The Hardest Thing In Sports

By Austin Einhorn

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Warning: this is a rant. I’m sick of hearing that hitting a baseball is (supposedly) the hardest thing in sports. Hall of Famer, Ted Williams, is credited for this statement. Sure, hitting a baseball is hard, but it is not the hardest thing in sports. You have to be able to hit a pitch as a prerequisite to simply play baseball. Anyone with any sort of tenure in the sport can do that. Even pitchers make contact. That’s not very special then, is it? Williams and other baseball players might feel differently if they tried to run ten yards in the NFL. What if Williams tried to play quarterback and find an open receiver in a fraction of a second while at least three 250-300 pound super-athletes tried to tackle him to the ground? Yeah, he might change his mind.

Surely those who have been in a position to receive a tennis serve from Andy Roddick at 140+ mph would argue with Williams. Or what about being an NHL goalie? NHL goalies can only use an oversized chopstick, their body, and a glove to block a 100 mph slap shot, which can be redirected at any time or even blocked from view. And they’re on ice. Baseball batters would throw tantrums if someone stood in the way of seeing their precious pitch.

If you’re defensively muttering to yourself all the fancy science that goes into hitting a baseball, consider badminton. Imagine receiving a badminton shuttlecock that starts out at 180 mph from less than 43 feet away. Baseball’s 105 mph pitches from 60 feet are a walk in the park. Badminton players must entirely anticipate where the birdie may end up. Human eyes cannot even see the birdie in flight. It might as well teleport from the attacker to a few feet away from the defender.

Or what about trying to make a defensive play on the volleyball court? If you are standing 15 feet away from the net, and the ball is being attacked at 10 feet high and travels at 80 mph, the resulting flight path of the ball is only 18 feet. This leaves you a whopping 0.250 seconds to dig the ball. The 0.400 seconds and 60 feet that baseball batters are gifted is an eternity. Furthermore, pitchers are required to throw the ball in a predetermined zone for batters. How convenient. In volleyball, badminton, and hockey, the object of interest can go anywhere and start from various places!

What about trying to run a marathon under two hours? A Herculean effort is warranted. In the last year alone, there have been about 750 people in the Major League Baseball League. All of them have made contact with a pitch. When we compare that to the 100m sprint, there are only 136 people who have ever recorded a time under 10 seconds. Many of these sprinters work for years just to shave a mere hundredth of a second off of their time.

Or how about pole vaulting? You carry a 10-18 foot pole, sprint at full speed, plant the end of the stick into an oversized gopher hole, so you can then hurl yourself over a bar twenty feet in the air.

Next, let’s consider climbing El Capitan, with no rope. El Cap is 3,000 vertical feet of Yosemite’s fine granite. It is considered the Mecca of rock climbing. Objectively, this is one of the hardest things in sports, since only one person has done it. Furthermore, if the climber, Alex Honnold, doesn’t hit a homerun on his one and only attempt, he dies.

The point is, hitting a baseball is not easy. Yet, it is definitely not the hardest thing in sports. Baseball is extremely popular and analyzed more than any other sport in the world. Thus, fancy videos are made with seemingly mind-bending numbers that serve as catnip and click-bait to the feeble-minded public. Winning this conversational contest is as ridiculous as winning the Darwin Awards. And I have no shame in trying to win--I’m in a sporting mood and will place my bet.

The hardest things in sports is none of the above. Statistically, the hardest thing to do in any sport is to stay healthy. Abstractly speaking, the hardest things are: to play happily, to be able to retire confidently, and to remember that you are a person who plays a sport, not just an athlete. Those things are difficult and valuable. A happy, healthy, and purposeful athlete can have a positive impact on the world.

Austin Einhorn