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A Theory of Just Ball March 13, 2008

Posted by Dwight Furrow in Current Events, Dwight Furrow's Posts.

John Rawls was a baseball fan and, in a letter to a friend, gave an argument for why baseball is the best of all games. I agree with Rawls that baseball is the best of all games, but I don’t find his reasons persuasive.

Rawls’ reasons are: (1) the rules and physical dimensions of the field are perfectly adapted to baseball skills and capacities, (2) people of ordinary human proportion can play it, (3) All parts of the body are essential to playing the game, (4) all plays in the game are accessible to the spectators, (5) it is the only game where scoring is not done with the ball, thus requiring that spectators attend to more than one location during a play, and (6) there is no time limit, so there is always time for either team to win.

This is unpersuasive because (1) is true of all sports, (3) is true of most and (5) is necessary to watch any team sport if you want to really understand how a play is developing. (4) is simply false. Unless you are watching TV monitors receiving a signal from very well placed cameras, the intricacies of the most important and time consuming part of the game, the battle between the pitcher and hitter, are largely out of sight. (6) only occasionally adds drama to the game. Teams coming back to win in the final inning from a substantial deficit are rare. That leaves (2), which is true up to a point but hardly sufficient to support the “baseball is best” claim.

Why do I think baseball is the best game? I always thought that football was more fun to play. And I don’t like watching any sport–I ‘m too restless to be a spectator.

The thing about baseball is that, during the very long season, it is there everyday like an old and reliable friend. And unlike any other major sport, almost every dimension of this very complex game can be accurately represented by statistics. So a few minutes with a newspaper and some informative websites tells me exactly what happened in the 10-15 games played every day–I don’t have to watch.

It’s very efficient.



1. philagon - March 16, 2008

I personally have no appetite for baseball. I find it to be a plodding, boorish game with it’s only redemption being that it is able to foster the give and take of spectators’ chitchat, again only because it is so plodding and boorish. I don’t think the movements of the game itself have inherent sports beauty.

2) people of ordinary human proportion can play it

This is also true of any sport, including Basketball, which was probably one of the targets of this remark. If baseball is so accessible, why is there is a need for children to use tees in teeball or or women to pitch underhanded as in softball? Modification of the sport seems prima facie to be an accommodation to inaccessibility.

Furthermore, at the top level of any sport, there tends to be selected physical traits that give the pro a marked advantage over any amateur of the same sport. Basketball- height, long arms, fast twitch muscles Football- muscularity, low center of gravity Baseball- unsvelte paunch, large lower jaw for chewin’ tobaccy

2. Paul Moloney - March 20, 2008

It seems that the posthumous conversation between Professor Furrow and John Rawls, posthumous on the side of John Rawls, about baseball can be something trivial, unless one notes that both attempt to give reasons for his position. The process of reasoning makes all the difference in a conversation. The communication of reasoned thought is the basis for all social interaction. Fellowship follows upon social interaction.

Most people talk, but most people do not communicate reasoned thought to each other. If simply talking to someone were a social interaction there would be more fellowship in society.

Generally speaking, all people think, but most people, if one judges according to appearance, do not reason about that which they think. Not to reason is to be ignorant. We are all ignorant to some degree, but there is an ignorance that follows upon laziness.

Those that are too lazy to reason indicate that they are not interested in themselves, or the in the best part of themselves. If people are not interested enough in their own thoughts to reason about them, they are definitely not interested in the thoughts of others. They are, in fact, not interested in others.

Where there is ignorance there is no social interaction. Where there is no social interaction there is no fellowship. Where there is no fellowship there is no peace. Where there is no peace there is conflict.

Reasoned thought is not based on ignorance but on knowledge. Reasoned thought results in understanding and further knowledge. When intelligent people communicate knowledge and understanding to each other, they are at war against ignorance. The communication of intelligence diminishes the power of ignorant people, as conflicts are brought on by ignorant people.

3. philagon - March 20, 2008


Not my intention to be rude, but I find it ironic that you make a post about “communication” and “social interaction” but you fail engage the implied questions of what is a just sport or if baseball is the best sport.

4. Stephen - March 21, 2008

While this is just another thing I disagree with Rawls about, I vehemently disagree that baseball is the best sport. I agree with all of Mr. Furrows points regarding Rawls’ argument, however, any sport can be easily read later through statistics (most being more interesting to read about than baseball). I also find dogs serve much better as “old and reliable friends.” This is just my opinion.

5. Forrest Noble - March 21, 2008

Pual I agree with you,

“Most people do not communicate reasoned thought”.— and Philagon with your comment “what is a just sport, or if baseball is the best sport”.– referring to Pauls lack of a direct responce to the thread. And Stephen, don’t disagree about what is the best sport, you obviously know that it’s a matter of opinion.

Bottom line is if you like a sport or not you know the reason for your preferance as far as you’re concerned. Nobody this side of eternity can argue against what you should like or dislike except your psychiatrist or your preferred philosopher who might give you a few hints if you pay them a few bucks.

your friend forrest

6. Nina Rosenstand - March 25, 2008

How ’bout getting back to baseball? What is missing from Rawls’ analysis, and also from Dwight’s (which I assume is intentional) is a recognition of the mystique of baseball. I don’t play baseball, I have never played it. I don’t play football, either, nor soccer, nor hockey. I don’t even play scrabble. But I do love to watch baseball–at Petco Park, on TV, and watching the local kids play baseball in the park. And I didn’t grow up with it, either–it is not an old friend to me; I wish it were. I had to learn to understand it, as an adult, with no initial interest in it at all. But the day I “got” it, during that glorious Padres season of 1998, I got myself a new magical summer friend; and furthermore, I advanced one level in the ongoing game called “Comprehending the American Soul.” I’m sure Rawls knew that baseball holds a key to the American Volkscharakter–maybe he just didn’t know that he knew. That’s part of the magic of the game…

7. Stephen - March 26, 2008

Although I am not a fan of baseball, I agree with you Nina that the sport holds a particular “mystique.” I am friends with numerous Red Sox fans who were born and raised in Boston and the passion they have for their team makes me wish that I was a die hard fan too. I have never seen nor do I understand the kind of devotion they have, to the point of becoming physically sick when they lose and performing rituals every game so that they win, but I must admit that there is certainly something magical about the game that can make such a large fan base that way.

8. Forrest Noble - March 26, 2008

OK Stephen, you followed the thread as Nina suggested “How ’bout getting back to baseball? What is missing from Rawls’ analysis,”or maybe from Dwight’s recognition of the mystique of baseball.

Only my opinion, obviously no truth I promise: “(1) the rules and physical dimensions of the field are perfectly adapted to baseball skills and capacities” — no surprise to this; it’s by design. They have changed the rules and physical dimensions of the fields over time to make the games more exciting.

After all, professional baseball is a business.”(2) people of ordinary human proportions can play it.” This is true to some extent but maybe more true for soccer. A little bigger and more buff in baseball can make a better player, hence steroids.”(3) All parts of the body are essential to playing the game” — retort #3 seems to apply here.”(4) all plays in the game are accessible to the spectators,” this may be more true of baseball than some other sports but I think retort # 3 also applies.”(5) it is the only game where scoring is not done with the ball, thus requiring the spectator’s attention to more than one location during a play.” A home run is certainly accomplished only by hitting a ball, so I would say that for the most part it is valid commentary that may add interest to the sport for some.”6) there is no time limit, so there is always time for either team to win.” Although this is true, it does not necessarily add interest to the game. A lot of people have commented that the game “drags on” because of this factor, albeit most are probably not true baseball fans.

The stats do provide after-the-fact entertainment for many dedicated fans.

John Rawls, why baseball is the best of all games, and the mystique of baseball: Valid arguments, of course can go in many directions but there is absolutely no “real” truth excepting to present an individual opinion as all on this subject have done here.

your friend forrest

9. Nina Rosenstand - April 15, 2008

Just had to add this: Eric Bronson, Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter’s Box. Open Court, 2004!

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