How Hard Is It to Play Baseball?
Baseball can be the most difficult of sports to play. It can be argued that Michael Jordan was the greatest basketball player of all-time. He was a tremendous competitor with unparalleled athletic ability. However, when Jordan left basketball in 1994, he did it to attempt a career in baseball. Despite his athletic ability and willingness to accept coaching, he never made it past the low minor leagues because he struggled to hit. He returned to the NBA and led his team to three more championships.
In his book "The Science of Hitting," Ted Williams said hitting a baseball consistently has been called the most difficult thing to do in sports. Williams was the dominant hitter of his era when he played with the Boston Red Sox from 1939 until his career ended in 1960. He was the last major league hitter to bat .400 in a season when he hit .406 in 1941. Williams explained that hitting a round baseball squarely with a round bat when pitchers throw a variety of pitches was the most difficult of challenges. The best hitters in the game will hit. 300 for the season. That means they fail seven out of 10 times when they come to the plate.
While the hitter's job is quite challenging, so is the pitcher's job. The pitcher must stand on a mound that is 60 feet 6 inches from home plate and attempt to retire a batter. The hitter can cause a severe injury to the pitcher if he hits a line drive back through the middle. Additionally, the pitcher has to learn how to throw a variety of pitches like the fastball, slider, curveball and changeup and do it with control. This takes years of practice.
Baseball players may have to demonstrate athleticism and hand-eye coordination in order to make an effective play in the field. For example, the batter may swing hard, top the ball and hit a slow roller that goes up the third base line. The third baseman must sprint in to pick it up in his bare hand and then throw the ball on the move to the first baseman to get the runner out. An outfielder may have to run 30 yards or more and then leap as high as possible in order to catch the ball before it disappears over the fence. Executing these type of plays takes rare athletic ability.
Talented baseball players may be able to make big plays and get hits throughout the first six innings of the game. However, the pressure is raised in the final three innings. Some players may struggle to come through when they know the game is on the line. They feel the pressure of the moment and they know that their teammates and coaches are counting on them. This prevents good players from becoming great ones. This is more of an issue in baseball than other sports because there is so much more time between pitches and plays. Players think about what they need to do and it can prevent them from executing well.
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who's Better, Who's Best in Football -- The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.