The NFL is the most popular league in the history of North America. Baseball is in relative decline.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t like football. I’m just saying that America has terrible taste.
Let’s recap recent events in the former and current American pastimes:
The NFL has had an unsightly week, which is to say that the NFL was in business.
The Cleveland Browns gave the most guaranteed money in league history to a quarterback, Deshaun Watson, accused by two dozen women of sexual assault. The NFL hired a judge to discipline him, and she gave him a six-game suspension.
The Browns’ owners then released a statement claiming that Watson has been remorseful even though he has never expressed remorse. The Browns also structured Watson’s contract so he wouldn’t pay a heavy financial price for allegedly sexually assaulting women.
NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell, usually a weak leader who imposes weak disciplines, was appropriately offended and is appealing the punishment, hoping for a yearlong suspension and hefty fine.
Another NFL owner, the Dolphins’ Stephen Ross, was punished for tampering with Saints coach Sean Payton and Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady. He also was accused by former Dolphins coach Brian Flores of offering a cash reward for losing games to improve the team’s draft status.
Washington owner Dan Snyder went on his yacht to avoid a congressional subpoena before agreeing to testify about the toxic workplace he has created. Perhaps the greatest coach in NFL history, BIll Belichick, has cheated so often that his Hall of Fame bust will wear a disguise.
At least the NFL offers entertainment on the field. In August, this means long, drilling, hot practices. In Eagan, this also means a rookie head coach admonishing reporters and fans to keep what they see a secret, because there is no way to beat the Green Bay Packers if they know that you might throw the ball to Dalvin Cook.
While the NFL was maintaining its popularity in spite of itself, baseball won the week.
Creating one, firm trade deadline produced the kind of speculation and action that jarred the sport from its dog-days lethargy.
Amid a series of stunning moves, Juan Soto, one of the greatest young hitters in baseball history was traded from a recent champion, Washington, to the San Diego Padres for a remarkable haul of prospects.
The Padres and the Twins, two mid-market teams historically protective of prospects, were more aggressive than the Mets, Dodgers and White Sox — three major-market contenders.
The Padres traded for Soto, star closer Josh Hader and slugger Josh Bell. They will play alongside Manny Machado and, once he’s healthy, Fernando Tatis, Jr.
The Padres have spent big, in money and prospects, to build the most entertaining and flamboyant team in baseball. The Twins traded a bunch of prospects for three pitchers and a catcher, two of which — starter Tyler Mahle and closer Jorge Lopez — are under contract for 2023 as well. Lopez doesn’t become a free agent until 2025.
The Twins’ moves didn’t dramatically alter their statistical projections for becoming a World Series team, but they rewarded an overachieving group and sent notice to a jaded fan base.
Baseball at its best is unmatched for intricate drama. Baseball at its worst is a summer dirge.
“We’re here every day,” Twins manager Rocco Baldelli said. “Consistent is probably the way you’d describe our game. In a lot of ways, the trade deadline flips that upside down, in an exciting way that produces energy — for the fans, but also for us in this clubhouse.
“I mean, it was a great day and it reinforced a lot of belief in that group out there in the clubhouse.”
World Series titles can’t be the only measure of a franchise. Playing meaningful games, year after year, is just as important.
Even the death of Dodgers broadcaster Vin Scully provided a reminder of baseball’s presence in American life. Only in baseball can a lilting voice become a daily gift.