When angling to fill column inches with baseball dyspepsia in all its forms, one can never go wrong by soliciting the thoughts of Goose Gossage, Lou Piniella, and Pete Rose. That's precisely what USA Today's Bob Nightengale has done.
The topic at hand is
steroids nerds sunflower seeds instant replay expanded netting mixed-case passwords the current home run binge and other hallmarks of the contemporary game. When it comes to modern baseball, these tenured old souls are more annoyed by everything than most of us are about anything. Now for a couple of select quotes:
"I can't watch these games anymore,'' Gossage said. "It's not baseball. It's unwatchable. A lot of the strategy of the game, the beauty of the game, it's all gone. It's like a video game now. It's home run derby with their (expletive) launch angle every night."
"All anybody wants to do is launch the ball," Piniella said. "They're making the ballparks smaller, the balls tighter, and all we're seeing is home runs."
Said Rose, who produced 4,256 hits and struck out 100 times only once in 24 seasons: "It's home run derby every night, and if that's what they want, that's what they're going to get. But they have to understand something ... Home runs are up. Strikeouts are up. But attendance is down. I didn't go to Harvard or one of those Ivy League schools, but that's not a good thing."
In keeping with the spirit of things, let's render one of these in Boomer Meme format:
There's some relating grousing about infield overshifts from Piniella, but mostly they're telling the dead-eyed customer experience associate that they want to speak to the manager about all the home runs and strikeouts.
In a broad sense, none of this is surprising. We tend to recoil from that which comes after us and especially that which alters something we held dear. Assail the familiar and remind us that the passage of time is having its way with us, and we'll level a finger at you and say, "Did you know Popeye's dad was named Poopdeck Pappy? Of course you didn't because you don't care about tradition or all that the mighty primogenitors have authored."
That sort of thing. With regard to these grievances, a smattering of True Internet Facts:
- Teams this season are averaging 1.41 home runs per game, which is easily the highest such figure in MLB history.
- Teams this season are averaging 8.73 strikeouts per game, which is easily the highest such figure in MLB history.
Throw in an above-average walk rate by historical standards, and you've got a large percentage of the action that doesn't involve the fielders. In all, 34.9 percent of plate appearances this season have ended in a home run, strikeout, or walk. So one-third of batter-pitcher encounters end without the defense doing much of anything. That trend has been increasing in recent seasons, and now it's at unprecedented levels. Given the excellence of fielders these days, it seems both shame and waste to see them perform less often than ever.
While there's no accounting for tastes, Gossage is wrong when he calls the current brand of baseball "unwatchable." This scribe watches a great deal of baseball and will continue to do so. Rose's accurate statements about attendance are noted, but MLB remains a local-TV ratings colossus in many markets. That, incidentally, is where much of the money comes from these days. That said, it also says here that we don't have enough balls in play.
Home runs are cool, but as we barrel toward perhaps 7,000 home runs for the season, have we become oversaturated? As pitchers throw harder and harder and train for spin on fastballs and breaking stuff and hitters focus on muscled-up swings at an upward angle, will the strikeouts continue to mount?
The tell will be whether the MLB halls of power decide to do anything about it. The league over the years has often tweaked the structural machinery of the game in order to yield a desired result in terms of gameplay. In order to bring back contact, involve the defense, and maybe even revive the seven-inning starting pitcher, MLB could do all manner of things to the ball itself, the mound, roster rules, or whatever in order to recalibrate the sport. If commissioner Rob Manfred doesn't seek to take action with the next year or two, then that will tell you that MLB believes the current version of the game isn't harming the bottom line.
Many would submit that baseball is at its finest when there's a balance between the over-the-fence power game and the test-the-defense, between-the-lines game in which running the bases is also incentivized. You don't have to be crotchety boomer to come think that balance has been lost and that baseball would do well to conjure it up again.