Over the past ten years we have seen baseball change dramatically. We have witnessed the transformation of the game from players who were allowed to show us, the fans, just how good they were, to players who are now used as pawns. Amazing athletes who are plugged into games to fit the analytical thinking of people who run these big league organizations. We are being denied the excitement of two pitchers battling it out for 9 innings in a one or two run game on a warm summer night. The thrill of watching games like that with your kid, created moments you could share with that son or daughter for the rest of your lives.
I remember my dad taking me to Yankee Stadium to watch the Yankees play the Detroit Tigers. He wanted to see Frank Larry pitch. My dad was a Brooklyn Dodger fan and hated the Yankees. The only time he ever took me to Yankee Stadium, was when Larry was pitching. He always told me he was known as “A Yankee Killer!” He got his nickname by going 27-10 against the Yankees from 1955 to 1961, a span during which they won six pennants. He was 5–1 against the Yankees that year in 1959. Larry would always seem to go 9 innings and the three times we saw him pitch, he did. We never saw him loose to the Bronx Bombers. The excitement was amazing for me and my dad and we talked about these games often. The drama and anticipation of seeing this guy baffle those great Yankee teams inning after inning, with no help from bullpen arms back then, was quite memorable.
When we watch games today and see a good to great performance by a pitcher cut short in the fifth or sixth inning because the non baseball people in the analytics department, decided his arm will explode if he throws another pitch or that god forbid he sees a hitter for a third time, he will forget what he did to get him out the previous two times. That is when we are robbed of seeing something special. Something we can remember.
Let me ask a question, how many pitching performances can you remember that stood out to you in the past three years? If it is less than ten, you were cheated. Today we see a $34 million dollar a year pitcher go 5.2 to 6.1 innings and he gets a quality start plus high fives when he gets to the dugout. BIG DEAL! May as well go home and turn on “The Young & The Restless” soap opera. Trust me, there will be more excitement watching that soap than a parade of guys out of the bullpen who will throw nothing but 96 plus fastballs. Maybe your team will win or maybe they will lose but the fact that you will never know just how good your millionaire pitcher could have been that day, is a crime. The way the games are managed from the front office and not the dugout today, is very predictable.
When things are predictable, they become boring. From scouting an amateur, to player development and the big leagues, mathematical algorithms have taken over from baseball knowledge and gut feelings when we watch a game. It has become the dominant decision maker in baseball today. It has transformed the game into something that is both unrecognizable at times and something we are beginning to feel distanced from.
When we played baseball as kids, we could relate to the pros we saw playing on the same size diamond and playing by the same rules. We were playing the game just like them. See the ball, hit the ball, steal a base, draw a walk, strike a guy out. And the biggest thing, pitching a complete game with your head and not just not throwing for the radar gun.
A few years ago I was I watching a young high School pitcher warm up before a playoff game in Queens and I asked him if he would be starting that game. He very seriously told me that he was not a starter and that he was a closer. When I thought about that, I had the thought of this kid only turning on a game in the ninth inning. I asked him if he had a plan ‘B’ for his baseball career. He looked puzzled and gave me that look that a dog gives you when he realizes you don’t speak ‘dog’. Point is, kids are watching a different game today. One that is becoming more and more narrow and compartmentalized.
Call me a dinosaur all you want but I was one of the fortunate ones who saw baseball in the golden era of the game. Maybe we will see some of that a few times in a season but nothing like what people my age saw. I understand that things change and that the people who run baseball are always trying to make the game better for the fans. Always trying to kick it up a notch. But to me it seems like they are always trying to make that baked lasagna different. Stuffing my lasagna with pancakes may be a change but it is not lasagna.
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