George Carlin, the great American comedian who died Sunday at 71, grew up a rabid New York Giants Brooklyn Dodgers fan* in Upper Manhattan. On October 3, 1951, according to Joshua Prager in The Echoing Green, Carlin, then 14, squeezed his black kitten Ezzard either for luck or out of tension while he listened to Bobby Thomson batting with the pennant on the line. When Thomson connected for The Shot Heard ‘Round The World, “Ezzard took off, thrown unwittingly toward an open window. The kitten clawed a curtain, clung on even as he swung out three stories above a concrete courtyard, and lived.” A wondrous day for Giants fans; an outstanding day for Ezzard. Courtesy of Baseball Almanac, here’s that very same New York kid on what makes baseball baseball.
Baseball is different from any other sport, very different. For instance, in most sports you score points or goals; in baseball you score runs. In most sports the ball, or object, is put in play by the offensive team; in baseball the defensive team puts the ball in play, and only the defense is allowed to touch the ball. In fact, in baseball if an offensive player touches the ball intentionally, he’s out; sometimes unintentionally, he’s out.
Also: in football, basketball, soccer, volleyball, and all sports played with a ball, you score with the ball and in baseball the ball prevents you from scoring.
In most sports the team is run by a coach; in baseball the team is run by a manager. And only in baseball does the manager or coach wear the same clothing the players do. If you’d ever seen John Madden in his Oakland Raiders uniform, you’d know the reason for this custom.
Now, I’ve mentioned football. Baseball and football are the two most popular spectator sports in this country. And as such, it seems they ought to be able to tell us something about ourselves and our values.
I enjoy comparing baseball and football:
Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.
Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.
In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.
Football is concerned with downs — what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups — who’s up?
In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball you make an error.
In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve somebody.
Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.
Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog…
In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.
Baseball has the seventh-inning stretch.
Football has the two-minute warning.
Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end — might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.
In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there’s kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there’s not too much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you’re capable of taking the life of a fellow human being.
And finally, the objectives of the two games are completely different:
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! — I hope I’ll be safe at home!
*It turns out George was a Dodgers fan then and Ezzard was tossed in disgust not delight, albeit with no harm intended to the cat. My apologies to Mr. Carlin for placing him in the wrong camp on that most momentous day. I guess I just wanted him to be retroactively happy.