Let’s start to face reality. The NFL is a joke. No matter what anyone says, baseball is America’s pastime. Growing up, football Sundays were almost a religion. The late 90’s and early 2000’s may not be considered a golden age in the NFL, but they were to me. Under Paul Tagliabue (for those that don’t know because he wasn’t in the news on a daily basis, he used to be the commissioner of football) there was a lot to love about the NFL. Yet slowly but surely, the league began to deteriorate when Roger Goodell took over in 2006 (for a more specific list, see this article about the two commissioners). Today, the MLB is experiencing nearly unprecedented parity and an influx of talent across the league never seen before. On the flip side, the NFL is becoming a disgrace. It’s same old same old on the field, and the only new things about it are negative news stories surrounding its players, teams, and front office members. A look now at the 20 reasons why baseball is and will always be better than football.
1. There’s nothing like the old ballgame
I feel as credible as anyone to say this having been to nearly every Major League Baseball AND every National League Football stadium (I am officially three short in both leagues). Nothing beats the in-person experience at a baseball game, no matter how “slow” or “boring” people claim it to be. Those people generally say that because baseball does not promote a culture of drunken tailgating, grown men pummeling each other (on and off the field), or the overwhelming noise from a sold-out crowd (which is bound to happen when a team plays only eight home games per season as opposed to 81). Baseball games are family-friendly yet cater to the hardcore fan. It is a much more cerebral game that requires patience. The best part about it is the majority of the games are played in the summer, not in the winter when sitting outdoors for four hours is almost unbearable. Ballpark hot dogs, cotton candy, and peanuts are unmatched by near-frozen beer and occasional complimentary hot chocolate at NFL games (for the record, you can enjoy a cold beer on a warm day at a baseball game in a much more enjoyable manner). And for every classic NFL venue like Lambeau Field and Soldier Field, there are three times as many stoic baseball stadiums like Fenway Park, Wrigley Field, Dodger Stadium, and Kauffman Stadium. The modern ballparks like AT&T Park, Camden Yards, and PNC Park are also sights to behold. Which is a perfect segue into point number two…
2. Every stadium is unique
This is where baseball differs from all other sports, not just football. Every park has its own charm, design, and field dimensions. There is nothing you can compare Fenway’s Green Monster, Wrigley’s ivy, or even Tal’s Hill at Minute Maid Park in Houston. Some parks are hitter’s parks (Fenway, Yankee Stadium, Camden), some are pitcher’s parks (Petco Park in San Diego, Safeco Field in Seattle) and some are somewhere in between. Even though the NFL has some great places to watch a game, at the end of the day, every field looks exactly the same minus the team logo and end zone paint, and most of them are enclosed.
3. Any given Sunday? No chance
Let’s stop with this. When you play only 16 games, the best teams are going to win at least 75 percent of the time, and if you’re the New England Patriots, maybe as much as 100 percent. There are upsets in football, but there is also an outrageous discrepancy between the haves and the have-nots of the NFL. The Titans are going to beat the Patriots. The Jaguars aren’t going to beat the Packers. There are games with spreads as large as four touchdowns. In baseball, given that the season is 10 times as long, it truly is an unknown on any given day, because even the greatest teams of all time lost close to 50 games.
4. One position means everything in football
Look at the Cincinnati Bengals. They are 8-1 and their TEAM is very, very good. Yet their quarterback, Andy Dalton, is above average at best. That would explain why he’s 0-4 in the playoffs and why the team will likely come up short again. Then look at a team like the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are 6-4 and suffering from injuries and a rebuilding defense. Yet the Steelers will be there at the end, as usual, because of Ben Roethlisberger. As a team, the Bengals are better. But the quarterback disparity is massive, and because of one human being, the fortunes of both franchises could go in completely different directions. A year ago, the Arizona Cardinals were 9-1 before Carson Palmer tore his ACL, and then they limped into and promptly right out of the playoffs. On the other hand, In baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals lost their ace, Adam Wainwright, in late April, then at one point had 28 percent of their Opening Day roster on the disabled list, and still went on to have the best record in baseball with 100 wins.
5. There’s no clock
Even these days, with Goodell doing everything in his power to make games longer and squeeze every last penny out of viewers, football, like basketball and hockey, are played against a clock. Baseball is not, giving much more credence to Yogi Berra’s “it ain’t over till it’s over” mantra. That is literally always true in baseball, but not in football, where it would be physically impossible for a team trailing 35-7 with two minutes left to rally and win. A baseball game could be as short as four and a half innings or as long as… well, as long as possible (the MLB record for innings in a game is 33).
6. The Yankees aren’t quite the Yankees anymore, but the Patriots are still the Patriots
Sports are predicated on heroes and villains, and the Yankees and Patriots are two of the biggest “villains” in their respective sports. But for all those crying about the Yankees for so long and how baseball doesn’t have a salary cap, it’s the Patriots that are pushing football fans further and further away. True, the Yankees have not had a losing season since 1992, but they have not won a playoff game in three seasons, with only an appearance in the wild card game in that span. The Patriots, on the other hand, are more than halfway to a second 16-0 season, something not done by any other team since the league expanded to a 16-game schedule. Worse yet is the vendetta between two “villains” in which there is no winner: the Patriots and Roger Goodell and his minions. The ridiculous spectacle that was “Deflategate” had no real winner, with the fans being the ultimate loser (not including the Patriots “fans,” whom it’s safe to wonder how even they haven’t gotten sick of their team treating the rest of the league like the Washington Generals). The point is, the Yankees could conceivably still try and be the Yankees by buying as many stars as possible, but in today’s game, it doesn’t guarantee success or at least playoff success. The Patriots can keep trashing their opponents and their putrid AFC East division as long as they have Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. Brady has won at everything, including lawsuits against the league. In the process, he also exposed Goodell as a clown yet again. Speaking of Goodell…
7. Roger Goodell
There hasn’t been much news out of MLB commissioner Rob Manfred… and that’s the way it usually is with commissioners. Not Goodell. Rarely does a day go by in which he’s not making headlines, and they’re usually negative. But Goodell keeps the old philosophy of “any publicity is good publicity.” He made waves — of nausea, that is — last year when the Ray Rice scandal rocked the league. He botched it, then promptly botched similar situations surrounding Adrian Peterson and Greg Hardy, and it drew the ire of people who don’t even care about sports. In addition to what I detailed in the Goodell vs. Tagliabue article, Goodell’s greed and slimy politician-like ways brought football to shame.
8. Local TV broadcasts
Most of the NFL’s fortune comes from its television rights deal, which changed drastically upon Goodell taking over in 2006. Yet what hasn’t changed is the fact that every game is basically a national broadcast, with either CBS or Fox broadcast teams assigned to Sunday afternoon games based on their perceived importance. In baseball, even if you have the sports package like you might with DirecTV for the NFL, you can almost every game through a local team’s television broadcast, giving you an opportunity to get a more intimate knowledge of those teams. Football teams do have their own individual broadcasts, but they are only on radio, and far less people listen to football on the radio than baseball on the radio. But as far as TV goes, games are far less personalized. You know, treated like a business instead of a game.
9. Baseball at all levels
I am not even going to go into college football, because it is wildly popular and understandably so. But let’s face it – outside of Texas where high school football is king, there are basically only two types of football you can really watch, which is college and NFL, unless you have some connection to the Arena League. Baseball, on the other hand, can be enjoyed not only at the college level, but at the Minor League level, ranging from Rookie ball to Triple-A and even Independent League ball or at a more hardcore level, the Arizona Fall League or some of the Dominican winter leagues. Because of the minors, there is an element to anticipating and appreciating the future of the game. With football, there are no real “prospects,” just the players that get drafted out of college with hopes of catching on with a pro team. There is no grooming process in between like with baseball.
10. Head injuries and post-football-life trauma
It is sad and scary when you start hearing about recently retired NFL players like Brett Favre admitting to suffering from memory loss. Even when a player’s story doesn’t reach the tragic level of a Junior Seau, many ex-NFL-ers’ lives are severely shortened because of the way the game is played. Even in Goodell’s half-hearted attempt to make the game “safer,” there is no avoiding what the game is really based on, and that’s inflicting physical pain on others. Concussions are the most serious issue of course, and yet somehow the commissioner has the gall to implement Thursday Night Football on a weekly basis and continually suggest an 18-game regular season.
11. There are no “skill positions” in baseball
It is such a shame that most fans don’t know about offensive linemen, fullbacks, or nose tackles. That’s because they aren’t considered “skill positions” like quarterback, running back, wide receiver, or even defensive ends who pile up sacks. The skill guys get the glory, while the other guys doing the grunt work only get noticed when they mess up. In baseball, anyone can be a hero on any given day, whether it’s a starting pitcher throwing a shutout, a reliever getting out of a key jam, a utility infielder hitting a game-winning home run, or a speedy center fielder making a game-saving catch at the wall.
12. Fantasy Football
Fantasy football may well spell the end of human decency as we know it. Because of all the over-marketing the NFL does, everyone and their grandmothers, literally, play fantasy football despite having limited knowledge about the game (nothing against grandmothers, either, because I’m betting just as many grandfathers, fathers, and sons have equally minimal knowledge). Fantasy baseball is still quite big, but it has the stigma of being a bunch of stat-loving geeks playing and tuning it every single day rather than setting a lineup on Sunday morning. And that is totally fine, because fantasy football fans have a stigma of being people who, when their starting running back gets injured, say things like, “he has a collapsed lung and it’s ruining my fantasy football season – good, he deserves it! I hope he never plays again!”
13. Fan interaction
Let me preface what I’m about to write by saying that there are a large number of very good men in the NFL, and there are also some not-so-nice souls in baseball. That said, the NFL does not offer the fan interaction that baseball does. I still remember being a kid and running down to the dugout between innings to try and get a ball from a player, or even standing along the grandstands to get autographs before the game. There is none of that in the NFL. Players are on the field only to warm up, practice plays, and play the game, and nothing more. You may get a sweaty towel as they’re walking off afterwards, but only if you’re lucky.
14. Relatable Managers vs. Disgruntled Coaches
A recent study showed that well over 80 percent of baseball managers played in the big leagues, while less than 20 percent of head coaches played in the NFL. Many will look at that and say how inspiring that is, to think that you don’t have to have played professionally to earn a coaching job. But that’s not reality at all. Baseball rewards its most intelligent players with the opportunity to coach and move up the ranks to manage in the big leagues. It’s actually pretty strange to see players that played as recently as a few seasons ago like Kevin Cash and Craig Counsell managing big league clubs, but it’s also very refreshing. When players manage, it also makes them more well-versed in dealing with the media, something they need to be anyway given that they interact with them on a daily basis rather than just twice a week. Belichick is the ultimate robot, which is actually a shame when you consider all the people within the NFL fraternity who say what a great guy he is away from the press, but he’s not alone. There are a lot of gruff coaches who are rude and, worse yet, not candid with the media because the NFL has some sort of unwritten rule about not “protecting” players. Belichick is joined by the likes of Mike McCarthy, Mike Tomlin, Jay Gruden, and Tom Coughlin who have never cracked a smile in a press conference before. There are very few, if any, managers whose interviews are tough to watch, and on the flip side, there aren’t any Rex Ryan types either who care more about being an entertainer than a leader.
15. Appreciation for managers, less for coaches
The media would have you believe that NFL coaches are the smartest men on the planet, that the ability to draw up X’s and O’s is guide 53 men to battle is worthy of a Nobel Prize. Conversely, you are led to believe by brilliant media minds like Colin Cowherd that any moron (perhaps even Cowherd) could manage a baseball team. That couldn’t be further from the truth. While NFL coaches work just as hard as anyone on their craft, baseball managers are forced to do it every day, and often do it with aplomb. Managers have to be around 25 players every single day and know exactly how every one of them is feeling emotionally and physically. They have to manage lineups, defensive switches, a starting rotation, and perhaps most difficult, a bullpen. There are plenty of decisions the casual fan doesn’t see, like hit and run, defensive alignments and pinch-runners. Coaches don’t even always design plays because they have offensive and defensive coordinators and plenty of position coaches; rather, they are more focused on clock management and deciding whether to punt or go for it on fourth-down. Then, after the game, they can be coy about why they did or didn’t do something.
16. Two leagues, their distinguishability, and recognition of greatness in both
In the NFL, NBA, and NHL, there are two conferences: AFC and NFC in football and Eastern and Western Conferences in basketball and hockey. Because of that, individual awards are only given to one player in the sport, not in both conferences. That is a shame, yet also understandable, because baseball’s two leagues are truly unique. Since I’m somewhat of a traditionalist, this won’t turn into a debate about the use of the DH, but rather an appreciation for the different styles of play in the American and National League. Therefore, it is wonderful to see each league have its own MVP, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young, and Manager of the Year. (And on a side note, the MVP award in the NFL is a joke, as it almost always goes to a quarterback, unless a running back runs for 2,000 yards.)
17. Kickers and punters aren’t recognized as players
I listened to an interview with Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk recently and, only quarter-jokingly, he admitted that he did not consider kickers to be real football players, and if they cost him the game, no one in the locker room would even acknowledge them afterward. How is that acceptable? That would be like saying relief pitchers who are used as specialists aren’t embraced by their teammates, or an astute free-throw shooter in basketball is disregarded by his peers. Kickers and punters have a skill just like running backs and other “skill position” players, and the truth is, the game often comes down to their legs. They are not, in spite of claims by muscle-head defensive ends and linebackers, “soccer player rejects.”
18. The little things matter in baseball
Obviously, they do in football, and any other sport, as well, but they are much more appreciated in baseball than football. Hitting a ground ball to the right side to move a runner up or laying down a nice bunt will incite high-fives and fist-bumps from teammates in baseball; in football, it’s much harder to quantify such little things. Even when a football player makes a heady play, sometimes it gets scorned because of its Fantasy implications. Take for example Brian Westbrook in 2007, when he slid down at the 1-yard line so the Eagles could run out the clock. Instead, fans were outraged that he cost them a touchdown in their Fantasy leagues.
19. Parity is dying fast in football
I made a similar point earlier, but it’s worth hammering home here. I remember in the late 90’s and even early 2000’s, watching the Yankees terrorize the American League on a yearly basis, saying, “Why can’t the Kansas City Royals ever win a World Series?” Well, I guess my prayers were answered in 2015, as the Royals are World Series champions. In the last six seasons, 25 of the 30 MLB teams have reached the playoffs. In the last seven seasons, only 24 of 32 NFL teams have reached the playoffs, and the Buffalo Bills haven’t made it this century. The fact that seven different teams have won the Super Bowl the last seven seasons is extremely misleading, especially considering that the majority of those franchises had already won a title this century like the Patriots, Steelers, Giants, and Ravens). In the AFC, of the Patriots, Steelers, and Peyton Manning-led teams (Colts and now Broncos), at least one if not two of those teams have participated in every AFC Championship Game since 2003, and only once has the Super Bowl not featured one of those teams/QBs in that span. New England has won the AFC East 13 times in the last 14 years; on the flip side, the American League East, once considered top-heavy with the Yankees and Red Sox, has had each of its five members win it in the last six years. No MLB team has won its division in four straight seasons dating back to 2012; in the NFL, three teams (Patriots, Broncos, Packers) have current four-year streaks of winning their division, with all three in prime position to win a fifth straight. In baseball, 11 of the last 15 World Series winners actually missed the playoffs the previous year.
20. There are no flags in baseball
How tired are you of watching a game with someone, only to hear them complain every other play, “That should’ve been a flag!” Now that both sports have instant replay, what separates the two are the incessant “judgment” calls that officials must make about what is a penalty and what isn’t. That includes mindless freebies like personal fouls when a player gains too much machismo and shoves an opponent, only to give them a free first down when they would have punted otherwise. In baseball, now that every play is subject to replay, only balls and strikes are really subject to human error, and those are much tougher to call accurately and consistently than penalties.