I’m done with baseball. Or to be more precise, I no longer enjoy being a fan of major league baseball.
Maybe it’s because my team, the Chicago Cubs, is so miserable this year. But I think it goes beyond that. Baseball, in my mind, has become too robotic, too analytic and less fun for me.
Because some geeks keep displaying a lot of statistics spewed out by their computers, we now have a game consisting mainly of walks, strikeouts and home runs.
Baseball is now also full of shifts—as managers, or more precisely general managers, tell players where to stand on the field according to their data, which tells them where the batters will hit the ball.
As a result, when a hitter makes good contact and smacks the ball where in pre-shift times it would have been a hit, a defensive player is right there to field it. Sometimes it’s an infielder far out onto the outfield grass.
As a result, hitters have to try to hit the ball over the heads of all the players and into the seats. It seems like every player is trying to hit a home run on every pitch, which is why batters strike out so often.
Meanwhile managers, and more precisely general managers, tell players that walks are in most cases better than a hit. If you can get the pitcher to give you four balls, you know you’re on base, as opposed to hitting it to a player in a shift for an out.
So now this is how a game goes. Batters hope for either a home run or a walk. They take a lot of pitches. When a pitch is in the strike zone, they swing, and usually miss. It makes for a tedious game. In today’s game there are more strikeouts than hits. And lots of walks.
Meanwhile pitchers are in games for relatively short times, limited by “pitch counts,” another statistic general managers live by. Hardly any pitcher ever throws for nine innings. And bullpens are loaded with relief pitchers. It’s typical that a team will send five to seven pitchers into a game.
Some games have no starting pitcher, just a bunch of bullpen guys, starting with an “opener.” Relief pitchers come into games when a computer says they can get certain hitters out, in a game of “match-ups.”
Pitchers throw as hard as they can for as long as they can, which often results in tired or injured arms, forcing them to go on the disabled list. That’s one reason a whole bunch of players on each team go back and forth between the minor leagues and major leagues.
Strategy no longer comes into play. Gone are bunts and hit-and-run plays. Stolen bases are rare. Everything follows a plan and process dictated by a computer. Video games have more creativity.
Managers are now secondary to general managers, who have hired a whole bunch of people who look at data up, down and sideways. The general manager as a rule dictates to the manager what he’s supposed to do.
In some cases, a general manager looks brilliant, as did Billy Bean when he more or less invented “money ball” in 2002. At first it was cute, a guy with an underdog team outwitting guys with bigger and more expensive teams because he knows stats. But that was 20 years ago. It’s no longer cute. It’s deadening.
The San Francisco Giants current general manager has also been successful finding players computers choose and having his team follow a computer printout. It was cute when the Giants won 107 games last year. It’s not so cute this year when they’re 10 games out of first place.
Meanwhile many owners don’t care about winning. They don’t want to pay for good players because this would eat into their profits, and that’s why they’re owners. The prime example: the Oakland A’s, one of the worst teams in baseball this year.
There are a few exceptions, owners who care about winning, like those who own the Yankees and the Dodgers, who are willing to spend like crazy to field a good team.
Meanwhile, teams like the Oakland A’s, who, as soon as players show they’re talented, trade them away for younger players they don’t have to pay as much. I guess it’s not a coincidence that, as I write this, the A’s have lost 29 more games than they have won, while the Yankees have won 36 more games than they have lost.
Nowadays, few players stay with the same team for more than a few years. Usually they leave via free agency because their team’s management doesn’t want to pay them what they think they’re worth.
Fans for most of the major league teams have a hard time knowing the names of more than a handful of players. It’s hard to root for a bunch of uniforms and not the persons in them.
There are baseball games today, however, that are enjoyable. Little league games today are more fun than major league games. Likewise for high school baseball games. My worry, however, is that managers and coaches of young men, following MLB’s example, will tell players to start swinging for home runs every pitch.
Also, there’s a minor league team called the Savannah Bananas that believes in having fun as well as playing baseball to win. Maybe that’s why they fill minor league stadiums wherever they play.
Oh, well, I guess you can call me a grumpy old man, but I think many other baseball fans of all ages agree with me, which is why MLB attendance is down for most clubs.
It’s sad to see “the nation’s pastime” ending up “past its prime” and becoming an afterthought.
On another note: Los Banos lost one of its longtime amazing women in the recent death of Clara Soares. Besides being a loyal soulmate of husband Mel and a matriarch of a family of ten unique children, Clara was congenial and witty, a delight to be with. And she was a prolific and talented storyteller. She will be deeply missed.