Every normal man must be tempted, at times, to spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and begin slitting throats. –H.L. Mencken
Major League Baseball has many similarities to the NFL – at least when discussing its problems. As I mentioned in the NFL piece, MLB has similar monopoly and union issues to the NFL. Also like professional football, baseball suffers from a commissioner’s office with far too much power. Commissioners of leagues such as these should be relative unknowns, sitting back and allowing the market to determine the future course of the sport. Of course, an active union and a monopoly tend to attract people who crave power and a spotlight.
There are several areas, however, where baseball and football diverge. One of them is simplicity. The simplicity of baseball is concentrated in two main areas: gameplay and rules. The non-stop action of the NFL, which is generally perceived as a good thing, usurps every moment of the viewer’s time, precluding any outside activity and binding men to their armchairs for the entirety of Sunday afternoon. The much slower pace and laid-back feel of a baseball game allows the fan to carry on a conversation, search the web, or read a book while enjoying the game.
The simplicity of baseball is also shown in the rules of the game. Where football is a constant barrage of penalties and measurements, the simplicity of baseball’s rules allow near-continuous gameplay. Even instant replay seems to be a greater success in baseball than football. In trial runs during this year’s spring training, calls have been affirmed or reversed in a very short period of time, making a mockery of the ridiculous amount of ‘time under the hood’ required for a decision in the NFL. For another example of rule simplicity, consider MLB’s version of overtime. After the regulation nine innings, additional innings are added until a winner emerges.
Among team sports, it is often very hard to separate the individual performances of the players. In football, for example, a sack is awarded to player A from team X, who tackles the quarterback of team Y behind the line of scrimmage. This does not, however, take into account player B from team X, whose great skill caused team Y to double-team him, allowing player B an easier path to the quarterback. Baseball, however, is largely an individual sport played in teams. When a pitcher stands on the mound, he faces the batter alone and vice versa. The same goes for fielders. When a ball is hit in his direction, whether or not the player makes the play, is dependent only on his abilities. Baseball is one of the few team sports where the individual performance of a player can be readily separated from the team performance.
The largest difference between the sports we have already covered (MMA and football) – and baseball is the violence inherent in the games. Baseball is not immune to concussions and other injuries. Batters can be hit by pitches, fielders can be struck by flying balls, and collisions between runners and fielders do occur. However, these circumstances are not purposeful, but rather chance meetings. The defensive end does not accidentally hurl his body into the quarterback, nor does the MMA fighter accidentally kick his opponent. The closest to a football style ‘hit’ in baseball is a collision at home plate when the catcher receives the ball and the runner arrives home simultaneously. Yet even this violence is being reduced by MLB, as new rules are being introduced this year to lessen the occurrence of this type of collision. It is easy to see the gulf between the sports widening as MLB attempts to limit occurrences of collisions similar to those central to gameplay in the NFL.
Baseball’s simplicity, emphasis on individual achievement, and nonviolence make it more appealing to fans of a libertarian bent. However, there is one sport that lends itself to the libertarian ideal in an even greater way – tennis.