For many years, athletes around the world have debated which sport is the hardest. This discussion is always a biased one, as each person thinks their respective sport is most difficult. Each sport has its own part of the game that is demanding, whether it is physical or mental. Football is arguably the most physically strenuous major U.S. sport, while golf is more mentally challenging. The hardest part of any sport is dealing with failure, and baseball is the sport that requires the most of that ability. Overall, each sport is unique in difficulty, as some parts are harder than others. When it comes to the general difficulty of each, baseball takes the crown of the hardest sport.
The Mental Game
Batting average is the percentage of how often a batter gets a hit. The average MLB Hall of Famer has a career average of .302, (Baseball Reference) which means that to be considered one of the greatest hitters of all time, the player must fail seventy percent of the time. There is no other sport where this kind of failure is considered a success. In basketball, shooting 30 percent from the field results in being cut. Football is similar, where if a quarterback can only complete 30 percent of his passes, he won’t last long. Many players find it difficult to deal with failure, and once they experience the slightest inconvenience, they can’t handle it. Mental toughness is a skill that every player must have to play baseball. Other than dealing with failure, there is one other major mental block that makes baseball the hardest sport.
The pace of play with baseball is one of the hardest things to deal with as a player. On average, there are about 146 pitches by each team during a game (Baseball Reference). Each player must be locked in during every single play. In football, there are about 64 plays in each game. But in football, each player is physically involved in each play. Likewise, basketball players usually touch the ball most if not all possessions. Baseball players don’t have this luxury as they are not even involved in most of their plays.
However, they still must be ready to make a play perfectly and quickly, because as we know baseball is a “game of inches.” Sitting without action for sometimes more than an hour and then having to spur instantaneously is a very difficult task. This requirement for concentration throughout the whole, repetitive game is a skill not many have.
Halftime: The Hardest Physical Activity in all of Sports
If baseball was strictly a mental game, it would not be the hardest. It is one of the harder mental sports out there, but mental difficulty alone doesn’t make it the most extreme when it comes to the overall challenge of the sport. But what if I told you baseball has the single hardest physical activity of any sport? Of course, I am talking about hitting a baseball. The average MLB fastball is 92.4 MPH (MLB.com), leaving the batters who are 60 feet away just .4 seconds to react. The average human reaction time is .75 seconds, meaning that batters must start their swings before the ball is even on the move, and still have time to adjust to location, spin rate, and situation. Oh, and that is just the fastball. Most pitchers have at least three pitches, with a few up to five or more.
Some simple addition should help our case on why hitting is so hard. A round bat no more than 2.75 inches in width plus a round 9-inch baseball does not equal success. Just connecting with pitches is impressive, but having to get the ball in between, in front of, or over defenders makes it even harder. And lastly, unless you are the Houston Astros, you do not know what pitch is even coming. The pitcher can deceive hitters into thinking a 75 MPH changeup is the same as a 90 MPH fastball. This forces the hitter to be ready to hit something unbelievably fast, while also managing to identify when the pitcher is trying to trick him by throwing something slow. The absolute coordination and reaction time this takes is unheard of and is not matched by any other activity in sports.
The Rest of the Physical Struggles
Hitting may be the single hardest task in all of sports, but that isn’t the only tough one in baseball. We have discussed the mental side of fielding and the focus needed for that. The physical side of fielding is also grueling though. For example, outfielders, who are usually positioned over 280 feet away at least, must be able to track a 9-inch white ball from those 280 feet all the way into their glove. They must complete this action not only while battling the sun and the movement of the ball but also while moving at a full sprint themselves.
Wide receivers also must track the football, and while the football is bigger, the receivers are also much closer and don’t have to track the ball as far and for as long as the baseball players do. This tracking doesn’t even consider the speed at which the ball approaches, which is often at speeds above 100 MPH.
The Combination of Physical and Mental Detriments
A football regular season is 16 games, with a basketball one featuring 82 games. These numbers of course are in a normal, non Covid-19 season. A baseball regular season features 162 games per year. This abundance of games not only drains the players physical stamina, but also mental stamina. The players not only need to be locked in all game long, they truly need to be locked in for months at a time. This is a tough task, especially with the injury risk. Baseball is the hardest sport because this fatiguing season requires players to take care of their body for longer. Each player exerts max energy every single swing, pitch, or throw, and it takes a lot of hard work to keep their bodies at maximum efficiency to be able to play all season long.
Being good at baseball requires short term success and a lot of talent in specific physical areas, but it also requires more mental discipline and mental strength than any other sport. This combination of physical and mental tests is the x-factor in why baseball is so difficult to play at a high level.