When old Doc Adams got around to refining the game of baseball, he invented the position of shortstop, decided nine men to a side worked and so did nine innings and 90 feet between bases. All were substantial contributions to the sport and they worked well for oh, 150 years or so. They are on display this month in a baseball exhibit at the Library of Congress.
Now, though, a new generation of innovators are determined to fix a sport that worked perfectly well until they came along. We will make it better, they said, armed with analytical formulas, defensive shifts, the designated hitter and goofy pace of play rules.
The result is 10-man baseball where nine once was enough, wide open spaces on one side of the infield where Adams thought a shortstop would be helpful, an armful of home runs and strikeouts instead of bunts and steals and Brett Gardner trying to figure out why he’s been fined $3,500 for being such a slowpoke.
The National League has been steadfast in its resistance to the DH because that gimmick changes the strategy of the game. As a result, interleague games (another foolish idea) played in NL parks allows pitchers to bat.
And so it came to pass the other day in a game in National League Washington, that Rick Porcello, who pitches for the American League Boston Red Sox, found himself with a bat in his hands with the bases loaded and Washington’s Max Scherzer, one of the best in the business of pitching, on the mound.
Porcello closed his eyes, swung the bat and delivered a three-run double, the deciding hit in Boston’s victory over the Nationals. The clamor to add the DH to the National League was silenced for a while.
Then we have the defensive shifts, which leave huge holes where once a defender stood. They are an invitation to hit that way. Sadly, today’s hitters lack the ability to do that, consumed instead with swinging from the heels, hungry for home runs.
Colleague Rich Mancuso surveyed the landscape and quoted a prominent scout this way:
“Our analytics brethren, supported by the media, have created a new game of baseball. We see the adoration of the home run. We see the acquiescence to the astronomical strikeout numbers. The shifting of focus to both velocity and power has emasculated the natural intrinsic and inherent flow and beauty of the game.’’
That sums it up pretty well.
But wait. There’s more.
Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner was advised last week that he would be fined $3,500 for violating pace of the game rules.
Gardner, it seems, was not hustling out of the on-deck circle to the batter’s box fast enough to satisfy the baseball police and they fined him for the misdemeanor.
It’s perfectly all right for umpires to huddle two, three, maybe four minutes in a replay examination but Brett Gardner better get up to bat in a timely manner.
If Doc Adams were around today, he would be shaking his head in wonderment over what they are doing to his game. And mine, too.