CHARLOTTE, NC, July 31, 2017 – George Will may be the only person who ever wrote about baseball for whom you need a dictionary to understand what he is saying. Will doesn’t waste his time with jargon such as “dingers” (home runs), “wheels” (good or bad legs) or “hose” (arm strength). Instead we get words like “populism”, “tentativeness” and “recondite” just to keep us honest.
Instead we get words like “populism”, “tentativeness” and “recondite” just to keep us honest.
It’s like throwing a change-up when you’re expecting a fast ball.
Will is an avid baseball fan who has written two books on the subject: “Men at Work” and “A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred”
The occasion for Will’s latest venture into the world of diamonds for men was a recent review in the Wall Street Journal of a new book by Keith Law titled “Smart Baseball.”
Will cuts right to the quick of his article by saying
“Keith Law, a senior baseball writer and analyst for ESPN, is a member of a growing cohort of exasperated analysts who persuasively argue against what they consider the bewitchment of the sports intelligence by outdated ill considered metrics.”
Translation: Baseball, which has always been a statistician’s dream, is on the brink adding so many new statistics in our modern computer age that stats like 714, 61 and 56 are no longer relevant.
Contemporary baseball has gone to pitch counts, set-up men, closers and oddball shifts that only existed for Ted Williams back in the day.
Will accurately points out terms like “spin rates”, “angles of break”, “exit velocity” and “launch angles” to mention a few.
In fact, the headline for Will’s column reads “The Game You Knew Is Gone.”
Listen to Bob Costas do a nationally televised game and he has his head so deep in the record books he cannot see the field. National announcers with their myriad of mindless stats have become so boring to listen to that they make a slow game even slower.
So who cares if the Washington Nationals have won 98 games in a row when leading after eight innings? What difference does it make how fast a ball comes off the bat when a hitter belts a home run? Why do we need to know that Babe Ruth was the only hitter who ever hit three home runs in a game after he had bacon for breakfast?
If you want to listen to a baseball game on television or radio, tune in when you can hear the local guys do it. They cover the team all season long and don’t worry about the minutia dished out by a national broadcaster.
Baseball has always been a game of eras. There was the dead ball era and the steroid era and the small ball era and the Billy Bean era and on and on. Today we are in the midst of a time when there are two extremes, strikeouts and home runs with little else in between except the occasional great defense. Much of that is due to the computerization of the sport which has led to really odd defensive shifts.
The hit & run play is virtually obsolete. A stolen base is a rarity. Bunting is hardly necessary for the American League where pitchers don’t bat.
Even some of the old statistics have long been misinterpreted by sportswriters as well as fans. For example, RBI (runs batted in) is not nearly as important to a team as Runs Scored. Why? Because in order to score 100 runs a batter has to cross home plate 100 times.
Match that to a batter who drives in one, two or three other players with one swing of the bat and there is no comparison.
Would you rather have a player who scores three times in a 4-3 victory or a home run hitter who hits two three run homers in a game to drive in six when the team wins 8-1?
There are other useless measurements as well. For the past several years the media has been dying to up the speed of a fast ball to more than 100 mph. Now they have finally achieved it.
Sure a 100 mile an hour fastball is fast, but if it doesn’t have location or explode at the plate, batters will eventually time it to their advantage.
Greg Maddux couldn’t break a pane of glass with his fastball, but his location and pitching to a batter’s weaknesses was so far ahead of the curve (pun intended) that he didn’t need throw hard.
When did the magic number of 100 pitches become a standard?
Does anybody honestly believe that 100 pitches by Pedro Martinez, who was small in stature, is a similar measurement to 100 pitches by C.C. Sabathia?
Ever since Joe Maddon went shift crazy in Tampa Bay, the entire game has turned into some strange looking pinball machine. Not that using the statistical data that is available isn’t a good idea, but would somebody please explain why a major league hitter getting paid $10-million a year cannot punch a ball into left field when the entire infield is shifted to the right?
To hear national announcers describe what a talented hitter can do with a bat, that should be no problem but it almost never happens.
To the untrained eye it appears baseball today is pretty much as it was a century ago. It’s not. That’s the point of “Smart Baseball.”
The “times they are a’changin'”.
Baseball will survive this latest era and move on to the next. Let’s hope it brings back the hit & run, stealing bases, taking an extra base on a hit and making the game just as exciting when the ball stays in the park as when it leaves it.
About the Author: Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
Taylor is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
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