Though I’m saddened by the passing of George Carlin, whom I consider a standup comic of the first rank, I was not at first planning to add my voice to the din of eulogies.
What provoked me to reconsider was the emergence, apropos of nothing, of the memory of probably my favorite of his many bits, on the social meanings one might extract from the differences between baseball and football.
Baseball is a nineteenth-century pastoral game.
Football is a twentieth-century technological struggle.
Baseball is played on a diamond, in a park.The baseball park!
Football is played on a gridiron, in a stadium, sometimes called Soldier Field or War Memorial Stadium.
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything’s dying.
In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.
The clincher, of course, comes in leading up to a description of the object of the respective games.
Football has hitting, clipping, spearing, piling on, personal fouls, late hitting and unnecessary roughness.
Baseball has the sacrifice.
Football is played in any kind of weather: rain, snow, sleet, hail, fog…
In baseball, if it rains, we don’t go out to play.
Baseball has the seventh inning stretch. Football has the two minute warning.
Baseball has no time limit: we don’t know when it’s gonna end — might have extra innings.
Football is rigidly timed, and it will end even if we’ve got to go to sudden death.
On the personal level there’s some irony for me in realizing that at the time I considered Carlin edgy but only mildly so. I remember visiting the house of a girl I had a crush on in junior high, and listening to Carlin’s Hippy-Dippy Weatherman stuff on records. We’d break into peals of that high-pitched teenage laughter that quickly becomes irritating even when you really like the kids currently inflicting the sonic pain. Regardless, parentage on both ends of the phone could be comfortable with us listening to Carlin.
In football the object is for the quarterback, also known as the field general, to be on target with his aerial assault, riddling the defense by hitting his receivers with deadly accuracy in spite of the blitz, even if he has to use shotgun. With short bullet passes and long bombs, he marches his troops into enemy territory, balancing this aerial assault with a sustained ground attack that punches holes in the forward wall of the enemy’s defensive line.
In baseball the object is to go home! And to be safe! — I hope I’ll be safe at home!
One of the best things Carlin did for people of his time was to introduce them a subversive outlook in a friendly guise. Sure, he was a communist or an anarchist or a socialist or some damn thing, but he didn’t really seem dangerous.
He was, though, for instance, capable of creating the famous Seven Words You Can’t Say on TV, which while naughty in contemporary terms was also widely considered hilarious, thus passing on the meme.