Cubs manager Joe Maddon likes to rest players periodically in the earlier months of a season, hoping they’ll be fresher because of it when August and September roll around. It’s the attitude of a man who is sure his team will be playing meaningful games when the trees start changing colors.
We can have a conversation another time about the likelihood of the Cubs suddenly succeeding after three months of sustained mediocrity. For now, let’s concentrate on the idea that major-league ballplayers need rest.
Rest from what? Running to first base?
OK, OK, I don’t mean to be so flippant. Just a little flippant. Big-league teams have six weeks of spring training and then play 162 games, more if they make the playoffs. There aren’t many days off in between. It’s a grind, as players like to say. But once the season is over, most have 4½ months off. I’ll bet many of you would take that trade-off, given the opportunity.
If there’s a physically less demanding major sport than baseball (catchers excluded!), I don’t know what it would be. An NHL season is 82 games, and it’s filled with all-out effort and high-speed collisions. Just try telling your typical hockey player, a bone sticking through his skin, that he needs a night off.
NFL players have 16 regular-season games a year in which to beat their brains into something resembling rotting cauliflower. Enough said.
According to Runner’s World magazine, a soccer player runs an average of seven miles a game, a field-hockey player 5.6 miles, a tennis player three miles, an NBA player 2.55 miles and a major-league ballplayer however far it is from the dugout to the bathroom. That last part is not true!
In the NBA, Spurs coach Gregg Popovich has been heavily criticized — and the franchise fined — for resting stars during the regular season. The league doesn’t like the idea of fans who spend big money being deprived of the opportunity to see marquee players.
LeBron James sits out a game or two a season in the hopes of being more rested for the playoffs, and he gets ripped for it. But nobody seems bothered when Maddon gives Kris Bryant and others a break now and then. Not that Bryant wants it. As he put it so eloquently recently, ‘‘I’m 25.’’
He’d prefer to play in the All-Star Game on Tuesday, if he gets voted in, rather than have the four-day break.
‘‘I don’t think there is any benefit to the extra days off,’’ Bryant said. ‘‘I think you start the season in April and you expect to be playing until November, whether that be in an exhibition game or whatnot. I feel great right now.’’
Baseball players get to play real games every day. They don’t have to practice, unless you count batting practice and infield work, which you shouldn’t. Ask any Bull or former Bull who played for taskmaster Tom Thibodeau which was harder, a Thibodeau practice or an NBA game. Answer: the one not requiring referees.
Baseball teams have long homestands, unlike NBA and NHL teams, which might have a home game one night and a road game the next, back and forth like that into infinity. Baseball players play many more games and travel a lot, but at least they get to stay in a city for three or four days before the next leg of the journey.
What Maddon likely is getting at, even if he’s not saying it, is that baseball is tedious. Players do the same thing day after day. Some get to the ballpark four hours before a game. They stretch, they hit in the cage, they take grounders. They might lift weights. They play the game. They go home, sleep and do the same thing the next day.
Which, come to think about it, is what 98 percent of jobs are like.
No one worries about the tedium of your job, do they? No one says: ‘‘Wiggins, you’ve got to be tired from licking all those envelopes. Give yourself a four-day weekend.’’ What the boss usually says is: ‘‘There’s no such thing as a strained tongue muscle. Get back to work.’’ Then you walk back to your work station, dreaming of the stamp collection awaiting you at home.
If some baseball fans think the game moves slowly, you can bet some of the players do, too. Cubs pitchers have taken to dancing in the bullpen after the team does something good. They seem to be a happy bunch. It’s also possible that dancing helps them fight the urge to drink from the Jonestown kettle of boredom relief.
There’s no doubt baseball can be tiring mentally. But let’s not mistake it for the rigors of a real job.
Follow me on Twitter @MorrisseyCST.