The least fun part of baseball is watching people play it

In light of the recent suspension of just about everything enjoyable in life, the idea of re-watching classic MLB games to “ease the pain” has come up a lot in social media discussions, and I’ve realised something I didn’t expect.

I’m not actually a huge fan of watching baseball games.

I mean, the actual act of watching a game of baseball does not, in and of itself, seem to interest me all that much. Watching the pitcher pitch, the batter bat, the catcher catch and the fielders field is not inherently entertaining to me. It’s the inability to know which of the potential outcomes will play out, rather than the actual actions themselves, that enthrals me.

For the past few years (and, to be clear, for the foreseeable future also), I’ve considered baseball to be my “favourite sport”, especially during that wonderful March-June period where the Pirates aren’t mathematically eliminated from the playoffs yet. However, the idea of going back and watching full games – or even extended highlights – that I already know the outcome of? Actually watching baseball being played purely for the enjoyment of watching it being played? Eh.

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I’m not saying I can’t bear to watch it, but I can find better things to do with my time. The analytics? I’m all in. I love poring over articles and even occasionally doing some research myself, looking up stats left, right and centre and comparing players to other players past and present. I can do that until the cows come home and get enjoyment from it. Writing about baseball is fun, too, which is why I’ve decided to pen this article in the absence of any actual baseball to write about – articles about John Ryan Murphy‘s great-but-tragically-irrelevant start to spring, or how painfully unwatchable Yacksel Rios is, didn’t seem to be that interesting.

I do like watching baseball when it’s live; I want to make that clear. When the outcome of the next pitch isn’t yet known and could still feasibly be anything from a home run to a strikeout, from a foul ball that hooks just inside the foul pole to a popup to the catcher; that, to me, is where all of the enjoyment is in watching baseball. The unknown, unknowable things that can happen once the pitcher releases the ball are exciting. But when those things are already known, or when I know they happened a while ago and are known to many other people? It just loses all of its appeal to me. Even if I don’t know the outcome of this individual pitch, I know the team at bat only scored four runs in this game. They already have four, so whatever happened with this bases-loaded 0-2 pitch can’t have been too exciting. Even if it’s still a scoreless game and I know plenty of runs were scored, that knowledge limits the possibilities, thus, in turn, limiting the fun for me personally.

Sure, the old favourite highlights are still fun to watch. I can watch Johnny Cueto dropping the ball (for when I want a laugh), or Jerry Meals blowing that one call in Atlanta that one time (for when I want to get angry), any number of Youtube highlights compilations, amazing plays on the At Bat app or on, that kind of thing. But full/condensed game replays? I just can’t get excited for them. Even games that are known to be really good. It’s just not the same when they’ve already happened. I can’t get excited for a grand slam if I know it’s coming. That’s probably why Alex Bregman looks so bored all the time. [Editor’s note: Jason Toms, comedy genius]

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Once I know it’s happened, the actual act of a hitter hitting a home run, no matter the game situation, just isn’t that appealing for me to watch. Unlike, say, a quarterback throwing a touchdown or a rugby player breaking a tackle and scoring a try. Those things are inherently exciting, or at least interesting, to watch happen. The visual of a touchdown being scored, or a try-saving tackle, are just as fun to me as the fact that they happened. The simple act of a baseball pitch or swing of a bat that I already know the outcome of just… isn’t. I get the same thrill from witnessing a home run being hit live as I do from witnessing a touchdown happen live, but the thrill comes from a different place, I guess.

This doesn’t really affect my enjoyment of the sport; if anything, it makes it a lot easier, especially being on this side of the Atlantic. Not having to worry about spending time watching replays of previous games played overnight, for instance, is a huge bonus when you consider there are 162 games to watch per team. Missing one Steelers game over the winter, one-sixteenth of their NFL season, is a fairly big deal to me. I would need to watch that game, even if I knew the result, to find out how it happened. Imagine how long a baseball season would be if I felt the need to re-watch every single Pirates game that I couldn’t see live!

Watching a live game is still my preferred way to enjoy baseball, even a meaningless spring training game. I still get the thrill of the unknown when watching a guy with No.85 on his back throw a dodgy-looking slider to an unknown non-roster invitee in the bottom of the eighth in some Floridian minor league ballpark. I definitely get that thrill watching local British baseball games live in person, despite the obvious drop in “quality”. But if I can’t watch a regular season game live, I’ll take the box score or quick highlight package over a full game replay or condensed game highlights, thanks. I have absolutely no inclination to watch classic games from the 70s or 80s in the absence of live baseball.

If the Pirates ever get back to the playoffs during my lifetime and I’m not able to stay up to watch the games, I’ll let you know if that changes my opinion on watching full game replays. But until then …

Jason Toms is covering the Pittsburgh Pirates during 2020 as part of the growing team of writers at Bat Flips and Nerds. Follow him on Twitter @cornishyinzer

Make sure you subscribe to the Bat Flips and Nerds podcasts and follow us on Twitter @BatFlips_Nerds. News, views and interviews, all with a British twist.

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