Baseball and poker are arguably the two pastimes most associated with America. Both sports have grown alongside each other since the early 1900’s. Historian Jacques Barzun wrote that “whoever wants to know the heart and mind of America had better learn baseball.”
Fifty years later, writer James McManus amended Barzun’s quote, replacing “baseball” with “poker” when discussing the growth of poker’s popularity. Both writers are indeed correct, but would have been more accurate if they had simply mentioned both sports.
Playing Baseball on the Felt
Anyone who has played in poker home games has probably has come across a card game called Baseball. The game, which is almost never seen in casinos, creates a lot of action and earned its name due to some interesting rules.
Typically the game follows the normal Seven Card Stud High-Lo rules, with a few additions which can vary from game to game. 3s and 9s are wild, and if you are dealt a 4 face-up, you will receive an extra down card.
For those who follow traditional baseball, these numbers might sound familiar: 3 strikes for an out, 9 innings, and 4 balls for a walk. While these similarities are most likely the reason that the poker game Baseball got its name, there are many other connections between the two sports.
Some of the similarities between baseball and poker appear to be intentional, or at least a result of subconscious forces:
- Baseball’s 2014 World Series Champions will be crowned in just a few weeks. One month later, poker will crown the 2014 World Series of Poker Main Event Champion in Las Vegas.
- The typical poker table has nine players, just as a baseball team.
- When training to become dealers, students are taught to “pitch” the cards.
- Players “catch” cards and get “hit” by the deck.
- Cards that are needed to give a player a winning hand and defeat their opponents are “outs.”
- Both require patience, mental focus, and a great deal of practice in order to be successful.
A Natural Career Move for Many
With all that they have in common, it’s no surprise that the two games attract the same people. Players like Babe Ruth, Ricky Henderson, Sammy Sosa and Alex Rodriquez are all known as avid poker players.
Conversely, there are several professional poker players who have made the move from the baseball to the poker tables.
Chad Brown, who died from cancer earlier this year, was lucky enough have multiple career choices; baseball, acting, or poker. He moved from one to the next until he found his true calling at the poker table and had an incredible amount of success in the game he enjoyed up until his last few months.
Eric Baldwin led his school to the 2005 NCAA National Championship in baseball, but upon completing his degree he decided to pursue a career in poker. He has earned several championship titles in poker including an elusive World Series of Poker bracelet.
However, one former baseball player that began to play poker seriously at the end stands above all of the others.
A “Bulldog” on the Mound and On the Felt
Former Dodger Orel Hershiser is known for his competitive spirit. During his baseball career, this earned him a number of World Series victories and MVP Honors. At the poker tables, the same drive has earned him $90,000 in tournament winnings.
Hershiser said that poker “is something you can be competitive at while sitting down. As your body starts to fail you as an athlete, you find it hard to find places that can get your adrenaline flowing.”
Hershiser is primarily a cash game player, but his skills at the tournament table became evident during the NBC National Heads-Up Championship, where he surprised poker pros and poker fans alike by finishing in fifth place.
A Natural Name for the Game
By now, the reason why a poker game called Baseball exists should be fairly evident. The two great American pastimes are seemingly linked at the most basic of levels. In fact, not having a poker game called “Baseball” would be an aberration.
The connection between poker and baseball is perhaps as old as the two games themselves, and the similarities are seemingly endless. As Jackie Robinson once said:
“Baseball is like a poker game. Nobody wants to quit when he’s losing; nobody wants you to quit when you’re ahead.”