Beautiful Games: Why Baseball and Soccer Go Hand-in-Foot
by, 07-01-2013 at 11:44 AM (404 Views)
On Friday Mrs. Peanut and I will go to England/Scotland on vacation, this means there will be very few PFH blogs coming out (I have a few scheduled to drop in absentia), but in preparation for that and as fine example of laziness time-management, I'm using a blog from another site: The Montanan Hooligans' World Cup Center since it relates to why I love baseball. If what I write makes you even slightly curious about more soccer writing, feel free to check that out...and know that while baseball might be hard to come by in merry old England...soccer...probably easier.
I. Under the surface strategy: Don't get me wrong, a well placed 3 run homer or penalty kick is all well and good, but more often than not it's not what you see happening on the ball, it's what's happening away from it that matters. Did the outfielders really leave the left field line open for Joe Mauer? Did you see how Asamoah Gyan made that run to the back post? Totally drew the defenses attention away from Dede Ayew. There's always something more to see than what you see.
II. Minimal interruptions: The best games of baseball simply roll through, pitchers working quickly, catches made or missed, hits and walks building into rallies and sides swapping chances one after another. The same is true in soccer: passes and movements flowing seamlessly up and down the pitch for forty-five minutes at a time without a single commercial break. Sometimes there have to be bullpen bucket brigades, sometimes there's an obnoxious array of feigned injuries that eat up valuable time...but at their best the only thing that matters is playing the game.
III. Players pay their dues: Both baseball and soccer have baby-faced phenoms who soar into view out of nowhere and take the world by storm (your Mike Trouts and Neymars, for example). But even the young bucks have to work their way up to the top: through Clearwater and Round Rock and Scranton until you get to Yankee Stadium or battling through Eindhoven and Valencia en route to London. But at the top levels of the game there are both phenoms and well seasoned vets who arrived at this stage through dedication and perseverance.
IV. Body types are no bar: Speaking of dedication and perseverance, you don't watch soccer or baseball with the sense that they are totally different than you. Take the top 5 baseball players of all time (by WAR [excluding Barry *Human Asterix* Bonds]: Ruth, Young, W. Johnson, Mays and Cobb). Their slightly taller than average (5'10" [Mays] to 6'2 [Johnson], and range from 170 pounds (Cobb) to 220 (Ruth), unlike the sky scraping NBA's top 5 (by PER: Jordan, James, O'Neal, Chamberlain and Robinson--all over 6'6") or the NFLs (by AVV: Favre, Rice, Manning, White and Lewis--all over 200 lbs, [minus Rice its 220]). Soccer players have a similar everyman quality about them--with the one exception that none of them had Ruth's hot dogs and beer diet--but world renowned names like Pele, Maradona, Johann Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer are all under 6 feet. Helping you dream that just maybe you could do it too.
V. Whole new world of statistical analysis: While I've often been accused of being a numbers-averse, story heavy fan/writer, I absolutely appreciate well employed statistical analysis. And increasingly Soccer has started using advanced stats with serious foresight. Added into a vocabulary full of BABIP and VORP comes PS% (Pass Success %) and ADW (Aerial Duels Won). Heck, FIFA even sold naming rights to a statistic to Castrol! So as someone who appreciates their affectionate nerdery with a dash of numbers, it's an ideal situation.
VI. Long Season as an Asset: Part of the reason statistical analysis works so well in baseball and increasingly in soccer is the sheer size of the season, you can be confident that you're getting a good sample size with six months worth of games. Better still, you get to know players and story lines as they develop, and you also get a sense that every game counts because pennants are a badge of honor in baseball (and one of the only ways into the playoffs) and they are the whole kit and caboodle in futbol. While soccer does have a variety of in-season tournaments (an idea I floated on my own baseball blog), there's a great deal to savor in every game, no matter where you stand.
VIII. Front office strategy galore: Loyalty is great, but for many fans, winning is better. So I have to appreciate the cajoling, conniving and various intricacies of altering a roster to make your team better. It's not just Terry Ryan's trade talks, it's the waiver wire watching and the AAA call-ups. That's not an option in a lot of other sports, but it is in soccer. Twice a year ownership groups go on spending sprees that would make the worst shopaholics blanche. They scour the globe for the best talents and drop a dime or two to bring them aboard (50 M seems to be the going rate for the best scorers these days). But that's not all...there's a raft of players in youth development programs itching for a call-up and rigorous competition among players already on the team striving to unseat one another. What will happen and where and with whom? Half the fun is that the hot-stove season never really ends.
X. Low scoring: This might be even less American than saying, I feel weirded out having eye candy cheerleaders shoved in my face. I like low scoring contests. I like it when runs or goals come at a premium rather than in a bundle, because it encourages you to relish every opportunity you get. It also highlights that, though you may fail, persistence is it's own reward.
XI. Sweet satisfaction in toppling the almighty: One of the things that goes hand-in-hand with low scoring affairs, is that anyone can be beaten at any time. The Yankees may spend more than the gross national product of Belize, but scrape together a few runs and they can be beaten. Manchester City may drop more hundred dollar bills than Montgomery Burns taking out the trash, but sneak a late goal and they too can be beaten. It feels great to be a Twins fan when the pin-stripers are scratching their heads in dismay, and equally great when Watford unseats City (or, on a global scale--when the plucky old stars and stripes shocks England/Spain or any one of a host of European Goliaths).
It's easy to love sports. And when you love these things, it's easy to share the love between two great games.
I'm looking forward to visiting the birthplace of one great game, and to a great year of both games.