Happy Thursday, WFNY Community. It’s a beautiful day in the virtual neighborhood. While I’m bummed about the Indians’ recent struggles against sub-.500 teams, my baseball opinions are largely invalid as I just learned who Aaron Judge was last week. I still choose to believe that the Indians will ramp it up and successfully stalk down that division title, but I’m basing that strictly on faith (and the fact that they play in a lousy division). But, while we’re waiting…
Let’s talk about an important topic: If you were a crummy professional athlete, what would your sport be? In other words, what is the best benchwarmer sport? Before you preempt this entire debate and say, “Well I started varsity baseball as a sophomore so obviously I’d play baseball,” WAIT UNTIL YOU SEE THE RULES! Here are the rules.
1. You’re not good. Whatever your sport is. This is the MOST important rule. You aren’t the starting quarterback of the Dallas Cowboys or even the Cleveland Browns. You suck. You suck hard. This is neither the glitz nor the glamour and neither the fame nor fortune of sports stardom. Salaries and contracts are relevant, but only in the sense that you make what is essentially the league minimum with the barest of contractual protections available in the sport. You will not bring in any endorsement deals other than the bleakest and unintentionally funny local car dealerships and sandwich shops. Some fans will be excited to get your autograph, but they will all be nine-years-old or less. You will have a lengthy career, though by virtue of being remarkably unremarkable. Even though you probably dominated in high school and were good enough to stay on a professional roster, you are, by and large, a punchline. You are capable of impressive athletic feats and have reached the pinnacle of your sport, but just barely.
2. BUT, you might play. This is important too. There is a non-trivial possibility that you will enter a non-exhibition game either due to situational circumstances, injury, or other assorted calamity. You’re the reserve utility infielder when two or three guys go on the DL, the 13th-to-15th man on an NBA squad, or the backup quarterback behind a Pro-Bowler who’s seldom injured. Think Michael Martinez for the Indians,1 Jordan McRae of the Cavaliers before the team released him, or the quarterback for the Browns who … actually, there is no eligible quarterback for the Browns because any quarterback for the Browns could be forced to play at literally any conceivable moment. Think Matt McGloin of the Oakland Raiders.
3. You do have to practice. This is one of the most important factors. You still are an athlete — you’re just a (comparatively) bad one. But the training and requisite physical exertion are still required.
4. Scheduling matters. This should be self-evident, but it’s important to be mindful of this factor. Like, you’re with the team all the time when the team is doing things. This may be the most important single item.
5. Only the three major American sports are in consideration. MLB, NBA, and NFL. There is a compelling case to be made for soccer, and hockey would be interesting too. But, I just don’t know about enough about them and they aren’t central enough to the fabric of American culture to warrant inclusion in this discussion. Apologies to NASCAR and tennis.
6. Only important positions. Aka “the kicker rule.” We’re excluding kickers, punters, long-snappers, designated hitters, etc. Real positions only.
7. All other external factors are relevant. Weather, arenas, uniforms, etc.
You might be asking yourself, “Why is any of this important? Who the hell cares which sport I would play if I was a below average professional athlete?” Well, to be frank, it’s not important and no one cares — at least no one with any rational perspective on life. But, I’m not one of those people, and these pointless debates whose origins are at the bottom of an empty IPA glass are one of the few things in which I take great pleasure. The point is that if you were good at your sport, then it would strictly come down to personal preference of what sport you liked to play. This debate gets at the crux of the idea, “If it were strictly a job and nothing more, which professional sport would you participate in?” Again, you’re a professional athlete, but you no longer derive any joy from the game itself whatsoever.2 You’re disillusioned, and your dreams have been dashed like everyone else’s in the world. We’re looking for the best bench-warmer sport.3 So, which job as a professional would you dislike the least?
Here are my thoughts, in no particular order:
- Baseball probably requires the least physical exertion. Sure, being a backup in football (especially quarterback) may demand little to no effort, which is nice. But come on, Bartolo Colon is, as of Wednesday evening, still — temporarily, anyway — an “athlete” as far as Major League Baseball is concerned. Need I say any more?
- On the other hand, basketball consistently requires some fairly rigorous physical conditioning, even for a big guy. Furthermore, with small rosters, there’s not much hiding to be done in basketball practice. Anytime there’s a full scrimmage, you can expect to work fairly hard as a basketball player. You’re probably being regularly abused by the ones too, depending on how vindictive the higher profile players on your team are.
- Football can go either way. If you’re a second- or third-stringer, then you may receive hardly any reps and can do basically nothing during skeleton drills. On the other hand, being on the scout team is not fun. There is the highest potential for recurring physical pain in football, because, you know, hitting. However, the way modern practices go in the NFL, you could conceivably avoid being hit for several consecutive weeks. Football clearly has the greatest variability and daily quality of life.
- To sum up one of the most important factors: Baseball is likely going to demand the least physical exertion, and is least likely to take quality years off your life. Basketball probably requires the most consistent conditioning and effort, but football could take years of your life and has the lowest lows of all the sports.
- What about mental effort? While baseball players can be studious and basketball requires film work and planning, football game plans require the most up-front preparation on a weekly basis. I don’t even know if the backups can totally blow off the weekly game plan — plus there may be intensive scout team prep. Con for football.
- As far as entering the game, football probably has the highest potential for, “Oh shit oh shit I have to go in.” A baseball player can enter the game on a moment’s notice, and it’s generally only a real bummer if you’re entering the game cold in a high-profile situation. Subbing in a basketball game from the end of the bench is probably not so bad, although it may have the greatest potential for high-profile embarrassment (being dunked on in a blowout). But if you were planning on enjoying a leisurely Sunday on the sidelines, only to be asked to the ball at J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney after the first two running backs were concussed? That sounds highly unpleasant.
- Let’s look at the routine, no-play situation on game day: the standard day at the office as a benchwarmer. Basketball seems fairly cushy. With those nice butt pads they now have on NBA sidelines to make sitting in tiny chairs easier for the ultra-tall, there’s probably hardly any discomfort at all. It looks quite luxurious. Plus with small rosters, travel is probably a fairly uniform experience among all the players. BUT, if you did happen to doze off during the game or were playing too much grabass on the bench, the coach is definitely going to notice. Baseball has the highest probability of being downright leisurely. After all, baseball is the only sport to have a “beer and chicken” scandal this decade. If you’re in the bullpen? Even better. Do crossword puzzles, read a book, play some Candy Crush. Hell, take a nap. No one’s going to notice. Plus you can chew sunflower seeds or throw a fat wad of chew in, if you’re into that sort of thing. Football has plenty of opportunities to screw around as you can be fairly anonymous with all those bodies on the sideline (and you could probably chew sunflower seeds), but unless you’re old or semi-important, you’re probably going to need to stand for two-to-four hours. They’re all solid gigs on bench-warming days, but baseball gets the edge here.
- Where basketball has a clear and decisive edge over baseball and football is ambient temperature. Milwaukee might be a frigid hellscape in the middle of January, but it’s still going to be between 70 and 80 degrees in the Target Center. The arena confines are going to be cozy regardless of the weather outside. Sure, you may not spend as much time outdoors as you’d like, but it’s a small tradeoff for the certainty of comfort. Meanwhile, Arlington, Texas, in August and Green Bay, Wisconsin, in December both sound miserable and nightmarish. Whether football’s indifference to the elements makes it more undesirable than the relentlessness of baseball’s exposure is debatable. Is a muggy weekend series in Kansas City worse than one rainy Sunday night in Seattle? That could be decided by personal preference.
- The NBA has the most annoying in-game experience. While being exposed to every stupid third-down hype ritual at NFL stadiums would be irritating, the NBA arena is an orgy of noise and constant sensory stimulation. So many dancers, so many flashing lights, so many t-shirt cannons, so much “Turn Down for What.” That has to get old. You wouldn’t even get to see Red Panda perform because you would be in the locker room during halftime.
- I have to assume football’s training camp is more unpleasant than spring training in Arizona or Florida or the NBA’s preseason workouts.
- Best groupies: basketball. This position is unassailable.
- Schedule is a hugely important factor. For game days, football is 16 fall Sundays … and that’s it. Basketball’s 82 games is rough, but not bordering on cruel and unusual punishment. One hundred sixty-two baseball games is downright lunacy.
- For the schedule with regards to the timing of the season and offseason, baseball seems the least advantageous. If you’re on a bad basketball team, you have the whole summer off! You lose all of fall with football, but you still retain most of the summer. But with baseball, you lose your entire summer to your profession. You get October through January off? Not that awesome, unless you’re really into apple-picking, ice fishing, snowmobiling, or vacationing in the Southern Hemisphere. The potential for games on Christmas (NBA), Thanksgiving (NFL), and Fourth of July (MLB) is a valid consideration, but hardly a deal-breaker.
- Basketball probably has the best opportunity for a vibrant night life, right? Most of the arenas are in downtowns and the schedule is sporadic enough to allow for an occasional night off in a worldly city. Those Sunday afternoon games at MSG or the Staples Center always have great hangover potential for a reason. Although notably, you will never have to visit Oklahoma City as a professional in the MLB or NFL.
- The quality of your teammates can go to any sport. The NBA does the best job of integrating the personality of its players into its product, but I concede that basketball players are the most diva-like of the three major sports. The Indians seem to have a likable bunch of guys, but it’s hard to discern much with the size of football rosters. Joe Thomas seems like a great guy, but the team demeanor surrounding the Browns has not seemed to be “fun” or “good” overall. The quality and likability of your teammates is probably more dependent on organizational culture and individual teams than the sport. Hockey could have earned some points here if it were eligible, as hockey players are rumored to be great hangs.
- Boredom is another vital factor. Remember: you’re not good at your sport. The opportunity for mind-numbing boredom seems highest in baseball, with the 162 games and barely any days off. Plus, baseball? Despite the presumptive exhilaration of being a professional athlete, there are an abundance of dull moments in every professional sport. But I think baseball is the only one that’s repetitive and dull enough to make me envious of a toll booth operator.
My final verdict: If I were a benchwarmer with no way to appreciably impact my team’s fate, I would choose to be a professional basketball player. The deciding factors were ultimately that the consistent comfort of the arena seems better than being repeatedly exposed to the grossness of weather, I would be able to maintain free summers, and the possibility of physical assault is appreciably lower than in football. I’m sure there are plenty of factors I’m overlooking, and it’s not a clear or obvious choice, but that’s my final decision.
Your Calvin and Hobbes strip of the day. This is one of the simpler Calvin and Hobbes strips that may be short on humor or big punchlines, but is impossible not to smile at. I hope you’re enjoying your summer.
And now for the random 90s song of the day. I don’t give enough love to ’90s hip-hop in tR90sSotD, just because my heart belongs to 90s alt-rock and kitsch. But it’s time to give love to The Chronic‘s “Nuthin’ But a ‘G’ Thang.” As a suburban white kid, Dr. Dre was an revelation. Snoop Dogg’s verse on “‘G’ Thang” is absolutely killer. This is also an excellent karaoke song if you can find a capable partner and can properly negotiate the expletives. I haven’t finished HBO’s new documentary about Dr. Dre and Jimmy Iovine The Defiant Ones yet, but the first episode was tremendous. Enjoy this vintage somethin’ from the City of Compton. (NSFW obviously.)
You never been on a ride like this befo’
With a producer who can rap and control the maestro
At the same time with the dope rhyme that I kick
You know and I know, I flow some old funky shit
- [Remembers Michael Martinez grounding out in the 10th inning of Game 7 of the World Series.] Damn you, Michael Martinez!!! [↩]
- While many of the highest-profile athletes no longer enjoy playing their sport and view it strictly as a profession, it still muddies the argument, and several of the best athletes still relish the opportunities they have to play their game. So, this possibility needs to be eliminated from the discussion. [↩]
- It’s worth pointing out that I did a fair amount of bench-warming in each of these sports at the amateur level, so I do have some mild expertise. I was equally untalented at all of them, so I’m not biased by any propensity to succeed in one sport. [↩]