Take me out to the ballgame—or ball-sport?
By Natalie Serafini, Assistant Editor
Baseball: the classic game synonymous with ‘Merica, hotdogs, peanuts, tobacco, cards, and caps—but is it synonymous with sport? It’s been long-unquestioned as an athletic pursuit, though it’s largely known for the viewers’ paraphernalia (the aforementioned food and accessories) and certain players’ misconduct (the infamous A-Rod, Barry Bonds, etc.). That long and noticeable lack of an investigation into baseball’s merits comes to an end now.
Baseball play proceeds on a complicated dance of strikes, bases, and runs. Two opposing teams take on either the batting or the field positions. Those who are “up to bat” must face down the barrel of the other team’s pitcher, and aim to whack the baseball “out of the park” for a homerun. If the batter fails respectably in this goal, merely putting the ball in play, they may still manage to round some of the bases; they’ll wait at a base until the subsequent batters get them out of limbo and heading home. If, however, the batter fails miserably in this goal, they are permitted an exact limit of three attempts—or strikes—before they’re out and another batter is called up to the plate. The field team attempts to get the batters out either by catching their flying balls midair, tagging a runner, or by throwing the ball to a base before the batter can round it. After three batters are called out, the teams switch field and batting positions.
Right “off the bat,” it might sound like baseball is indeed a sport. Running, complicated rules, competition, and balls—what more could you want?
First off, the game is arduously slow, and when players aren’t up to bat, movement is minimal. Occasionally players in the field will be spurred on to a chase and rapid fire tossing of the baseball; otherwise, field players stand and wait for something to happen. The catcher, who sets up shop behind the batter, spends the majority of the game on their haunches. The pitcher’s main role is to stand and throw a ball. The batter is perhaps the only one whose energy is seriously exerted, as they must be ready to bolt as soon as bat meets ball in a swing of success—and even then, batters are only up to the plate one at a time, while the waiting batters sit on the sideline. How can it be a sport when, at any given time, 8/9 of the players on one team are sitting on their asses?
They aren’t just sitting on their asses either; chances are they’re participating in that tradition so particular to baseball: cancer- and spit-inducing smokeless tobacco. The disgusting habit is a tenet of the game, although it should have left the field along with the brown-gummed players of yesteryear. Chewing tobacco has stuck around as long as it has because of the short list of benefits it provides, like relief from stress and anxiety, and an increase to both heart rate and blood pressure. I’m sorry, does this sound like a suspicious acceptance of performance enhancement to you? Maury Brown recently wrote a piece for Forbes questioning if smokeless tobacco might be banned from Major League Baseball; meanwhile, players are already prohibited from having tobacco packages on them when fans are in the ballpark, or from chewing tobacco in pre-/post-game interviews and at team functions. When the league has already been plunged into scandal over Alex Rodriguez’s alleged use of testosterone and human growth hormone, it seems bizarre that there is such a widely upheld and undisputed use of possible performance enhancement.
There’s also the earlier fact that baseball is more closely tied to the culture behind it than the sport itself. You might suppose that this speaks to the “sport’s” fan base, but I’m less convinced. It seems baseball is an activity steeped in tradition more so than athleticism, between the long-held traditions of food and paraphernalia, the traditions of tobacco—and the tradition of viewing baseball as a sport altogether. Baseball may be ingrained into American culture, and embedded with practices so long-accepted that they’re seemingly unbending; nonetheless, I don’t accept these pat pleas for legitimacy.