Hitting a baseball isn't as hard as you think

February 09, 1994|By MIKE ROYKO

For years sportswriters have quoted Ted Williams as if he has the wisdom of King Solomon: "Hitting a baseball is the most difficult single act in sports."

And lately they've dragged out that statement over and over again while hooting and jeering at Michael Jordan's efforts to become a big league baseball player.

How, they sneer, can Jordan expect to succeed in doing what -- as the great Ted Williams said -- "is the most difficult act in sports"?

It doesn't ever occur to these sports pundits that maybe Ted Williams was full of beans.

I happen to think that what Williams said is a very large crock. And that he said it for self-serving purposes, since he was very good at hitting a baseball.

As a sports fan, a spectator and a former participant in several sports, I can think of many acts that are more difficult than hitting a baseball.

As a spectator, I think playing quarterback in the National Football League is a far more difficult act.

Put yourself in this common football situation:

You are going to throw a pass. The other team knows you are going to throw a pass because the situation demands it.

It is cold, windy and miserable, and your hands are almost numb. You look around and see 11 really vicious-looking guys glaring at you. Some are shouting threats.

You would like to go have a beer. But you have no choice -- the center snaps the ball and you drop back.

You have only five or six seconds to throw this oddly shaped ball through the gusting winds to one of your teammates, who are running hither and yon and waving their arms.

But that's not the really hard part.

No, what makes it so incredibly difficult is that the instant the ball is snapped, at least four huge, violent, homicidal men come rushing at you.

They are about 6 feet 5 inches tall, weigh 280 pounds and have necks thicker than a utility pole. That is more than half a ton of muscle, bone and hatred clawing to get at you.

It is possible that a couple of linebackers also might be roaring in your direction -- another 500 pounds of two-legged hostility.

And what makes it really terrifying is that they don't want to merely cause you to throw the ball inaccurately or to tackle you. No, they want to maul, maim and mash you. They want to tear your ligaments, break your bones, twist your head so that you can look down and see your own backside. If they could, they would tote you to a taxidermist and hang your lifeless remains above a fireplace.

And the sports pundits buy the myth that this is less difficult than hitting a baseball? How many times was Ted Williams carried from the field on a stretcher, with his eyeballs meeting at the nose?

Then there is one of the most demanding acts in all of sports -- the triathlon.

I'm not talking about the traditional triathlon, which consists of running, swimming, riding a bike or some such thing. It's not that hard, since all it requires is stamina, strength and good health.

No, I'm talking about the more common early Saturday or Sunday morning triathlon, as performed by thousands of sagging American males.

Leg one of this triathlon is getting up with a hangover, somehow making it to the first tee in time to join three similarly afflicted companions, then spending four hours or more suffering the emotional trauma of playing a game in which about 80 percent of your efforts have miserable results.

Leg two is going into the beverage center after the round of golf and sitting there, easing your misery while trying to persuade yourself and your companions that the indignities you just paid good money to endure were really a lot of fun.

Leg three is walking into your home at 10 o'clock that night and trying to explain to your life's companion why it required an absence of 15 hours for you to satisfy your need to escape from life's rat race.

Complete that triathlon, then tell me that hitting a baseball is more difficult.

My final argument: If hitting a baseball is really so difficult, how come the Chicago Cubs can do it?

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