Baseball and Football by George Carlin



We’ve run this piece here in The Pecan Park Eagle in the distant past, but it always loudly again in our heads, anytime something comes up, or makes reference to essential differences between baseball and football. Yesterday, the stimulus again landed, begging for another scratch, when Larry Dierker wrote these words in his brilliant summary of how the game of baseball has changed over time – and continues to change – and more to fit the culture’s growing sports market culture – the one that seems to emanate full throttle from the NFL’s warlike perception of victory over defeat.

Larry Dierker wrote the following: “Like golf, baseball is (was) pastoral. Like golf, it is not played on a rectangle like an old fashioned war.” He could have added “as is football”, but it wasn’t necessary. Most of us haven’t been standing in the rain for the past half century, looking up at the sky – and simply drowning from all the water we’ve been taking in through our agape mouths of open relentless concern for finally solving the mystery of what has uprooted baseball from its long time identity as “our American national pastime.”

It’s really no mystery. We’ve always already known the answer, sort of.

Or, at least, we thought we did. – We thought the answer was football, but that was only partially true. The deeper answer may have germinated from our growing attraction to television – and the way that the violent battleground of football’s rectangular world played out so well on the small screen. It did well because it was playing to viewers who seemed to have grabbed hold of a growing smash-mouth cultural need for victory of “us” over “them”. Football gave the sponsors what they wanted. Better than any other sport, the televised big football game became the best place to sell everything from beer to cars to Viagra.

By the time the television medium finally grew in its ability to show the game of baseball in a much better light, the role of football as the Judas Goat leader in the marketing field – the same one that now takes aim at all discretionary spending – was already set at the way beyond challenge level in all sports. (If it doesn’t sell anything, don’t expect to see it anywhere.)

So, why does football still grab a larger audience than baseball? The answer should be very easy to see, by now. Baseball is to football on TV – as Shakespeare is to a helicopter telecast of a car chase scene. – Which of these subjects is easier to follow without paying much attention?

No contest.

Many people watch TV to escape the ambiguity, loneliness, and stress of everyday life. Shakespeare can’t help them there. If they can even get past the difficulty of learning what Shakespeare’s old English words even mean, how is that an escape? They will still have to think and follow plot lines over time to get the point of the thing, if that can happen for them at all.

Besides, whether we are pulling for the car chase lead driver to get caught – or get away – like football – it’s much easier for any viewer to watch a TV car chase for twenty minutes than it is for a casual baseball fan to watch TV baseball for five minutes.

Some new baseball fans, for example, will never come to understand the rationale behind the bunt in baseball the first time they see one attempted. Like Shakespeare, the bunt does not fit the way they think about things.

“Why would a batter just mildly poke at the ball when all this other, much farther away space is available to them, if they strike it hard enough,” a one-time baseball game companion once asked of me.

As with Shakespeare, some new observers to baseball will never see a second bunt attempt either.

At any rate, here’s the never-grows-old George Carlin comparison of baseball and football as it currently is shown at the wonderful Baseball Almanac site:

Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - might have extra innings. Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.

“Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end – might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.”
~ George Carlin



Baseball is different from any other sport, very different. For instance, in most sports you score points or goals; in baseball you score runs. In most sports the ball, or object, is put in play by the offensive team; in baseball the defensive team puts the ball in play, and only the defense is allowed to touch the ball. In fact, in baseball if an offensive player touches the ball intentionally, he’s out; sometimes unintentionally, he’s out.

Also: in football,basketball, soccer, volleyball, and all sports played with a ball, you score with the ball and in baseball the ball prevents you from scoring.

In most sports the team is run by a coach; in baseball the team is run by a manager. And only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do. If you’d ever seen John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform,you’d know the reason for this custom.

Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball & football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.

I enjoy comparing baseball and football:

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs – what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups – who’s up?

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog…
In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.
Football has the two minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end – might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:

In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.

In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! – I hope I’ll be safe at home!


 Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas


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