Tuesday, April 17, 2007

the semiotics of baseball

Why do we like a particular sport?
People will probably say, "because it's fun to watch" or, "because it's exciting to play", but frankly, that's like saying that a person is "nice". It's a "nice" compliment but as an explanation as to why we like that person, it's a rather unsatisfying answer.
Of course, there's the athleticism, the drama, the rivalry, the bonding experience, and the traditions but, ultimately, I think the imbued meanings of a particular sport is what draws us to it. What do its rules, its objectives, and its underlying system of values, tell us about it? What kind of meanings do they convey?
While these questions may sound a bit cerebral for such an entertaining activity, it's not really necessary to be a Ph.D. in Semiotics to uncover the meanings imbued in a sport. One just needs a sharply developed 'noticing' skill, as demonstrated by George Carlin in this classic comparison between baseball and football (american football, that is).
Here's a partial transcript (but rather long, sorry):

"...Baseball and football are different from one another other in other kind of different ways.

Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.

Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park. The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.

Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.

Football begins in the fall, when everything is dying.

In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.

Football is concerned with downs - what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups - who's up? are you up? I'm not up, he's up!

In football the specialist comes in to kick.
In baseball the specialist comes in to relieve someone.

In football you receive a penalty.
In baseball... you make an error. Oops!

Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, blocking, piling on, late hitting, unnecessary roughness, and personal fouls.
Baseball has... the sacrifice.

Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, sleet, snow, hail, mud, ...
In baseball, if it rains, we don't come out to play.

Baseball has the seventh inning stretch.
Football has the two-minute warning.

Baseball has no time limit: we don't know when it's gonna end - we might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we've got to go to sudden death.

In baseball, during the game, in the stands, there's kind of a picnic feeling; emotions may run high or low, but there's not that much unpleasantness.
In football, during the game in the stands, you can be sure that at least twenty-seven times you're perfectly capable of taking the life of a fellow human being. Preferably a stranger.

And finally, the objectives of the two games are totally different.
In football the object is for the quarterback, otherwise known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy's defensive line.
In baseball the object is... to go home! And to be safe! - I hope I'll be safe at home!"

The text is great but you have to watch George Carlin delivering it himself. Pure genius. See the entire performance (4:53) here on YouTube.


Manish said...

brilliant post...you motivate me to draw a comparison between cricket and football! cheers

Nelson said...

glad you liked the post. Curious to read what you're going to write about cricket and football. cheers.