The internet exploded about this time 24 hours ago when it was revealed that the Baseball Writers Association of America elected Frank Thomas, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
There was the righteous indignation about who left who off the ballot completely, who sold their ballot, whether or not media should vote on this at all and how in the wide, wide world of sports players like Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds could actually see their vote totals drop from a year ago.
This now-annual gripefest isn’t really getting old (attentions spans are so short now we’ll all forget about this until the next ballot is released later this year) but it only further illustrates the point that baseball remains America’s Pastime.
Yes, the National Football League is king. Numbers, in a lot of ways, don’t lie. (The National Basketball Association and National Hockey League have their devoted followings, but this really only a two-horse race when it comes to which sport is this country’s favorite.)
But the NFL doesn’t get into our guts like baseball does.
And it’s not a generational thing. Baseball isn’t for the "old guys." I’m 33. I grew up in Chicago during the heyday of Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls. My introduction to football was Walter Payton and the Chicago Bears of the mid to late 1980s, teams and personalities that captured the imagination of not just the city, but the country.
The Cubs were bad and while the White Sox were often very good, they couldn’t get over the hump. Really, you’d think I’d care less about baseball traditions and history. If there was a generation of fans that you think would’ve been turned off by baseball, you could’ve pointed right to me and fans my age.
But, you know, there’s something about baseball. It’s intangible. You can’t really define it. It’s just there, inside.
It’s why when baseball players are tied to performance enhancing drugs, or are proven to use them, the commissioner is dragged before Congress, the athletes pilloried, the owners chastised.
Does anyone know how many NFL players have been suspended for performance enhancing drugs? No. Why? Because before a snap of regular season football was even played a dozen guys were suspended by the league for PED use. There were a bunch more after the season started, too.
No one is bothered. It’s just another weekly transaction forgotten about as soon as it’s announced.
I watched Milwaukee Brewers manager Ron Roenicke answer countless questions, daily, from local and national media about Ryan Braun.
Why do we care that much?
Who is really that fired up over the seeding of the NFL playoffs? Do we really care that the league might expand them? No. Expand the baseball playoffs? My god, the world was ending.
Who was really outraged that Charles Haley wasn’t a part of the Class of 2013 enshrined into Canton? No one.
Honestly, no one outside of Wisconsin cared that Dave Robinson was elected. Ask anyone on the street and they’ll say yeah, the former center for the San Antonio Spurs should be in the Hall of Fame.
But the rage (yes, rage) over the how’s and why’s and why not’s involved with baseball’s Hall of Fame process is immeasurable.
Why is that?
It’s because it’s baseball. The first rules of the game were written down in 1845. We had only existed as a country for 62 years prior to that.
Kids may not play it as often. We’re told the younger generation of American sports fans don’t have the attention span for it. But yet, in our little sports-dominated segment of the population, it’s why we know (or can at least identify) numbers like 4,256, 755, 714, 511, 61 and 56.
It’s why we still prefer to remember 755 and 61 as "true" records, rather than 762 and 73.
It’s why you know what those all mean right now and don’t have to Google it.
Who’s the leading scorer in NBA history? Who set the single-season scoring record? Wisconsinites know who has the most passing yards in NFL history, but I bet many more think would think the guy who is No. 3 on that list is still No. 1.
How many yards does the NFL’s all-time leading rusher have? Who has the most sacks in NFL history? And how many? Exactly.
For whatever reason (or reasons) – and they’re all highly individual and personal – baseball is the one game in America that moves us in ways no other sport can.
Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.
A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.
To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.
Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining OnMilwaukee.com.
In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.
Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.