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America’s favorite pastime is not a sport. Of the three major sporting events in the United States, baseball requires the least training, the least athleticism, and the smallest amount of effort. Baseball players are regularly out of shape, and success in the sport is more contingent on skill level than on natural ability. The very essence of sport is based in a player’s natural ability and the genetic inclination towards harsh, challenging physiological exercises, but baseball does not depend on those gifts. Baseball, even at the highest professional level, is just a physical activity or a competition, not a sport.
Baseball is the only highly-paid recreational activity where the participants do not have to maintain their weight. Players like C.C. Sabathia and Prince Fielder showed up to spring training grossly overweight every year and thrived once the season started. Tony Gwynn was built like a bowling ball and was one of the best hitters of his generation averaging .338 for his career. In a sport, athletes have to undergo intense training to compete with their opponents, and players that have not put in the necessary work, falter under the demands of grueling seasons. Basketball players stay in constant motion to score or defend against other players. Their percentage of body fat never exceeds 10%. Basketball guys that train poorly are exploited on the basketball court or fall victim to injuries. A football player’s ability to compete is dependent on how much he can lift, how fast he is, and how fluidly he moves. There is constant contact between players and their physical prowess is matched against another player on every sequence of each play. Football players that avoid strict regimens of exercise are quickly over-matched by better players or they get hurt. Baseball has the longest season by far, with twice the games as basketball and 10 times the amount of football games, but the players get fewer injuries. It is void of the displays of athleticism seen in the other sports, other than the occasional leaping catch. A great pitcher does have special gifts, but is not necessarily an exceptional athlete. For some reason, a pitcher’s arm produces more torque than the average arm. Part of their success is due to a physiological advantage, but they do not have to shape their entire body; they only hone their pitching arm. Case in point, David Wells, an overweight left-hander, pitched a perfect game in the playoffs with a severe hang-over. He retired every batter that he faced after a night out drinking heavily. That could never happen in any of the other major American sports. They require an athletic standard and a discipline that baseball does not have. Baseball is not a sport, at least partially, because obese, undisciplined players often yield the same results as those that work tirelessly.
This guy pitched a perfect game in the playoffs.
And, hitting offers no evidence that the baseball players who are more physically gifted excel more than those of average ability, either. Bat speed, which is a measure of athleticism, does not determine the power or effectiveness of a hitter. Gary Sheffield possessed one of the quickest bats and was one of the better athletes in Major League Baseball history with a bat speed of about 130 mph. Sheffield produced relatively strong numbers with his bat garnering a career batting average of .292, 509 HR, and 1676 RBI. The average MLB player has a bat speed that hovers around 108 mph and the league batting average floats between .260 and .275. However, Albert Pujols of the St. Louis Cardinals, manages his at-bats with one of the slowest bat speeds in the MLB at 85 mph. Despite this, Pujols could historically be the best batter ever. He has a career batting average of .331, with 409 HR and 1233 RBI, in 11 fewer seasons than Sheffield. Pujols has almost matched Sheffield’s career numbers in half of the time it took Sheffield to produce them. He won the National League MVP 3 times, has hit more home runs through his first ten years than anyone has hit in their first ten years, and is the only player to ever hit at least 30 HR in each of his first 10 seasons. Pujols has achieved all this with a slow, deliberate swing. He is able to do this because batting is about technique and pitch recognizance, not raw strength and bat speed. Players that are afforded good coaching can decipher the difference between a curve ball and a fastball in fractions of the .47 second that it takes the baseball to reach home plate. Batters learn to get power from their hips, not their arms and drive the ball. The ability to swing a bat quickly is completely unrelated with how well someone hits the baseball, so physical aptitude is less important in this recourse. Ken Griffey Jr. retired from Major League Baseball as one of the most prolific home run hitters in baseball, despite having a slight build. He learned how to see and react to the ball from his father, Ken Griffey Sr., a professional baseball player, and had one of the smoothest swings in baseball. He had outstanding, readily-available coaching, so he excelled in the game. Now most of the talent in baseball comes from suburban families that play baseball all year or from farm systems in rural South America. They are given multiple opportunities to learn, and thus acclimate to the technique of batting and recognize pitch movement better than the average person. Getting more chances to hit the ball translates into better hitting. Greatness in baseball has nothing to do with talent level. It is contingent on practice, repetition, and more options to play the game.
Pujols has one of the slowest, but most effective swings in baseball.
Baseball relies on a particular set of learned skills rather than natural athleticism, so it should not be categorized with football, basketball, soccer, and track and field as a sport. Baseball is closer related to golf, bowling, or motor racing. In general, the people that play it at its highest level are not great athletes, but just people that have specialized in their field. With training, persistence, and opportunity, they have come to excel at an activity that most people have not had the chance to try to pursue. Other than the specific position of pitcher, any average athlete could succeed in baseball, and if anyone can do it, then it is not a sport.