If you’ve read my offerings in the past, you’re well aware of how much baseball played in the development of my love of sports, the reporting of sports, and where it all led.
I bring this up because MLB’s post-season playoffs leading to the teams competing in the World Series is underway.
The game is not the one I experienced as a youngster, nor the game I knew as a broadcaster.
It is not the same during the time I was the TV voice of the Boston Red Sox and called the 1975 World Series, nor the time I was at the mike on Fox and Turner Sports for division series playoffs as recently as 2013.
Baseball as it’s now played is all about the home run. Why is that wrong, you might say?
I’ll tell you.
The home run is a dramatic moment in the game, when the ball leaves the field into the stands, over the wall, or beyond an outfielder’s leap, that produces a groundswell of sudden emotion that is truly captivating.
My call of Carlton Fisk’s homer in the 12th inning of Game 6 of the ’75 World Series is still my greatest on-air moment.
For those who are old enough, or are aware of baseball history, Bobby Thomson’s “shot heard ’round the world” in the 1951 playoff to bring the New York Giants back from the abyss to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers to win the National League pennant is etched in stone.
A glorious moment that will last forever.
Home runs didn’t happen as a matter of routine. But now they do.
The single-season home run record set two seasons ago was an incredible 6,105.
This year, that record was surpassed by more than 500 home runs.
Over 50 players have hit at least 30 homers. A year ago 27 players reached that figure.
In 2019, the Minnesota Twins shattered the MLB record for home runs in a single season, becoming the first team to hit 300 homers in one season.
As a result, players come to the plate with only one thought in mind.
Pitchers try to throw as hard as they can.
The result is usually a home run, or a strikeout. Look it up, there are more strikeouts than hits in most games.
The game I adored featured skills which would move runners, who had reached base safely with singles or doubles, advancing so they would eventually score. The art of bunting, or executing a hit-and-run, stolen bases, and all the rest that made baseball a wonderfully strategic contest is virtually gone.
Now, baseball commissioner Rob Manfred, admitting there is something wrong with the direction the game has been headed, says baseball needs to “make some changes” to the ball.
It is apparently wound too tight, almost like a golf ball, and the seams which are so important in throwing various pitches, are are not raised enough to make a difference.
If changes are made, and the home run totals drop, will that change the way the game is played?
Usually, as the post-season commences, any forecast of who might win it all, depends on pitching.
But I’m not sure that’s the barometer anymore.
Is it the starting pitching, which usually means a 6-inning effort? Or the middle relievers who march in from the bullpen in the 7th and 8th innings.
Or the closer. The man who enters the game in the 9th, to shut things down (check out Mariano Rivera).
Who knows? We’ll see.
My personal highlight of the just completed regular season occurred recently. That’s when Mike Yastrzemski, the grandson of the great Carl Yastrzemski homered into the center-field bleachers in Boston’s Fenway Park.
Mike and Carl Yastrzemski
Young Mike, playing for the San Francisco Giants, did the unanticipated, with Carl, who was one of the iconic stars of the Red Sox on hand. Carl Yaztrzemski, a Hall-of-Famer, and the hero of the Red Sox 1967 Impossible Dream campaign is a low-key guy. Not one to wear his emotions on his sleeve, Yaz, as he was popularly known, had to be overflowing with pride. He was the star on the team I covered in the mid-70’s.
I finish with one of my top moments growing up.
My father took me to the first game of the 1954 World Series at the Polo Grounds In Manhattan.
Our team, the New York Giants were facing the Cleveland Indians, who had just set an American League record with 111 victories beating out the powerful Yankees by 8 games. The Yankees had won five consecutive world championships until the Indians ended their streak.
The Indians were heavy favorites, naturally, but in the opening contest, the score was tied 2-2 in the top of the 8th. With runners on first and second base, Vic Wertz, Cleveland’s left-handed power hitter, drove a ball to the deepest part of the Polo Grounds, well over 400-feet from home plate.
But Willie Mays, the phenomenal Giants’ centerfielder raced back and outran the ball, making an over-the-shoulder catch. Mays, then wheeled and fired the ball to the infield. The runner on second, thinking it was over Mays’ head started running, only to have to scamper back to second. The runner on first stayed put.
The ball would have been a home run in every other park.
But Willie Mays, saved the day, kept the score even, before a three-run homer by Giants pinch-hitter Dusty Rhodes in the 10th inning sent the Giants home winners.
Rhodes was a hero in two other games as well, and the Giants stunned the baseball world with a four-game sweep to capture the World Series.
I was 11 years old at the time.
When the ball left Vic Wertz’ bat, my father yelled for me to stand on my seat to see.
In a split-second I jumped on my chair…and saw the amazing catch.
Sixty-five years ago.
But still unforgettable.
The Catch and the Throw
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