The Pugil List: Nine reasons why boxing is better than baseball
Prepare yourselves, sports fans; the most annoying time of the year is upon us. Opening day of baseball is when holier-than-thou baseball snobs awaken from winter hibernation, clutch the latest baseball almanac and exit their parents’ basements to inform other sports fans how theirs is the perfect game. Boxing was once on equal footing with baseball in the American sporting landscape. Since then, boxing has shot itself in the foot but still walks the world sporting stage (along with soccer and basketball), maintaining a dominance over baseball in most parts of the globe. Even given the decline of boxing, I would rather watch a continuous loop of Guillermo Rigondeaux’s most one-sided defensive shut-outs than 10 minutes of baseball’s greatest hits.
It is opening day for baseball and already it takes up too much airtime on TV and radio. My AM radio station broadcasts baseball games every evening now, compelling me to pick up bearded hitchhikers and listen to their alien abduction stories instead of the radio. Baseball is so boring that it is the only sport which translates better to radio than television. Announcers are forced by the inaction between pitches or crotch-scratching batters to fill hours of broadcast time with anecdotes and trivia. Baseball pitches and positional shifts are called in silence with hand signs by base coaches and the catcher, which delay any actual athletic deeds interminably. This is the antithesis of boxing’s inspirational speeches between rounds. It speaks to the sterile nature of baseball. The only positives of which are the beer, sun and green grass that covers the field.
My frustration with baseball people has compelled me to write a short but valid list of reasons why boxing is vastly superior. They are not ranked in a particular batting order, limiting myself to nine to match the number of baseball players on the field standing around waiting for something to happen throughout as many innings. Reasons range from the innocuous-like statistics to the vitally important subject of integration. Baseball proudly trots out Jackie Robinson on the subject of integration though Robinson may not have accomplished this feat had legendary boxer Joe Louis not interceded on his behalf (after Robinson hit a white soldier who hurled racial abuse at him in 1942). Yes, without boxing, there is a very real probability Jackie Robinson never plays major league baseball.
1. Integration: Baseball proudly portrays itself as the great integrator of American sports because Jackie Robinson broke a long-standing color barrier which their own teams colluded to maintain until 1947. Sadly, in this category, baseball trailed boxing by a minimum of 57 years! Boxing crowned its first black champion in 1890, when Canada’s George Dixon won the world bantamweight title. The first African-American champion was Joe Gans, who accomplished the feat in 1900. In 1908, boxing’s – and, at the time, sports’ – biggest prize was won by African-American Jack Johnson, when he tore the heavyweight crown from Tommy Burns. Name me a slave who was freed through baseball. Bill Richmond (late-1780s) and Tom Molineaux (around 1807), among others, were able to throw off their shackles and walk into a life of freedom through pugilism. It can rightly be said that boxing was 150 years ahead of baseball in allowing black participants. Sporting experts and novices alike try to tell everyone boxing is a sport of the past. Well, at least in our past, we were a century ahead of all other sports!
2. No specialists: In boxing, trainers are not allowed to substitute a fleet-footed defensive stylist to outmaneuver a plodding slugger, mid-fight. Our athletes fend for themselves, unable to call on specialized help or a stoppage of play for a strategy session when the boxer is confused or tired. Pinch hitters? Pinch runners? The boxing mindset views this as the coddling of punk hitters and punk runners who cannot get the job done when needed most. Man up! “Step up to the plate,” my ass. Baseball players have others do it for them. Closers? Relievers? Baseball managers bring in a left-handed pitcher to pitch to one batter, then have another come in for the other two. What kind of self-respecting athlete allows himself to be taken out of a game when everything is on the line?! The only relief a boxer gets, mental or physical, is when the final bell sounds. Let baseball players stay in there and take their losses like men as we do in boxing.
3. Our athletes are tougher: I can’t recall a boxer pulling out of a fight because of a blister. Our men (and now women) enter combat with everything from bad hands to broken ribs. Hangnails could be a season-ender for an MLB pitcher and even simple bodily functions were beyond Sammy Sosa, who was once unable to suit up because of a “violent sneeze.” You will not see our tattooed warriors lay down like pitcher Jeff Juden, who missed a start because a new tattoo got infected. Our Mexican brothers never missed an outing because they got chili juice in their eyes as Bret Barberie did. Worse yet, baseball players hurt themselves trying to get into a fight, which Larry Anderson did, straining a rib muscle jumping from the bench to join a male pile-up they call a brawl. These “men” can’t throw punches, proven when pitcher Kenny Rogers dislocated a pinky finger hitting a water cooler. The only thing more embarrassing than observing baseball players attempting to throw a punch is watching NASCAR drivers fail even more miserably – but that’s a topic for another article.
4. No seasons: The baseball season lasts from April to October, only reduced to seven months so teams would not have to pay their players billions instead of millions. From November to May, baseball fans have no excuse to avoid their wives (that is, if 10 fantasy baseball teams allows time for a wife) or families, while boxing fans can honestly claim a title fight of some sort is on TV every weekend of the year. My marriage counselor tells me honesty is what relationships are based upon. So when I tell the wife, “Sorry, honey; I would like to go out to dinner with you, the kids and your parents but there is a title fight I need to write about,” it is the God’s honest truth. Even women are smart enough to know that when it is snowing outside baseball season is over.
5. Translates better to TV: With world title fights reduced to 12 rounds, they fit perfectly into a one-hour time slot. A championship fight contains 36 minutes of boxing, 12 minutes of strategic instructions from the corner, intermixed with round card girls, and 12 minutes of beer commercials (erectile dysfunction ads are everywhere at baseball events…hmmm…). The average baseball game is roughly two hours and 50 minutes, two hours and 30 minutes of which seemingly wasted with pitching changes and people walking on and off the field. You may think I am joking but Major League Baseball offers a condensed game service, where they take video of each game and splice together the pitches that result in outs, hits or walks, adding relevant action such as stolen bases. A game requiring nearly 300 pitches and three hours in real time is reduced to about 90 pitches and roughly 20 minutes that way. That leaves two hours and 20 minutes of nothingness that baseball fans sit through.
6. No stat geeks: Numbers lie and statistics can be manipulated to fit a desired outcome. How else does one account for Russia losing 9,000,000 soldiers compared to 2,000,000 German casualties and still winning in World War II? I don’t care if a New York Yankees shortstop hits .400 against lefties following a Tuesday night doubleheader played under a full moon on the second West Coast swing of the season. When a batter steps into the box, announcers start citing mind-numbing statistical minutiae with no bearing on the batter’s ability to hit the next pitch. Punch stats are OK but mean little if one boxer lands a hundred powder-puff jabs and is subsequently knocked out by one perfect left hook. Besides, how can someone accurately compare numbers in baseball when equipment, stadiums and quality of steroids differ vastly over the course of decades? In boxing, career stats are more accurately comparable since it is always one human body against another (usually in the same weight class) with no equipment, besides their skill sets, to influence outcomes.
7. The word “World” means something in boxing: Baseball is privileged and elitist and apparently allowed to circumvent truth in advertising laws. If not, MLB would not be allowed to call their finals a “World Series,” when, at best, it involves two nations. If the Yankees are so tough, let’s see them travel to the Dominican Republic or Venezuela and play a seven-game series against their champions. With no carpeting, individual lockers with built-in safes, plasma TVs, team chefs or central air-conditioning in the clubhouse, the Yankees would forfeit away games before the opening pitch. Our boxers travel this hard-as-nails world attempting to bring glory and titles back to their respective countries. American baseball players could not even win two true world championships when they were held in America. The USA finished fifth, behind Japan, Cuba, South Korea and the Dominican Republic in the 2006 inaugural World Baseball Classic but did slightly better with a fourth place finish in 2009. Again, they failed to make even the semifinals in 2013. Maybe if our American players would travel outside the country in a real World Series, foreign competition would not be so foreign to them.
8. Comebacks: Name a great in-game baseball comeback that does not include a ball going between Bill Buckner’s legs. Boxing fans know one thing: a single punch can change a fight and even a career. You can pinpoint Hector Camacho Sr. and John Tate’s respective downfalls to the exact punch and one of those was not even a fight-ending punch. I never heard the term “seesaw battle” applied to a baseball game. Boxing history is replete with champions who retained their titles despite losing the majority of rounds. Many baseball fans head to the parking lot when their boys of summer are down three runs – or less sometimes – with the bottom of the order up in the ninth inning. There is no two-point goal in soccer or hockey, five-point shot in basketball, nine-point touchdown in football or five-run homer in baseball…boxing has all those in the form of a kayo punch.
9. Better movies: This category is a runaway for boxing with “On the Waterfront,” “Rocky” and “Million Dollar Baby” winning the Oscar for best film. Even more impressively, two of those movies are based on real life events, which is much different from recent baseball movies that depended on fantasy to pull off a good story as done with “Field of Dreams” and “The Natural.” I won’t embarrass baseball further by listing all the actors and actresses who have won awards for their performances in boxing-themed movies. What can baseball fall back upon? “Pride of the Yankees” is the only film that comes to mind as a cinematic classic based upon fact. Face it; you can only film a ball going over a wall from so many angles before eyes glaze over from the monotony of it all. There is not even enough charm, warmth or action for a good baseball sequel…unless baseball fans are proud to claim “Major League II.” If this category were a softball game, it would be called on account of the 10-run rule.