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New York Yankees star Derek Jeter strikes out during a game against the Detroit Tigers on March 12. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)
New York Yankees star Derek Jeter strikes out during a game against the Detroit Tigers on March 12. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)
New York Yankees star Derek Jeter strikes out during a game against the Detroit Tigers on March 12. (Photo: Kathy Willens/AP)

On a balmy New York evening last summer, my friend Marty invited me to a Yankees game. Marty had season tickets with his cousin Pat, but on this particular night, cousin Pat couldn’t make it.

I’d never been to a baseball game before so I jumped at the chance. And this wasn’t just any old game. This was the New York Yankees! The most famous baseball team in the world. Here’s what I knew about them: people who live in council estates in Britain wear caps with their logo on and their best player was a guy named Jeter who played with a rod (or was it A-Rod?).

“There are 81 games in a season,” Marty told me as we boarded a subway train to take us to the stadium, “chances are you can’t make them all.”

I expressed opinion that 81 games seemed excessive and was surprised to learn that this was just the home games. There were 162 games altogether, and the potential for more in the post-season.

We got to the stadium late, but Marty said not to worry, that he always gets there a little late because it’s unlikely you’ll miss much at the start. I supposed it was rather like going to watch the cricket back home and I must say, I was already onboard with the casual, loosey-goosey nature of baseball fandom.

We took our seats and ordered a beer (what a delight to not only be able to enjoy a beer while watching the game but actually have it served to you in your seat).  Unfortunately it was a bad night for the Yankees. They lost 5-1. But here’s the thing: nobody seemed to care. The fans weren’t yelling obscenities when fielders dropped easy catches. They didn’t seem bothered that their star players weren’t hitting any home runs. All they did was chat cheerily in between sips of beer and bites of hot dogs. What was wrong with these people?

At 4-0 I couldn’t take the indifference anymore. I stood up and screamed at the top of my voice, “WE’RE GETTING KILLED OUT THERE! WHY DOES NOBODY CARE?” Actually, I may have just quietly asked Marty. But either way, I needed an explanation.

“There are so many games in the season,” said Marty, “that losing this one doesn’t matter.”

“So why bother playing it?” I asked.

Marty laughed.

“I’m serious,” I said. “If there are so many games that a single one is rendered meaningless, why don’t they play fewer games?”

Marty didn’t have an answer for me. He changed the subject by saying what amazing athletes the guys were because they played nearly every night of the week.

I wasn’t buying it. “There’s no way that guy down there…” I said pointing to the pitcher with a beer gut so big that if he put some lipstick and a wig on could easily pass for a heavily-pregnant woman (albeit a very hairy tall one), “…is an athlete. I’m sorry, but he is just fat.”

“Yeah, but he has a really strong arm.”

“So do gorillas. Doesn’t make them athletes.”

A few days later, for the first time since moving to the United States, I watched some baseball on television. I didn’t plan on it, I just happened to land on a game as I flicked through the channels and thought I’d give it a whirl. There was a lot of spitting and chewing. And that, I’m afraid, was about it. I was hoping to see one of those amazing catches where the ball looks for all the world like it’s going for a home run but at the last minute a fielder leaps up the barrier, extends an arm and grasps the ball before tumbling over into the crowd. But alas, after more than an hour of viewing, nothing of any note happened at all. I discovered that televised baseball is little more than an orgy of statistics all competing to be the most pointless.

The following week there was a study in the Wall Street Journal that calculated the average amount of action over the course of a three-hour baseball game is a little under 18 minutes, which works out at 10 percent.  Now you don’t need to be a professor of mathematics to conclude that this means 90 percent of the time nothing is happening. This is fine and dandy when you’re actually in the stadium sipping beer and shooting the breeze, but as a televised event it has about as much appeal as watching a chicken defrost.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the cricket’s just come on the television…

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By Jon Langford