There is a scene in “Man of Steel” in which Clark Kent is watching a college football game involving the Kansas Jayhawks. In a fantastical movie, it rings true. A Kansas-raised farmboy could never miss a Jayhawks game.
But Superman, in all that he personifies and symbolizes, is baseball, not football.
Batman is football.
With respect to George Carlin’s “Baseball and Football,” consider:
Superman’s colors are a striking blue and red – the colors of the Chicago Cubs or the Montreal Expos, or perhaps a Dodger blue and an Angels red, a Blue Jays blue and a Cardinals red, a Mets blue and a Nats red, a Rangers blue and a Cincinnati red. Batman wears black – the color of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Oakland Raiders, and Atlanta Falcons; the color added in with emphasis to toughen up the Baltimore Ravens’ purple, the Jacksonville Jaguars’ teal, and the Arizona Cardinals’ red.
Baseball, like Superman, is about warmth and laughter. Baseball’s at its greatest when bathed in sunlight on a gorgeous spring or summer day. When the baseball playoffs roll around, there is wide complaint that they stretch on far too late into the night. “What happened to afternoon playoff games?” society laments. “Afternoon playoff games were wonderful.”
Football, like Batman, is cold and brutal. Football’s greatest games are held under cover of darkened, wintry skies, illuminated by artificial lights. Anyone complaining that the Super Bowl ends too late will quickly be shouted down.
Adorned in his full superhero garb, Superman shows his face for all to see. Batman, like every football player mid-battle, wears a mask.
Superman and baseball are both part of our nostalgic past. We grew up with them; we romanticize them to the point of unreasonably wholesome expectations. The slightest hint of anything underhanded is enough to create a furor. If Batman was caught using steroids, our society would hardly bat an eye. He’s just a man, after all, and if he’s causing himself a premature death due to repeated concussions and violent collisions, it’s at least for our benefit.
Clark Kent grew up with strong family bonds, Minor League countrysides, and Field of Dreams cornfields. It’s a good bet that Jonathan Kent and young Clark enjoyed many a catch. Millionaire businessman Bruce Wayne is a far better bet to keep tabs on the latest Vegas lines, place money on regular Sunday parlays and brag about his fantasy team.
America has been very, very good to the immigrant Superman, a Kryptonian enjoying the same sort of success and fame that beloved fellow international travellers Roberto Clemente, Ichiro Suzuki, and Miguel Cabrera have found on these fair shores. Batman is from Gotham, dates models, enjoys the nightlife, and his native city will turn on him in a heartbeat the next time he screws up.
When Superman takes on an opponent, he swings from his heels a la Babe Ruth. Batman scouts every inch of his enemy’s physical and psychological makeup for potential weaknesses, masterminding a gameplan so complex, thorough, and devious that Bill Belichick would be proud.
In recent decades, Superman has been overtaken by Batman in superhero fandom – so much so that “Man of Steel” was created and shaped so as to be a harder, ‘grittier’ take on the wholesome hero in an attempt to relate it to Christopher Nolan’s intense Batman trilogy. Baseball, overtaken by football in much the same way, has undergone the same soul-searching, mimicking its rival sport in order to recapture interest and national popularity. Increased divisions, wild cards and interleague play were introduced. The NFL Draft became an event, and so the MLB Draft was rebuilt in its image. The NFL Network launched and took off, and so the MLB Network was similarly devised (and is, I would declare, a terrific success).
But this is not the 1940s and 1950s. Superman is no longer king of the superhero mountain, nor is baseball still the dominant national pastime.
“Man of Steel” was not well-received by critics, and yet it has made over $400 million thus far at the box office. Baseball may lag behind football in TV ratings and other such measurables, but the attendance at Minor League and Major League ballparks is healthier than ever, topping 116 million fans in 2012.
Let the sun shine down.