Baseball is a topic that I often wrote about when I first started this blog years ago, but the sport—at least the major league version—has become a decreasing interest. It’s not just the players breaking their contract to entertain in favor of making political statements last year, it’s the major league style of play, and the way the majors are managed that leave me yawning or scratching my head.
Major league play has evolved into what are known as the “three true outcomes,” which is to say a walk, a strikeout, or a home run. This style has eliminated the need for the defensive wizardry of a Mark Belanger or an Ozzie Smith, because if you don’t put the ball in play, then, it obviously doesn’t need to be defended. Heretofore, defense has always been an important part of the game and an exciting part, but baseball’s modern style has diminished the most athletic part of the game.
Then, there is the idiocy that is Major League Baseball’s management. A prime example, perhaps the prime example, is the placement of a runner on second base to begin extra innings, a practice which resulted in the following absurdity: Last Thursday, Norfolk knuckleballer Mickey Jannis threw five perfect innings in relief, but took the loss, because the runner that he did not allow, was sacrificed to third, then scored on a sacrifice fly. Fifteen up and fifteen down, but Jannis takes the L. How in the name of Walter Johnson can that kind of buffoonery be sanctioned?
My passion for the game of baseball has not diminished, however. In fact, it has flourished watching college baseball, particularly the Southeastern Conference (SEC) games. The ballparks in the SEC are jewels, the fans are passionate, the uniforms range from classic (Ole Miss, for example) to bizarre (Vanderbilt’s black with gold pinstripes, for example), and most importantly, the talent is top notch. The broadcasters are also top-notch, and Ben McDonald is a prime example of that. He could make junior varsity tiddly winks sound fun and entertaining.
Defense in college baseball, while not as proficient as at the professional level, is at least still quite relevant to the game. Starting pitchers often last beyond the 5th inning. The commercial breaks are shorter.
If the modern major league game has drained your passion, then I strongly recommend the college game, especially the Southeastern Conference. It just so happens that their conference tournament begins tomorrow at 10:30, with three more games to follow that one. It will conclude on Sunday, May 30th, so you have an opportunity throughout the week to try it out. Here is a link to the SEC’s tournament schedule.
Sixty-four teams from around the country will make the national regional tournament, which begins Friday, June 4th. This is followed by the super regionals, and finally the College World Series, which begins Saturday, June 19th. And when that concludes, there is plenty of college summer baseball that runs through the end of July, probably somewhere close to where you live. I’ll be rooting for the New Market Rebels and the Dubois County Bombers this summer, and I get just as much of a thrill walking into Rebel Park or League Stadium as I do Camden Yards. More so, really, especially since the hot dogs are better and cheaper, “traffic” in and out of the ballparks is non-existent, and I know that whomever I’m sitting with is a real baseball fan.
And I can also be assured that no pitcher will retire all 15 batters he faces, only to lose.
Great column, Austin.
I no longer watch the professional baseball leftwing political rallies either. Much more fun watching the sandlot softball games near my home in York PA.
By the way, my dad was the minister at Williamsport Methodist Church from 1955 to 1960. A few years back they named him the “Greatest Minister of the 20th Century”!
Thank you! It’s a testament to the intrinsic joy of baseball that the game survives despite what its professional caretakers have done to it.
As Mel Allen would say, how about that! That’s quite an honor for your dad.
Does Rob Manfred actually like baseball? I harbor serious doubts.
Manfred doesn’t have to like baseball, honestly. He only has to protect the investments of the owners and make sure they’re making money… or in the case of last season, not losing too much. The history and traditions of the sport don’t factor into that, insofar as the owners and Manfred are concerned.
I’d rather a game end in a tie after the 12th-inning than the “runner on second” nonsense. And I’m someone who’s stayed through 16-inning (2001, New York) and 18-inning games (2014, Washington).
Good points, Allyn. The problem for Manfred, et. al, is not knowing the game means not knowing the audience and my sense is that the audience is slipping away.
I agree that ties are much better than that senior softball rule of a runner at second base.
Also watching some of the absurd calls has become an entertainment event itself. Even with slow-mo they can’t get it right. I have scratched my head more than once this spring trying to figure out what I don’t see that the umps do see.
ACC baseball is pretty good as well. Virginia has had a really interesting year. They started terribly, but are coming on strong. Friday’s game v. Notre Dame will be telling since the Irish are very good. The college game is much more varied in style and I agree with your overall conclusions about MLB. An interesting possibility: moving the pitchers mound back one foot. That would be interesting. Outlawing shifts is one rule change that MLB seems to think would get more action into the games. I have mixed feelings about that. How about some of those strike out kings taking the bunt single the defense is giving you??!
The ACC is good. It’s been an interesting year for that conference as it seems one team rises to the top and then flops back down. Notre Dame probably the most consistent team there.
I don’t have a problem experimenting with 61′. The players are bigger and stronger than when 60’6″ was established, what, 140 years ago? Eliminating the shift is just a gimmick. You should be allowed to play anywhere you think the batter is going to hit it. Batters don’t even have to learn to bunt–just play pepper with the open space!
Austin, what a small world! I want to do a shout out to Carter Clews who responded to this blog! His dad, (The Pastor he was referring to was also my Pastor in the 1960’s. Carter, if you see this, I’m Don Hoover, brother of Bob Hoover, and son of Emory Hoover. Austin, all great points, you nailed this one.
Those kind of connections are a great part of Life! First, Don, thanks for the compliment. Second, I saw mention of the Hoover Sign Company on a Baltimore Colts Memories FB page. The poster said that the base drum that was played at the ’58 Championship game had been redone (in ’71, maybe?) by you all. Any memories of that?
That is very possible, athough I don’t recall it. The Hoover Sign Co closed in 1977.
I remember it was around that time.