What's Harder To Do: Hit A Home Run Or Score A Soccer Goal?

Jun 7, 2017
Originally published on June 7, 2017 12:14 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Two great athletes broke major milestones over the weekend. And they did it in very different sports. That did not, however, stop commentator Kevin Blackistone from thinking about how their achievements compare.

KEVIN BLACKISTONE, BYLINE: Now that we've settled that 2,000-year-old question about the chicken or the egg - the egg came first, OK? - I've got another pertinent ponderment for you. What is harder to do, hit a major-league home run or score a European-league soccer goal? I'm asking because of the milestone baseball All-Star Albert Pujols and soccer megastar Cristiano Ronaldo reached last Saturday. Pujols smacked his 600th home run, a grand slam at that, in Anaheim, Calif., to become only the ninth player in baseball history to reach that rung. The same day in Cardiff, Wales, Ronaldo booted two balls into the net to reach the 600-goals plateau. That's goals for his country, Portugal, and his pro clubs - currently Real Madrid in the Spanish league. Only five other soccer players have scored so many.

About a decade ago, a USA Today survey found that many Americans think the hardest thing to do in any sport is hit a baseball, let alone hit it some 400 feet over the outfield wall. Of soccer, the only thing that rated in the survey was saving a penalty kick. But that's more the luck of guessing than skill. Ronaldo, hundreds of times, has maneuvered through 10 men trying to stop him before kicking a ball into a 24-foot-wide, 8-foot-high net minded by a very tall and athletic goalie - the only guy on the field who can use his hands. That requires athleticism plus skill, more than just planting a wood stick perfectly on a thrown baseball traveling upwards of 90 miles per hour and most likely not in an easily discerned straight line.

I queried the Twitterverse (ph) the other day. Sixty-two percent of 527 voters said what Ronaldo did was more difficult. I found a more scientific answer on the website Quora, where a math whiz broke down goals scored and home runs hit in the run of a typical professional soccer and baseball game. Home runs were rarer than goals. I checked the findings with a quantum physicist friend - a guy who's so smart he cited his own work more than Einstein's in his dissertation. Looking at the number of home runs per unit time in baseball as a Quora commenter does, my personal Einstein said, suggests this is harder as an isolated task - at least in the sense that it's rarer.

A rocket scientist buddy at NASA concurred, adding this qualification. What would you rather do, stand in a batter's box and face a 90-mile-per-hour fastball or take your chances kicking a ball into a 24-foot-wide net? Well, when you put it that way, (yelling) goal.

(SOUNDBITE OF DAN THE AUTOMATOR'S "BALLER BLOCKIN'")

MARTIN: Kevin Blackistone is a sports columnist for The Washington Post, and he teaches journalism at the University of Maryland. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.