Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Best New Sport

Baseball season is, apparently, here again, if the boring headlines in the sports section of our local, too-small paper are any indication. I'm not sure if it was Opening Day or not, recently, because as soon as I saw the headlines, I started to go numb from the brain down with boredom.

I feel kind of sorry for people who like baseball, who watch the games and root for teams. They seem anachronistic, wearing their caps and watching pitchers stretch and talking about "RBIs" and "At-bats" and "other baseball terms that I can't think of right now because I don't really care." It's such a boring game, and nobody really cares about anything that happens in the world of baseball anymore, do they? Nobody who counts, at least.

I've tried to like baseball, too. I played it as a kid, and watched all the games that I could, sitting next to my dad and having him tell me what was going on, because as a kid you do lots of stupid and boring things that your parents make you do because they want you to know what their childhood was like. That's why my own kids have to sit through repeated viewings of Star Wars and listen to me tell them how the special effects back then were way better than all these CGI-graphics-effects nowadays.

As an adult, then, I tried a couple of times to get excited about baseball, once even starting a fantasy baseball team and joining a league before realizing that I had no idea who these players were or what the stats meant or how the scores were generated, so I ended up picking players whose names I thought sounded good on a roster. (I finished third, so all those people overthinking their fantasy baseball rosters, keep that in mind.)

But I just couldn't get into it. The thought of the 162-game season, with 9 innings, 6 outs per inning, 3 strikes per out... the numbers pile up and up and up and nothing ever really happens. The only exciting part of baseball, ever, is the ninth inning of the last game of the World Series, and that's all the baseball I watch.

But people out there still cling to baseball and pretend it's exciting and fun, the way we pretended the last few games of D&D when we were kids were exciting and fun, all the while thinking "I wish I'd gotten invited to that party and was making out with Jenny Lewis right now." D&D eventually faded away, as new interests (girls, drinking beer we'd gotten my older brother to buy, and hoping to get invited to parties) took its place, and I assume the same would happen with baseball, if only...

... if only...

... if only there were a new, awesome sport to replace it!

And not just baseball fans, either -- a new, awesome sport could replace all currently existing sports, which, lets face it, are boring. Basketball is boring. Football is getting boring and primed to get boring-er by adding more games. And since those are the only sports worth mentioning-- well, those plus luge, I won't mention the other sports that people pretend to care about.

I've suggested fixes, here and there, to sports in the past: Fixes like making Brett Favre the all-time quarterback for all 32 NFL teams, or shortening baseball games to five innings, or shortening basketball to about 20 minutes and having the teams play an entire tournament in one weekend, but those were stopgap fixes, and, just as US voters did with capitalism last November, I've decided to scrap the old and replace it with the new. So today, I will present, for the first time, The Best New Sport, a sport I have invented this morning on my drive into work by mulling over those things that work in current sports, and combining them all into one.

So, let's build a sport! Here's what my new sport will have:

1. "Unintentional" Violence: Sports fans worldwide love violence -- but not intentional violence. That's why boxing and baseball are on the decline, while football reigns supreme. Boxing has intentional violence, and we're not supposed to like that. We're supposed to look down on that and feel superior to people who like it, and snicker at them -- the way we all treat people who like "mixed martial arts" (which used to be called "karate" before participants realized that we were snickering when they called it "karate.") Baseball has no violence, though, and suffers as a result. The only people who like nonviolent sports are Moms, and they're not allowed a vote. (Baseball would jump in popularity if it would only adopt the rule we used to use in "Whiffle Ball:" a runner could be tagged out by throwing the ball at him.)

How much do sports fans love unintentional violence? So much that soccer fans have to riot to add a little violence to their sport, because there's not enough on the field. (And please, don't give me that "it's called football here, mate" stuff. Americans have decided it's called soccer. We gave you Levi's and the iPod, so we get to name sports. Get over it. Or we'll have Madonna try to adopt kids from your country, too.) It's no accident, either, that basketball got more popular as play got more physical.

Football, though, has the right amount of unintentional violence. The ostensible goal of football is to get the ball in the end zone. All that hitting and tackling and chop-blocking and accidental crippling? Boy, we wish we could cut down on that.

So The Best New Sport will be a contact sport, but contact will be incidental to the game (honest!).

2. Weird Scoring (But Not Too Weird.) The most popular sport in the world, football (seriously: your sport is soccer. Stop it) has weird scoring, but not too weird. 6 points for a touchdown. 2 points for the "extra point" or "point-after." Unless you kick it, in which case it's 1 point. Unless that kick is a "field goal," in which case it's 3. And 2 points for a "safety." Got all that? Basketball is a close second: Two points for a basket, unless you shoot from really far away, in which case it's 3. But 1 point for a foul shot.

Compare that to the other extremes: baseball? 1 point per run. Not "a point per base," or "2 extra points for a home run" or "1/2 point for sliding." Just 1 point per run. Boring! But then look at tennis. Ever read a tennis score? It's impossible. They always say something like "Serena Williams beat Venus Williams, 6-2, 4-1, 3-5 (2-0)." What is THAT? And they use not just points but words. "Love." There's no love in sports. "Advantage?" They're just making that up.

And The Best New Sport's scoring won't involve any "math," either, like bowling does. None of this "go back three frames" and "X" and "slash marks." Nor will there be things like "par," or any of this "lowest score wins" like in golf. "Lowest score?" That's communist. Or elitist. Aren't those the same thing these days?

3. A Team In Every City: For some reason, sports are geographically-based. Nobody says "You must like that movie, it was filmed in your state," or "I bet you'll watch this TV show, it's set in your city." But tell someone you're from Kansas City, and they say "I bet you root for the Chiefs." Right after they say "Oh, God, I'm sorry for you. Is it terribly boring?" Tell someone you root for the Buffalo Bills (as I do) and they say Did you grow up in Buffalo? Say "No, but I once visited there," and they give you a confused look -- the same look Jenny Lewis gave you in high school that time you dropped the hint about going to the party with her.

So The Best New Sport will have a team in every city. Everywhere. In the world. Except Russia and China, because they're the bad guys again. And the Mideast because it's unsafe. And South America, because what really goes on there? I don't know, and I don't want to find out, plus I saw on a TV show that llamas live there and I don't want this sport associated with llamas. And except Africa, because the UN passed a resolution that the only sport people in Africa can compete in is marathons and when I see those really-fit runners it makes me (almost) put down my BBQ Fritos. And except Europe, because I don't want to have to list ticket prices in Euros, as that's creepy. And except Central America, because the unions will get mad about NAFTA even though that happened so long ago nobody's really sure what it is anymore, except Bill Clinton, and who listens to him?

And there will only be one team in Canada.

With all those teams all over the world, everywhere (with those few limited exceptions), that will help naturally build the next ingredient:

4. Arbitrary Rivalries: Try this on for size: Man, don't you hate those___________. Then fill in the blank with the name of the team from the city nearest you. Satisfying, isn't it? There's nothing quite like deciding just to hate someone for the simple reason that they make their living playing for a team that's located near, but not too near, your city. For me, it's the Chicago Bears and the Minnesota Vikings. I hate those Vikings and Bears. Even when the Vikings and Bears are actually from Wisconsin -- I hate them. And I love Wisconsin players, even when they're from Chicago or Minneapolis?

Confusing? Don't think about it. Just let the hate roll. Everyone needs to hate someone, but you get in trouble if you go around saying things like "Man, I hate those" coworkers/racial groups/genders/age groups. And with Obama in the White House, it's not cool to hate politicians anymore, either. So what's left? Rush Limbaugh? Yeah, we can hate him, but that's for good reason. With The Best New Sport having a team in every city in the world, (with a few limited exceptions) you'll be safely hating people in no time.

5. The Name Will Have The Word "Ball" In It. That's a key ingredient for a successful sport. The three biggies all have it: Football. Basketball. Baseball. Those would-be sports that people claim to like but never watch? All missing this important part. Golf? Hockey? Soccer? I bet if you renamed Hockey and called it Puck-Ball, ratings would double. (Meaning 2 people would watch every game.)

I'm thinking "Awesome Ball." Let's go with that.

6. There will be Statistics. And lots of 'em. That's the only way to get the baseball diehards over to my sport. Baseball exists solely for the statistics, something that basketball and football realized only belatedly. Baseball has, by my unofficial but highly scientific estimate, over 100 billion different statistical categories. Compare that to tennis, which has just one. The only statistic tennis keeps? Which continent Venus is playing Serena on. Golf has only the two statistics: Number of consecutive wins by Tiger Woods, and how hot his wife is.

Football and basketball have been fighting back. Watch a football game or read coverage of the game, and you'll see statistics like "sacks" and "rushes for loss" and "yards after catch" and all that. Basketball started tracking "assists," (described by The Boy as "almost baskets.") If you're going to get the baseball nerds and/or have George Will periodically write incomprehensible but poetic sounding columns about your sport, you've got to have statistics.

7. Time Limits. Another major part of any great sport, and one that's overlooked by all too many would-be contenders. Both football and basketball place a time limit on their games. (Hockey does, too, I understand, but they do it in Canadian time, which nobody understands. How complicated is Canadian timekeeping? Here's a sample: The basic unit of Canadian time is the "loony" and it's equal to 3.2 minutes -- but only in the Northern Hemisphere and not within two weeks of the solstice. Hockey's time is kept using tiny medieval orreries worn on the back of the announcer.) Baseball, tennis, golf: no time limits, and hence no pressure, no urgency. Watch a baseball game: you'll see the pitcher stretch, scratch, yawn, eat a hot dog, do a Sudoku, shake off three or four signs, and never pitch. Golf is the same way. Tennis matches, I understand, go on for hours, or do in theory, at least, since nobody watches them.)

The Best New Sport will time everything. It'll have shot clocks, huddle clocks, game clocks, play clocks, kick clocks, tackle clocks... there will be at least ten different time clocks, all measuring time to the millionth of a second.

8. No particular skills will be necessary to play (or so it will seem.) Another key ingredient to a great sport is that it has to look super easy. Again, football rules over all other sports. Anyone can run, handoff, kick a ball, throw a ball. That's what we say, anyway. Watch a football game with a bunch of fans at a sports bar and wait for the kicker to miss an "easy" 30-yard field goal, and listen to the cries of derision. I once tried to kick a five yard field goal, and nearly pulled a hamstring (I missed, badly.)

The fact that it takes actual skill to play a sport cannot be obvious, though. Fans need to be able to say "I could have made that pass!" or "Anyone can make a free-throw on national television with the championship on the line after they've already played hard for 40 minutes and this is their sixth game in three weeks." It doesn't matter that we can't do it. We have to believe we can.

That's why hockey and tennis do so poorly: We know we can't ice skate, and given our inability to actually smack that annoying fly with a magazine, the odds of us returning a tennis serve are slim. But we can throw a ball, and catch a ball. And tackle. Maybe. Tackling looks a little hard, come to think of it. So we'll play offense.

9. Nothing But Playoffs: The final ingredient: The Best New Sport will have no regular season. All those complaints about how the regular season is meaningless, or too long? Gone. All those years of suffering when your team doesn't make the playoffs? Gone. Nothing but playoffs means that all teams are in the postseason, and every game has meaning -- and not the kind of "meaning" that teams claim to get when they make it into the "NCAA National Invitational Tournament" (Slogan: "Now Featuring the 65th-through-128th Best College Basketball Teams!") or the losers' bracket of some "playoff."

And there will be none of the other extreme, the "No Playoffs Whatsover" junk. NASCAR? I'm looking at you. You can claim all you want that there's a champion, but without playoffs, you're just a liar. (You, too, Golf: Don't try edging away.)

The Best New Sport's
season will begin with the divisional playoffs, featuring arbitrary divisions like "North-East" and "South-Southwest" and "Canada" and move into regional playoffs (with entirely different regions, like "Mid-Atlantic" and "Eastern Pacific"), then onto SemiRegional Divisional Playoffs (dividing into three categories: Original Colonies, Louisiana Purchase, and The Rest Of The Country That Got Added Later), then culminating in the final three rounds of playoffs: Nationals, National Regionals, and Divisional Nationals (the latter dividing teams by time zones, the former two by shades of the spectrum) before culminating in the three Championship Rounds, where the final 50 teams will be whittled down to just two, who will square off in what will ultimately become the world's most-watched championship game, which will be referred to formally as the Masters Super World Bowl and informally as "Spring & Summer Madness."

So there you go: Coming soon to a stadium near you -- or maybe to a stadium over in the hated next-town-over: The opening round of the Awesome Ball Divisional Playoffs, featuring the Cape Horn, Idaho Wombats against the East Poplar (Saskatchewan) Tornadoes! Start filling out your brackets now!


The Best Postseason Sporting Eve
nt? The NCAA Tournament -- even though I don't watch it.

Remember when I laid out the groundrules for creating a media scare? No? Then read about The Best Media Scare That Turned Out Not To Be That Big A Deal.

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