New: In Defense of Pigskin

By Gar Smith (with apologies to George Carlin)
Wednesday February 13, 2013 - 11:21:00 AM

In the run-up to Superbowl Sunday, National Public Radio played a recording of George Carlin's classic comparison of football and baseball. Carlin depicts football as a game of war-like combat while baseball is a genteel sport โ€” e.g., football players wear "helmets"; baseball players wear "caps." Baseball is "pastoral;" football is "technological." [You can catch Carlin's sketch on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PYS_1bQ-rXo or view it here.] 


Carlin points to football's military jargon ("throwing a bomb," "mounting a blitz," "penetrating defenses") but it occurs to me that baseball is militaristic, too. 

If you think about it, when baseball players aren't hunkered down in a "dugout" or a pacing in a "bullpen," they spend most of their time confined to "bases." 

And, if you stray too far from your "base," there's a danger you could be "picked off." 

With all due respect to Carlin's stand-up masterpiece, I believe an argument can be made that the sport of football โ€” while more militaristic in terminology โ€” is actually a more socially inclusive and egalitarian activity while baseball is elitist and autocratic. (And why is the word "egalitarian" and not "equalitarian"? Blame the French.) 

Baseball is exclusive: 

In baseball, you're either "in" or you're "out." There are "innings" and "outings." Even the field is divided into an "infield" and an "outfield." 

In football, by contrast, you have a "midfield." 

Baseball is autocratic: 

In baseball, the players spend most of their time isolated from one another, holding their set "positions" while an "ace" pitcher presides from atop a "mound." 

Football is Zen: You have a "center," a "balanced line," an "endzone," and the goal is "completion" or, failing that, a "conversion." 

In baseball, you have to belong to a "club." 

In football, you belong to a "team." 

In baseball, you have "leagues." 

In football, you have "conferences." 

In baseball, you strive to "blast the ball out of the park." 

In football, you "cradle the ball" and try to score a "touchdown." 

In baseball, you want to "knock the stitches off the rawhide." 

In football, you "carry the ball downfield." 

In football, you "take possession" but you can exercise an "option" to "handoff" to an "open receiver" and then provide "cover" to "help the runner." 

On the diamond, balls are "foul" (or they are just plain "base"). 

What's more playful than "pigskin"? 

In baseball, you "catch." 

In football, you "receive." 

In baseball, you 'throw" or "pitch." 

In football, you "pass." (But only to an "eligible receiver.") 

In baseball, you "throw someone out." (Or even worse, you "run down" a player.) 

In football, you can call for a "fair catch" and, when the opposing team has a "kickoff," your team "returns" the ball. 

On the gridiron, if you drop the football, it's called a "fumble." 

If you drop a baseball in the outfield, you've committed an "error." 

In baseball, you "steal" a base. 

In football, you "recover" a fumble. 

In baseball, you run in circles to wind up back where you started. 

In football, you make "forward progress." 

On the football field, the teams consult a "playbook" and then call a "huddle," where they proceed to hug each other. 

In the end, both games are puzzling. 

In football, the players seldom use their feet to move the ball, so shouldn't "football" be called "armball," "gutball" or "chestball"? 

In baseball, you try to strike the ball with a bat. If you strike the ball, that's called a "hit." But, strangely, if you don't strike the ball, that's called a "strike."