Baseball, Futebol, and Football

Anyone who has ever been in a Major League Baseball dugout five minutes after the game wouldn’t snicker about whether soccer is a real sport.

At the end of a baseball game the dugout floor is spotted with more spit than a Chinese railroad station after the train left. As soccer grabs the fickle attention of American audiences during the current World Cup, one thing you can say in the game’s favor is that you can’t play soccer while being fat and chewing tobacco.

Soccer players on the level of the World Cup just might be in the best conditioned of any athletes on earth. I’d like to see the New York Yankees play 90 minutes of soccer. Within two minutes they would be wheezing, vomiting, and calling for oxygen.

But soccer in America may be fated to always be on the way without ever arriving. Despite the growth of youth soccer leagues and college soccer, the game is constantly catching on without catching on. It’s like lacrosse, whose advocates say, “It’s America’s fastest growing sport,” and they’ve been saying it for 50 years.

Americans like defined rules and soccer requires abstract imagination. Four downs to make ten yards makes sense to the average American, but “stoppage time” after 90 minutes of regulation play on a soccer field makes Americans come unglued. They want to know, how long is the game? Exactly. How long? Those minutes of mystery time added by the referee to compensate for the time players spent faking injuries are to Americans like baseball without a home plate.

And speaking of faked injuries, soccer’s reputation is not helped by the art of “diving”, also known as “flopping.” Some of the best players in the world will fall to the ground twisting their faces in apparent agony with what looks like a career-ending injury. Then they’ll get right back up and run full speed. That doesn’t happen in a game like hockey in which a player isn’t really hurt until a bone is showing.

The New York Times ran a story that questioned whether American soccer players are hindered in international competition because they are bad actors, unable to convincingly fake an injury that will get their opponent a yellow warning card. Americans don’t mind cheaters, but they like their cheating to be subtle.

Of course, soccer is foreign, but it’s not so much the foreignness of the game as its language that grates on American sensibilities. Sorry, but it’s a “field,” not a “pitch.” That’s reserved for baseball. It’s irritating to Americans that the world calls soccer “football” because it’s not the same game played by the NFL and Americans like to think the world revolves around them.

International soccer players call their shoes “boots” and we call them spikes. They say the score of a game is 1-Nil. In America that’s “zero” and no American who wants to avoid getting beat up on the playground is ever going to use the world “nil.”

Soccer’s offside rule is unnerving for the American audience. An attacking player has to stay even with the second to last defender. What? Where’s the line … did he cross it or didn’t he?

Americans understand it when a tied soccer match goes into overtime. Baseball has extra innings and basketball has overtime. We get it. But when overtime ends in a tie and the game is decided by a shootout of penalty kicks on undefended goalies, it seems like the entire previous two hours, plus stoppage time, was for nothing. It’s a terrible way to end a game, but unlike baseball, which can be played for 24 hours straight because it requires so little exertion, soccer games have to end or the players will die.

It does have a certain beauty to it, and that’s why they keep calling it The Beautiful Game. You look at what they can do with their feet and a ball and it’s like a magician making objects disappear and then come back. The pressure builds as the game goes on and the slightest success or error can determine the outcome. The lack of scoring makes the game more explosive. If you turn away from a soccer match, you might miss the only goal of the game. You have to watch, and that’s the beauty.

Stoppage time adds a journey into the deep unknown. Will someone score, and how long do they have to do it? No one knows. It’s a thrill ride.

Baseball is the American pastime because you can ignore it most of the time while you drink beer and talk to the guy who brought you to the game.

We like football because it satisfies our hunger for firm rules and violence. We just love a game that leaves a retired player arthritic and brain damaged.

Americans have the ability to learn and there may be hope for them to learn about soccer. After all, we’ve learned to drink wine and to make drinkable coffee. It’s only taken about 250 years. I’m not a huge fan of soccer, but I’ve come to appreciate it. If I had to choose between baseball and soccer, it would be soccer 1, baseball, nil.

BR -30-


Sunday, February 18, 2018

Page Two

Jaw Meet Floor

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Small President

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Cuba Diaries

Sunday, March 13, 2016

An Alphabet of Maladies

Friday, February 26, 2016

The Healthcare Confusion Act

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Freedom from Speech

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Too Big to Fire

Friday, June 19, 2015

More Probable Than Not

Thursday, May 14, 2015

It's Been Said

" 'The enemy of the people,'" was what the president of the United States called the free press in 2017 ... It is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own president uses words infamously spoken by Josef Stalin to describe his enemies. It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase 'enemy of the people,' that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of 'annihilating such individuals' who disagreed with the supreme leader."
Arizona republican Sen. Jeff Flake speaking on the floor today.

There are 1 Comments

  1. Rex Stevens

    The beauty of baseball is partly in the way complicated records are kept. We watch the game either at the stadium or on TV or listen in on the Radio. Afterwards we read the box scores and how the team and the players performances compared with those of past plays and teams. In the history of every team there are many Pele’s and Ronaldo’s. Every “play” or “put out” has hundreds of precedents that happened during games that are remembered just for them. We remember the “walk-off” double that Cliff Onehand hit in late September against his long time rival, Nat Grinchly. How many “sliders” did Nat throw in his 17 year career? What percentage of them were hit for singles, doubles, triples, home runs, or were balls, strikes …..? These things get discussed while we drink beer and eat hot dogs at the game while more “stats” are developed “real time.” So, it’s not just going to the ball park or watching the game on TV, it’s comparing what is seen and heard with past experiences whose excruciatingly detailed records go back over a hundred years. Players are celebrated for hitting one more double than anyone else during the last week of a season, for example, or throwing more spitballs per inning than anyone else. And yes, not paying attention every second of the game is a really, really important part of its beauty.

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