It’s here. It’s that awful, sick feeling in my stomach that used to hit me every late July or early August when I would be folding newspapers for delivery and the sickening words would be right there in front of me with every step: BACK TO SCHOOL SALE. I would react about like Charlie Brown did when a batter hit his pitch right back to the box and undressed him. I believe the word that came immediately to mind was “shit!” Now, of course, I don’t have to go back to school but I do have to watch helplessly for the coming onslaught of football. Just avoid it, you say. Just watch your baseball and soccer and avert your eyes from 70 to 80 per cent of the sports pages. Sure. Easy as avoiding headlines about the latest from President Tweety. Training camp, oh boy. Thousands of college students eagerly going back to work on their brain damage. Raiders to Vegas, perfect. You can’t avoid it. There was a checker at one of the local markets who always wanted to talk about the 49ers and, before I renounced it all a few years ago I would jump right in. Yeah, don’t worry, Joe (Montana) doesn’t stay hurt for long and besides they still have Steve Young and Bill Walsh will think of something. I tried a couple of times to explain to him that I didn’t follow the Niners or even the game anymore but to no avail. “They were up by two touchdowns when I left for work!” Oh, who’s that? “The Niners!” Who are they playing? So it didn’t work. He retired and I miss him now, but not that.
Speaking of school, one of the first hard lessons that a class clown learns is that it’s not good manners to make fun of somebody’s name. After all, even if it is funny, a person really has no control over what he or she has been named, and it’s disrespectful. Plus it might get you a broken nose. I doubt that anyone giggled to his face when introduced to Matt Batts. What the hell, he was a good hitter. Still, I can’t help sharing what I think would be a riot of a bullpen crew. The White Sox recently promoted Aaron Bummer for relief help. He needs to join together with the Cardinals’ Seung Hwan Oh and the Oakland A’s guy Ryan Dull. “Who is that warming up in the pen, Mike?” Duane Kuiper might ask. “Oh” says Krukow. “Didn’t he pitch two innings last night?’ “That was Dull..” “All right, I’ll ask a more interesting question—isn’t he the one with a 7.54 earned run average?” “Bummer.” Of course, the battery that no one dares make light of these days is Madison Bumgarner and Buster Posey. And don’t forget, the Dodgers, at least for a brief time a few years ago, really did have Hu on first.
Our greatest analytical minds available are trying to explain why we are seeing so many home runs and, simultaneously, so many strikeouts. It makes for dull baseball, some of us think, but theories are always interesting when your favorite team is 31 games out of first place. So let’s do some comparing. Tweety tells all of his wives that they shouldn’t compare, but let’s go for it. Just because,we will compare the 1949 season, the 1999 season, and the current season. 1949 wasn’t exactly the dead ball era. Some guys, like Ralph Kiner and Ted Williams, were hitting lots of home runs. In all, teams hit 945 homers that year. The Brooklyn Dodgers had 152, led by Gil Hodges and Duke Snider with 23 each and Roy Campanella with 22. The New York Giants, led by Bobby Thomson‘s 27, accumulated 147. Those were tops in baseball. The Chicago White Sox, on the other hand, hit 43 as a team, or as many as the Splendid Splinter himself. Pitchers walked more batters than they struck out. The ball was put in play more because, while there were 4.07 walks per game, there were only 3.6 strikeouts per game. The 945 round trippers meant that 0.69 home runs per game occurred. Bases on balls, depending on the circumstances, are not particularly exciting, but I will add that a solo home run in a 12-3 game does not set my heart racing either. Both are more fun than a pitching change, but we’ll stay off that topic today.
Now to party like 1999, when 5.528 home runs were smacked. That was among 30 teams in a 162 game schedule, of course, so the average was 1.14 per game, or almost double the ’49 rate. Walks diminished to 3.68 per game. Strikeouts, however, soared to 6.21 per game, or about the same increase in rate as the homers. Bill James, stay out of this for now.
Now here we are in the 21st century, when ballplayers make enough to buy teams and orthopedic surgeons are all the rage. Right now, as of July 27, 2017, teams are receiving bases on balls at the rate of 3.258 per game, so slightly less than 18 years ago. The home runs are indeed up despite the commissioner’s office relentless attack on the use of performance enhancing drugs. We now get 1.2618 homers per game with a total currently of 3,836. That’s not really that much more than ’99, but what about the K rate? It’s a whopper. So far 25,059 batters have gone down on strikes, an average of 8.243 per game. Okay, now Bill James should explain whether the strikeouts are worth the power. I say probably not.