Published In The Great North Arrow, November 2021: Baseball vs Hockey

- jim Young


Following is an article I wrote about 5 years ago, prior to writing for the Great North Arrow. For some reason I never posted it on my website, Dog On A Root. So I have revamped it for its first printing here. A lot of the rules can quickly change in both baseball and hockey, so if some of the points I have made here seem a little dated, that’s why. The rules and stats in this article are based on the rules of MLB and NHL games in 2016.


Baseball:

You've got a diamond, You've got 9 men, 

You've got a hat, and a bat, and that's not all. You got the bleachers, got 'em from spring 'til fall.

You got a dog, and a drink, and an umpire's call.

What do you want? Let's play ball. - Matthew Smith


Hockey:

Hello out there, were on the air it's hockey night tonight!

The tension grows, the whistle blows, and the puck goes down the ice.

The goalie jumps, and the players bump, and the fans all go insane.

Someone roars: "Bobby Scores!" At the good old hockey game! - Stompin’ Tom Connors


Baseball is over for the year, at least it is for me. As a Blue Jays fan, once they lost their final game for the season, I had no desire to continue watching.


Not being a big sports fan (except for the Jays), I also have no particular desire to watch hockey. But just as hockey season was ramping up in 2016, baseball season was coming to a close. During the overlap I had an occasion to watch a baseball game back to back with a hockey game that year.


This is what I observed about the distinct differences between the two sports. As it turns out - they are as different as summer and winter.


Managers and Coaches

The first difference I noticed was the managers and coaches. In baseball they wear team uniforms and jackets. In hockey, however, they dress in very business-like suits and ties. I like the baseball approach of identifying themselves as “team players” over hockey’s “boss/employee” statement.


Not only that - the coaches are right out on the field in baseball while the hockey coaches are more remotely positioned, yelling from behind the glass.


When a pitcher screws up in baseball, the manager is very quick to take him out of the ballgame and will continue to do so for every subsequent pitcher that doesn’t improve upon his predecessor's performance. Baseball teams seem to have an almost endless supply of pitchers to draw upon. But when a goalie needs to be replaced in hockey, the team only has 1 or 2 other goalies to put in his place. Of course, unlike baseball, once the goalie has been pulled he may be put back in the game, but mostly, never is.


Tools Of The Trade

In baseball, only one player at a time gets to have a stick. In hockey - everybody gets a stick. Not much wonder there are more fights in hockey. Who wants to pick a fight with the only guy with a weapon? The sticks used in baseball are called bats and only made of wood. Hockey players however are a little more blunt and they call their sticks - sticks. But they can be made of wood, aluminum, fiberglass, graphite, kevlar and titanium.


There are right-handed and left-handed batters in baseball, but they all use the same bat. Right-handed and left-handed hockey players, however, will use a hockey stick specifically designed to accommodate their dominant hand.


Baseball: white ball. Hockey: black puck.

All baseballs are scuffed up by the umpire and ball boys prior to a game and are almost always taken out of the game once they’ve been hit or touch the ground. Hockey pucks are frozen prior to being used and removed from the game once they thaw. The average number of baseballs used in a game of baseball is 65 vs the average number of pucks used in hockey which is just 12.


Officiators and Penalties

The game of baseball of course is policed by umpires, casually dressed in street clothes as opposed to the referees that enforce the rules of  hockey wearing 19th century striped prison garb. Both games however require 4 officiators whatever you call them. 


But umpires are less tolerant and much harsher than their hockey counterparts. For example, If you piss off an umpire in baseball - you’re out of the game. If you piss off a referee, you get a timeout to think about what you’ve done. Except for the goalie. When a goalie pisses off the referee, he gets to stay in the game and one of his teammates will serve his timeout on the goalie’s behalf. Yes - hockey players can get tossed from the game too, but they’re more likely to get a warning first. 


Although the baseball punishment seems a little more extreme, it’s really just a “player” punishment. Another player will be sent out to replace him so there’s no real loss to the team beyond that player’s individual value to the team. But with hockey - while the player is in the penalty box, the whole team is being punished as they have to continue to play with a player short. But only up to 2 players. If a 3rd player pisses off the referee while 2 players are still in the penalty box - he won’t have to serve his time out until one of the other players is allowed back in the game.


Referees seem to like to use their whistles to get your attention. Umpires will just bark out their commands and expect you to obey them.


Some Basic Rules

One of the players gets to decide when a baseball game starts as the game officially gets under way only when the first pitch is thrown. But it’s the referee in hockey that starts the game with the drop of the puck. 


In baseball, when you get ahead of the ball, you can catch it - good for you.

But in hockey, if you get ahead of the puck, the referee blows the whistle, calls “offside” and you have to stop the game and start it again.


Similarly, in the game of baseball, if you hit the ball too far - good for you.

But in hockey, if you hit the puck too far, the referee blows the whistle, calls “icing” and you have to stop the game and start it again.


A baseball game has to be interrupted every time the coach wants to put a new player into the game, while the hockey game continues as players can be replaced on the fly. They just have to make sure the guy they’re replacing is off the ice before they get on it. And if not - guess what? Somebody’s gonna get a timeout!


Baseball: you hit the ball out of bounds - good for you. 

Hockey: in today’s rinks you can’t hit the puck out of bounds.


You have the luxury of 9 attempts to get ahead in baseball compared to just 3 chances to get ahead in hockey. In baseball, during each of those 9 “innings” as they’re called, you don’t have to worry about the other team getting further ahead. While in hockey - during any of your 3 “periods”, the other team has equal opportunity to get ahead too.


At any given time there are 10 players on the field in baseball (counting the batter), and more depending on who’s on first (and/or second, and/or third) for the other team. (FYI - Sebastion Dinwiddle never did get the answers to these questions either.) You will always count 12 players on the ice in hockey, unless someone has pissed off the referee.


The Venue

While professional baseball diamonds themselves are standard in size, the total playing field can vary in size making it more difficult to hit the ball out of bounds in some fields. Professional hockey rinks, however, are rectangular (with rounded corners) and all the same size.


Baseball is sometimes played outdoors regardless of the weather conditions unless it’s extreme weather. But all pro hockey rinks are indoors now so weather is never a factor in the game.


The Media

Between innings commentators in baseball, who like to tell you what you should think about the game you are watching, are mostly well-dressed ex-MLB players who have years of experience in professional baseball. During intermission for hockey, you’re more likely to be annoyed by an obnoxious, loud mouth commentator who only ever played 1 NHL game in his life and wears suits that hurt your eyes when you look at him. Unless he gets fired for making politically incorrect statements.


Just How Fast Can You Go?

Most of the time, watching baseball on TV is only slightly faster than watching golf. Hockey on the other hand is faster than the Indy 500. It is so fast that one network tried to introduce a puck tracking system to graphically create a psychedelic glow and trail that changed colours depending on the speed of the puck, to make it easier for viewers to follow it. It was not well-received by viewers because apparently, hockey is not really THAT fast after all.


The fastest baseball ever thrown in an MLB game was 105.1 mph by Aroldis Chapman playing for the Cincinnati Reds in 2010. Bobby Hull of the Chicago Black Hawks, reportedly once shot a puck at a faster speed of 118 mph. However, Miami Marlins’ Giancarlo Stanton hit a baseball at a speed of 123.9 mph in 2015.


Conclusion

I’m not sure what conclusions I could draw from all this. None of these differences make one game better than the other. Much like the battle of the sexes all I can say is they are just different. Equal but different.


Perhaps it might make more sense to compare some games that seem to have a little more in common, like curling vs shuffle board or golf vs croquet.


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