The Wall Street Journal yesterday reported an astonishing finding: 90 percent of baseball is apparently spent waiting around. “Huge chunks of inaction … dwarf everything else that goes on in the game,” said the nation’s largest circulating paper, in an announcement that surprised exactly no one.
This will no doubt fuel those gleeful detractors who go on and on about how boring the sport is. But to disparage the inactivity in baseball, the seemingly interminable spaces between action, misses what makes the sport beautiful in the first place. The downtime is, in fact, functionally important to an appreciation of baseball. The kicking of the dirt, the look in, the waiting, the twitching, the time outs, the languid anticipation, compressing time into the tiny window where the pitcher is actually about to throw the ball and everyone’s eyes widen in possibility. What other sport teases your attention in this way, dares you to look away, to yawn, and then grabs hold of you with a resounding crack of the bat?
And with what other sport is not paying attention a part of the game? The exciting moments would not be so exciting without the preparatory tedium. Nodding off for a few minutes in the sixth inning after two beers, drooling on yourself a little, only to wake when others cheer is not a flaw of spectatorship but a charm. During those maligned pauses between innings (totaling an average of 42 minutes, according to the WSJ), you are actually expected to go do something else, get more food or stretch your legs or stand in line for the bathroom, only to come back and find out this parallel world is still going despite your own puny rhythms.
Thank goodness. Bringing a stopwatch to a baseball game defeats its point. It is, after all, the only sport without a clock, and ends not with a buzzer but when all that can be done is done—both a reminder of and denier of our own mortal march. No one can argue seriously that baseball remains our nation’s pastime: Football and basketball, as alluring visions of the superfast and superstrong, have better claim. But baseball, in all its stop-and-go glory, is there for the rest of us.