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In defense of baseball

It's become fashionable, the last couple of days, for college football bloggers to slam baseball in light of the recently released Mitchell Report -- an effort, I should point out, that goes much further toward owning up to MLB's mistakes than anything Miles Brand has ever dreamed of ordering for the NCAA, but I digress.

SMQ marvels that Congress is going to investigate steroids in baseball. (It should be noted that, unlike the focus of previous hearings about the BCS system SMQ hates, using steroids is actually a felony.)

These are men throwing a ball and hitting a ball with a stick, and it was thrown and hit at as popular and profitable level as it's ever been thrown or hit in the "tainted" era in question, when apparently everyone who was anyone was doing it, anyway -- sounds like a "level playing field" to me. [Emphasis, as is true throughout the post, is mine.]

Actually, it was far from a level playing field. As part of the 2002 collective bargaining agreement, players had to be anonymously tested with no punishment attached and -- they thought but later found out differently -- no way to ever identify which sample belonged to whom. The idea being that, if a certain percentage of players were using steroids, then real, with-teeth testing would be implemented.

In the end, five to seven percent tested positive. So even if we assume the high end of that range, and that six out of every seven players taking steroids either stopped taking them or used a masking agent, only 49 percent of the players were using anabolic steroids at the height of the Steroid Era. There could be more taking only HGH, I suppose, but most of the players who have allegedly used HGH have also been linked to steroids.

But the most vitriolic and ranting screed against baseball, at least that I've seen, came from Orson at Every Day Should Be Saturday -- a bit surprising, since most of the posts at EDSBS are intelligent and insightful.

Not so with this one.

To see why, follow the jump...

However, it may rightfully describe the EDSBS official Most Despised Game, not a sport, but a game, the hypertrophied croquet match that is baseball, and the fact that old incontinent people care enough about it to waste an ex-Senator's time on whether or nor its players are taking illegal supplements.

This is, I suppose, an allusion to the oft-repeated but ultimately vapid cliche that holds that baseball is any less an athletic competition than football, hockey, et al. What do you call an unathletic center? A Rimington Award finalist. What do you call an unathletic center fielder? McDonald's Employee of the Month. The truth is that there are positions in both baseball and football that require athleticism, but also some that don't. (And for those who would argue that the center is somehow athletic -- don't confuse strength with athleticism. They are different things, though strength can be and usually is a component of athleticism.)

No contact, no passion, no energy, and as much strategy as a game of horse-shoes. Wait, that's a disservice to horseshoes. None. If someone preens on one more time about the strategy involved in baseball, we will drop a safe on you from a great height, because there's simply nothing going on out there.

Then prepare your safe, because that is one of the major elements of baseball. If you shift the infield a certain way because a batter is naturally inclined to hit the ball that way, but then the pitcher throws a pitch more likely to be hit the other way, everyone has wasted their time. If you don't shift the infield against a player who is naturally inclined to hit the ball in a particular direction, then you're an idiot and won't be a manager for very long. That's just one example of strategy in baseball.

And it's just one example of why those who think "nothing is happening" between hits or stolen bases or other kinds of "action" in baseball simply don't know what they're talking about. Something is almost always happening in baseball if you know how to look for it.

(As an aside, this is why I think the greatest disservice ever done to young sports fans is counting on television to expose them to the game. Television is the worst possible way to watch and learn about baseball, and if I didn't live several hundred miles away from my favorite team, I'd have no part in watching them that way.)

As far as the passion -- I don't know how to answer it. As someone who finds myself screaming at the television just as loud during a baseball game as during a football game, I really don't know what to say.

Nope. No passion there. None at all.

In reality, baseball players are among the stupidest athletes we've ever seen -– at least football players, big, lummoxy football players, may have been to college. Baseball players are recruited straight from high school, meaning they dive straight from being a high-school manchild to being million-dollar bonus babies at the age of nineteen, meaning that like the horde of Genghis Khan, the future inhabitants of the world may be by percentage all related to some baseball player, since rich nineteen year olds are only interested in pillaging the Hooters and strip clubs of this nation.

Having been in both an NFL locker room and an MLB locker room to do interviews as a reporter, I would quickly accept whatever wager Orson would like to make about whether baseball players or football players would do better on a test of their intelligence. This sentence is symbolic of the elitist mistake of confusing education with intelligence. You can be educated and be dumb as a rock at the same time. You can also be intelligent but not formally educated.

Were he still with us, I would tell anyone questioning that statement to talk to my grandfather, who never went to college and was one of the most intelligent men I've ever known. You didn't end up doing classified computer work for the Department of Defense during the Cold War because you were stupid. There was a time in government, where competence mattered. Those were the days.

(I'd take another challenge, too. The College Gameday cast versus the Baseball Tonight cast. Karl Ravech would have Chris Fowler in a head lock before the latter could finish making sure his hair was fixed right, John Kruk would sit on Kirk Herbstreit and Tim Kurkjian would easily beat Desmond Howard in a contest to see who has the most annoying, squeaky voice. Oh, and even after his stroke, you better believe that Peter Gammons could kick Lee Corso's a--.

You call him 'coach.' I call him 'sewer rat.'

(But I don't think Orson is a fool, so he likely wouldn't take that bet.)

In the end, though, Orson's post seems to show the sort of ignorance about baseball that has become rampant among sports fans of a certain age. (Specifically, so that no one thinks I'm eighty years old, that would be fans about 5-10 years older than me -- I'm 27 -- on down.) That's not a personal attack. I could write a post about how NASCAR is just a bunch of cars driving around and around and going on about how stupid I think races are. It would nonetheless betray my ignorance about NASCAR -- an ignorance I freely own up to. I also, though, would refrain from calling for the death or end of anyone else's source on entertainment.

In fact, I'm almost sad when I read something like this. I know that not everyone can enjoy baseball the way I do. It is a game, just like hockey, basketball, football or any other game, that will be liked by those for whom it is intended.

Am I bit defensive about baseball right now? Yes. The whole sport -- fans, management and (one would hope) players -- is going through some soul-searching right now. Not because we're shocked -- shocked! -- about the Mitchell Report, but because it's forced those of us who were in denial about the problem to come to grips with it. Those of us who weren't in denial are now forced to deal with lingering questions about what we saw and how much of it was real.

But baseball, contrary to its detractors' highest hopes, is not going anywhere. It has endured for more than a century, surviving gambling controversies, fixed games and, yes, even drug scandals.

No matter how damning, 400 pages isn't nearly enough to snuff out America’s past time.