I realise of course this is absolutely the wrong time to write this blog – it should be done next year as the baseball season begins, but I said I’d write it now, so here it is (I’ll probably just repost it in April!)
Comparing baseball with cricket is a somewhat fraught exercise, but given cricket’s seeming desire to make itself more and more like baseball, it can be quite easily done, especially if the focus is on comparing baseball to one day and Twenty20 cricket. Test matches are a supreme life form that I will not hear criticism of (well unless it is criticism that agrees with my own!), but that said there are still an easy nine reasons why baseball is better than all forms of cricket:
1. It’s over in 3-4 hours:
The time factor is the big thing that kills one day cricket – it goes for one whole day! My family were all members of Adelaide Oval, and when I was a kid and we went to the one day games to see Australia play Sri Lanka or some lightweight team, I always hoped that Sri Lanka would bat first. They would be lucky to get much over a hundred, meaning that Australia would be a good chance to knock them off quickly and we could go home early. I hated it when Australia batted first, made 300 and then Sri Lanka (or whoever) would eke out 150-200 over the fifty overs. We never went home early, and I just hated the whole thing (mostly because back then Adelaide Oval didn’t have lights and the match would be played during the day in 40C heat).
Test matches of course take 5 days, but on this category I’ll let that pass (and besides a test match day only goes for 6 hours, not the 8-9 of a one day game).
In baseball you’re looking at around 3-4 hours for each game. It means they can start playing at around 8pm. Yeah they’ll have a late finish, but you’re able to go to work and then come home and watch the game. This is the one reason why Twenty20 cricket has been popular. People do not want to spend all day watching a sport. The most popular sports to watch are all the forms of football – be they NRL, AFL, NFL or soccer. All of them are done and dusted in under 3 hours or so (NFL can drag out a bit). In, out, done, rest of the day or night to do other things.
So the brevity of baseball has it all over cricket, except…
2. It may never end:
A cricket match is 20 overs long, 50 overs long or a 5 day test. And once that set amount of overs or time has been reached, that’s it. Game over. In baseball (at least in the major league version) there are no ties, and so if the game is all square after nine innings, then the teams keep going until one team has a lead after a complete innings. Theoretically a baseball game can just keep going, much like the 5th set of a Grand Slam tennis match (except, ironically, in the US Open). It means a game can turn into a war of attrition where heroes can emerge in the 14th innings at 2am.
But the best aspect of the fact that the game may never end is…
3. It’s never over till it’s over
Twenty20 and one day games are all devised to try and produce a close result. I have seen quite a few Twenty20 games live, and I think only one has been close. A close one day game? More the exception than the rule. And why is this so? Because once your 10 men are out, that’s it, and once your 50 or 20 overs are bowled, then that’s it. So if you are 40 runs down with 2 overs to go. Well let’s be honest it ain’t going to happen and if it does it is remarkable. If you have 10 overs to go and you’re down to your last 2 batsmen, likewise, forget about it, the game is over.
In baseball however look at this example from the world series Game 4. It is the top of the 9th innings. The Yankees are down 3-4. There are two outs. Johnny Damon is batting, the count is 1-2 (one ball, two strikes) meaning Philadelphia are one strike out away from winning. Damon proceeds to get two more balls and also fouls off five pitches. On his ninth pitch he hits a single. Mark Teixeira is up next. Damon steals 2nd base, and then seeing no one is on 3rd, he steals that as well. Teixeira gets hit by a pitch and moves to 1st base. Up next in Alex Rodriguez. He hits double, Damon scores, Teixera moves to 3rd. The scores are now tied. Next up for the Yankees is their catcher, Jorge Posada. He fouls the first two pitches, and is thus on 2 strikes. Again Philadelphia is one strikeout away from ending the innings. On his fifth pitch, Posada hits a single and both Teixeira and Rodriguez score. The score is now Yankees up 6-4.
And the thing is, while that is a great comeback, it is not all that uncommon. In fact it is expected of the best players that they can come through “in the clutch”. The best players are those who get hits when it is close and tight in the last couple innings. If the team is down by 2 runs, and there are 2 runners on the base, it’s the 9th innings and there are two outs, well no one in the crowd is leaving – and if you are considered the best hitter on the team, the opposition might even intentionally walk you just so you don’t hit a home run.
Such comebacks are so common that specialized pitchers called “closers” have the job of closing out the game in the last two (or one) innings. The reason they have this job is because the game is never over till it’s over. You’re down 9 runs with one innings to go? Are you going to win? Probably not. Can you win? Absolutely. You can be one pitch away from being out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t still win.
In many ways, baseball scoring is again more like tennis than say cricket. You can be down 2 sets to love, and down 40-15, 5-0 in the third. Will you win? Unlikely. Can you win? Absolutely. In cricket, you’re nine wickets down, one over to go, and 30 runs shorts? Can you win?. No. In fact, most likely half the crowd has already gone home.
4. Every pitch matters but some matter more than others
Cricket is a leisurely game to watch. The bowler takes a long run up, runs in and delivers the ball. The batsman lets it go through to the keeper, and everyone goes back to talking to their mate, or reading the paper. In a cricket match, you only need to look at the play for that second or so that the bowler delivers the ball and the batsmen either hits it or lets it go. Once it has been fielded, unless it is a run out chance, you can look away for 30 seconds. If the captain decides to change the field then make it a minute.
You can’t look away during a baseball game. The pitcher doesn't need to run in, and if there is a runner on one of the bases you have to watch even before the pitch is made to see if he is going to try and steal a base. Every pitch could be a home run. And yes every ball in cricket could be a wicket, but it is the intensity of watching baseball that makes it so different. The time between pitches is less than in cricket, the pace of the game is so much quicker.
There are also less opportunities in a baseball game where you can go off and get something to eat. In a one day game, or test match, there are ample times when your can go out for a while, knowing it is pretty likely when you get back not much will have changed. In baseball in the matter of a few pitches the whole game can change. A pitcher can be cruising along, with 2 outs in an innings, he walks a batter, the next gets a single, the next hits a home run, those last two things could have happened from just two pitches. And boom, what was once a no hitter is suddenly a 3 run game, with one out still to get, and the next batter up could be in great form and before you know it you’re thinking this could be a blow out. And yet just four pitches before you were thinking the pitcher was cruising.
Now maybe that happens a bit in Twenty20 cricket, where one over can change a match, but it rarely happens in test cricket – and it may happen in one over out of 90 in a day’s play. In baseball every innings can be like that. Getting that last out is crucial, and it can all go so bad for a team so very quickly.
5. It comes down to moments
In some ways this is a colliery to reason 4 and reason 3. In Game 6 of the World Series, the Phillies were down 7-3 in the 7th innings. They had two outs, but there were two runners on base. Up to the plate came Chase Utley, the 2nd baseman for Philadelphia, who in the first 5 games of the World Series had hit 5 home runs – 2 in Game 1 and and 2 again in Game 5. This guy was in seriously good form, and could hit the ball a mile. If he hit another Home Run, Philadelphia would be down only 1 run with 2 innings still to go, if he got out, it is unlike he would have got another chance to hit in the game. This was a key moment. Yankees relief pitcher Damaso Marte struck him out with three pitches. From that point on the Yankees looked unlikely to lose.
And every game in baseball has these types of moments. It might come in the first innings when the bases are loaded, or the last innings when one runner is on. You never know when, but they’re always there, and they crop up regularly. In cricket it just doesn’t happen that way. A batsmen may come in at a crucial time for the team – they might be down 3 wickets for bugger all runs. But what that batsman (and his partner) needs to do is make a century which means he needs to stay in for 2-3 hours. That ‘moment’ is actually half a day long. The only time a cricket match ever gets down to a moment is if 6 or less runs are needed off the last ball. And that doesn’t happen often.
Baseball isn’t just about close endings, it’s about tense moment all the way throughout the game.
6. Everyone gets a second chance
Imagine going to a cricket match, and you are all excited because you know a great batsman – say a Tendulker or a Lara is going to be batting that day. He comes to the wicket, and the ball moves off the seam, he edges it and he is caught behind for a duck. Everyone in the crowd roars in a cheer but then they groan knowing they won’t get to see him bat. In baseball every player can count on getting on average four chances to hit. If you are a top player, the likelihood is at least 3 of those opportunities with be “a moment” in the game, a time where the crowd will be inching forward in anticipation of seeing something happen.
Not only do players get a second change, so too do the spectators. Every batter gets another chance, and everyone knows that you can’t expect the batter to get a hit every time. For here is the most stunning thing for cricket fans about baseball –if you get a hit 3 times out of 10 in a season, you’re doing very well. If you average a hit 4 times out of 10, you’re a legend.
7. The statistics
This season, Yankees captain Derek Jeter hit .334 (ie he had a hit 33.4% of the time), but if you include walks and hit by pitches, he got on base 40.6% of the time (what’s called an on base percentage – OBP – of .406). In innings from the 7th innings on he batted .341, in day games he batted .347, in night games it was .328. He averaged a walk 10.1% of the time he went to bat; his ratio of ground balls to fly balls was 1.21:1; he averaged 3.82 pitches per plate appearance. And I could go on and on and on. Baseball loves statistics. You can find out each player’s batting average against each pitcher, what their average is when the count is 1 ball-1 strike, what percentage of balls they hit to left field as opposed to right field etc etc etc. Some are pointless – do we really need to know what a player averages when the count is 2 balls and 1 strike? – others are interesting and make for great reference.
And it’s not just the averages and other statistical aspects, it’s the records that matter – Hank Aaron’s 755 home runs, Pete Rose’s 4,256 career hits, Ricky Henderson’s career 1,406 stolen bases. These matter; they are remembered.
Yes cricket has lots of stats as well, but nowhere near as many, and nowhere near the amount that can be compared to other eras. Batting and bowling averages matter – though given the size of grounds, and make of bats now, an average of 50 is perhaps a little bit devalued (but not much) – but overall records? Players play so many more test matches now than in the past that the record number of runs and wickets are meaningless. No one even bothers comparing Ponting’s total runs with Bradman’s because Bradman played so many fewer tests. But in baseball up until the middle of the last century there were 160 games a season, and now there are only 162, so career hits, runs, home runs can be compared. If you played for 15 seasons in the 1980-90s you would have played roughly the same number of games had you been around in the 1920-30s. It’s why hitting 500 home runs, 3,000 hits, or winning 300 games all mean something.
Just think about cricket; how many test runs do you need to make to be considered an all time great? 6,000? 7,000? 10,000? If someone made 4,000 runs in the 1930-40s how does that compare with someone today? You can’t say – you would need to look at their average. And it’s why statistics in cricket really don’t have the resonance that they do in baseball.
Baseball also has more records than in cricket – there is no comparison in cricket with Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak, or Nolan Ryan’s 6 no hitter games pitched. Sure cricket can come up with some stats – the site Howstat! is quite interesting, but it’ll only ever be a poor man’s Baseball Reference.
8. The history
Cricket is older than baseball, but when it comes to history, baseball has it all over cricket. In 1919 the Chicago White Sox threw the World Series, in 1923 the Yankees won their first World Series, in 1941 Joe DiMaggio produced his hitting streak and Ted Williams hit over .400 (the last person to do so), in 1947 Jackie Robinson became the first black man to play in the major leagues, in 1961 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle engaged in a chase to break Babe Ruth’s record of 60 home runs in a season – Maris did it, hitting 61. Now I could rattle those facts off without a second thought, but I have to say I have no idea what happened in cricket in 1919, 1923, 1947 or 1961.
Heck I don’t have to even go that far back. In 1984 my football team Norwood, won the Grand Final against Port Adelaide, having come from 5th to win. I can’t remember who Australia even played in the 1984-85 summer. I think it was New Zealand – but did they play 3 tests or 5? I know Chappell, Lillee and Marsh debuted in 1970 and retired in 1983. I know World Series Cricket was between 1977-79. I know Australia won back the Ashes in 1989 – because that was the year I was in Japan, so I generally recall events of that year quite easily. But who did Australia play in 1989-90? I have no idea. I can’t even remember as I type this who they played last summer. Oh wait… it was South Africa... before that it was the Ashes, and before that… errr. But I could name the Grand Finalist each year from about 1980 without too much trouble.
And likewise with baseball. I know who the Yankees played in the 1996 World Series, and even who was MVP. Does anyone ever remember who is man of a series in a set of test matches? Who was man of the series in the last Ashes series? I have no idea and I watched every match.
But it’s not just the scores and the names, it is the way baseball is so indelibly linked with American history. In part this is because of better story telling by Americans – I hate that I know more about Shoeless Joe Jackson than I do Victor Trumper. But think about it – can you imagine the movie Bull Durham being about cricket? or Field of Dreams being Oval of Dreams? I guess they could – after all a very interesting film called Wondrous Oblivion does convey some of the sense of joy and wonder about cricket, but somehow I doubt it would resonate as well.
For me cricket just struggles to match baseball for history – for magical moments you remember, for dates in time that you will never forget – a case in point: I was at Adelaide Oval when the West Indies beat Australia by a run, but I can’t tell you when that was – I’ll guess either 1991 or 92 because I know I was at uni at the time. In baseball the season is vital to the memory because of one absolutely vital reason…
9. It’s a club not a country
The most supported sports in the world are all forms of football. What is common about all (except Rugby Union) is that for day in day out supporters, the ultimate aim is his or her club winning the championship/Grand Final/Super Bowl. Baseball is the bat and ball game that replicates this fervour. I have never been in America, but I love the Yankees. If baseball was like cricket and America played other nations, there is no way I could get as excited – in fact I didn’t care when America played in the World Baseball Classic this year, even though a number of Yankees were playing.
The ESPN’s “Sport’s Guy” Bill Simmons is a mad Boston Red Sox and, in the NFL, New England Patriots fan. After Game 4 someone asked him if he would be happy for the Patriots not to win the Super Bowl this season, if it meant the Yankees would choke and lose the Super Bowl. He thought for a couple seconds, and then said, “yes”. The key thing about sports which involve different clubs is that not only do you want your team to win, but if your team can’t, then you want your enemy to fail. I used to say I’d be happy for the Crows to come second last, provided Port came last. I was only half joking. Now I’d say I’d be happy for the Crows to come third last provided Port and Collingwood finished below. When Geelong flogged Port in the 2007 Grand Final, I thought it was hilarious and a great game to watch.
But with cricket? Yeah when I was young I wanted Australia to win, but by the early-mid 1990s, when the arrogance of the team became overwhelming, I have to say I didn’t mind seeing them lose. That is something I could never say about the Crows. It wouldn’t matter who played for them, I would defend them to the death, and each loss would be a small death.
In the early mid-1990s when one summer they let the Australia A side play in the one day series, a number of commentators couldn’t understand why Australian crowds would cheer for the team to beat the “Australia” side. The reason was simple – for many (especially South Australians) the Australia A side contained some favoured sons who we wanted to cheer; and in effect Australia A became our team. Yes it’s great to cheer for Australia, but there is nothing better than having a team who you feel is your own – and one you have to defend against work mates. It’s why the Indian Twenty20 is doing the right thing by making it a team competition, and why I think in Australia they should try a Twenty20 comp with more than the state sides. Have 2 teams in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth. One from Hobart and maybe 3-4 from Sydney and Perth. Heck even align them with footy teams – Can you imagine the Collingwood Magpies playing the Adelaide Crows in Twenty20? I don’t even care who is playing, I already want the Crows to win, and I sure as hell want them to win more than when South Australia is playing Victoria.
Baseball has teams you can follow all your life. They play 162 times a year. You can work with a baseball fan and never agree on anything. If you are a cricket fan, and you work with a cricket fan, are you ever going to have an argument about whether Australia is better than England? Not unless your workmate is English.
Playing for and supporting your country is a great thing. But it should be like playing for your country in soccer. Baseball, unlike cricket, has worked out that true passion lies in having teams to live and die for. Case in point, Johnny Damon beat the Yankees while playing for Boston in the 2004 American League. I hated him. He now plays for the Yankees and he starred in Game 4 of the World Series – so obviously he is now a great player and I won’t hear a bad thing said against him! If say Virender Sehwag suddenly got an Australian citizenship I’d be wondering what the hell he was doing trying to get a game playing for Australia, and would cheer for him somewhat reservedly – it would feel odd, because, well country is country. But if he were playing for the Adelaide Crows against Collingwood in the Australian Twenty20 Championships, then I would be crossing fingers, and toes during his innings, hoping like hell he scored a ton of runs, and cheering madly.
Country is great, but for week in week out support, you need a club, and on that baseball beats the stuffing out of cricket.