The team game that is baseball

I listened to the post game Jays Talk after Sunday’s game. It’s not something I normally listen to but I was driving home from the parents’ place and rather hungover, so music was out of the question.

Anyway, there was one comment that was hilariously off-kilter, but also got me thinking about an aspect of baseball that I find very interesting. And that’s the team game aspect.

Baseball is, in my mind, so unique in that it’s a team sport that’s so individual in nature. It’s really just a bunch of guys facing off against a pitcher. There’s some teamwork when it comes to defence – cutoffs, double plays, etc. – but really teamwork is not needed. Especially no in the sense of most of the other major team sports, where everyone needs to be working in unison to be successful. You can’t have a good running back without a good offensive line. Basketball is heavily influenced by schemes and plays that require all five players. Hockey is the same way.

But baseball is just a collection of individual actions. What the guy in front of me in the batting order did has very little impact on what I do at the plate, other than me batting with or without runners on and maybe getting an idea what the pitcher’s throwing. Still, it’s me against the pitcher – and that’s it.

However, the lack of teamwork required to be successful does not, in my mind, make baseball not a team sport. And what makes it a team sport is the fact that everyone – or at least the majority of players – needs to be successful in their own individual battles in order for the team to be successful. When you look at any game, the starting pitcher has more control over the outcome of said game than any other individual player. And yet, even the pitcher doesn’t impact a game in the same way a shutdown goalie or superstar shooting guard or quarterback can. On top of that, any one pitcher only impacts one out of every five games.

Think about it: Jose Bautista gets roughly four plate appearances a game. Four individual battles of a total of more than 70 in a game. On defence, he may make what, three plays? He might directly be involved in seven plays a game. Maybe.

So for a team to win on any given night it needs contributions from a number of players.

Even those complete game, 12-strikeout shutouts by ace pitchers require 15 outs from the defence, plus at least one run from the offence.

The day a pitcher throws a 27-strikeout shutout and hits a solo homerun for a 1-0 win is the day I’ll call baseball an individual sport.

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