away to college and then when I moved to California to go to graduate school. I also haven’t lived in NYC since 1978. However, I still get the Direct TV baseball package so I can watch Yankees games, and do end up watching at least part of a lot of games each year as a result. But every year in early April, I stop and remember what it felt like when I was a kid, and there was the promise and excitement of a new season in front of me.

I thought I would end this post with George Carlin’s famous comedy bit on baseball and football. In addition to being very funny, it also explains how baseball was able to captivate this 7-year-old back in 1962. I got to see George Carlin live a few years before he passed away and I am glad I got a chance to see him do this routine. Enjoy!

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Baseball and Football  by George Carlin

Baseball is different from any other sport, very different. For instance, in most sports you score points or goals; in baseball you score runs. In most sports the ball, or object, is put in play by the offensive team; in baseball the defensive team puts the ball in play, and only the defense is allowed to touch the ball. In fact, in baseball if an offensive player touches the ball intentionally, he’s out; sometimes unintentionally, he’s out. Also: in football,basketball, soccer, volleyball, and all sports played with a ball, you score with the ball and in baseball the ball prevents you from scoring. In most sports the team is run by a coach; in baseball the team is run by a manager. And only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do. If you’d ever seen John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform,you’d know the reason for this custom.

Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values. I enjoy comparing baseball and football:

  • Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game. Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.
  • Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park! Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.
  • Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life. Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.
  • In football you wear a helmet. In baseball you wear a cap.
  • Football is concerned with downs – what down is it? Baseball is concerned with ups – who’s up?
  • In football you receive a penalty. In baseball you make an error.
  • In football the specialist comes in to kick. In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.
  • Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness. Baseball has the sacrifice.
  • Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog… In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.
  • Baseball has the seventh inning stretch. Football has the two minute warning.
  • Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end – might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.
  • In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness. In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.
  • And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different: In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.
  • In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!
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