Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Fuball vs Bazebol, cont'd

Why are there so many and such better books about baseball than about football? Part of it is that baseball more readily translates into words. As a narrative, the game can be framed as a sequence of individual duels proceeding through time in a linear fashion: pitcher vs batter, batter vs fielder, fielders vs base runners, umpire vs optometrist. A football game, on the other hand, is semi-organized mayhem. There is so much going on, in so many places, and in such a distorted place in the space/time continuum, that it's difficult to keep track of it all, much less describe any of it. The QB may start in shotgun formation, drop back and roll right, and connect on a perfectly thrown pass to the tight end who breaks three tackles and runs sixty yards for a touchdown, only to have the whole thing called back and the clock reset because some blocker did something illegal to some tackle on the other side of the field and at the start of the play.

This just does not make for good literary drama, which is probably why the best football books I know of concentrate on the sociology -- some might say the social pathology -- that surrounds the game.

Another point in baseball's favor is that it has a rich and complex history. While football as a high school and college sport has existed for more than a century and the National Football League was founded sometime in the 1920s, and the alumni of various schools can get quite excited about the fortunes of their particular team, football didn't really become a mass-market sport until the 1960s and the arrival of a color television in every home.

Baseball, on the other hand: well, newspapers and radio made it a mass-market sport, and as for history, the St. Paul Pioneer Press had an excellent article by Rick Shefchik this past Sunday looking at eight new book on the subject. These range from "Game of Shadows," a piece of serious investigative journalism examining steroid abuse, to "Black and Blue," a book about Sandy Koufax's last World Series, to "Clemente," an affectionate biography of Roberto Clemente, to "Shades of Glory," a compendium of Negro League history. There's even "The Only Game in Town," a collection of oral histories, which I'll probably read, if only because I had a Warren Spahn signature glove when I was a kid.

What does football have to offer that compares to that?