THE SPORTING LIFE
APRIL 1, 1996
Monday is the first day of the baseball season and the final game of the NCAA basketball tournament. NewsHour essayist Roger Rosenblatt looks at the games, their roots and how they differ.
Click here for the RealAudio version of this discussion.
JIM LEHRER: Here to discuss them and their differences, essayist Roger Rosenblatt. Roger, baseball, basketball, their differences are enormous, are they not?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: They are. It's, it's almost two different temperaments that command each game. Baseball's a very orderly game. The rules are almost perfect. Very little's been changed in baseball since it started. Basketball changes according to the abilities of the players, the size of the players, the tempo of the game. So you have one set of rather fast emotions in basketball and very stately, orderly emotions in baseball.
JIM LEHRER: In baseball, you know, the people don't understand baseball. They say, oh, it's so boring compared to basketball. But it's only boring to those who don't understand, isn't it?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I think so. I think it really just requires two different sets of interests. In baseball, one individual commands your attention at a time. A pitcher, you keep your eyes on the pitcher; batter, you keep your eyes on the batter; a fielder on a great fielding play and so forth. Basketball is like jazz, or like the blues. You have a team effort. There has to be a team effort to win. Even Michael Jordan couldn't win on his own. And then every once in a while like a riff, an individual will erupt with something you've never seen before. Larry Bird will do that. Michael Jordan, of course, will do that. Scotty Pippen will do that. And it's like a solo play, and then you come back to the team play. But in basketball, you have to have a team to win.
JIM LEHRER: Yeah. When I was a kid, Roger, they used to say there were two things that little boys could, could dream--American kids could dream of being. One was President of the United States and the other one was to be a professional baseball player. But you could never say that about basketball, I think, or could you not? I mean, that--you have to be born huge this day of the game, do you not?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Well, you've got, umm, Mugsie Bogues at five foot three and you have players around, hovering around six feet. In a way, the, the bigger the players, the more valuable the smaller players in getting the ball to them, because passing is a big part of the game. It is true that it is unlikely for a small player--anybody under six feet--anybody under six two--to make it. But when they make it, you can really see what extraordinary athletes they are.
JIM LEHRER: Roger, is there any way to, umm, to, to say whether or not the baseball--just the quality of the baseball that is being played now, how it compares with say in years of my generation when we were growing up?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: No. I really have no idea. They always do that, and they work out some computer schemes where the team of 19--say the Yankees of 1955 play the Braves of 1995, umm, but it's not really believable. You suspect that baseball has remained roughly the same in terms of the quality of the individual players. Basketball you know is different. The passing may roughly be the same, but the leapers now--there was nothing like them in the 50's and the 60's, guys who can ordinarily just sail above the hoop.
JIM LEHRER: The leapers, the people who slam dunk and all of that. That was unheard of back in the 40's and the 50's and even the 60's.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: To give you an idea of how the game has changed, there was a period, in the 60's, I believe, where dunking was outlawed, at least in college ball. And then, of course, it didn't make any sense. Now, it's celebrated, and there are contests about it.
JIM LEHRER: Now, Roger, there's one thing that these sports have in common, and that's money. The players are paid tremendous amounts of money, professional players, baseball, and professional players of basketball. Of course, tonight, it's a--it's college ball, but is--the fact that these players make so much money doesn't turn the fans off, does it? I, I--some people it's thought it might.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: No, it's true. What's interesting, particularly in basketball, and I started to go to professional games when I was a kid, it was really a poor man's sport, and the idea that--and poor men--you were--poor men played it, poor men watched it. Now, not only are there millionaires on the court playing, there are millionaires at the side of the court. It's, it's a part of the culture of basketball to see a Spike Lee or Jack Nicholson at court side cheering a game, and the seats are very expensive. So the whole idea of it being a blue collar activity has changed. But the heart of basketball is still an inner-city game.
JIM LEHRER: Hmm-mmm. Roger, personally, finally, if you had your choice between some good seats at a baseball game and good seats at an NCAA championship basketball game, which one would you--which ones would you take?
ROGER ROSENBLATT: I'd take the NCAA basketball game. There's nothing really as exciting as terrific college basketball.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Roger, thank you very much.
ROGER ROSENBLATT: Thank you, Jim.