Thursday, 11 September 2008

Not Cricket

The vexed question of the origins of baseball has been further agitated by the discovery of a reference to the game in a diary of 1755 by a citizen of Guildford, the agreeable county town of Surrey. Guildford also has one of the oldest written references to cricket being played, in 1598. Both games, in their early forms, seem to have been for both sexes - see the telling reference in Northanger Abbey. But of course, like many another innocent pastime, they had to be taken over by the men, systematised with fabulously complicated rules, and given a multi-level competitive structure. Cricket became - in the Test match form of the game - a wonder of the (uncomprehending) world that far transcends mere sport. Baseball survives on this side of the Atlantic as a playground game for both sexes, rounders. In America it was pumped full of testosterone and self-importance and became the modern baseball game - basically rounders, but with the ball thrown so violently as to be all but unhittable, and with lots of burly men dashing around showing off. I can't help but feel that we Brits got the better of the deal. Baseball, when all's said and done, is not cricket.

43 comments:

  1. Yes Nige, those Americans - bad people, they actually want to win, very un British. Malty junior during one of his sojourns in Greensboro formed a rugby sevens team made up of three Englishmen a Portugese, one Frenchman and two Mexicans. Playing against the indigenous population they were victorious for a while until the dastardly Yanks started introducing ringers (pro American football players). Phrases like tail between legs and strategic withdrawal spring to mind.

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  2. My favorite baseball team -- the Phillies -- is once again trying to break my heart. After winning, winning, winning and leading their division most of the season, they've now decided to lose for awhile right before the playoffs...which they may not make.

    It's awful to watch a great team beat itself, though I guess you all have seen that often enough with English soccer teams. Where is England ranked right now in soccer (er, football), come to think of it?

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  3. England won last night, Susan, against Croatia. It feels so wrong. When it comes to sport, we Brits prefer the bitter herbs of desolation. Cricket, in its quintessential form, offers the eminently English result of a 'draw' (not a tie) - after maybe five whole days of play, nobody's won or lost. Perfect.

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  4. Susan, England are ranked just above Antarctica at the moment but are expected to improve.

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  5. Baseball is as close as we Americans come to a pastoral sport. Green grass, sunshine, a leisurely pace, hot dogs, cold beer and Bronx cheers all woven into a summer day's diversion. It is the only major sport here that is better in-person than televised. Win or lose, a day at the ball park is always time well wasted...

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  6. The issue many people have with soccer - futbol, is that faking injury is part of the game, albiet less so in England, but still a big part - they need to reduce that aspect of the game

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  7. I remember my first experience with cricket. I was studying in Cambridge and some folk from my college were looking for a few more players, and they reluctantly took me, an American. I smacked that ball out of the park... threw the cricket bat and started running to first base... Everyone started laughing and I was the only one who didn't get the joke.

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  8. I've never understood the (largely British) need to denigrate baseball, among other things American. For every American who disparages cricket (and I have yet to meet one), there must be scores - if not thousands - of Brits disdaining that "little girls play rounders."

    Try this notion on for size: you can enjoy cricket, your little girls can enjoy rounders, and Americans can enjoy baseball, all without any kind of egoistic pseudo-intellectual musing on which is "better."

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  9. Dear, dear there, Anonymous. I sense some insecurity on the part of my, presumably, fellow American.

    Disparaging British comments about baseball are all in good fun. It's a game, remember. No game makes much sense once you start looking at it.

    I say this after spending a few years in the London suburbs enjoying the company of several Oxbridge types who never gave up trying to explain the intricate wonders of cricket to me. They failed, of course.

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  10. It is all well and good to make fun of baseball, until you realize that it is quite difficult to hit a round ball that is coming at you at anywhere from 70+ to 90+ miles an hour with a round bat. The difficulty of this task is highlighted by the fact that those who successfully hit the ball over 30% of the time are considered superstars. The Great Michael Jordan, a phenomenal athlete in the basketball court, tried his hand at baseball, discovered that it is not that easy and gave up.

    For the Brit's sake, I hope some of the better baseball players don't decide to try cricket. They'll replace your stars with ease. On the downside, they'll be batting for ever and the cricket matches that now lasts for days will take months to complete.

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  11. nige,

    i read a bit on andrew sullivan and popped over.

    I think your assessment is poor. The steroid era certainly showed "burly men dashing around". But that is now bygone. Most baseball players are slim, wickedly skilled men, many of latin american decent. There is a more complex america afoot in baseball then the brutish mass you are discussing.

    also, in softball, we have preserved our pastoral game, for both sexes, with little of the competitiveness. Softball, and to an extent baseball also, is the measure of a summer day (to paraphrase Michael Chabon in "Summerland") in America.

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  12. Cricket is baseball on valium. -- Robin Williams

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  13. Cricket and baseball are the same: boring as hell. I've endured root canals that were more entertaining.

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  14. Why should the difficulty of a game stop anyone from making fun of it?

    You ever watch a European football match that went on forever and ended nil-nil? Many Americans would be comatose by game's end. That's how non-baseball fans feel when treated to a nine-inning ptichers duel.

    I'm a lifelong baseball fan, but I'd be the first to admit that my attention often strays during the frequent long moments when nothing seems to be happening because, well, nothing is happening.

    Like I said, it's just a game, for our amusment and entertainment.

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  15. People who trash baseball have rarely given it a chance. It is a game beyond brilliant, appreciated by so many great literary minds.

    Baseball is the one on one duel absorbed into a team sport. It is the game whose pace can be leisurely but whose tension is unparalleled.

    I love baseball more than any other trivial thing in this world, and I thank God for it every day.

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  16. Nige,

    Your kneejerk scorn for baseball reminds me (a native New Yorker who lived in London for years)of those American philistines who dismiss football (i.e., soccer) as a sissy game played by Eurotrash in short-shorts. Isn't it possible that both cricket and baseball are beautiful games?

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  17. "One's appreciation of baseball is in direct proportion to one's understanding of baseball." -- George Will

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  18. What you utterly fail to understand is how fundamentally similar baseball is to cricket. There's the same trash talking on the field ("barracking" or "sledging" in cricket parlance), there's the same basic structure of a thin veneer of gentlemanly behavior (very thin in the case of MLB) over a dirty reality, and there's the same extremely agreeable atmosphere for the fans who get to sit back for an afternoon (all day in the case of cricket), feet up, quaffing beer all the way.

    Besides which, hitting the batsman seems to be a tactic half the time for the cricket bowler (whose long run up and full overarm delivery gives the fast bowler speed a pitcher can only dream about), whereas if a baseball pitcher does the same to a batter it's usually either grounds for a fight or ejection. So which is the dirtier sport?

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  19. You forgot to mention the spitting. What is it wilh the baseball players and oral wetness? Should we have the salivary glands of young boys removed?

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  20. I've always found this the best way to explain the core difference between the two games to people: In cricket, the bowler-pitcher is on offense. In baseball, the pitcher-bowler is on defense. (

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  21. robin williams - intelligence lobotomised.
    baseball - cricket made for those who have been lobotomised.

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  22. I really don't understand the ridiculous British need to trash baseball. It's very Ugly American of you all. Baseball is not a brutish, mean, ugly, or stupid sport. Cricket is not intellectually superior or athletically superior. THEY ARE DIFFERENT GAMES and belong to different cultures.

    As to the person who mentioned pitcher/bowler speed, they are fairly similar. The fastest "bowl" ever recorded is around 100 mph. A handful of MLB pitchers can throw that hard or harder (mostly relievers). Not too say it's routine, or anything.

    Pitching and bowling are completely different, anyhow. Pitchers rely more on an "arsenal": a variety of pitches with different "action" and velocities. This alone is a very enjoyable part of the game/strategy: the pitcher and hitter trying to outguess each other as to pitch type and location based on the count, game situation, and particular hitter/pitcher, etc.

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  23. I'm sympathetic to both sports though I've only ever played cricket. They're opposite ends of the spectrum. Baseball is about doing the basics (throwing, hitting, catching, running) flawlessly well, whereas cricket is about dealing with uncertainty (weather, soil, field placings, run rates, swing, spin) with an effective strategy. While baseball does not have the aesthetic appeal and epic quality of cricket, there's plenty of drama as when someone is up to bat with two out and the bases loaded.

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  24. pseudonymous in nc13 September 2008 at 21:48

    I'm a British expat, and listened to baseball back home long before I watched it, courtesy of medium-wave Armed Forces Radio coverage during the small hours.

    Baseball, like cricket, fits snugly with radio. (Or, even better: being there and listening to the radio.) If you've only ever watched it on the television, try listening to a live commentary on MLB.com. It's not quite the same as TMS, with its cake and pigeons, but at its best, the game is background and the talk in the foreground.

    I'll say the same to Americans -- if you enjoy baseball on the radio, listen to TMS. You might not have a clue what's happening on the field of play, but you'll probably recognise what the game is about.

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  25. What I love about baseball is that I've been watching it for as long as I can remember (I'm 35 now), and I'm still learning. It's incredibly nuanced, but at the same time, it's very easy to teach someone to enjoy it within the space of one game.

    It's pretty simple. The pitcher is trying to get the batter to either miss the ball, or hit it to one of the pitcher's teammates. The hitter is trying to hit it to the outfield and have it hit the ground before someone catches it. You can go from there. I've played a very small amount of cricket (in Australia, with just about six people or so, and with a tennis ball), and I've watched a bit, and I still don't have a clue what's going on.

    But baseball becomes more interesting with the more you learn. Basic on field strategy leads to learning about lineup construction and bullpen use. An at bat isn't just a pitcher throwing his best pitches every time, it's about setting hitters up. Beyond strategy, there are baseball's unwritten rules. Sure, you can steal a base with a ten run lead, but you're going to get drilled the next time up.

    That's not even mentioning the improvements in baseball's statistical analysis. Baseball is really the only American team sport that can still be isolated at the one on one level. We can evaluate pitchers and hitters at their true ability level precisely because neither relies on their teammates in an at bat.

    I love soccer, and a lot of Americans don't, and Americans who go out of their way to slag soccer drive me crazy. I'm not sure why people need to go out of their way to slag a sport they don't like. Just don't watch it.

    I find the above criticism hilarious. Baseball is probably the least testosterone fueled of any major American team sport. One on one battles are won via strategy, not brute force, like in hockey, football, and occasional basketball. As for pitches being all but unhittable, there sure are a lot of pitchers who would disagree. You'd be hard pressed to find a criticism of baseball that is more absolutely, 100% wrong than those last couple sentences.

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  26. I like cricket, but have never taken the time to understand baseball. Still, it's hardly rounders, so I think you're probably being a little unfair.

    How about another post titled "Not Rugby" on American Football? Now that is one comparison which leaves the Yanks looking pretty bad.

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