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Saturday, October 26, 2019

Essay: What is America’s game? 3 sports, 3 American eras

What is America’s game?

Is it the quirky and cerebral sport that, in its highest form, is unfolding this week in the World Series between the Houston Astros and the Washington Nationals? Baseball is, after all, still called the national pastime.

Is it the gladiatorial battle that unfolds on any given Sunday (and Monday and Thursday), the one that channels raw male power into accomplishments measured in yards and completions and high-octane collisions? Former star wide receiver Jerry Rice thinks so; a new book about the NFL that he co-authored, out next week, is called “America’s Game.”

Or is it the acrobatic contest with the big orange ball, the one in which players dwarfed only by their global online star power hurtle through rare air, putting on nightly clinics to demonstrate what the human body can do? There’s a strong case to be made there, too.

What, not contract bridge?

In any event, a consideration of three sports and their potential meaning in American life and society- make of it as you please.


QLE Posted: October 26, 2019 at 12:18 AM | 3 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: america's game, basketball, football, national pastime

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   1. Mr Dashwood Posted: October 26, 2019 at 01:33 PM (#5894890)
I dunno, I found this essay 'thin'. It does suggest the subject for a good book by a proper historian.

* * * *

As I find myself looking more anxiously towards the sunset of my life, I find myself befuddled by the role of Sabermetrics in the decline of baseball. It really rejuvenated my enthusiasm, but I feel like it has taken away the best parts of the game on the field, at the expense of vastly improving discussion during the Hot Stove and Hall of Fame seasons.

When I try to detach myself from my own prejudices a tad, and look at it objectively, I do see how 'modern' baseball's Three True Outcomes (to which I would add the Double) offers excitement.

By this, I mean, look at the presentation of baseball on the television. Much of the time we see the sport framed as the pitcher, the batter, the catcher and the umpire. Watching it like that, the balls and the strikes, the fouls to sustain a plate appearance and then the ultimate swingnamiss or the swing and just knowing that the ball is going over the fence really all add up to a powerful mini-narrative within the larger narrative structure that ends in W for one side and an L for the other.

Contrast this with association football. Nothing irritates me more than the Italians' habit of frequently zooming-in on individual players either to do the referees' 'moviola' mid-game or to see some kine of reaction to an on-field event. Show me the field! That is where you see about 10-12 players from both sides in motion on a vast landscape, and can judge how the play is liable to develop. As a percentage of the time an image is on the screen, baseball offers less of the field-view and much more of the Three True Outcome view.

And this, I think, hints at something of why baseketball is destined to be more popular than gridiron football. On the television, basketball shows you everything, pretty much, you need to see in the game. The ten players on court spend most of the game clustered within view of the camera. The court itself is very small, smaller even than an NHL hockey rink.

And I think that's what is missing from the essay.

Baseball works well a spoken narrative, like poetry. It is the pre-eminent radio sport.

Football works more a seen narrative, until we reach an era where the long pass means the focus on the quarterback omits the routes of the receivers. Three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust or West-Coast Offence works on television better than the post route. For radio, football becomes a positional narrative into which the battle at the line of scrimmage goes missing. A narrative is there, but it is like the loss of 'the field' on televised baseball.

Basketball is exclusively a seen narrative and, like association football, vanishes into a stream of names without context on the radio.

Basketball is the perfect sport for the streaming age, where you can follow the game on your tiny phone screen. The other two have an element of 'widescreen' that is totally lost.
   2. "RMc", the superbatsman Posted: October 27, 2019 at 08:38 AM (#5895109)
The (basketball) court itself is very small, smaller even than an NHL hockey rink.

It wasn't until fairly recently that I realized that a hockey rink is much bigger -- nearly four times bigger -- than a basketball court. (This was thrown into sharp relief when I attended an Islanders game at Barclays Center, a building that technically fits a hockey rink but was clearly designed for the NBA: the scoreboard is over the blue line, not center ice!)
   3. AndrewJ Posted: October 27, 2019 at 06:38 PM (#5895202)
The actor/comedian Harry Shearer, who became a hardcore basketball fan as an adult during the Lakers 33-game winning streak in 1971-72, has written that the pleasure in baseball comes primarily from watching/writing about it, while all the pleasure in basketball comes from playing it.

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