Is Baseball the Fairest Sport?
posted by Frank Pasquale
As Spring Training continues, the Boston Review recently published a letter from John Rawls to Yale Law Prof. Owen Fiss singing the praises of baseball. It’s not hard to see the connections between Rawls’s theory and his criteria for excellence in a sport:
The game does not give unusual preference or advantage to special physical types, e.g., to tall men as in basketball. All sorts of abilities can find a place somewhere. . . .
[A]ll plays of the game are open to view: the spectators and the players can see what is going on. Per contra football where it is hard to know what is happening in the battlefront along the line. Even the umpires can’t see it all, so there is lots of cheating etc. And in basketball, it is hard to know when to call a foul.
[B]aseball is the only game where scoring is not done with the ball, and this has the remarkable effect of concentrating the excitement of plays at different points of the field at the same time.
Finally, there is the factor of time, the use of which is a central part of any game. Baseball shares with tennis the idea that time never runs out, as it does in basketball and football and soccer. This means that there is always time for the losing side to make a comeback.
No sudden death OT for philosophers! And let’s not forget George Will’s observation that baseball is an ideal meritocracy because of its long season.
Photo Credit: D.F. Shapinsky.
UPDATE: As the first commenter notes, Rawls does not claim these views as originating with him; rather, the letter from which they are quoted recalls a conversation Rawls had with First Amendment scholar Harry Kalven. As Rawls puts it in the letter, “although I only saw Kalven once to talk to . . . . I distinctly recall the conversation because he brought out to me many splendid features of the game which, though obvious, require his sort of brilliance to see the significance of. For example, he gave these reasons for why baseball is the best of all games.”