A few positions in sports are exceptional because they’re just different. Pitchers and goalkeepers are two of these: although the National League makes pitchers hit, and goalkeeepers do play the ball with their feet, the nature of both spots — their relationships with their respective sports — have very little in common with that of the other players on the field. I mean, after all: pitchers get to take half of the game off and keepers can touch the ball with their hands.
This weekend, a pitcher and a keeper both transcended their positions, so to speak, by providing offense. Nationals phenom pitcher Stephen Strasburg, who has a 2.21 ERA and a 1.019 WHIP so far this year, homered against the Orioles. It was the first time in his career that he went yard, but the announcers explained that it was only a matter of time, considering the way he’d been pounding the leather off balls in batting practice.
Meanwhile, in the Champions League final, Bayern Munich keeper Manuel Neuer converted a perfectly struck penalty in the game-deciding shootout. Munich lost in the end, but Neuer did make a save in addition to hitting his shot.
Neuer’s penalty isn’t exactly a keeper scoring a goal, since it happened in the shootout and so doesn’t count statistically as a proper goal. Regardless, it’s still rare, and it’s still awesome, and as it happened, more than one observer took to Twitter to tweet about how it reminded him/her of pitchers homering.
Considering their synchronicity, though, I wondered: how do the two actually compare?
Statistically, it’s unclear, for the sole reason that baseball and soccer exist in such different frameworks. The MLB is one league, with never more than 30 teams, existing for over a century; soccer has a ton of leagues AND international competition AND the constant shuffling of squads through relegation and promotion and etc.
BUT: I found this list on Wikipedia (bear with me) of the top goalscoring keepers in history, extended across club and international competition. Altogether, according to the list and my rough adding skills, there have been 1099 goals scored by keepers, mostly on penalties and free kicks. The highest scoring keeper is Rogerio Ceni, a Brazilian, and, with 103 tallies, he’s ahead by almost 50%.
7. This guy, Rene Higuita, has 39 of them.
It’s harder to ask how many pitchers have hit home runs. Only 18 pitchers have more than 15 home runs in their career, but many pitchers have hit just one or two. And this is where the comparison between pitchers homering and keepers scoring becomes impossible.
There’s no question: hitting a home run is harder than converting a penalty. Penalties are notoriously difficult to save, requiring guesswork and intuition from the keeper. So long as the player taking the penalty is able to kick a soccer ball with any amount of accuracy, which a keeper obviously could, it’s not all that difficult to score. The same is not true of hitting a home run; many people couldn’t clear the fences no matter what, and this becomes infinitely more difficult when the ball you have to hit 300+ feet comes at you at 90-something miles per hour.
However, pitchers also get far more chances to hit home runs than goalkeepers do shots on goal; some keepers may never in their careers have a legitimate chance at scoring, while pitchers have at-bats in National League parks as long as they remain in the game. So, I think it’s fair to say that, though hitting a home run might be more difficult, a goal-scoring keeper is rarer.
(Note: The most remarkable quality of Neuer’s penalty is that it came in the crucial moments of the highest-profile game in soccer. For comparison, as of 2008, 13 pitchers had homered in the World Series, and before Joe Blanton’s in ‘08, it hadn’t happened since 1974.)