It’s not quite the most wonderful day of the year, but the day after the Super Bowl is one of my favorites. The moment when football finally cedes the sporting spotlight and makes room for the true National Pastime to return from hibernation.
Back in 1987 Thomas Boswell of the Washington Post famously rattled off 99 reasons why baseball was better than football. Some don’t hold up at all, but usually because baseball regressed to football (steroids), not because the latter got any better. Some are a bit out of date, but easy enough to translate to the 21st century. Here’s nos. 1-4, resolving to Boswell’s original no. 5:
1. Madonna 2. Halftime with Madonna 3. Dancers at halftime with Madonna 4. M.I.A. flipping off a national TV audience at halftime with Madonna (sponsored by Bridgestone) 5. Baseball has fans in Wrigley Field singing "Take Me Out to the Ball Game" at the seventh-inning stretch.
And many are just as true now as a generation ago:
12. Vince Lombardi was never ashamed that he said, “Winning isn’t everything. It’s the only thing.”
21. Having 162 games a year is 10.125 times as good as having 16.
24. Marianne Moore loved Christy Mathewson. No woman of quality has ever preferred football to baseball.
33. Faces are better than helmets. Think of all the players in the NFL (excluding Redskins) whom you’d recognize on the street. Now eliminate the quarterbacks. Not many left, are there? Now think of all the baseball players whose faces you know, just from the last Series.
37. Baseball statistics open a world to us. Football statistics are virtually useless or, worse, misleading. For instance, the NFL quarterback-ranking system is a joke. Nobody understands it or can justify it. The old average-gain-per- attempt rankings were just as good.
49. Baseball has no penalties at all. A home run is a home run. You cheer. In football, on a score, you look for flags. If there’s one, who’s it on? When can we cheer? Football acts can all be repealed. Baseball acts stand forever.
63. The baseball Hall of Fame is in Cooperstown, N.Y., beside James Fenimore Cooper’s Lake Glimmerglass; the football Hall of Fame is in Canton, Ohio, beside the freeway.
64. Baseball means Spring’s Here. Football means Winter’s Coming.
68. Baseball enriches language and imagination at almost every point of contact. As John Lardner put it, “Babe Herman did not triple into a triple play, but he did double into a double play, which is the next best thing.”
69. Who’s on First?
82. Football coaches walk across the field after the game and pretend to congratulate the opposing coach. Baseball managers head right for the beer.
86. Baseball measures a gift for dailiness.
89. Football is played best full of adrenaline and anger. Moderation seldom finds a place. Almost every act of baseball is a blending of effort and control; too much of either is fatal.
90. Football’s real problem is not that it glorifies violence, though it does, but that it offers no successful alternative to violence. In baseball, there is a choice of methods: the change-up or the knuckleball, the bunt or the hit-and-run.
99. Most of all, baseball is better than football because spring training is less than a month away.
Not even a month: twelve days until pitchers and catchers start reporting!