This morning on NPR sports commentator Frank DeFord used the recent passing of historian Jacques Barzun to inform his listeners that football has replaced baseball as America's national sport. By proclaiming in 1954 that one had to understand baseball was to understand America, Barzun provided DeFord with a foil. DeFord went on to play a clip from comedian one of George Carlin's hilarious rants on sports ("In football you wear a helmet. In baseball you wear a cap.") DeFord further added that baseball still might be our national pastime, but he emphasized the first part of that word.
It might be true that football has eclipsed baseball, but I protest this. While I enjoy football, I love baseball. I could live without the former, but never the latter. Sure it can be slow as pitchers dawdle between pitches and batters go through a checklist of adjustments to their batting gloves, helmet, shoes, etc. When it is most exciting baseball is a battle between two individuals in a way that football can never be. Baseball is a team sport that relies almost exclusively on individual performance. It comes down to one batter versus one pitcher. Moreover, baseball's greatest moments have been those when the unlikely hero emerges. With a pardon to my friends from Boston, I call Bucky Dent's famous 1978 homerun over the green monster as exhibit A. To me this represents the best character of American democracy. We all work for the common welfare, but we can all stand out as individuals. The unlikely can happen and the most unlikely person can be a hero.