"Once you get into baseball, other team sports just look like variations on a theme: dogs fighting over a rag doll."
Steve Albini is a punk rock legend. He founded the early 80s punk band Big Black and has been playing with Chicago-based Shellac for the past 20 years. To the mainstream his claim to fame is as a record producer and engineer, where he recorded seminal alt-rock albums like Pixies - Surfer Rosa, Breeders - Pod, PJ Harvey - Rid Of Me, and Nirvana - In Utero. He has strong opinions about everything and is typically known as a curmudgeon, but I find him to be simply candid and forthright. He’s very bright, thoughtful, and also happens to be a monster baseball fan. He made a guest appearance on Episode 37 of Up and In: The Baseball Prospectus Podcast and draws a line in the sand between baseball and every other sport known to man (including Hurling):
What’s so unique about baseball is its not about pure athleticism, which is the dominion of jocks and assholes… being a big powerful guy won’t get you that far in baseball… it helps but that’s not the end of it. A smart baseball player doesn’t have to be that great an athlete. The management of baseball is structured in a way that makes it competitive like chess and poker, outsmarting people more than just physically overcoming them. The smarter team, the smarter management, the smarter decisions tend to win long term. There’s a long season, a long time for decisions to manifest, lots of iterations for every experiment that you want to try.
He then goes to categorize all other sports apart from baseball:
1. Mob Sports - There are 2 packs of people fighting over a ball or a puck, one team trying to push it into a goal and the other team trying to prevent it from going into a goal. When the bell rings, the game is over and whoever has the most points wins. Soccer, Hockey, Football, Hurling… whatever. They’re the same retarded stupid game
2. Palm Sports - You’re trying to defeat the return of a ball over a net or an obstacle – they’re all basically the same game. Tennis, Badminton, Racquetball, Volleyball.
3. Strength and Endurance Contests - They’re not sports, they’re not even games, they’re straight contests. Track and Field, Swimming, Archery, etc.
I love the distinction that mob sports are fundamentally trivial games. This isn’t meant to undermine or belittle them, but the fact remains, those games are in fact trivial by nature. But baseball is different. It’s smarter, more strategic*, more evolved. I personally find it boring as shit, but I think we can all agree it’s more evolved.
*note - football’s actually pretty strategic