Bock’s Score: Hey Baseball, Let It Be

Congratulations to the Houston Astros, winners of baseball’s first Analytic World Series. The Astros and the Los Angeles Dodgers are both subscribers to baseball’s brave new world of number crunchers who like to define the game with equations where once it needed nothing more complicated than hits, runs and errors.

And what exactly was wrong with that time?

Baseball is a simple game. And yet, it is fascinating with its unpredictability. This is something the analytics crowd doesn’t accept. They have formulas for just about everything. But baseball isn’t played with equations. Leave that in the physics lab. Baseball is played by human beings susceptible to mistakes.

Modern baseball has evolved into a swing-from-the-heels home run derby. This results in a lot of home runs and a lot of strikeouts. Evidence of this came from the Series which produced a record 25 home runs for the two teams and a record 17 strikeouts for Dodger star Clay Bellinger.

Baseball wants quicker games but six of the seven games in this World Series stretched over more than three hours, leading to a lot of late-night yawns all across America.

Houston’s George Springer started the Series by striking out four times in Game 1, an achievement known in baseball circles as the Golden Sombrero. A week or so later, Springer was the World Series MVP with a record-tying five home runs, seven runs batted in, eight runs scored and eight extra base hits, another World Series record. Talk about turnaround.

Eight of the home runs hit by the Astros and Dodgers came in Game 2, and five of those came in extra innings, the first time in the history of baseball, regular season, playoff or World Series that has ever happened. That affair, won by the Astros 7-6 in 11 innings, stretched an agonizing 4 hours, 19 minutes. It had nothing on Game 5, which had two of the game’s best pitchers, Houston’s Dallas Keuchel and the Dodgers Clayton Kershaw, opposing each other at the start and ended with the Astros winning 13-12 in 5 hours, 17 minutes. It was not exactly classic baseball for the sport’s crown jewel event. Perhaps exhausted by that affair, Houston managed just one run in Game 6 and the Dodgers matched that in Game 7.   

The Series was a see-saw of emotions and when it was over, the analytics crowd celebrated. Old time baseball took a hit. We don’t need no stinkin’ hit and run or stolen bases. Bunts and hitting behind the runner are so old fashioned. New age baseball is an all or nothing game. Small ball is for the fuddy duddy generation.

Well guess what. Baseball flourished for more than a century by being the best game ever invented. It was a simple game with cerebral overtones, a game that required a little thought, a little strategy and no computer printouts to fascinate its fans.    

The game is being taken over by the Ph.D crowd with fancy statistics like pitcher’s spin rates. Nobody cared much about Bob Gibson’s spin rate or Tom Seaver’s either. They played in another time, a better time for the game that once was the National Pastime.

Perhaps an old Beatles song could serve as old time baseball’s anthem:

Let it be

Let it be

Whisper words of wisdom

Let it be.

About the Author

Hal Bock

Hal Bock covered sports for 40 years at The Associated Press including 30 World Series, 30 Super Bowls and 11 Olympics. He is the author of 14 books including most recently The Last Chicago Cubs Dynasty and Banned Baseball's Blacklist of All-Stars and Also-Rans. He has written scores of magazine articles and served as Journalist In Residence at Long Island University's Brooklyn campus where he also served on the selection committee for the George Polk Awards.

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