Five Characteristics That Describe Baseball
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Often referred to as Americas pastime, baseball has millions of fans spanning generations and has provided dynamic entertainment around the world for more than a century. Some of the reasons that people are drawn to the game can be traced to those defining characteristics that set baseball apart.
Former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo points out in the book "Baseball: An Illustrated History" by Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns that one of the essential elements of baseball is that it doesn't have a clock, unlike most other sports. Regardless of how far behind a team falls in a game, they will not run out of time to come back. A team can continue to play and add runs to their total in any given inning for as long as they keep from making three outs. Football, basketball, hockey and soccer all limit teams' opportunities with a clock, but baseball is literally timeless.
Bill James points out in his book "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract" that no other sport is more driven by statistics than baseball. While every sport uses statistical information to rate player performance, baseball features dozens of stats often used in combination with one another to rank the value of one player against another. From something as simple as overall batting average to far more obscure numbers such as a player's average with runners in scoring position with less than two outs in the seventh inning or later, numbers are always a part of the way we look at baseball.
The Effort of a Team
Basketball teams can put the ball in the hands of their best scorer one possession after another. Football teams can direct the offense to incorporate players that serve as their most potent weapons as often as they like. The book "Baseball: An Illustrated History" points out that while baseball always has a multitude of stars, they only come to bat once every nine times in a game and can only play one position on the field at a time. Consequently, a complete team effort is necessary to win consistently in baseball.
"Baseball: A History of America's Favorite Game" by New York Times sports columnist George Vecsey acknowledges the way in which baseball players, no matter how far removed from the early days of the game, are measured against the performance of those that have gone before them. Batting .300 is an important distinction, for example, because the best players of previous eras established that as a standard of offensive achievement. Consequently, baseball players of any era find themselves in competition with the memories and accomplishments of those who came before.
James writes about the multitude of strategic decisions that must be made in each and every baseball game. Not unlike a chess match, baseball allows time for reflection after one team makes a move in which the opposing team can consider and ultimately decide how to respond. A left-handed pitcher brought into a game to face an upcoming left-handed hitter may result in the team at bat pinch-hitting for the left-hander with a right-handed batter. Of course, that's one less player the team at bat has on their bench for later in the game. Like chess, there's always more than one consideration for any given move.
- "Baseball: A History of America's Favorite Game"; George Vecsey; 2008
- "The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract"; Bill James; 2003
- "Baseball: An Illustrated History"; Geoffrey Ward and Ken Burns; 1994
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