But many of us have complained about the length of the game for the last 20 years or so. The latest negative development is even more disturbing.
For the third year in a row, there have been more strikeouts than hits. It would have been unimaginable just five years ago. But think about it. Was anyone talking about “launch angle”, “exit speed” or “spin rate” in 2016?
We are well established in what we call the “three results” phase of baseball. All too often, the result of an appearance at home is either a strikeout, a walk or a home run. We now have a lot less balls in play.
The disturbing part, for me, about not having enough balls in play is that the game is blessed with more good, pure athletes than at any time in its long history. This latent athleticism manifests itself in defense. We are clearly living in the golden age of defense, especially when it comes to shortstops and center-backs. But thanks to the “three results” problem, there are simply not enough balls in play for these magnificent defenders to show us their talent.
You can’t overstate how good these modern players are. Jackie Bradley Jr. was the best center defensive fielder I have seen in just under 60 years of watching Red Sox baseball in person. However, he only won one (1) Golden Glove.
There are other fantastic center players. I find it hard to believe anyone was better than Bradley, but if enough experts think they are, then my case is closed. The more bullets there are, the crazier we are.
I have to address this crossed out thing.
I realize that the game has evolved. I realize that there are more hard pitchers than ever before, and that the best baseball field is still a well-placed fastball, whether it’s 90 mph or Aroldis Chapman mph experienced.
For a very long time, none other than Babe Ruth was the leader in career strikeouts. He retired in 1935 with 1330 career puffs. But get this: do you know how many times he struck out 100 batting in a season? It would be zero. He hit 90 times just twice, and once in 1933, when he was 38. The standards and expectations were a bit different.
When I was a boy, the king of single-season puffs was Joe D’s older brother Vince DiMaggio with 134 in 1938. We arched our collective eyebrows when Tigers rookie Jake Wood fanned 141 times in 1961. Not in our most extreme imagination could not have predicted like Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn or Chris Davis.
As most good baseball fans know, Reggie Jackson is the current career leader with 2,597 K. But when I think of a Whiff King, I think of Davis first, with a career rate of one withdrawal. at bat every 3.04 at home; or Reynolds, the single-season leader with 223 and a one-K career rate for every 3.24 home plate appearances; or Dunn, with a career rate of one K for every 3.50 plaque appearances.
Speaking of Joe DiMaggio, check this out. The Yankee Clipper stoked a total of 369 times in 7672 home plate appearances, peaking at, ahem, 39 in his rookie year of 1936. Nuf said.
Well, not quite. Can you imagine what Ted Williams himself is thinking when watching all of this from Hitter’s Home In The Sky? The Thumper has had 2,021 career steps and only 709 K, and has walked five times hundred times more in a season than he has withdrawn.
Yes, a base on balls is a result with no action, but in his case, these rides were elegant.
Did someone say “launch angle”? Ted preached an uppercut swing. But the assumption was that you actually hit baseball.
We won’t even talk about the Hall of Famer Joe Sewell, which stood out – are you seated? – 114 times in 8,333 career appearances, and who, in his last four seasons, has fanned once in every 120.4 plate appearances. I’ll be fair. I am not forcing anyone to meet these standards.
OK now. Excuse me while I put the soap box up.
Yes, there is a lot of wrong with contemporary play. But it’s still baseball. This is a 440 foot strikeout and 15 foot RBI dribbler game. This is a game in which a base hit on a count of 3 and 2 with the bases loaded will produce a different result than the same ball on a count of 2 and 2.
It’s a game in which graceful shortstops dazzle us with long throws from the hole to smother a fast runner or a skillful third baseman does an incomprehensibly beautiful bare hand pickup of a slow roll and gets yet another fast runner at the start.
It is a game in which the pitcher and the batter engage in an engrossing game in the game. It is a game in which a man could throw a perfect game with 27 outings in a line.
It is a game like no other, in which the playing field is an active participant. (“That ball on the wall would have been a home run at any other stadium!”)
Above all, it is a game not ruled by a clock. You can talk about all the drama you can get in any other team sport, but a two-out, two-strike, none comeback win in the ninth inning cannot be surpassed.
I have said it before, and I will say it again now. Baseball is the greatest game to ever come to the mind of mortal man.
I am now back down from the soapbox. Your turn.
PS I could have referred to contemporary scent masters Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez, but I’m in a charitable mood towards the Yankees fans.
Bob Ryan can be reached at [email protected] Follow Bob on Boston.com at Globe 10.0.