By the time you read this, the election will be over. The nation, the world, and maybe even Tuolumne County may have changed.
But some comforting constants persist, and one is my dislike for the (insert gagging sound here) World Series Champion Los Angeles Dodgers.
Yes, I do begrudge this talent-laden team its success. But making it much worse is that Dodger management within an hour of the team’s Game 6 win over Tampa Bay told me I had played a crucial role in its Series triumph.
“We couldn’t have done it without you!” effused an email from the Dodgers.
Translation: I actually helped pay an infinitesimal fraction of Mookie Betts’ $30-million-a-year salary. Because over the past few years, I’ve driven south to catch a game at Dodger Stadium during the Cubs’ once-a-year series in LA.
I take my daughter and her husband, who live in Los Angeles, and a couple of their friends. The tickets aren’t cheap, and the Dodgers invariably win.
The park, I’ll admit, is great. But LA fans, against all societal norms, persist in doing The Wave.
The aforesaid Wave first reared its ugly head during an Oakland A’s home playoff game with the Yankees in 1981. It was first an eye-opening novelty, but since has become a distracting, tiring bore for anyone who cares about the game they paid to see.
A Dodger-fan friend of mine told me the LA faithful completed several Waves undaunted amid a Southern California earthquake during a game he went to a few years ago.
OK, I’m going far afield here. But when I buy Cubs-Dodgers tickets in the future, I’ll specify that proceeds go toward discouraging The Wave. Or to bigger Dodger Dogs, less expensive beer, or anything but player salaries.
But I digress: As some readers might remember, this entry was supposed to be on baseball rules.
Last time out, I confessed to liking all the changes Major League Baseball introduced in its truncated COVID season: expanded playoffs, universal designated hitter, automatic man on second in extra innings and seven-inning games in doubleheaders.
I promised a few more rule-change ideas of my own. So here they are:
Shorten the season: Sure, 2020’s 60-gamer was way too short, but it exposed MLB’s 162-game season (and that count does not include more than 30 spring training contests and all the playoff games) as entirely too long.
About 120 games would be about right, but don’t expect the owners or players to go along with that. Too many dollars in those 42 lost games.
A little history: The majors, or their predecessor leagues, played 80, 98, 112, then 140 games a season over the sport’s first decade. Then, in 1904, 154-game season was introduced. It lasted until 1961 (57 years). Then, despite the absence of any clamor to do so, eight more games were added.
So, let’s start by bringing back the 154-game season. Begin it a little later (no East Coast or Midwest openers played in snowstorms) and end it a little earlier (no bone-chilling, below-freezing World Series contests).
While we’re at it, why not lop 20 or 30 games from the bloated NBA season? And hockey? The only thing I know about the NHL is that its season is way too long.
Empty the bullpens: Do pitchers have their own union? Is that why there are so many of them?
Today there are specialists for every inning after the fifth. There are specialists for all kinds of hitters in all kind of situations. Ever heard of a LOOGY? That’s a Lefty One-Out Guy.
But there’s one kind of specialist that’s on the endangered-species list: the complete-game starter. Nobody goes nine anymore: In 1978, MLB pitchers logged 1,000 complete games; in 2018, the number was 42 and shrinking.
A CG is no longer something to be proud of. It’s an aberration.
Here’s something that could never happen today:
On July 2, 1963, two Hall of Famers — the Milwaukee Braves’ Warren Spahn and the Giants’ Juan Marichal — combined to pitch a shutout ball game through 16 innings at Candlestick Park. Willie Mays’ homer off Spahn ended the marathon.
In the 15th, Giants Manager Alvin Dark tried to pull Marichal. “A 42-year-old man is still pitching,” fired back Juan, 25. “I can’t come out.”
That night the aging Spahn logged 201 pitches and Marichal 227.
“The finest exhibition of throwing I’ve ever seen,” said the Braves’ Henry Aaron after the dust had settled.
And Hammerin’ Hank will never see its like again.
These days every hurler is on a pitch count and the midnight hour is 100. A lot of guys are good for only 10 or 12. Some of these specialists would have to pitch for months before reaching Marichal’s one-game total in ’63. Their arms are treated like fine china.
A telling contrast:
Then: The 1980 Manager Billy Martin’s Oakland A’s staff combined for 94 complete games, more than the annual total recorded by all 30 Major League teams combined these days.
Now: The A’s and Chicago White Sox used a combined 17 pitchers in a nine-inning playoff game last month. That’s nearly one per inning per team.
Each pitching change takes between two and three minutes, so when you do this 15 times, that’s between 30 and 45 minutes of dead time. Add mound visits (30 seconds apiece), and games slow even more.
Yes, that A’s-Sox game was a thriller. But a lot of these empty-the-bullpen games are not.
Sure, a lot of relievers throw at 95 mph or even into the low 100s, but there are so many of them that the wow factor is gone.
That factor was all there for Nolan Ryan, who regularly hit the century mark while notching 222 complete games and 324 wins in a 27-year career (1966-1993). You think the Express was on a pitch count?
What to do? I say empty the pen. Or at least drain it.
Allow each team no more than 10 pitchers on its roster (the average today is about 12). Then put a cap on pitching changes, maybe three per team per game (with exceptions for extra innings and injuries).
Of course, the Pitchers Union won’t like this at all.
Bench the stats: No, my incoherent geezer’s rant is not over yet. Next I’m taking on that bane of present-day baseball: statistics.
When I grew up, batting averages, runs batted in, hits, homers, stolen bases, wins, losses, strikeouts and earned run average were about it.
Today, in the Moneyball era, we have enough arcane statistics to overload a thousand computers. It’s as if all those underemployed math majors working at McDonalds got together, came up with baseball stats few could understand, then went to work for MLB teams at six-figure salaries.
So, now we have OPS (on base plus slugging), launch angles, ground-out-to-air-out-ratio, inherited runners allowed, WAR (wins above replacement), VORP (value over replacement player), skill interactive earned run average and much, much more.
How about the power finesse ratio (strikeouts and walks divided by innings pitched)? Or gross production average (1.8 times on-base percentage and slugging percentage divided by four)?
How many nerds trapped in how many basements by COVID does it take to come up with this stuff? Earl Weaver and Casey Stengel would roll in their graves.
I say get higher math out of the majors
Nobody makes in-game moves on hunches, intuition or even common sense any more. If these eggheads were in charge back in ’63, Marichal and Spahn would have been yanked in the sixth.
How far afield can these stats go?
Consider pNERD, a stat aimed at determining which pitchers “are most aesthetically pleasing to watch.” By the way, NERD stands for “narration, exposition, reflection, description.”
And the sabermetricians who came up with the go yet further, with pNERD’s exact formula: (xFIPzx2) + (SwStrk%z/2) + (strike%z/2) + LUCK + 4.69.
God help baseball! Which needs all the LUCK it can get.
And, no, I could not ascertain which MLB pitcher led the majors in pNERD this year, but it’s probably a damn Dodger.
And with that I promise not to write another word about baseball until the 2021 season.