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Jul '11 18

Old World Pastime – Baseball, also an endurance sport

John Miller, a Belgian-American journalist, and a player/coach for the Brussels Kangaroos, is in his fourth year of writing Old World Pastime, a take on baseball as lived in 21th century Europe.

For the second July in a row, I am on the road, covering the world’s greatest bicycle race. The Tour de France has little in common with Major League Baseball. But the two professional athletic events share one big thing: They are both unique tests of endurance as well as skill.

A truth not often enough acknowledged about pro baseball is that it is truly alone in organizing almost daily games for straight six months.

This is great if you’re a fan, of course. Every day, a new chapter in an annual narrative. Baltimore, why do you test me so?

If you’re a player, welcome to a cruel, unusual and punishing world. A friend of mine once ran into a great Braves outfielder in a bar. It was November. “Do you miss baseball?” my friend asked. The outfielder lowered his glass of beer. “Dude, f— baseball,” he said.

We may love the game, but a couple hundred in a row will do that to a man. (Earth to Belgium, your baseball would be better and more fun if your season were three or four months long instead of six. Leave that to the guys who make millions of dollars a year. I’m sorry, one cannot make this point often enough.)

The long season, I think, is why we who watch from the outside often find ourselves putting the sharp whip of judgments to pro players who use performance-enhancing drugs.

Nine of the 10 times I have asked a pro player or coach about steroids or speed, I get one of those raised eyebrows the married like to give the single. Young man, you simply do not understand.

Of course, I would argue, the pros have only themselves to blame for this scenario. Major League Baseball runs 162-game seasons because the physics of the sport permit such a thing, and because that’s what makes a maximum amount of money. Yes, the owners want that money, but so do the players.

There is talk now of doubling the number of Major League teams to receive wild cards, and holding one-game playoffs to determine the extra playoff team. That would mean an annual guaranteed two one-game playoffs.

As a fan of a team (see above) unlikely to finish first or second ever again, I support this idea. Give me crazy make-or-break baseball, with starters entering in relief, unknown players getting big hits, and generally painful tension.

Doubtless, it would change the game some. General managers might build teams differently. A team aiming for a wild card might overspend for a starting pitcher at the trade deadline.

But it would be worth it. Sometimes, one game is enough.

Your thoughts on the extra wild card? Pray, do tell, at oldworldpastime@gmail.com

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