Why do Baseball Players Wear Belts?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why do baseball players wear belts?

Just sayin’,
Ashley


 

Dear Ashley,

Baseball, to a degree not seen in other sports, is grounded in traditions that have been around for over a hundred years. To us, and even to the players, some of the traditions make no sense – but because baseball is perceived, or wants to be perceived, as “America’s game,” something that’s unchanging and consistent throughout history, the traditions remain.

Which is a roundabout way of saying there’s no good explanation for why baseball players do a lot of things and you can just add this one to the list. When you think about baseball players’ attire, they’re actually more appropriately dressed up to go out to the club than they are to play a professional sport. Their shirt is actually a button-down, unlike every other major professional sport, where they wear jerseys of some sort. The players are given a sartorial choice when it comes to their socks: some pull their pants all the way down to their cleats, some have their socks meet their pants at the knee like an 18th century landowner. So there’s an element of (attempted) style to the baseball uniform that speaks to how the sport sees, or saw, itself.

This is a good opportunity to discuss the uniforms from the major (American) (male[1]) sports. Not how nice they are, but on whether the components of the uniform – jersey/pants/footwear/hatwear – would look most appropriate on a teenager, someone from the 80’s, a yuppie, or one of Dr. Evil’s evil henchmen – ignoring all of the logos, etc. To whit:

Basketball: Teenager. Easiest of the bunch. Tank top with long baggy shorts and sneakers. I just described half of the teenagers in America. Headwear: Some players wear headbands by personal choice – the only one of the major sports where headwear is optional, come to think of it.

Football: 80’s . When you come right down to it, football players are wearing cut-off tee shirts and (long) cut-off shorts – two regrettable legacies of the 80’s. Among many.

Hockey: Yuppies. Hockey players wear sweaters. ‘Nuff said.

Baseball: Yuppie. As discussed above, it’s a button-down tucked into long pants, complemented with a nice belt. Equally at home on the baseball diamond or at happy hour.

Golf: European yuppies. The collared shirts, the tight fitted pants, the visors – throw some sweaters around these guys’ shoulders and they could be on a yacht docked somewhere off the Riviera.

NASCAR: Dr. Evil’s evil henchmen. The jumpsuit is worn by everyone on the team. The driver gets a dark, tinted helmet. If Dr. Evil was sponsored by Home Depot, this is how his minions would dress.

Thanks,
Dean Russell Bell

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. I’m barely qualified to speak on men’s fashion, so if you think I’m going to set my toe in the waters of commenting on women’s fashion, you’re out of your mind.

What is the Most Challenging Ball Sport? The Least?

Dear Sports Fan,

What do you consider the most physically challenging sport that involves a ball? The least?

Thanks,
Crystal

— — —

Okay, so bocce is not the most physically challenging... but is it a sport?

Hey Crystal,

I’m glad you said “physically challenging” rather than simply “challenging.” That makes this a much easier question for me to answer because it rules out baseball. Baseball (only nominally a sport as far as I’m concerned) is extremely technically challenging but virtually no one would say it is the most physically challenging sport. I’m glad you specified that the sport should involve a ball because that rules out hockey, ballet, and cycling. All three of those sports are incredibly physically grueling often to the point of seriously damaging the people who play them.

The most physically challenging ball sport has to be water polo. I know I’ve mentioned water polo before so attentive readers may be thinking that I just have a thing for water polo. But seriously — imagine swimming and treading water for 32 minutes.[1] That’s exhausting enough! Now add playing a sport which involves a lot of time treading water without your hands and arms and tons of times when you drive yourself up out of the water to catch, throw, and block the ball. To that add violence. Tons of violence. Here is an article from the Washington Post written during the 2004 olympics that describes this pretty well:

Water polo players launch themselves out of the water to shoot.

Through the murk of the water, you see elbows swung into guts, knees slammed into groins, hands yanking bathing suits into painful wedgies, guys simply swimming on top of an opponent and holding him under water until he fights his way, punching and kicking, to the surface. Technically, none of this stuff is legal, but the refs working the poolside allow a certain amount of leeway.

The least physically challenging sport is actually a harder question because being physically challenging is one of the elements that usually helps distinguish between a game and a sport. For instance, though many of you might think I was going to argue for golf as the least challenging sport, I would say that if you count golf as a sport, you should count bocce! And bocce is much less physically challenging than golf.[2] No need to limber up to hit a ball hundreds of feet in bocce. No “walking the course” for 72 holes over four days. Bocce consists of throwing not that heavy balls not that far towards an even smaller, lighter ball.

One of the best five baseball players in the world.
TIME FOR TEA!!!

If you exclude bocce, golf, pool, darts, and try to find a true sport sport which is pretty easy to play, then I think it’s probably got to be cricket. I don’t know that much about cricket but I do know that test cricket is played over up to five days. During each day “there are usually three two-hour sessions, with a forty minute break for ‘lunch’ and a twenty minute break for ‘tea’.” I am sure cricket takes an enormous amount of skill and it’s hard to argue that baseball (a sport where one of it’s best players looks like this) is more physically demanding… but…. well, what do you think?

Great question!
Ezra Fischer

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. There are four eight-minute quarters in water polo although because the clock stops on fouls and when the ball goes out of bounds, most quarters actually last around 12 minutes. Players will continue to tread water even when the clock has stopped. We hope.
  2. Excluding cross-country bocce, of course!

Getting Old in Sports

Here’s an article from Chris Ballard that was published on Sports Illustrated recently. It’s an exploration of how age works in an industry where 37 is “ancient.” I enjoyed it for his insight into professional sports, but more for how he connected his own experiences of aging while playing in recreational games with what professional athletes go through.

What is it about this age and sports? Thirty-seven is when Reggie Miller turned into a role player, when Joe Montana became human, when Muhammad Ali retired for the first—and what should have been the last—time. Thirty-seven is where expectations go to die. Fans don’t expect fortysomethings to be All-Stars; if a 41-year-old is even playing, we glorify him. Look at that lovable codger; he’s still going! But at 37 the athlete still carries a whiff of greatness. When he doesn’t perform, we are disappointed. He is not yet lovable. He is letting us down.

Why do Sports Have Seasons?

Dear Sports Fan,

Why are sports played during certain seasons?

Thanks,
Jill


 

Dear Jill,

That’s an interesting question. Oddly enough I could find barely any answer for your question online. So… I’ll just have to make up an answer.

Sports seasons once made sense because the weather fit the sport. Football was played in the fall because it’s best played on cool, crisp autumn days. Playing football in the summer would be tortuous and dangerous for players running around in what basically amounted to heavy leather armor. Baseball cannot be played in the winter and because the season is so long and games have to be canceled on even the hint of rain, it’s important to get started as soon as spring begins to spring. Hockey is played on ice so… winter seems like a natural time for it especially in the days before super-powerful air-conditioners made it feasible to play hockey in South Florida and Texas. Since real Americans don’t play hockey, they needed something else to play in the winter. Enter Basketball, a sport that could be played in the summer but could be played in the winter!

Everything made some sort of intuitive sense until serious money got injected into sports leagues. With few exceptions, the more games a league scheduled, the longer the season, the more teams made the playoffs and the longer the playoffs were, the more money owners and players and television stations could make. This is where things started getting mushy. In 1960, when the NFL began it had a 12 game regular season. The next year they expanded to 14 games which lasted until 1978 when they added another 2 games. It’s been that way since then although they are now discussing moving to an 18 game season as part of the lockout negotiations. The first Super Bowl was held on Jan 15, 1967. This year’s Super Bowl was on February 6! Similar transformations have happened in the NBA and the NHL. The first NBA championship was on April 22, 1947. The Philadelphia Warriors beat the Chicago Stags. This year’s NBA championship ended on Sunday June 12! The NHL is not far behind. Actually it’s ahead. This year the NHL Finals ended on June 15. That’s not hockey weather!! The first NHL championship was back in 1893 and I can’t figure out the date, but the first modern championship ended on April 19. As for Baseball — the World Series has shifted from October 13 in 1903 to November 1.

Everything used to be better. Now nothing makes any sense. Or so says the grumpy old man…

Thanks for the question,
Ezra Fischer

 

How do People Choose Teams to Root For?

Dear Sports Fan,

How do people choose a team to root for?

Thanks,
Meng


 

Dear Meng,

That’s a great question! It must seem somewhat unclear, especially in a big city like New York where there are many people from all over the country and world and where there are multiple local teams in most sports. I’ll do my best to break this down for you:

Primary Reasons:

  • Heredity — If you are a child of sports fans, they start indoctrinating you at an early age. There’s baby clothing, hats, and pennants. They take you to games, which is fun for any number of reasons that don’t involve sports but which gets associated in your mind with the home team. You learn to not bother Daddy and Mommy while they are watching their favorite team and that if you are in the room, you have to root with them!
  • Location — Most places in the country have a clear regional alliance with a set of sports teams. If you grow up in Western Pennsylvania you root for the Steelers, Penguins, and Pirates. If you grow up in Utah, you’re going to root for the Jazz. If you grow up in New Orleans, you are a Saints and Hornets fan. Why? Because they are the only games in town!

Heredity and Location probably account for 80% of all the sports allegiances. But, there are always oddballs like me whose parents didn’t have any strong allegiances (except to the Brooklyn Dodgers, but that’s another story…) and who grew up in an area like Central New Jersey where there were no clear home teams in some sports. When that happens, people tend to fall back on…

Secondary Reasons:

  • Style — It is rare, but sometimes a team will play with such panache that their actual play attracts fans. Even more rare is a team that plays so poorly that they repel fans. This was the case with my favorite hockey team. I started watching Hockey seriously in 1993-94 and even though I was from New Jersey, I quickly decided that I could not in good conscience root for the New Jersey Devils. Their strategy in those days was to compensate for their lack of skill by playing a rigidly disciplined, passive, and defensive style of hockey that involved negating their opponents skill by hanging onto their shirts the whole game… meanwhile, over in Pittsburgh, the Penguins were playing a wide open, offensive game. They tried to beat you 9-8 instead of 1-0. They were fun to watch and I soon became a fan. Other examples of teams whose style could have attracted fans are the Philadelphia Flyers on the 1970s (they beat their opponents bloody,) the Dutch national soccer team of the late 60s and early 70s who pioneered the “Total Football” style, or the Brazilian national soccer team of the… well… just about anytime…
  • Bandwagon — Sometimes it’s not about how a team plays, but how well they do. Most people enjoy rooting for a winning team, so winning teams tend to have more fans. There was a pretty cool article about this the other day on The Big Lead that showed that Super Bowl winning football teams see a 4% increase in fans identifying them as their favorite team in the year after they win. If you know someone who is a Lakers, Yankees, and Cowboys fan, this is probably why.[1]
  • College — This one is pretty straight forward. When it comes to College sports most people root for their Alma Mater. Go Rutgers!
  • Friendship — When you watch sports with a good friend, as long as it doesn’t go against your own favorite teams, you begin to pull for the teams they root for. Over time, these topical rooting experiences add up. If you don’t have a favorite curling, swimming, or netball team, maybe you adopt theirs.
  • Video Games — Believe it or not, I think a lot of people root for teams at least in part because they enjoyed playing as them in a video game. Sports video games are a great way to get into a sport that you’re not familiar with and while playing them you do develop a relationship with the team you most often play as.

Hope this answered your question,
Ezra Fischer

 

 

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Also stop being friends with them.

The Nationals are above .500? Who cares?

Dear Sports Fan,
What does it mean that the Nationals hit .500? Everyone seems pretty excited about it. And, who cares anyway? They all play a bizillion games and then the Yankees win the World Series 8 times outta 10.
Thanks,
Kat

Dear Kat,
There are two things to understand about baseball in regard to your question. First, baseball is a long season and things can change for a team over the weeks and months that can give a fan hope where there wasn’t before. And the second is that it’s all relative. Qualitatively, baseball has teams that usually don’t have much of a chance to win the World Series and teams that usually do have a chance to win. For example (sticking to the past decade for reference), in the usually-a-chance category are teams like the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox, and the Philadelphia Phillies. In the usually-no-chance category are teams like the Kansas City Royals, the Baltimore Orioles, and the Washington Nationals. Going into the season, fans of these teams all want to believe their team will be good and might win, however, fans of the former can reasonably expect a winning record and to have a shot at making the playoffs while fans of the latter know that deep down they will eventually reach the point of “there is always next year.”
The Nationals have an interesting history, as they were the Montreal Expos before moving to Washington in 2005 and becoming the Nationals. For a timeline of important events check out the link below. Their history, in a nutshell, is that the  Montreal/Washington franchise, while having occasional success over the years, has not traditionally been a consistently winning team. Focusing on recent history, over the past five years the Nationals have finished below .500 every year and at times been considered the worst team in baseball. The significance of .500 is not really any different than any other sport – the team either has a winning record or a losing record and .500 is the marker in between. For struggling teams, the .500 mark is encouraging because it represents the point at which a losing team can, with one more win, cross over to become a winning team. Obviously, being one game over .500 does not mean great things for a team in itself, but for fans, the mentality shifts a bit as your team is showing signs of hope and a chance for a positive season. In the case of the Nationals, because the team has had so many seasons below .500 (and well below, I might add), fans are excited to watch a team with a winning record. It may also be the case that the Nationals are showing signs of improvement.

In summary, we have a traditionally low expectation team in the Nationals, playing well, relatively speaking, and giving their fans something to cheer about. They probably won’t win their division, make the playoffs, or win the World Series. But over the long summer, Nationals fans can enjoy being a winning team, at least for now, and hang on to the notion of “what if” for a little longer.

Thanks for the question,
John

Why are sports fans obsessed with injuries?

Dear Sports Fan,

The sports fan in my life disregards my injuries and illnesses as mere complaints until I am either completely incapacitated or bleeding prodigiously. Yet the mere mention of a potential injury to any appendage of one of his teams’ players sends him into Colonel Kurtz mode – The horror, the horror – before he spends an hour on WebMd trying to identify a miracle cure. Any chance any of that sympathy can be directed my way?

Hurt in Houston

— — —

Dear Hurt in Houston,

Let me put it bluntly: no. When you get sick or injured, (knock wood) you get better and your life goes on. Your fan’s favorite athlete, or a key player on his team? Well…

Injuries are one of the most frustrating things in sports. Think about sitting at your computer doing work – not one of those mind-numbing, I’m half-working and half-googling to see if I can buy the dress Kate Middleton wore to her engagement announcement, but really jamming on a project, getting excited about it, rocking back and forth in your chair and laughing to yourself from time to time cause your brilliance surprises even you. Now, imagine the power goes out.  Your first thought is pure horror: all is lost.

There’s uncertainty – when’s the last time I saved? Does it even matter? Will it even remember that? There’s the period of irrational hope as you reboot when the power comes back on – I’m sure Bill Gates saw this power outage coming, there’s NO WAY Word wouldn’t save automatically. Then you login and pull up Word and, really, all you can do is hope.

That’s the best comparison I can come up with to an injury: no matter how well everything is going for your fan’s team, they are always one injury away from catastrophe, and there is NOTHING anyone can do about it. Absolutely nothing. That injury can happen in any number of ways – horrifically (Joe Theisman, a Redskins quarterback having his leg broken in two), hysterically (Bill Gramatica, an NFL placekicker, tearing an ACL celebrating a field goal) , frequently (Vince Carter[1]) and downright bizarrely (Shaq, the 7 foot, 300 pound beastly freak of an athlete who, for a chunk of his career, was felled by an injury to his big toe) –  but there’s no recourse for the team or your fan. All you can do is watch the athlete get carried off the field and try to convince yourself that it’s not nearly as bad as it looks and that yes, elbow joints are definitely meant to rotate 360 degrees.

One other note: an injury to your fan’s favorite athlete is a particularly crushing blow. One thing all sports fans are acutely aware of is that we have a limited amount of time with our athletes, and even less time to watch them while they’re in their prime (whereas, theoretically, they have their entire life to spend with you. But I digress). Age will slow them down even if injuries don’t. So when we see an injury to our favorite player we think two things. 1. I just lost some of my quality time with this guy; and, 2. Thanks to this injury, this guy may never be as incredible an athlete again. Think about that: in what other job can a single, freak occurrence ensure that someone will never perform at a high level again?

Hope this helps,
Dean Russell Bell

 

Footnotes    (↵ returns to text)

  1. Note on Vince Carter: Vince Carter was an enormously talented basketball player who never fulfilled his potential because of his complete lack of heart and desire. He’s like the guy in your office who takes so many sick days for so many absurd reasons that you can start to predict when it’ll happen – you even have an office pool to bet on which ailment he’ll claim on a given day. It’s 80 and sunny – I’ve got $20 says Bob’s calling out with a stomach flu! That was Vince Carter – the man made tens of millions of dollars, but the mere suggestion of physical contact was enough to send him sprawling with a look on his face making clear that what just happened was some kind of historical injustice.