Steigerwald: How Baseball Made the Long Ball Boring

I voiced over a lot of baseball highlights in my day.

Early in my TV career I decided that the best highlights for my sportscasts were defensive plays. My competitors were still showing singles and doubles in their coverage of the night’s Major League games when I decided that singles, doubles and even home runs looked alike but great catches and throws were a lot more entertaining.

Having access to highlights of every game was a new thing and I decided early on that showing a run scoring single in the third inning of the Cubs-Phillies game just because we could wasn’t a good idea.

So I and the producers that worked with me would be more likely to show only a great catch from a 9-0 blowout than 45 seconds worth of hits from a 10-9 game.

I think I’d have a problem in 2017.

There aren’t as many great defensive plays.

Why?

Because the ball has to be put in play for someone to make a great catch or a great throw and, as Sports Illustrated recently pointed out, a major increase in home runs and strikeouts has meant a major decrease in the number of balls in play.

The headline of the piece by one of America’s most respected seam heads, Tom Verducci, is “Baseball’s Pressing Question: What Happens to a Sport When Nothing Happens?
He pointed out that, when the Dodgers beat the Brewers in a 12-inning game recently, 90 batters came to the plate and only 40 of them put the ball in play.

The fans sat there for four hours and saw a ball put in play every six minutes.

There were 42 strikeouts.

You might find a game with two top aces each striking out 18 exciting but when it’s done by nine pitchers it’s pretty boring.

According to the SI story, strikeouts are up 48% since 1988, walks are at an eight-year high and there have never been more home runs at this point in a season – not even in the steroid era.

Managers bring in guys who throw heat hoping they can strikeout the guy who is up there, not thinking about just putting the ball in play, but swinging up and hoping to hit it out.

I saw Josh Bell hit a home run in the Pirates 6-2 win over Tampa Bay Thursday night. It was before I had read Verducci’s piece and I remember thinking that it was boring.

Bell drove an inside pitch down the left field line. It barely got over the fence at the 325 mark at PNC Park. At Three Rivers Stadium it might have been a great catch or it might have hit the fence at the 335 mark and bounced around for an extra base hit. At Forbes Field it probably would have bounced into the corner at the 365 mark for a double or a triple.

The Pirates wouldn’t trade the boring home run for an exciting double or a triple but it was a perfect example of what Verducci was talking about.

Seeing a guy hit a 450-500 foot home run is always exciting. A 325 foot, head high line drive is only exciting because it’s a run.

It would be okay for Major League Baseball if games were running a little too long because of balls flying out of and bouncing around in ball parks, but it’s not okay when they’re slowed down by walks, strikeouts and pitching changes.

I don’t know where they find the people who find this stuff out, but, according to Verducci, hitters are taking 1.1 seconds longer between pitches this year than they did last year and that adds five minutes and 28 seconds of dead time to an average game.

It’s kind of disturbing to think that, in every MLB ballpark every night, there is somebody in charge of that minutiae, but the fact that they find it necessary to track it should disturb the Idiots Who Run Baseball.

How do they fix it?

They can’t tell hitters to stop swinging for the fences.

They can’t tell managers to start using fewer pitchers or keep their starters in longer.

They can’t make all of those home run-friendly ballparks that have been built in the last 25 years any bigger.

They have no interest in drug testing that would actually create a significant drop in the use of PEDs.

Maybe they can direct more of their advertising toward women. Chicks dig the long ball, right?

And, by the way, when is Gregory Polanco going to get with the program?

He has seven home runs in his last 322 at bats.

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