As a commercial, professional proposition, even while millions of American children were playing the game, Americans have traditionally resisted soccer as an alien activity, barren of scoring and somewhat subversive.
It is better than that, of course. But some of us will always prefer baseball. "The beautiful game" is in the eye of the beholder. "The grand old game" remains the finest sporting invention ever devised by the human mind, so splendid that it gives evidence of man's potential for divinity.
The home of "the beautiful game" -- and the 2014 World Cup -- is Brazil. The game wasn't so beautiful in the semifinals this week when Brazil was beaten to a pulp by Germany, 7-1. It was an unthinkable margin. The 30-3 victory by the Texas Rangers over the Baltimore Orioles in 2007 is not even close to the epic drubbing that 7-1 represents in a World Cup semi.
The whole thing was over very early when Germany took a 2-0 lead. As everyone knows, Germany does not lose leads. In fact, the last time the Germans lost a big lead was in the winter of 1942-43 at Stalingrad.
News reports suggest that with the landslide loss to Germany, the entire nation of Brazil has been depressed, demoralized, debilitated, dejected by what was referred to at the postgame news conference as "this catastrophic result."
In the interest of global understanding and empathy, let's look at this as a hands-across-the-water moment. Now, the people in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Belo Horizonte, Porto Alegre, Brasilia, Recife, etc., know how Cubs fans have felt for the last 106 years.
This reminds us of a concept that might be borrowed from soccer by our national pastime. The English Premier League, for instance, employs "relegation," in which the least successful teams are banished to a lesser league. Do you think the Cubs could still be having this century-plus drought if they were occasionally forced to inhabit the International League? Or the Pacific Coast League? The Southern League? The Gulf Coast League? The Arizona Fall League?
Comparisons between baseball and soccer are otherwise not routinely productive. American baseball fans who complain about the lack of scoring in soccer may be reminded that our national pastime no longer features the 12-10 games that were staples of baseball circa 1998.
The 1-0 game, as in the dead-ball era, is no stranger to contemporary baseball. Of course, baseball does not have the 0-0 game, the technical score of the other World Cup semifinal, Argentina vs. the Netherlands.
Argentina won on penalty kicks, 4-2. This is where soccer falls on its collective posterior. All this movement, all this athleticism, all this back and forth all game, and at the end, if nobody can score, it is decided by guys kicking a stationary object. Baseball, when faced with a tie, continues playing the game under the same rules until somebody wins it in the conventional manner. Thirty years ago, I covered a 25-inning game that took two nights. It took two nights because the American League at that time had a curfew. Baseball wanted the neighbors to get a decent night's sleep. The game was a thing of beauty.
Demeaning the "world's game" was never a particularly productive activity for Americans, and it is less so now, as more Americans get on the soccer bandwagon. It is a wonderful game, we may freely acknowledge, but it is still in no way superior to our national game.
Go to hundreds of baseball games, go to thousands of baseball games, and every time you will see still something that you have never seen before. And the new thing you see will be worth seeing. It will not be Germany 7, Brazil 1. And it will not be a guy biting another guy in the shoulder.
Baseball has represented the best possibilities of American society, as it did when Jackie Robinson smashed a racial barrier. The notion that soccer represents some sort of superior culture residing in Europe is historically blind. Our ancestors left Europe by the millions. They left Europe to escape grinding poverty and political, religious and social persecution. They came to America to find something better. Eventually, something better included baseball.