For some reason, there is a stigma that baseball players are the wimpy little brother of the participants of the other three major sports. That football and basketball players are genuine tough guy athletes while baseball players are weenies that play a kid’s game. All in all, baseball is not a “contact sport.” The removal of take-out slides at second base and home plate collisions has seen to that. The players are not hulking monsters like NFL and NBA players, and the injuries suffered in baseball are mostly caused by non-contact injuries and impact strikes from baseballs. There are no minimum height, speed, or size requirements that must be met for teams to even consider acquiring you. But the amount of toughness and concentration required to play Major League Baseball is unmatched in any athletic contest.
Baseball is definitely not a fast-paced game. If there’s a sharp (or really wild) pitcher on the mound, there will be long stretches where the ball is not put in play and the guys in the field are required to do very little. But take a few minutes to try and understand the basic logistics of the game, and you’ll see that baseball is not only the hardest sport to play well, it’s literally the hardest sport to play.
Think about it. Any two people with functioning limbs and a basketball can play a game of one-on-one at full speed, regardless of whether or not they’ve even seen a basketball before. Hand a football to any group of six or more and they can line up to play a hard-hitting game of tackle football and at the very least accomplish some run plays. Give any six people a stick, puck, and net and they’ll manage to put together a game of street hockey.
You need a bare minimum of twelve people to play a game of baseball that incorporates any level of fielding and baserunning, and even with twelve it only works if you play with Pitcher’s Poison rules. As for equipment, you need at least six gloves (God help any lefties that don’t bring their own), at least one bat (and one bat never fits all), and at least a handful of balls (a minimum of two always get either lost or waterlogged). Obtaining the supplies alone for a game of baseball is a commendable effort. And we haven’t even started playing yet.
To play baseball well, you need to merge the skills of a quarterback, a golfer, a punt returner, and a sprinter; an incredibly diverse skill set the likes of which cannot be obtained in any other single sport. I once heard ex-Patriots Offensive Tackle Matt Light give a radio interview. If you’re familiar with Light you’ll know he’s never met a camera, microphone, or mirror he doesn’t like. He and the radio host were giggling like dopes about how baseball players miss games with fevers, blisters, and bone bruises and how football players look down on them for that. Matt then bragged about how he played with a broken hand before and how no baseball player would ever try that. But here’s what people like Matt Light aren’t considering. You can play football with a broken hand. Jason Pierre Paul played with three missing fingers. Offensive linemen could block with zero fingers. In fact, they’d get called for far less penalties.
What function can a baseball player accomplish if one of their hands is broken? Pinch runner? If your throwing hand is broken, you can’t throw the ball. If you’re other hand is broken, you can’t catch the ball. And if either hand is broken, you can’t swing a bat. So for all the balls and toughness a guy like Matt Light has, he does not have the brains to realize that, from a skills perspective, his job is a lot easier than that of any player on a baseball field. The fact that he can perform his job with a broken hand goes to show just how much easier it is to play offensive line in the NFL, if you’re big and tough, than it is to play any position on the diamond.
You ever play baseball with a bunch of people who have never played before? It’s like trying to do calculus with Rob Gronkowski. Nobody can throw a strike. Pitches are bouncing off of the dirt, home plate, the backstop, elbows, shins, backs, and faces. Everyone is afraid to get in front of a ground ball, let alone a line drive. If, by the grace of God, someone actually manages to field a ground ball, the throw winds up no less than five feet away from the first baseman. Everyone closes their eyes when they swing the bat, with someone inevitably slamming it into their own ribs on the backswing.
Now think about what major leaguers need to do.
Think back to the first time you ever stepped up to home plate while a pitcher your own age was trying to get you out … the unbridled fear you felt of getting hit in the head with a pitched baseball. Now pretend that the pitcher is throwing the ball 95 mph while keeping in mind that, even at the game’s highest level, people get hit with pitches all the time.
Think about the difficulty of hitting a ball that is pitched at 90+ mph from 60 feet away and is changing directions en route to you. You have the slightest fraction of a second to not only see the ball, but to determine the way it is spinning so you can figure out what kind of pitch it is. Then you have to worry about tracking its movement (if you guessed the right pitch) and hitting it with a round bat that is three feet long and a couple inches in diameter. How in the world is it possible to make contact? Not many people can tell you how, because there are only about 400 people in the world that are currently capable of doing it.
Think about being a third baseman. There’s a runner on third and less than two outs. You are playing in front of the bag so you can make a play at home (about 85 feet away from the plate), and somebody the size of Aaron Judge is stepping up to bat. Think about him turning on a fastball and slamming a line drive right at your face or, worse, a one-hopper that bounces five feet in front of you. You know this asteroid is going to slam off of some part of your body. You’re just praying you get your glove in front of it before it does.
Now think about being a pitcher. Not only do you have to worry about not hitting a batter in the head with the ball, you also have to worry about somebody pulverizing your face with a line drive from 60 feet away. Maybe you can throw 95 mph, but the biggest guys in the league can hit it 115 mph right back at you. Not only are you risking getting your ass kicked as a result of hitting the wrong guy with the ball, you’re risking getting your life taken by a deadly projectile.
No other sport requires its participants to put their unpadded bodies in front of deadly objects that go flying at you in excess of 100 mph. The only guy on the field with any protection beyond a helmet is the guy that has to wear all that crap as he sits in a squatted position the entire game, sometimes in 90+ degree heat, while catching foul tip and wild pitch shrapnel to the arms, thighs, and neck along the way.
There is almost as much chance of a fatal injury in baseball as there is in football. Yet the game doesn’t look nearly as dangerous on TV as it does first hand, so nobody respects the fearlessness that is involved in putting your body in front of a flying baseball.
Don’t talk to me about the danger of Lebron James plowing into you at full speed under the hoop. If you stand up straight and get in his way, chances are he’s going to stop in his tracks when he gets to you and throw himself to the floor so he can draw a foul call.
I’m not going to talk smack about football or hockey players. Those guys have balls of steel. But baseball players do not have the walk in the park that fans of contact sports think they do. And they’re miles and miles tougher than basketball players.
Don’t believe me? Take a baseball and throw it at your shin as hard as you can. Just one time. That’s gonna hurt for at least a couple days. Now imagine going to work every single day knowing that at any point during the day, another baseball may come flying in your direction faster than you’ve ever driven in your car. And all you have for protection is a piece of leather covering your hand and a very uncomfortable piece of plastic covering your balls.
Now imagine going to the gym, where it’s 75 and clear every day and night, and doing wind sprints for a couple hours.
How would you prefer to make your living?