Soccer is more interesting than Baseball

April 17, 2007

There are only two things that will get me to watch baseball on TV:

  1. The Astros are playing
  2. The World Series.

The rest of it is such an incredible bore of watching 7 people stand around holding their jocks while 2 guys play catch.

Now Soccer (er, Association Football) isn’t the thrill a minute sport of Basketball or Hockey, but at least everyone is doing something, running around and being athletic (barring the goalie). In baseball? Um…well…Home runs are exciting especially now that half the players are steroid-fed monsters. Watching a pitcher dominate an opposing lineup can be fun, except that doesn’t happen nearly as often as it should (unless Roger Clemens is on the mound).

Baseball: Great game for going to the stadium and talking and drinking beer and only occasionally paying attention.

Soccer: Great game for going to the stadium and talking and drinking beer and paying some attention because there is always someone running around kicking a ball.

Therefore: Soccer > Baseball, but both less than American Football. And Basketball. And Hockey.

FlavaDave Says: This is one of those inevitable topics that we just had to discuss. I am aware of the fact that you are making a very specific arguement: Soccer is more interesting than baseball. I’ll stick to that.

One thing really bothers me about soccer: that the first half virtually does not matter most of the time. If both teams fail to score (or if they battle to a tie) and no major injuries occur, then nothing of any significance has happened. Yeah, players get tired, but both teams will be equally as tired, so it is a wash. Also, both teams have a better understanding of the other’s style of play, but that’s nothing a thorough scouting report couldn’t provide. All they really accomplished was to get a better idea of how the other team plans on attacking and defending them. That’s important, but not exactly earth shattering.

The first six innings of a baseball game are far different than the last three. Why? Because pitchers get tired. When you change pitchers, you might as well be bringing an entirely different squad onto the field. Every strike a batter fouls off and every ball he takes speeds up the exit of the current pitcher. Every curveball sets up a fastball. Every fastball sets up a changeup. Every hit causes a pitcher to throw out of the stretch and every stolen base takes away the double play. Every out takes away a chance to hit. Every error gives a chance right back.

If a soccer team gets a 4-on-3 and screams down the field, passes it around, tosses up a cross, and misses the shot, play stops. Goalie retrieves the ball. He kicks it into play. What has changed?

When a pitcher throws an inside fastball for a ball on a 2-2 count, you could argue that nothing happens. Then he throws an outside curveball on a full count for a strikeout. Now, you could argue that the previous fastball didn’t matter, and it was the curveball that worked. But in reality, it was because of the fastball that the curveball worked.

When that soccer team missed the shot, they regrouped, played defense, and got the ball back later in the game. They charged down the field again, and this time they scored.

My question is, why did the first missed shot matter? Until an actual goal is scored, isn’t it all sound and fury?

FlavaDave says: Now, if soccer was more like this, then it would be a whole different story:

Flinchbot Says: Car soccer rocks! There’s your new sport to take over the world. Forget the damn UFC – gimme soccar! (See how I spelled that? I’m a genius!)

As for your previous missive, well you missed. Based on your logic that if no one scores in the first half then it was a waste of time, explain a basketball game that ends 45-45 at halftime, or a football game that ends 14-14 at halftime? Was that all a waste of our time too? Barring injury, nothing happened, right? Both teams are equally tired so it’s still a wash?

In soccer, is it a wash at halftime of a 0-0 game if team A (Let’s call them FC Bayern Munich) possesses the ball 65% of the time and team B (Let’s call them FC Lottstetten 01) is chasing the ball around all damn half? And if FC Bayern unleashes 15 shots on goal and FC Lottstetten unleashes one shot on goal from roughly 27 yards away that ends up 48 rows into the stands? Was that really a wasted half? Because, barring the bizarre, FC Lottstetten will be exhausted in the second half (even after their three subs) while FC Bayern will be much fresher. And let’s not forget the mental game. I’ve been in plenty of basketball games where I felt lucky to be tied or close at half time and I’ve been in plenty of other games where I felt that the half time score was not indicative of what the score should be. In most cases, the second half ends up being dominated by the team that dominated the first half even if the score was close.

So were all of the missed shots in the first half just sound and fury? Nope – they were one team (FC Bayern) imposing their will on another team but for some reason (stellar goalkeeping?) not able to convert those shots.

Baseball is a game of statistics and minutiae, which is its main redeeming value. The ridiculous amount of statistics generated in baseball is awe inspring, invigorating, ridiculous and sometimes just plain stupid. But I don’t like minutiae. I don’t like watching a guy foul off three straight pitches, take a pitch or three, foul off another ball, then ground weakly to the shortstop. That wasn’t a waste of my time? I guess the pitcher got tired. And the next batter up could see what the pitcher was throwing. And the shortstop and the 1B could play catch for a second. And all kinds of small little things happened. ANd all of those small things could finally add up. That weak grounder could have been thrown into the stands. Then the runner steals second. And the batter bunts him to third, then a sacrifice fly scores the run. Hooray! A bunch of minutiae and strategy. But I forgot to mention that this all took about 8 minutes. No shot clock on the pitcher; 3 throws to first base to keep the runner close; a half dozen foul balls, etc. Yawn.

At least in soccer, somebody is always running or chasing something. The announcers spend just as much time as baseball announcers trying to be entertaining with amusing anecdotes since there is so much time to kill.

So really, it’s your choice to like a game that is constantly in a state of waiting with a potential burst of action versus a game that is contantly in a state of motion. Both games have about as much scoring overall (last season Germany’s Bundesliga averaged 4 goals per game) it’s just what you prefer to watch.

FlavaDave Says: Soccar. I love it.

Is a 14-14 Football halftime score mean that the first half of the game is virtually irrelevant in respect to the second half? Yes. Yes it is. I wouldn’t say it was pointless; I bet it was fun. Tony Romo sang some Journey, Joe Horn called his mom, or Bob Sanders took a dude’s face off. But competitively pointless? Yes. Barring no major injuries, the teams are right back at the start. The game has effectively been cut in half.

The difference between Football and football is that in Football a tie at halftime is not very common. A typical Sunday of games will have maybe one or two ties at halftime, but usually someone has the lead. Now, I don’t have the stats to back this up, but tie scores are pretty decently common in soccer, no?

The other factor is that football only resets at halftime. I don’t have to convince you of the importance of field position in Football. The previous play has a significant impact on the circumstances of the next play. What down is it, how many yards do we need, how close are we to the goal line? A coach and the players factor these questions into their thought process.

Shit, I’m supposed to be talking about baseball. Okay then, why does a batter shorten up his swing? Because there are two strikes in the count. The previous two pitches have a direct impact on what happens on this particular pitch.

But in soccer, your actions on any given play rarely are an effect of the play that happened earlier. Your team, while on offense, tried a cross with a header. It was very well defended and did not work. The next time, you try some penetration with a backwards pass to try and drill it in from long range. And yes, you are trying something different because your previous strategy was no good. But are you doing this specific play because of that specific play? No, you started something. It died. Now you are starting something else. You could do anything. You could even try the cross again. Whatever.

What if Team A dominates a soccer game, but never scores. Team B stinks up the field. But a player on Team B draws a penalty kick and coverts. One play, one fleeting moment of success. Team B wins. What?

This is impossible in baseball. If Twins dominate the White Sox, the offense is going to score 6 runs and the pitching is going to allow no runs. But let’s say the Sox get lucky and chip a homer off of Joe Nathan. One pitch, one fleeting moment of success. Way to go, Chitown. Instead of losing 6-0, you lost 6-1.

Look, soccer is fun to watch. I’m not saying it isn’t. But there is a difference between fun and interesting. Rollercoasters are fun, but they aren’t interesting. A car on a fixed track goes really fast. That’s it. The essays of Ralph Waldo Emmerson are interesting, but they aren’t fun. I enjoy them, but I’m not like “Wheeeeeeee!”

You mention the great conversation associated with the baseball experience. Why don’t we associate conversation with Football? There is more dead space in an NFL game than an MLB game (8 seconds of action followed by 40 seconds of nothing). The reason is that baseball is facinating. It stimulates conversation. Batting averages, pitch counts, double switches, WHIP, sabermetrics, hit-and-runs, batting orders, outfielder positioning, should they bring in a lefty?, why haven’t they pulled the pitcher yet?, he should have taken that curveball the other way, etc.

Soccer is kinda fun, I’ll admit. It’s like hockey without the hits. But it isn’t very interesting. Some might argue that baseball isn’t fun (and I think you are). You know, I think I might agree. It isn’t fun to watch sometimes. But what’s wrong with just being interesting? Is there room in the modern sporting landscape for a purely intellectual endevor?

Flinchbot says: Let me wap this one up…If you imply that the first half of a tie game doesn’e matter, then by association it also menas that (in most cases) the first 40 minutes of an NBA game doesn’t matter. You know the old saying about the NBA – You only have to watch the last two minutes. So why don’t they make NBA games 2 minutes long and just be done with it? Make it like Volleyball and the first team to win 3 out of five 2-minute games wins the match.

As far as dominating a game and losing, ask Andy Hawkins who threw a no hitter and lost the game 4-0.

Anyway – I knew your strong British heritage would pull through and realize that Association Football is every bit as worthy as Baseball, if not more so.

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Roger Clemens

April 14, 2007

Flinchbot says: Roger Clemens is the best pitcher in the past 50 years. Discuss.

FlavaDave Says: Sandy Koufax pitched no hitters in four consecutive years, including a perfect game in 1965. Between the ages of 25-30, he complied a record of 111-34 as a starter. He has a lower career ERA than Clemens, and he won three rings with the Dodgers while posting a mind-blowing career 0.95 ERA in the World Series. The only thing that could stop him is arthritis.

Says Flinchbot: Koufax was a good pitcher sure, but not the best pitcher in the past 50 years. How many Cy Young awards did he win? Clemens has won seven which puts him about….top of the list for most Cy Young awards ever won. By two. He also won his awards over a span of 18 years. Most pitching careers don’t last 18 year yet Clemens won hist first Cy Young in 1986 and his last in 2004. Shouldn’t he have gotten an injury somewhere in there? No, because he, like Nolan Ryan, is a godlike machine that pimp slaps the notions of what we think of great pitching. Clemens is the Pimp-god of pitching.

Says FlavaDave: I have more to say on the topic, but I refuse to speak until you address the issue of Roger Clemen’s sub-par postseason career.

Flinchbot Says: Sub-par postseason career? Well, he’s 12-8 with a 3.66 ERA and 2 World Series rings for his postseason career. He would have had 3 rings had Mariano Rivera not blown a save in 2001. If you’re trying to make some weak point that he isn’t good when games matter, then let’s look at his ERA in the World Series, when the games matter most:

  • 1986 – 3.18
  • 1999 – 1.17
  • 2000 – 0.00
  • 2001 – 1.35
  • 2003 – 3.86
  • 2005 -13.50 (Strained left hamstring after 2 innings)

So yeah, he really sucks in the World Series. Other than being injured and having to quit after 2 innings, he can start on my World Series team any time he wants.

Next lame argument, please.

FlavaDave Says: Do you believe that there is any chance that Roger Clemens never used steroids? Obviously there is no hard proof, but if you had to bet your life one way or the other, would you say he did or didn’t?

And I realize that bringing up steroids might seem like a cop-out, but my perception of Clemens is shaded by the fact that I’ve always assumed he was a cheater, and I also assumed that everyone knew this as well. Just like my assumptions of Bonds, I don’t need grand jury testimony to see how quickly Clemens came back from injury and slumps while being noticeably out of shape. Not to mention the freakish longevity of his career. There is no way that he isn’t using.

You agree, right? So the question is, does it matter?

(BTW, we need to have an official ruling on the format of our posts. I vote for “_________ Says“, rather than “Says _________“)

Flinchbot says: Seeing as you’ve given up on this discussion by playing the Steroid card, I now demand that it is Flinchbot vs. FlavaDave.

Are you serious? Clemens on Steroids? Did you see his rookie card picture? Those strong, well defined arms led to a 4.32 ERA that season and then was followed by a ton of sub 3.25 ERA seasons. He’s known for his splitter which doesn’t need brute cheater strength to pitch successfully. Dude touched drugs about as much as Lance Armstrong did. If he had been doing steroids in the 90’s, his body would be falling apart and he’d not be able to pitch even half a season at the age of 43. Jason Grimsley called out both Clemens and Andy Pettite. Why stop there? Throw in Mike Mussina and Mariano Rivera. Nothing has been proven and if it does (and this is a whole different discussion)…If Clemens was using steroids throughout the 90’s, he did nothing against the rules of baseball, because baseball did not ban steroids. So what’s your point again?

FlavaDave Says: The Ballad Of The Rocket.

FlavaDave’s Final Thought: Okay, back to the facts. Why isn’t U2 the greatest rock band of all time? They have the longest stretch of relevancy in rock history, they are tied with Stevie Wonder for most Grammy wins all time, and they always make multiple appearances on every single major list of “The Greatest __________ in Rock History”. That just about clinches it, right?

Well, no, obviously. There are many bands who have achieved much greater heights for sustained stretches of their career. Just not for the ridiculously long time that U2 has.

The Beatles weren’t around too terribly long, breaking up early because of creative and personal difference. But their output during that stretch is arguably the greatest of all time (a point we will inevitably argue at a later date).

This doesn’t irrefutably prove my point. But I feel like Clemens is U2. Always very good, even one of the best. But I never watched Clemens pitch and thought “this is the best player in the game”. I’ve rarely heard a batter say that Clemens was the pitcher they feared the most. Most batters name guys like Ryan, Carlton, Pedro, Maddux, Santana. I never felt like Clemens was the heart and soul of a team, which is true of all those guys except perhaps Nolan Ryan.

The real talk of Clemens being the best of the modern-ish era came after his late-career dominance. That second wind really helped him pile on the stats (7 Cys, 300 wins, 2nd all-time K’s, etc). He hit those milestones and people said “Wow, I didn’t realize he was that good”. Maybe people were blinded by his lack of franchise loyalty (on full display with his dissing of your boys on the Astros this season, by the way). Maybe people were distracted by his lack of dominance in the postseason. But when players thought of dominance, Roger was in the discussion. But he wasn’t first.

Sandy Koufax is the Beatles. Over 6 years, no one was better. I think we can agree on that. I just don’t see how a lower level of play for a longer period of time makes Roger better.

I’ve settled my tab. FlavaDave rests.

Flinchbot Says: So you think Clemens is prey to the Craig Biggio school of logic? An above average but rarely great second baseman who, due to longevity, deserves inclusion to the hall of fame but never had a great, dominant stretch?

How about this dominant stretch from 1986-1992, seven seasons of dominance:

  • 1986 – 24-4, 2.48 ERA
  • 1987 – 20-9, 2.97
  • 1988 – 18-12, 2.93
  • 1989 – 17-11, 3.13
  • 1990 – 21-6, 1.93
  • 1991 – 18-10, 2.62
  • 1992 – 18-11, 2.41

Now let’s look at the great Sandy Koufaxes best 7-season stretch. 1960-1966:

  • 1960 – 8-13, 3.91
  • 1961 – 18-13, 3.52
  • 1962 – 14-7, 2.54
  • 1963 – 25-5, 1.88
  • 1964 – 19-5, 1.74
  • 1965 – 26-8, 2.04
  • 1966 – 27-9, 1.73

I wonder how Clemens would have fared with the same mound height that Koufax got. We’ll never know, but lowering the mound raises ERA, right? The mound was lowered in 1969 (So Koufax never got to pitch on the lower mound) and NL ERA’s went from 2.99 to 3.59. It’s strictly conjecture but hmmm….what if Clemens got an extra .6 dropped from his ERA? Or Koufax had to add .6.

Face it – Clemens is pretty much in a league all his own. A few guys are worthy of hainging around – Koufax, Greg Maddux, Pedro Martinez, Walter Johnson, Satchel Paige, Randy Johnson, etc. But Clemens has done everything – wins, era, strikeouts, WHIP, anything. You name the stat, he’s got it. Except for batting average. Dude can’t hit is way out of a wet paper bag.