WARNING: This post contains sports.
So this morning on the T I was sharing the train with an Annoying Personage. (what, on the subway? in Boston? surely you jest, grace.) And of the variety of annoying things this person said and did, what caught my attention was this thing he was saying to his buddies:
…the Boston Red Sox is a team that TRIES to play baseball. You want to watch a good team, watch the Yankees. [Aside: These are not wise things to say in Boston. He was getting looks.] But at least baseball is interesting. A real sport. Not like soccer. They score like one or two fucking goals the entire game. It’s so fucking boring. And when a player slides into second base, he fucking slides man, and then he gets up and keeps playing. Not like in soccer [insert falsetto] “oh oh I fell down oh look at me is my hair okay?”
Okay first of all, if we’re going to have a “soccer is a sport for pussies, real men play [insert favorite sport here]” thing, then let’s see you play 90+ minutes of soccer. (I’m going to keep calling it soccer, because I am a dumb, obstinate American.) There may be some acting involved and they may wear too much hair gel, but these men and women are in fact athletes. I mean, hell, let’s see Kevin Youkilis play 90 minutes of soccer. He won’t last—he isn’t in the right shape for it and he’s been trained in different skills. And soccer isn’t the only sport that involves acting; there’s a reason “diving” is a penalty in hockey. Like soccer players, these stereotypically “tough” men are trying to draw any advantage they can for their team.
But second of all, and more annoying to me, there’s a mistaken belief that seems prevalent here in the US of A that more scoring = a more exciting game. We’re going to, again, use hockey as an example because let’s face it, that’s my sport. At some point (5ish years ago) the NHL decided that the way to get more fans (more revenue) was to make hockey a higher-scoring game. Like in soccer, 1-0 or 2-1 games were the norm, with each team battling to the death for even one goal. But the rules were changed. Among other changes, the goalie’s crease (his safe zone, basically) was made smaller so players could get closer to the net; the offensive zones were made larger; the goalie’s pads/gloves/etc were made smaller; goalies were restricted in how far they could wander from their goal (I like to call this the Patrick Roy rule); and a shoot-out would be used to decide ties. The argument for all this was, people watch hockey for the fights* and for the goals.
When there are fewer goals per game, the moments between the goals mean more. A near miss in a 1-0 game is more of an event than a near miss in a 6-2 game. The 8-0 blow-outs that have been happening are just not fun, even if you’re rooting for the winning team. The games are just not as intense. They aren’t as heart-pounding. They aren’t as much fun to watch. Old-school, you could miss a moment and miss the entire game. Every turn, every pass meant something. With the new rules… anything could happen at any moment, but it could happen again five minutes from now too, and then again, and oh look we’re halfway through the second period and we’re down by 4 and what’s the point of even watching the rest? Oh look, here’s Law & Order.
People just don’t understand—goals do not equal excitement. The rarer they are, the more they mean, and the more the intervening moments mean.
There are sports for people who want constant scoring. Basketball (a sport I, incidentally, don’t enjoy much). Baseball has become more like that with all the home runs recently. (I’m counting “recently” as like, since the mid-90s. Weren’t there rule changes in baseball, too, like about the size of the strike zone? Too lazy to look it up…) Soccer is simply not one of them. This does not make baseball “better.” It doesn’t make you superior to the tens of thousands of soccer fans worldwide, because you like a “real sport.” Get off your high horse. You watch your sport, I’ll watch mine.
Also, stop dissing the Red Sox and praising the Yankees on Boston subways, you’ll live longer.
*Fighting in hockey is a rant for another day. Don’t worry, I have strong opinions.