The best of all games?

by Harry on March 10, 2008

A Nobel prize-winning scientist once described Basketball to me (in his impeccable Yorkshire accent) as “a dreary game played by physical freaks in which nothing happens till the last minute”. I enjoy regaling my students with this story, and explain that cricket is the only real sport. But, apparently, I’m wrong (about cricket, not basketball). The Boston Review contains a 27-year-old letter from John Rawls explaining why baseball is, in fact, the best of all games. (Hattip Tom Hurka—sorry, Tom, I couldn’t resist)

{ 3 trackbacks }

Club Troppo » Missing Link Daily
03.11.08 at 11:59 pm
Das Philoblog » Blog Archive » Brief von Rawls über Baseball
03.19.08 at 4:06 pm
Crooked Timber » » Rawls Bleg
03.23.08 at 12:31 pm

{ 60 comments }

1

micah 03.10.08 at 8:00 pm

Which of Rawls’ points demonstrate that baseball is superior to cricket?

2

Flippanter 03.10.08 at 8:19 pm

The thing speaks for itself.

3

qingl78 03.10.08 at 8:33 pm

baseball isn’t a sport. It’s a pastime.

4

Righteous Bubba 03.10.08 at 8:36 pm

At the time he wrote the letter baseball’s rules had been static for under a decade.

5

Rich B. 03.10.08 at 8:38 pm

In fact, the letter is a letter from John Rawls repeating an argument that Harry Kalven had made to him about why baseball is the best of all games.

As best as I can read, Rawls never concludes whether he agreed or disagreed with Kalven.

6

Derek 03.10.08 at 8:42 pm

And I thought that I couldn’t like him anymore than I already did.

7

Tom Hurka 03.10.08 at 8:48 pm

The most sophisticated sports are ones in which offence and defence are integrated, in that what you do in the one affects what you do in the other. Then your defensive strategy has offensive implications and vice versa, and a spectator has to watch both dimensions at once.

American sports tend not to be very integrated in this way. In baseball, at any given time only one team is trying to score runs while the other is trying to prevent them. In football the players on offense and defence are different. Likewise basketball when teams emphasize half-court offence, though a transition game is more complex.

Sports of flow, like soccer and hockey, are highly integrated: in hockey, forechecking two forwards increases your chance of scoring but also increases the chance that the other team will score. There are trade-offs between offense and defence that have limited analogues in baseball: mostly just personnel decisions like whether you replace the bad-fielding/good-hitting outfielder with a defensive specialist in the late innings. Yawn.

Not that I watched much, but cricket, or at least Test cricket, always struck me as the most integrated game of all, since which team is on offence and which on defence, the one bowling or the one batting, depends on the score and can change in the course of a day. Wow!

I would have thought structural issues about how offence and defence relate are more important for evaluating a sport than Rawls’s ones about e.g. whether scoring is done with the ball (wtf?). And on the structural issues baseball comes pretty low.

John Rawls. Wrong about political philosophy. Wrong about sports.

8

tom s. 03.10.08 at 8:54 pm

I’m trying to think which Nobel Prize winners (a) have Yorkshire accents, (b) may have talked to Harry Brighouse about basketball. It suggests a tyke relocated to North America, of course. But who and what discipline? Michael Smith (Biology) was from Blackpool, and had a broad Lancastrian accent, but surely you would know the difference?

9

Nick 03.10.08 at 9:03 pm

Tom s.

According to wikipedia, relatively recent Nobel prizewinners from Yorkshire:
Sir John Douglas Cockroft, Nobel Prize for Physics in 1951
George Porter, Nobel Prize for Chemistry in 1967
Geoffrey Wilkinson, Nobel Prize in Chemistry 1973
Oliver Smithies, Nobel Prize in Physiology, or Medicine 2007
John E. Walker, Nobel Prize for Chemistry 1997

Oliver Smithies fits the “transplanted to N. Am.” criterion. I’ve heard him speak, but I couldn’t tell you what variant of UK accent he has.

10

Ted 03.10.08 at 9:04 pm

He’s wrong about basketball – nothing happens till the last minute if the score is close. If it’s not close, nothing ever happens at all. Either way the last minute takes fifteen minutes what with all the time outs and intentional fouls and the resulting free throws – and surely the free throw is the most exciting play in sports with the possible exception of castling.

11

harry b 03.10.08 at 9:04 pm

Tom, of course I know the difference! Its someone who lived in the States for a couple of years several decades ago, and has lived firmly in the UK for almost all of his career. (The only other clue I’ll give is that if your Yorkshire geography is good enough my name is a clue of sorts).

micah — the argument, if correct, does not show that baseball is greater than cricket, just that cricket is not the only game.

rich b — that’s right. There is, though, a hint of approval, no?

12

Russell Arben Fox 03.10.08 at 9:07 pm

Insufferable and racially and socio-economically compromised it may be, but golf still reigns supreme.

13

A 03.10.08 at 9:31 pm

“a dreary game played by physical freaks in which nothing happens till the last minute”

The part about drearyness and timing is equally untrue when applied to sex and basketball. Both can be boring until the end (and sometimes even then). Much of the pleasure of both is in the ebb and flow of rhythm and psychic momentum. Seeing your team go on a 15-0 run is fantastic, whether you are closing or expanding a lead.

As for the “physical freaks” business, I’ll just say that all top athletes are physical freaks with skills honed by long practice. It’s just that you can see it from a distance when people are tall or have unusually long arms. You can’t just take any average person and make him or her a top cricket player or golfer with practice. John Daly is like Shaq: he is good even without working too hard at it because of how his musculo-skeletal system is constructed. Shaq was is even better because he worked hard. (Now he’s just a bit above average because he’s old and lazy).

Long live basketball!

14

abb1 03.10.08 at 9:40 pm

my name is a clue of sorts

I have a dog from Yorkshire who is hairy. She went to the States last year. No prizes, though.

15

a 03.10.08 at 9:43 pm

Rawls was right, of course.

16

Bernard Yomtov 03.10.08 at 9:50 pm

Nice to know Rawls agrees with me. See my comment #12 about cricket and baseball here.

17

AlanM 03.10.08 at 9:53 pm

Is the fact that John E. Walker went to Rastrick Grammar School the connection with your name?

18

Aulus Gellius 03.10.08 at 9:59 pm

There are different ways a sport can be good or bad: basketball and soccer are insufferably boring to watch, but a lot more fun to play. The “played by physical freaks” aspect only really applies at the highest levels, as does the problem of the game constantly stopping for fouls, so ordinary people can have a perfectly enjoyable pickup game. And though I love the clockless aspect of baseball and tennis, it doesn’t really matter when you have an effective time limit of “when everybody has to leave.”

And of course, the real advantage of these sports is how cheap they are: fields (in a rural setting) or basketball courts (in an urban one) are pretty easy to find, and then all you need is a ball. There’s no need for gloves, rackets, etc., and you can play even if you only have two people (baseball requires lots of people, and for golf, as I understand it, you need hundreds of dollars of equipment, acres of land, a full staff of domestic servants, and a little car).

On the other hand, I think that letter misses one of my favorite aspects of (professional) baseball: sort of the opposite of the “played by physical freaks” problem. In other sports, the best players are either freaks who belong in in a sideshow, or great athletes who belong among classical Greek statues: only in baseball (and this isn’t as true as it used to be) do some of the greatest players look like ordinary shlubs with beer guts.

19

nick s 03.10.08 at 10:02 pm

(The only other clue I’ll give is that if your Yorkshire geography is good enough my name is a clue of sorts).

That doesn’t make it much easier, since we’re left with plenty of West Riding options. Smithies and Walker, both Halifax-born, were at Wisconsin at the same time, though Smithies is still based in the US. Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson’s from Todmorden — gorgeous part of the world, almost worth taking the cross-Pennine chugga-train for it.

I’m not going to play ‘how Yorkshire is your accent’ (I’m as North Riding as it gets before your feet are wet) but I will say that’s quite the nexus of Nobel laureates, though, when you throw in Sir John Cockroft on top.

20

Righteous Bubba 03.10.08 at 10:03 pm

There are different ways a sport can be good or bad: basketball and soccer are insufferably boring to watch

The NCAA Final Four tournament is the most exciting sporting event televised.

21

Jason 03.10.08 at 10:12 pm

only in baseball (and this isn’t as true as it used to be) do some of the greatest players look like ordinary shlubs with beer guts.

Weren’t both cricketers and amateur-era rugby players also known as people who have beer-drinking contests on any team trip? I remember rugby matches in college that were basically keggers. That’s why I went. Still don’t understand the game.

And anyway: Inzy, Jesse Ryder, Freddie Flintoff…

22

Aulus Gellius 03.10.08 at 10:13 pm

The NCAA Final Four tournament is the most exciting sporting event televised.

There’s obviously no arguing with this kind of statement; and in the end, what we find exciting has a lot to do with what we’re used to. I’m used to watching pro baseball and football, so that’s (mostly) what I like.

But I still think, in terms of their essential characteristics, basketball and soccer are pretty bad to watch. I grew up occasionally playing, though hardly ever watching, both basketball and soccer, but I can’t watch more than a few minutes without my mind wandering. On the other hand, I’ve played tennis maybe six times in my life, and didn’t even understand the rules till I was an adult, but whenever it’s on TV I find myself hooked. (Of course, maybe that’s just because I’ve been conditioned to like my sports divided into individual plays, rather than continuous.)

23

nick s 03.10.08 at 10:32 pm

The NCAA Final Four tournament is the most exciting sporting event televised.

Uh-huh. You missed the agony and glory — for me, mostly agony — of this weekend’s FA Cup sixth round, I take it? (And the final hours of the Ashes in 2005 were pretty damn gripping.)

On Rawls: the point about timing is interesting, but there’s nothing as dull as a long blowout baseball game, and you’ll get a lot of them in a season. Far more than the ones where a team makes a late comeback after the opposing manager at 15-1 up benches his stars.

What’s distinctive about association football timing is that the clock can’t explicitly be stopped, meaning that no act by the players outside of a penalty shootout can bring a match to a close. (At least, that’s how it’s meant to be, which is why the golden goal was a silly idea and why NCAA timing is equally so.) In basketball, as mentioned here before, the last 30 clocked seconds of a close game last half an hour.

24

Bernard Yomtov 03.10.08 at 10:41 pm

only in baseball (and this isn’t as true as it used to be) do some of the greatest players look like ordinary shlubs with beer guts.

Not just some of the greatest, but the single greatest.

25

Righteous Bubba 03.10.08 at 10:43 pm

There’s obviously no arguing with this kind of statement

Hey, check out the post up top.

Anyway, I can make a bunch of arguments on behalf of basketball, but the NCAA tournament has the not-basketball-exclusive advantages of underdogs getting a shot to win a championship, fanatical drunken teenage fans, walk-on players filling a role, the necessity of winning six straight games to be champion, variance in coaching styles, career-ending losses (and maybe one career-ending win), teamwork, athleticism, and I dunno what else all in one go. There isn’t anything that feels as crucial, although I haven’t seen Pakistan and India play cricket.

Regarding baseball:

2007 and competitive balance are simply synonomous: For only the second time in baseball history, all thirty Major League teams’ winning percentages are within the .600 to .400 range. The 2007 season marks the first year since 1988 in which no division winner has repeated. Only one of the eight postseason teams will be making a second straight postseason appearance. No team lost 100 games and no team won 100 games.

Feature or bug?

26

Righteous Bubba 03.10.08 at 10:47 pm

You missed the agony and glory—for me, mostly agony—of this weekend’s FA Cup sixth round, I take it?

Sadly such events aren’t available to me right now, but I have been a devoted fan in the past.

I confess things like this sound appealing in the NCAA way.

27

Chris Bertram 03.10.08 at 11:37 pm

#20 and Matt Le Tissier, Jan Molby ….

28

harry b 03.10.08 at 11:45 pm

alanm – well done. He was a postdoc in Madison in 69-71 (or thereabouts). He’s my godfather, having befriended my dad in college because, on the grounds of his name alone, he assumed he would be not posh, and ok. Or so the story goes.

29

Slocum 03.10.08 at 11:52 pm

“There are different ways a sport can be good or bad: basketball and soccer are insufferably boring to watch, but a lot more fun to play.”

Yes, playing and watching are entirely different.

American Football is the most telegenic game. Also the most complex in terms of strategy, most differentiated in terms of players and roles, and the one most likely to be altered significantly by newly invented strategies. It also makes for the best sports video games.

But it’s a terrible ‘lifetime sport’ — it’s brutal unless you’re a large, young male (and even then). The ‘touch’ and ‘flag’ versions are fun, but are pale imitations of the real game.

On the other hand, there’s no chance at all of me signing up for a full-contact tackle football team at this point, and I’d much rather play basketball or soccer than baseball — it gets boring standing around waiting for a ball to come your way (or for your turn at bat).

30

Quo Vadis 03.11.08 at 12:14 am

only in baseball (and this isn’t as true as it used to be) do some of the greatest players look like ordinary shlubs with beer guts.

Another related reason that baseball and its gentler cousin softball are so popular as participatory sports here in the US is that it is one of the few sports that ordinary shlubs can continue to play well into their 40s, 50, and even 60s.

Go out to the softball diamonds on any spring or summer evening and you’ll find them full of middle aged men and women. There are even senior leagues for the 50+ shlubs.

31

Deliasmith 03.11.08 at 12:41 am

Take an empirical view: Association Football is THE game, the killer game. Once introduced into a new country it achieves hegemony, both as a professional sport and a participation sport, with remarkable speed and completeness. Only when opposed by powerful political-cultural forces (as in Ireland, and, interestingly, the whiter dominions of the British Empire) sometimes abetted by even more powerful commercial interests (as in the USA) is its dominance deferred.

The key is simplicity and clarity – watch football for ten minutes and you ‘get’ it. Play for a few hours and you experience the essence of it. The history of the game is one of enthusiastic, cheerful and successful emulation. No-one paid anyone to introduce football to Genoa, Bilbao, Budapest, Buenos Aires or any of the scores of other ports and gateways where one quick look at the visiting English and Scots kicking a ball about was enough to comprehend and admire. And the splendour of football is that it took a generation, no more, for continental Europeans and South Americans to master the game and play it better than the founders.

32

Righteous Bubba 03.11.08 at 12:53 am

American Football is the most telegenic game.

There’s something really satisfying about listening to it. I don’t care about the game but when I’m doing something else it makes it really sound like something big is happening.

33

vivian 03.11.08 at 1:11 am

What would Rawls have thought of fantasy baseball, and the hedge fund types who hone their coding skills on baseball stats data mining?

34

Robert 03.11.08 at 2:13 am

I think one of the biggest reasons to like or dislike a sport is also dependent on the way you were raised. I grew up in Europe, so I’m a big soccer fan. I can see that it is boring to watch these amateurs playing soccer in the US, but if you see the best athletes compete in an important soccer match, there is nothing what comes close to it in respect of exitement.
It’s like the tension during last minute of a close basketball match, the last drive in a Superbowl match, the 9th inning of the last world series game, but for 90 min (with a 15min break).

In American Football, they play for some time ->they punt ->commercial break -> the other team attacks and scores a touchdown -> commercial break -> kickoff -> commercial break -> attack -> timeout = commercial break -> punt-> commercial break…. It’s the same for all american sports. These commercial breaks totally ruin the tension. Furthermore, all the stuff that happens in the first half or even later is more or less irrelevant, cause each time can easily fight back if the deficit is not too big.
In soccer, if your team is playing against Italy, and they score in the 5th minute of the game, it’s a big problem for your team, cause these italian guys know how to defend. So, it is excitement from the very first minute.

Also, I’d like to add that the soccer players are real athletes in my opinion. In American sports, the guys are either slow (Baseball), slow and fat (Baseball, Football) or huge steroid shaped mosters (Football, Baseball, Basketball), but very few of them are role models for a healthy lifestyle.

35

Bernard Yomtov 03.11.08 at 2:26 am

American Football is the most telegenic game. Also the most complex in terms of strategy,

Most telegenic: maybe.

Most complex in terms of strategy: doubtful. Knocking the other guys down or outrunning them may be exciting to watch, but neither one is a complex strategy.

36

Delicious Pundit 03.11.08 at 2:27 am

Are we talking games here, or are we talking sports? Because there’s a lot to be said for poker.

37

Righteous Bubba 03.11.08 at 2:34 am

Knocking the other guys down or outrunning them may be exciting to watch, but neither one is a complex strategy.

What’s more complex and why? I mean more complex than football and not football as you describe it.

38

Greg 03.11.08 at 2:40 am

I have a theory. It goes that Tom Hurka is actually running a long gag (or experiment if you wish) in which he disagrees with anything coming from Rawls, supporters of Rawls, defenders of Rawls, those sympathetic to Rawls, people who cite Rawls in their papers and some guy who once bumped into Rawls walking across the Harvard yard.

It’s an excellent gag. Even card-carrying members of the church of Jack have to give it to Hurka for sheer commitment to a bit. Bravo sir.

39

Delicious Pundit 03.11.08 at 4:45 am

Also, does Rawls allow the DH, or do all batters have to play in their Original Position?

/ducks

40

chris y 03.11.08 at 9:00 am

only in baseball and cricket (and this isn’t as true as it used to be) do some of the greatest players look like ordinary shlubs with beer guts.

I don’t think there’s a caption on that pic. For the benefit of Americans and youth, it’s Colin Milburn, who I once watched score 200 in four hours.

41

chris armstrong 03.11.08 at 10:09 am

So, Rawls was wrong about two things at least. He states that in ‘soccer’ you’re not allowed to touch the ball (whereas in fact, outfield players can’t touch it with their arms (unless it’s a throw-in), but any other body-ball nexus is permissible), and that in cricket there is no time-limit (also not true, of course). From this we can conclude that his account of justice is undermined by a blindness to genuinely radical cultural diversity, incapable of comprehending the complexity of the somatic life, and operating with an unduly narrow conception of time.

42

harry b 03.11.08 at 12:43 pm

And Milburn managed that with only one eye.

43

deliasmith 03.11.08 at 2:58 pm

harry b, No. 42: unfortunately not. Once he lost his eye his best days were past:

cricinfo

44

Bernard Yomtov 03.11.08 at 3:10 pm

What’s more complex and why? I mean more complex than football and not football as you describe it.

Lots of sports. I like football too, but I think that announcers’ jargon obscures the fact that there really are only a few simple things going on:

Protect the passer (knock the other guys down) while the receivers try to outrun or otherwise evade the secondary, according to some complex-sounding scheme that amounts to trying to get a receiver-defender mismatch. Then throw the ball. This is a little more sophisticated than back-yard touch football players saying “Jimmy go long and Tommy go short to the right,” but not much.

Or:

Open up a hole in the line (knock the other guys down) so your running back can carry the ball through without being knocked down himself for a while.

45

JMW 03.11.08 at 3:44 pm

I always wondered why I could love baseball so much (which many argue is boring) and yet be so narcotized by soccer. Then I realized — soccer’s rule against using one’s hands is an anomaly in sports for a reason: it’s anti-evolution. Opposable thumbs were a boon to humanity. To watch a game where great athletes are prohibited from using them is frustrating and (to me) ugly.

46

Slocum 03.11.08 at 8:04 pm

Most complex in terms of strategy: doubtful. Knocking the other guys down or outrunning them may be exciting to watch, but neither one is a complex strategy.

One of the odd things about football is that the greatest quarterbacks may be just not that great as pure athletes — not as big, fast or strong (or strong-armed) as others at their position. What a quarterback needs to be able to do is to be able to perceive and evaluate complex action unfolding down the field in the midst of a swarm of bodies struggling around him which swarm could collapse on top of him momentarily. And he must perform this evaluation without looking directly at the players of interest (to avoid giving his intentions away). In fact, to be effective, he must, in fact, direct his gaze elsewhere to freeze a defender just long enough to create space to complete the pass. And he must effectively balance risk and and reward — determining when to try to squeeze a throw into a crowded area, or to make a safe (but low value) play, or throw the ball out of bounds, or even allow the rushers to tackle him. Many who are spectacular successes at the college level (where the game is only marginally slower and simpler) fail utterly as professionals, and this has nothing to do with their athleticism.

And it’s not only the quarterback. Receivers, for example, must make the same recognitions as their quarterbacks because often the receiver is expected to choose a pass route depending on recognizing a particular defensive alignment, and the quarterback and receiver must make the same ‘read’ because the quarterback is going to throw the ball where he expects the receiver to be — before the receiver is actually cuts that way. It’s an act of trust. Often when you see what looks like a particularly bone-headed interception by a quarterback, the reason for it was that the QB and the receiver read the defense differently. And a reason for them to make such mistakes is that the defenses are, of course, actively trying to disguise their formations and strategies.

And the guy who actually decides what plays to run isn’t on the field at all and usually not even on the sidelines but is up in the press box (where he can have a birds-eye view of the action).

One of the odd things about football right now is that after the quarterback, the next highest paid player on the team is often the left tackle — a player who never scores or even touches the ball, never does anything flashy, and who the TV cameras never focus on. Twenty years ago, the left tackle was still a nobody — until Lawrence Taylor came along. The change he brought to the game made left tackles indispensable in a way they never were in the first 100 or so years of the game.

The level of differentiation by position seems greater than other sports — not only are players specialized for a particular offensive or defensive positions, but often different players are shuffled in for particular game situations (e.g. different defensive linemen when a passing play is expected vs a run). Which opens the possibility of a strategy of running plays so quickly that neither team can substitute.

And so on. I just don’t see this level of complexity and specialization in other team sports.

47

Righteous Bubba 03.11.08 at 8:40 pm

Plus clock, penalties, time-outs, etc. I’m not a fan of football but there doesn’t seem to be anything more complicated to me.

48

Phil 03.11.08 at 9:43 pm

In soccer each player has to make split second decisions all the time. On the ball they have to decide whether to take another touch and create more space, whether to try and beat a another player or choose pass and then execute it. Off the ball you have to consider your position for helping in either attack or defence. And this is in a game with few set plays or long breaks, to pause and consider your decisions.

In rugby the fly half has to decide whether to run, pass or kick. Is having lots of specialist players a good thing? One of the biggest changes in rugby since the early 90s is that it’s fater and players have to react more quickly to the game and be able to cover different positions. But really comparing sports is silly.

49

Righteous Bubba 03.12.08 at 1:37 am

In soccer each player has to make split second decisions all the time.

They might have to walk up the field more quickly.

50

Bernard Yomtov 03.12.08 at 2:23 am

slocum,

What you describe as the talents required of a quarterback are those required of players in other sports as well. They amount to an exceptional sense of the spatial relationships of the other players. John McPhee, writing about Bill Bradley, called it A Sense of Where You Are. The great basketball and hockey players, at least, exhibit this talent in their passes and movements.

As for specialization by position, surely this is just a function of the substitution rules. Football can enjoy high degrees of specialization because it has free substitution. Baseball does not, so there is a tradeoff to be made between defensive skills and batting. Aside from pitchers, and sometimes shortstops and catchers, batting usually trumps, but it remains an issue. And of course there are differences in the skills needed for different positions.

Here the substitution rules impose different tactical considerations. Put in a pinch-runner? Use the left-handed relief specialist now? Leave the righty in? Bring the closer in early?

I think the answer is that any interesting sport, to the dedicated fan, has strategic nuances that enhance its interest, but that may not be apparent to the casual watcher.

51

Righteous Bubba 03.12.08 at 3:12 am

Football can enjoy high degrees of specialization because it has free substitution. Baseball does not

Therefore football is more complicated…

Seriously, what’s the weight of the baseball rulebook vs. football’s?

52

John Quiggin 03.12.08 at 8:10 am

#31 Soccer hasn’t succeeded in any part of the former British empire – even less in India and Pakistan than in, say, Australia. I don’t have a theory for this, but the facts are evident.

53

Chris Bertram 03.12.08 at 8:30 am

John (#53), it looks pretty successful in Nigeria and South Africa, and, probably, quite a few other parts of Africa that were formerly part of the British Empire.

54

engels 03.12.08 at 2:43 pm

FYI the proper name is not ´baseball´ but ´rounders´. And only girls play it.

55

Bernard Yomtov 03.12.08 at 7:13 pm

Football can enjoy high degrees of specialization because it has free substitution. Baseball does not

Therefore football is more complicated…

No. Therefore football is simpler. It requires fewer lineup tradeoffs than baseball, so the coach’s decisons are easier. You can put in whatever specilaist you want when you feel like it.

Baseball’s much more restrictive rules force the manager to make lineup tradeoffs that are absent in football. Imagine if you could just put your best hitter at the plate every time and send in a fast pinch-runner when he gets on base, repeating the process without limit. Surely that would be simpler than the actual rules, not more complex.

56

Righteous Bubba 03.12.08 at 7:21 pm

No. Therefore football is simpler.

Are there penalties in baseball for too many/not enough guys on the field? If so, how often does that happen?

I’ve seen a bunch in the latter and none in the former. Simpler.

57

Righteous Bubba 03.12.08 at 7:22 pm

You can just strike that last “simpler” because it appears to do nothing useful.

58

Henrico Otto 03.12.08 at 10:15 pm

“First: the rules of the game are in equilibrium: that is, from the start, the diamond was made just the right size, the pitcher’s mound just the right distance from home plate, etc., and this makes possible the marvelous plays, such as the double play. The physical layout of the game is perfectly adjusted to the human skills it is meant to display and to call into graceful exercise.”

This is not right. Were the basepaths shorter or longer in length the fielders would play closer or farther away. Lengthening or shortening the field (and changing nothing else) would result in fewer or more hits, of course. But, the number of hits is a result of the overall balance of rules, and it is a matter of debate what the right balance should be. That balance has shifted throughout the history of the game, and changes in the rules, the mound, the ball etc have been used intentionally to adjust it. No reason the field couldn’t have been adjusted along with these other changes, (and in fact it has, if you count the outfield fences and the amount of playable foul terrritory)

59

Bernard Yomtov 03.12.08 at 11:05 pm

Are there penalties in baseball for too many/not enough guys on the field? If so, how often does that happen?

Probably, though I’ve never seen it. It seems wildly unlikely to ever happen, or not be caught instantly.

I have to admit that counting to eleven is more complex than counting to nine, since you have to take off a shoe. :-)

60

Righteous Bubba 03.12.08 at 11:12 pm

Heh. It also might speak to the quality of individual employed to endure the head-butting of football.

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