Musing on Boredom and Conversion

I have not been posting much lately and that is because my usual writing slot is the late night shift, a shift that does not do well with my recent fortnight of 4am west coast wakeups in order to be up and sprightly for World Cup soccer. I am not the world’s biggest soccer fan, not even close. I support my local team, but do not follow an adopted European team or anything.

I feel both a sort of kinship between being a soccer fan and being a baseball fan and at the same time a complete separation between the two. Soccer supporters are known for rowdiness while baseball fans have become a sedate bunch. Baseball offers an endless about of quantifiable information while soccer is all fluid. However, both sports seem to have boredom listed as their number one distraction. This despite the average baseball game has more game action than the average football game and despite soccer having that ever-running clock.

What it comes down, I think is that any sport seems boring unless you have some sort of interest in it, no matter the inherent quality of activity that is going on. Car racing is almost non-stop action, but I cannot stand watching it. Basketball has tons of scoring but I watch the final three minutes take 20 minutes to play and I’m cursing at the TV set for the teams to stop calling timeouts and just play. I know I am not alone and I know there are people out there literally 180 degrees different.

I think going from soccer neophyte to genuine soccer fan has made me consider what gets me, and possibly others, interested in a sport. I believe there is a tendency to end up entrenched in strong opinions about areas that we have little expertise in. A belief that opinions on matters should be formed instantly and then never changed. Sports radio might be to blame, or media in general, or thousands of possible influences.

Regardless, we should all strive to open ourselves up more. Not just reconsidering viewpoints that we didn’t agree with, but also to viewpoints that didn’t agree with us. Baseball is boring many people say. We don’t think so. We find endless avenues in this game to fascinate us. Next time somebody criticizes the sport, consider sharing what you love about it. What is it about baseball that gets you to watch every day?

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Matthew Carruth is a software engineer who has been fascinated with baseball statistics since age five. When not dissecting baseball, he is watching hockey or playing soccer.

19 Responses to “Musing on Boredom and Conversion”

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  1. Chris says:

    What is “boring” for most non-baseball fans is many times the most interesting for real fans. Why does a pitcher throw to first over and over and over. For non fans that is boring, real fans know why this is happening. Why change pitchers over and over and over, sometimes in the same inning? Again more boredom for non fans but real fans know why this happens.

    It’s the strategy during the “boring” times that keeps me watching, analyzing and sometimes second-guessing. Everyone, fans and non-fans can enjoy the home run, the close play at the plate, but only true die-hard fans can enjoy the “boring” times.

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    • Patrick says:

      I think I qualify as a “real” fan, and I definitely think the pitcher throwing over to first over and over is not very interesting.

      I’m not sure I can say exactly why I love baseball so much. It’s a combination of many things, which leads me to say “I just do” and smile.

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      • Bret says:

        I think Chris is right but provided perhaps not the best example of why – the nonstop tosses to first can get pretty tedious. But I agree that the minutiae of the game are far more fascinating to the serious fan, especially in this age of technology and advanced statistical analysis. There’s just no limit to what we can observe, analyze, and dissect and discuss, and for some of us, there’s a lot of joy in that.

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      • Gina says:

        second this

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      • JerrysKids says:

        I think it depends on your personality. I think if you’re a generally curious person, baseball isn’t that boring.

        You just have to ask the right questions and give the effort to seek the answers.

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  2. Hendo says:

    What keeps me coming back to baseball every day?

    First, the sport’s very everydayness. In no other sport does one’s team play every day, or six of seven, during the season. The flow of attention scarcely has time to be interrupted; by the time one’s elation or mourning has subsided, it’s time for the next day’s game. For most fans — not all, to be sure — this can be a wholesome exercise in bearing one’s emotions proportionately to the relevance of one contest to a season, and of the game to the large world around it.

    Second, the intelligence of its fans, especially of its most attuned young fans. It is always pleasantly startling to realize how much a really invested 12- or 13-year-old can know about baseball, and how much they can tell me.

    Third, the intelligence of baseball itself, which demands from all its participants both versatile native ability and the wit and coordination to use tools successfully. This is where baseball is most starkly superior to soccer — and why the designated hitter is not merely a gimmick, but has actually been a step backward, for the job robs its occupant of the opportunity to pursue and demonstrate overall excellence.

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    • Patrick says:

      One small comment on the DH (I love your post over all)… While I agree with you philosophically, is it good if most pitchers (and teams) largely ignore that pursuit ANYWAY?

      If it is considered too difficult for most pitchers to hit as well and they barely bother to practice… To what end having them hit?

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I often wonder why various fans like baseball.

      I’m kind of an oddity in fandom. I played from T-ball through college and got some invites to “tryout camps”, which in the grand scheme of making it to the majors is marginal, but pretty cool all things considered.

      Now, I coach pitchers for the high school (made it to Super Sectionals this year) and junior high (State Champs in 2007) teams, as well as, my son’s 9Uteam (just won the championship yesterday) and my daughter’s T-Ball team (just pure fun all the way around).

      But, what makes me “weird” is that I love the numbers. I think this is primarily why I come here. I have a difficult time finding baseball conversatons that I am interested in. Most of my buddies liked playing baseball, but have no interest in the numbers side. When I get into “just the numbers” convrsations, it quickly seems to go to a “just the math” direction, where I lose some interest … or an interpretation of the numbers without consideration of other factors, where I fail to see relevance.

      I was the kid that was always on the All-Star teams, but also memorized all of the stats on the back of baseball cards and played baseball games on PC (MicroLeague 1 and 2, Earl Weaver Baseball … all the way through to MLB10: The Show).

      I just love everything about the game … from the research on BABIP to developing a “pitching backwards” strategy to their 4-hitter based on prior charts to actually playing the game (Shagging fly balls is still fun for me a 37).

      But, I find myself not watching baseball on TV. I watch Baseball Tonight … namely b/c I don’t have 3 hours free in the evening. But, I do have 15 minuteshere and there to jump on hre to discussa specifi topic that I have knwoledge, experience, or interest in.

      Playoffs are different, I watch all the games, I just wish they were’t on so late, so my 9yo son could stay up and watch. He’s just like me … really good athlete bu also tell people that Jon Jay was an option to Randy Winn for filling in for Colby Rasmus. He’s the kid in the stands that will turn around and tell you that Felipe Lopez used to play for the Cardials, then went to Arizona, and is now back with St. Louis. He is just a freak. I crack up listening to him try to interact with other kids his age … to him “playing catch” means for 3 hours, and when kids talk about their favorite players, he’ll bring up OPS and lose them. It’s funny in its own way.

      Not sure what the point of this commentary was, and hopefully it will interpreted in a positive way … I was just talking ball with some of the folks that enjoy conversing about the game with depth.

      Baseball, for me, has always been about “dad and son”. I like the line from City Slickers, when the character says “When my dad and I couldn’t agree on anything, we could still talk about baseball”. I can relate to that.

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      • Thanks for your take on the subject. It’s refreshing to hear from baseball fans who have a history playing the game.

        It’s a family affair for me too – my dad was a highly regarded player in HS for perennial Bronx powerhouse James Monroe (along with teammate and buddy Eddie Kranepool) and a hardcore Brooklyn Dodger fan, instilling all the history and passion for a team in me for as long as I can remember. I’m a rabid Mets fan now – perhaps not as loud and rowdy as I was in the 80’s, but still vocal at games. We still exist – the passionate, proud and sometimes loutish baseball fan, who might snap and get nasty if you’re wearing the wrong hat in my section on a bad day! And many of us can talk stats with you all day long.

        I love everything about the game. It’s lore is American history itself. The baseball cards were the gateway to a greater understanding and I just never stopped wanting to know more. I grew up playing video games (all of the above) and strat-o-matic and the numbers just took my fascination with baseball to another level. Since I picked up fantasy baseball some six years ago, my interest in the numbers have grown even more and I find myself enjoying watching games live and in person – more with other stat heads.

        I think the key to the serious baseball fan’s love of the game – the never ending narrative that only this one game provides with it’s long schedule and lack of clock. As I like to respond, when people ask me why I love the game so, baseball is infinite.

        I’ve really tried to get into watching soccer but it just does nothing for me – even when I’m with friends who are rooting madly for the team from their country of origin. I fully understand what’s going on, but I guess like you said, there’s no rooting interest. I respect the passion of it’s fans, but don’t care for the nationalism and I didn’t care about the Cosmos growing up – or the Redbulls now, so I have no local rooting interest. When I’ve traveled abroad, and people ask me where I’m from, I tell them “Flushing, Queens, NYC.” Not “USA”

        Soccer is a lot of fun to play I find though. I’ll play a pick up game of any sport mind you and I don’t play often, but I’ll be the first to join in when out in a park with people that have a soccer ball. It’s a great way to get some cardio and get that competitive rush. Watching however, I find painfully boring. It just makes me wish I was watching Hockey, honestly.

        Perhaps the fact that anyone can play it makes its players seem less “other-wordly” to me. I’m not saying that great soccer players aren’t amazing athletes, but I’m more impressed by a guy who can throw a ball 95 MPH and make it do what he wants it to and the guy who can smoke said ball, than any other professional athlete. The other athletes of our American sports apply as well, and while i enjoy them all, baseball is my only sports obsession. Basketball, Football, Hockey players all seem like supermen next to soccer players, with their mix of size, hand-eye coordination, speed, power and toughness.

        At the end of the day, try as I might, soccer just makes me wonder why I’m watching a bunch of guys kick a ball back and forth.

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  3. Bret says:

    Baseball has something going for it that no other sport does: they play every day. Every single day of the year, minus the occasional off-day, I can either (a) go to the game, (b) watch the game, (c) listen to the game, (d) and/or read about the game later. Every day. In football (which I also love but for different reasons), when your team loses, you have a whole week to stew over it. If your team loses four games in a row, that’s a month of misery. In baseball, it’s less than a week, and then you get right back out there. Storylines develop. Stats accumulate like crazy. Downtime has to be filled. It becomes part of daily life, of my routine: even when I miss a game, I always get to spend a few minutes discovering: what happened to the A’s today?

    I also love the fact that, because of there being a different starting pitcher, every game has its own built-in narrative that, by definition, will be unique. Watching Braden pitch is very different from watching Sheets pitch, who in turn is quite different from Gio Gonzalez. The beauty of baseball is, in part, how it blends individual performance with what is first and foremost a team game.

    In the end, I truly love sports – soccer for its endurance and grace and international intrigue, basketball for its constant scoring and unbelievable athleticism, football for the brute strength and the intricate play calling. Hockey I like less, but appreciate the beauty of the game.

    But it’s baseball that occupies the “obession” slot in my brain. It’s beautiful, endless, everpresent, hilarious, sad, and above all, a part of my daily life.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I agree with the “every day” aspect, especially every day being a “new day”, with a new matchup and scenario.

      With the NBA, no one pays attention during the season, and with the NFL the team is either “super bowl bound” or “worst team ever” all week, based on how the previous game went.

      But, with baseball, there always seems to be something interesting going on … and it’s not always the drama of who’s talking smack or who’s getting along or any of the other “soap opera” aspects of sports ‘news’.

      Somebody’s having a breakout season, somebody’s a major disappointment, some underdog might really make the playoffs, etc .. and well,the Cadinals are often which watching, which keepsme tuned in to MLB.

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  4. Paul Singman says:

    Well said, Matt. I’m not sure if there is one specific thing that causes people to transition from not caring to becoming emotionally invested in the outcome of a sport; but it is that emotional investment of either being happy or sad at the end of the game that makes it exciting to watch. Betting on a game is obviously the easiest (and also an artificial) way to become interested.

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  5. craigtyle says:

    “American baseball, by luck, trial, and error, and since the famous playing rules council of 1889, had struck on an almost perfect balance between offense and defense, and it was that balance, in fact, that and the accountability – the beauty of the records system which found a place to keep forever each least action – that had led Henry to baseball as his final great project.”

    — Robert Coover, The Universal Baseball Association, Inc., J. Henry Waugh, Prop.

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  6. stratobill says:

    I agree with you on almost every point! I don’t like watching pro basketball because the scores are high and the last couple minutes can take forever to play. I love playing soccer but watching it on TV is stultifying. On the other hand, watching it in person gives you a better idea of how much speed, skill, endurance and tactics are required. And I CANNOT STAND AUTO RACING. Why would I want to waste 2 or 3 hours of my life watching a bunch of cars driving around in circles? It would make more sense just to go to the nearest
    freeway overpass and watch the cars go by!

    Baseball is great to talk about and key games have a great tension to them, but
    most are pretty boring and nowadays way to drawn out with all the pitching changes and doing their best Mike Hargrove impersonations at the plate.

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  7. RonDom says:

    I love baseball, the thing that gets me to watch hockey or soccer? When the grand ole US of A is playing. I only have time to bother with sports I normally find “boring” (the quotations are more about comparing the sports) if I have a vested interest (such as the US playing or a family/friend is deeply involved). I cannot go to a Galaxy game and enjoy myself because I haven’t the foggiest what each of the positions are, nor anything about the game. I used to, but lost it (same with hockey). Baseball gets me not because of anything rational (as some of our baseball brothers try to explain) but because I unconditionally love it. Basketball is the same, and for the NFL (which I watch only the Super Bowl) I have disrespect for. College Football oddly tickles my fancy.

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  8. Mike says:

    I don’t know what about baseball makes me like it so much. I grew up watching it, so naturally I developed a liking towards it. It doesn’t bore me like many of my friends say it bores them. I have the ability of enjoying the subtleties of the game, which I am glad for.

    I stopped playing competitively at an early age, after seventh grade. Five years later and I still love going to the park and playing with friends. My all time favorite thing to do is to play catch, which I could do for hours, it just doesn’t get old.

    Everyone in a group of people has their ‘thing’. Well, in my group, baseball is my ‘thing’ and they all know it. My discovery of sabermetrics just a year ago have only enriched my liking of the game. Except, it is now more of an obsession than it is a liking.

    I think that it is something we all have in common. A lot of people would be turned off by advanced statistical analysis. They just simply don’t want to be bothered because it takes something that appears to be so simple and makes it so complex. All of us readers here at Fangraphs enjoy the complexity. Not because we’re math geeks but because we want to know everything we possibly can know about the game of baseball.

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  9. William says:

    Matthew –

    (I thought about emailing the following in the comment section, since it might seem as though I were trying to take a public dig at you when that totally isn’t the case, so anyway, here it is …)

    I know this isn’t a pay site, but it is very professional and most pieces are well-edited (which psychologically gives the words more credibility).

    Soooo … you might want to change:
    “about” to “amount”
    “distraction” to “detraction”
    add a comma after think, so “What it comes down to, I think, is…”
    SENTENCE FRAGMENT: “A belief that opinions on matters should be formed instantly and then never changed.”
    “Thousands of OTHER possible influences”? I think that’s what was meant…
    SENTENCE FRAGMENT: “Not just reconsidering viewpoints that we didn’t agree with, but also to viewpoints that didn’t agree with us.” … maybe a semi-colon would help with these …

    Please don’t take the above as snide. I appreciate everyone’s work here, including yours, and of course don’t deserve anything perfect — especially since it’s free — but just thought it might help. If you ever want to run something by me, since I’m sure time is tight, I’d be happy to copy edit…

    Yours much,

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    • William says:

      (btw, what I meant to say at the top was that I couldn’t find a link to your email…)

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  10. Steven Gomez says:

    I am not the world’s biggest soccer fan, not even close. I support my local team, but do not follow an adopted European team or anything.

    Glasgow Rangers and Bayern Munich say “AHEM, Matthew”

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