I’ve got to admit, I am disappointed with what I’m seeing in the sport that meant everything to me growing up and for decades since. Baseball.
As a youngster, the baseball season was THE sport. Football, basketball and hockey were mere fillers from the conclusion of the World Series until the start of spring training.
It’s different now, of course. Football is king, both college and pro, despite the problems the NFL has experienced in recent years. College and pro basketball are prominent now as baseball and hockey is bigger and yet underrated in my opinion.
The appeal baseball had for me, and I suspect thousands, were the many nuances of the game. The different approaches on how to win. The many moves a manager made during a contest that made it so much like a game of chess.
A thinking man’s game, that used the geometry of a baseball diamond to it’s full extent.
A game of strategy.
I don’t see that anymore.
I see home runs and strikeouts. That’s what baseball has become.
Popularity has decreased television. The demographics are not favorable.
In a recent survey, 32 percent of people ages 50-69 said they were either “very” or somewhat” interested in baseball. Only 25 percent of those 21-34, and 23 percent of those 18-20 were on board.
Baseball’s appeal to the older age groups is it’s largest base.
Kids still play baseball. It’s not going away and in fact is still the second most popular sport. But that’s not the point.
I’m talking reality in regards to the sport I loved beyond any other as a kid.
The pace of play is ridiculous. The length of games, which used to be around 2 hours and 30 to 45 minutes has stretched to 3 and a half hours and often longer.
There are reasons for that. While there are time limitations built into the game, it takes too long for players to get set in the batters box for example.
The ball is not put in play nearly as much as it used to, because the men on the mound are firing high velocity pitches to batters who are only interested in home runs.
Home runs are exciting, no question about that, but there is more to baseball that has gone by the wayside.
Remember the hit and run? Remember the bunt? Remember how teams used to “manufacture” runs by drawing walks, stealing bases and doing the “little things” to win.
If you look at the box score of virtually every game, there are more strikeouts than base hits.
Gone from the game, is the discipline of the hitter who swings at pitches nowhere near the strike zone in hopes of connecting to drive the ball out of the park.
The given strategy in a game situation may dictate doing something other than trying to hit a home run, but that’s not how the game is played today.
So pitchers fire their 97 mph fast balls to get by batters swinging for the fences.
Perhaps they should be re-named “throwers”. A pitcher was someone like Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddox of the Braves. He never had an overpowering fastball. But he could get batters out changing speeds and hitting the corners of the plate in masterful fashion.
Pitchers like Greg Maddux could also work nine innings of a game. They could take the mound every fourth day and wind up with well over 230 innings most of his career.
Managers were once measured on how they handled a pitching staff.
That’s a thing of the past. Today, managers hope their starting pitcher works 6 innings.
That’s all that’s required of all but the very best starters in the game.
Then in comes the 7th inning man. Then in the 8th, another hurler enters the contest.
If the team still has the lead, the “closer” enters to finish off the victory in the ninth inning.
That’s the intention.
It means little that one of the pitchers who work the 7th or 8th innings may be unhittable and immensely effective. He will be replaced. In an odd sort of way, managers with a lead in a game, keep searching for someone who will lose it. Think of it.
How about two other aspects of baseball as I see it played today.
The pure lack of hustle.
Batters hit long drives that may land in the seats for a home run. They stand at home plate admiring their drive, which somehow bounces off the wall. Since the hitter hasn’t left the batters box, he winds up on first base, instead of on second with a double if he had hustled in the first place.
And what about hitters who strikeout and simply watch the catcher chase after the ball to the backstop instead of running and getting to first base.
And what about the catchers who don’t even try to go after a wild pitch allowing other runners to advance.
What are they teaching prospective major leaguers?
Are they teaching them baseball? How to bunt, a great weapon especially when the infield shifts dramatically against a left-handed hitter.
How about a bunt to the left side of the infield to discourage those shifts?
This is where I say, “you get the idea”.
Baseball has always been special to me. I am well aware that the advent of what is known as Sabermetrics has taken over the game.
Sabermetrics is a statistical method to the way the sport is measured.
We’re talking about analyzing the spin of a pitcher’s curveball, the quickness of an infielder’s first step to the velocity of his throws, the launch angle when a batter hits a fly ball, how fly balls allowed by ground-ball pitchers travel at a lower angle making them more difficult for the defense………..I need a nap!
Whatever happened to the “eye test”?
That’s when you simply watch a player in action and you know!
You know he can play!
You know he’s a star! You just know!
The opposite is true as well, but before all this advanced statistical analysis came into being, baseball was doing well. It was entertaining. And it moved along at a decent pace.
This all makes me sound like someone in a time warp. I’m really not.
It’s just that there is so much that’s different from the game I knew, and I KNOW, it’s not all for the better.
As for this year’s season, it’s been a fabulous one for the Boston Red Sox with easily the best record in the majors, an incredible 50 games over .500 and looking as though they’re leaving the Yankees in the dust.
The Cubs, who were supposed to be starting a dynasty, have been nothing special, but appear good enough to wind up with the best record in the National League.
The best race is in the West, where three, maybe four teams have a shot at the division crown. Kudos to the Phillies, who have come out of nowhere this season to contend.
The defending world champion Houston Astros are getting a surprising challenge from the Oakland A’s, this year’s Cinderella outfit.
Other than one game in last year’s World Series, it was a low-scoring affair.
I still feel the best pitching performance will prevail.
Who will it be?
See me later.
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