Maybe it’s because we like what’s on the receiving end of the smack to be smaller and paler, but the longer I follow baseball, the more I notice its similarities to golf. I’ve never plied a club on any course that doesn’t involve plywood on the sides of a long narrow green and aiming at the bottom of a windmill–but then I’ve never played nine innings of actual baseball, either, so I guess I’m as much of an expert on one subject as I am the other.
Perhaps the more slender profile of the baseball player lends itself more easily to golf in retirement. Players and even broadcasters seem to migrate directly from the diamond to the front nine. It is fitting that one of Joe Nuxhall’s last public acts was to participate in a charity golf game. Jockeys tend to wander this direction as well, possibly because it allows an outlet for competition while still allowing for the fact that one is, you know, ollllllllllllld. My baseball-playing grandfather, an avid Reds fan who died in his 90s, was golfing into the last year of his life, having made the sole concession of splashing out for a cart every once in a while when he felt tired.
Golf is graspable even for those of us who would sooner drink directly from the Mill Creek than sit still for eighteen whole entire holes of it. And for those who don’t grow up with the sport, baseball can be initially difficult to understand, but when compared with the absolute logistical nightmare that is football and the web of sooper-secrit passing plays that clog up basketball, baseball is relatively simple.
It’s fair to say that golf and baseball are enduringly popular both for watching and participating in this nation because they plunge the participants in the core of the American dream: Being left alone. A culture of denial does not sit well with Americans, who hate being told what to do so much we formed our own country over it.
NFL ratings are in a freefall largely due to its foray into political commentary, an incredibly bad idea which baseball flirts with every now and then and a zone which golf has largely avoided. As matters of blue and red states creep into every aspect of life from which social media platform we use to the kinds of coffee and chicken sandwiches we consume, we just want to take in a game for 2-4 hours on a Saturday. Seeing what we wanted to get away from in the first place smugly sashaying its way onto the field tends to negate a sport’s stress-relieving abilities.
Baseball is, like golf, a game of positives. There are far more “dos” than “don’ts.” Anyone who has attained an elderly age trying to muscle through the final two minutes of any NFL game will attest to this. Stopping the game for bad behavior happens every few seconds in football; in baseball, if the umpire is up in your grill, you have screwed up, and even then your buddies will roar in from the dugout to help convince the umpire that he’s wrong for saying you were wrong. While golf at its highest levels is a regular War and Peace of do’s and don’t’s in matters of etiquette, the game itself consists, at its element, of hitting a ball with a stick.
Which sounds familiar.