Monday, May 21, 2007

America's favorite pastime is now mine too..

Baseball is considered America's favorite pastime; a sport that represents American ethos. Anyone who has watched the movie, "A field of dreams" would definitely agree. The sport started off to be an exclusively American one, with its professional origins as a Major League seasonal sport going back to the late 1890s. The initial years were all about Cy Young, the metronomic pitcher and "small ball" stalwarts such as the abrasive batter Ty Cobb and the consistent Roger Hornsby. What changed the game was the arrival of the "Sultan of Swing", one of the most dominant sportsperson of the century, Babe Ruth. An excellent pitcher who later on turned out to be a master slugger of a batter, Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball and made it extremely popular. The game was indeed popular but the match fixing controversy of the late 1910s tainted it and it took the Bambino (Babe Ruth) to resurrect the image of the sport.

Baseball however didn't really truly American before the introduction of African American players into the sport, who were hitherto denied Major League entries, confining themselves therefore to the Negro Leagues. Jackie Robinson (whose number 42 was prominently worn recently in remembrance of the 60th anniversary of his first game in the Major League) was the first African American to play in the Major League, which became truly representative.

Today's Major League Baseball is a global sport played out in the USA. Large swathes of players are from Latin America (with Dominican Republic dominating the high quality representation) and from Japan (where the sport is followed with equal fervour as in the USA).

The current batch of players in the Major League include some who are among the all time best. If Barry Bonds is chasing the highest Home run total ever, there are pitchers such as Roger Clemens, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Randy Johnson who are sureshot considerations in the All time best list. Then there are versatile players such as Alex Rodriguez who define power in batting and finesse in fielding to near perfection and rate among the best ever. Clearly Baseball in America is enjoying a golden era. Or so it seems, for despite the abundance of talent, there are questions being raised about malpractices, in the form of steroid usage and doping. Though there have been few "convictions" (Jose Canseco for e.g.), the swirl of rumours about doping has created a cloud of haze over America's national sport.

It is in this milieu that a cricket lover like me has started to get addicted with Major League Baseball. Apart from getting hooked to the qualitative aspects of the sport, I am also intrigued by the mystique of inter-league play rivalries, and the whole art of Baseball statistics which has contributed a unique term to English vocabulary, "Sabermatrics".

Statistics and statistical analysis is regarded favorably by many sport analysts in a whole array of sports. Statistics in Cricket, for e.g., plays a vital role in defining debates about performances, eat up a lot of space in delineating opinions among chatterati. However, the amount of statistics that is covered in Baseball is mind boggling. There are umpteen categories which are tracked, evaluated and discussed for players and teams in baseball. The art of "sabermetrics" is a science in itself. Some teams such as Oakland Athletics take up Sabermetrics so seriously that it governs their entire philosophy of selecting teams and preparing budgets! Billy Beane, the GM of Oakland Athletics, therefore swears by "Moneyball!", the entirely statistics based tome on baseball and the way its played.

The wide representation in race, ethnicity, nationality and language that characterizes baseball today is a positive indeed. Baseball, in contrast to cricket remains a professional sport that generates wide intra-country rivalry within the United States and is not an international concern as much as cricket is. However, with the addition of the World Baseball Classic to the international baseball calendar has added "international intrigue" to the sport today. The recently held Classic featured the victory of Japan over Cuba in the finals with the United States not even among the top 4 of the tournament.

2 comments:

Naren said...

good to see you are taking on baseball as well.. welcome to the club. have been following mlb for 3 years now and am an ardent fan of the braves.. funny you should mention ARod as a finesse fielder-yankee fans won't agree with you on that.
how is everything with you and the wife?
-Naren

Srini said...

THe Braves..eh? Good team.. only their pitcher brigade of Maddux/Glavine/Smoltz has been broken up..But I like the Joneses and Franceour.

Poor A.Rod had a bad season at 3rd Base last season..but his Short Stop fielding had been spectacular before his having to play 3rd Base, because Jeter didn't give up that position (for obvious reasons). Still A-rod has done better at 3rd this season compared to Jeter's performance at SS.