Despite being the most receptive sport to numbers baseball remains the hardest game to quantify. Sure there a lot of saber folks out there who will tell you the game can be broken down to a few complex formulas but the rest of the world knows that while those numbers can be useful they really don’t tell the whole story. Baseball at its core is the simplest of sports, on offense you hit the ball and run and on defense you throw the ball and catch the ball, that is it that is all you need to. But yet baseball is a complex game which includes things like infield fly rules, dropped 3rd strikes, ground rule doubles, book rule doubles, double switches and so many more interesting nuances. The game is a complexity of rules but yet it is something even a child can understand.
Baseball is a game of contradictions. It is a game centered around tradition but yet the strategy behind the game is always changing. It is a game where failing over 50% of the time is considered the norm. It is a game full of cherished numbers, history and tradition. It is a game that resists change to the death. It is a game that can humble the best of men. It is a game that can put smiles on people faces and tears in their eyes. It is a game where certain type of cheating are considered nearly part of the trade and yet others are considered out of bounds. It is a game that can be so predictable for the longest time but yet it can also produce something you haven’t seen before. It is a team game yet its outcome rests almost entirely on individual match ups. It is a game that allows for a chance of greatness every night but yet we so very rarely see it. It is a game that can appear to drag on forever and yet be defined by one single moment.
Baseball thrives in today’s fast pace world despite being anything but fast paced. It goes at its own slow pace and can at times be aggravating but yet it is still a sport that people like me and quite possibly you love and can’t get enough of. Some people who dislike baseball complain about its pace but yet that is exactly what gives it its charm. For there is no clock for teams to battle, all they need to focus on is the opposing pitcher. Momentum can’t be stopped by a buzzer, a team can’t win because the clock hit 0 and comebacks can’t end just because time ran out. No in baseball it is up to the team and the team itself to win the game and they will receive no help from father time.
The game of baseball is an oddity because it is shaped not just by the players but by many outside factors. A baseball game goes 9 innings unless mother nature intervenes. Oddly enough baseball is the one sport that mother nature still has a huge impact on. I mean a game slated to last 9 innings can be called and made official after 5. When was the last time a football game was called after 3 quarters? The game with no time limit is the one that can be artificially shortened. Even something that seems as trivial at a ballpark as a fan can have a bigger impact on a baseball game that any other game. Think about it for a second a player reaching into the stands to make a catch can legally interfered with by a fan. In what other sport can fans physically interfere with the play on the field? Alas it doesn’t end there some times the biggest star in a baseball game isn’t a player, the weather or even a fan but rather the impartial by standers who enforce the rules. In baseball some umpires have emphatic strike calls, confront players and even occasionally put on a show by tossing players and coaches. In what other sport can an official steal the show for something other than a blown call? One more thing to consider is the height to which some announcers are held. In baseball it is quite possible for a play by play man to become a thing of legends. I know in Pittsburgh with Mike Lange and Myron Cope the thought process that this is some how unique to baseball may not settle in and maybe it is not but there is no arguing it is more prevalent. The oddest thing of all though is that very few people find these things to be odd because well all of this makes baseball what it is.
There is no sport more pure, more magical, more impactful than baseball. Baseball has lost its spot as the top sport in the United States but it remains the nation’s past time. It is the sport most ingrained in our nation’s history and the sport that in my opinion at least has the most dedicated fans. It is the sport that can at times defy logic better than any other. It is the sport for which people crave, dissect, analyze and quantify. We love it not just on an athletic level but an intellectual one as well. It caters to the jock, the nerd, the team player, the individual, the left, the right, to everyone. Its a sport for the strong, the intelligent and the cunning.
Baseball is more than just a game, its more than just a sport, its more than just part of our culture, it goes beyond all that. The game is in the fabric of our very civilization. It isn’t just the MLB and MiLB; it is all the independent leagues, the semi-pro leagues, the company teams, the college teams, the high school teams, the little league teams and not to be forgotten the pick up teams. The game as it currently exists has been around for a very small piece of our history but the components running, hitting, throwing and catching have always been around. We are one with baseball for its essence is in our DNA and for some of us the game is a life blood.
Baseball for all that it is and all that it will be can not be defined. There is no definition the can explain what it is or what it does or what it means to society. Even this long entry barely scratches the surface of what baseball truly is. For baseball is more than words can express, more than our eyes can see, more than our senses can perceive and more than a brain can comprehend. It represents everything that is good with society but yet in the end it is almost meaningless for it is just a game. You see baseball is special and to truly comprehend what that means you need to be lucky enough to have been born that way. Sure others can fall in love with the game, dissect it to no end and be just as passionate about their team but they will never truly understand why it is as special as it is.
I have said all of this and yet I haven’t even began to discuss the game itself, the winning and the losing. For what is it to win or lose? At the end of the day despite it holding a special place baseball like any other sport is still about winning and losing and like other sports the idea is to score more than the other guys but is that all? Connecting baseball to winning and losing can make it seem like that is all that matters but yet us Pirate fans no better than anyone that isn’t true. For we have suffered through 19 years of losing and yet we stand beside the club and support it. So no, baseball like all sports means more but yet baseball is still different. There is some presence that surrounds baseball and is stronger than it is around any other sport. That presence is what got us fans through the last 19 years and it is called hope. For baseball more than any sport of any game has the constant presence and thought of hope. That a long with so many other variables makes the game impossible to define, impossible to truly explain to someone who just doesn’t get it. Make no mistake this is not a knock on people who weren’t born with the baseball gene because I know some people who weren’t and they love this game as much as I do. All I’m saying is that they just don’t quite get it there is more there than they could ever possibly realize.
Baseball is all the above and much much more. In fact I haven’t even discussed baseball’s most important aspect, the baseball gods. Ah yes the baseball gods the mysterious force that controls every aspect of the game, from how a ball bounces, to how a curve ball breaks, to what an umpire sees, to what a manager does, it is always present but never predictable. I know some people call it luck or chance but there is more at play than those factors. Its a mystical force which is unlike any other driving force in the galaxy. Maybe I am over selling it but to me I truly believe there is a special force at play.
At the end of the day I still haven’t answered my original question of what is baseball. So what is it? Well if anyone has actually read all of this your not going to like it. For I can’t tell you what baseball is. Baseball is a sport with no definition and no meaning but yet it means everything. No one man can explain what baseball is but yet what baseball is depends on the perspective of one man. For me baseball is everything but for some baseball is nothing. It’s a great sport but it can’t be explained with words, numbers, formulas, essays, or anything else. So what is my definition of baseball? It is the simpliest of all definitions and yet it is also the most complex for baseball is baseball.