My fellow Americans, seldom in the history of this great nation of ours has so much excitement, so much preparation, so much energy been brought forth and, especially, so much media hype been wasted on the damned major league draft. How must Rick Monday feel today? Wasn’t he the first guy drafted back in 1965, when Volkswagens were cool and we all thought war was temporary? I mean, it’s crazy enough that the NFL and the NBA televise their drafts with all of the speculation and expert analysis and heart rending interviews, but now baseball too? And as we have seen with The Apprentice, Dancing With the Stars, and countless other time wasters, if you put it out there, people will watch. Here is what no one connected with the “show” will say: most of these players are never going to make it to the big leagues. Also, remember when it was more fun to watch a ballgame than to watch people sign contracts? Okay, I’ll change out of my cranky pants and move on.
Last Saturday, the Chicago Cubs beat the New York Mets, 7-1, in 14 innings. The interesting fact sheepishly told by the AP account was that the Cubs accomplished this victory despite striking out 24 times. I checked the boxscore. Yep. And go to hell, spellcheck, boxscore is a word. Break it up when you write something interesting. There was another 14 inning game that night. The Nationals beat the Braves, 5-3. In this game, Washington lead off batter Trea Turner struck out five times while going 0-for-7. Before this, Turner had impressed me as a bona fide top of the lineup guy. Wow! It just so happens, however, that I had caught a game on Fox that Tom Verducci was working earlier that same day. Therefore, I now have come to realize that this is, as he said, Today’s Game. Along with defensive shifting, 13 pitchers per roster, and $12 beers, we all should stop being curmudgeonly and accept that, in Today’s Game, this is what comes with getting what we really want, which are home runs. Okay, Mr. Verducci, I am with you. Please, though, give us crotchety old folks some slack. It’s just that, when we were growing up, striking out was bad. Whiffing was not cool and led to jeering, not cheering. One of the major steps forward in life for me , after learning to walk, was putting the bat on the ball and making it go somewhere. My baseball playing days were not that long and, by high school, the best I could do was play slow pitch softball, teenagers playing an old man’s game but having fun. Striking out was really not cool there.
I played in the C.Y.O. league on the St. Joseph the Worker team. We had a guy named Danny McCart who was big and slow but could hit the ball a mile. Sort of a Hank Sauer or Gus Zernial type, although he probably fielded better than those two. So he was our big power guy. There was a problem, though. The field where almost all of our games were played had no outfield fence or any fence at all, unless you count the backstop. Consequently, most of Danny’s majestic, long, arcing drives were caught by outfielders for outs. I was envious of his power, but I soon figured out that line drives that make infielders knees buckle were more effective. So this has stayed with me.
Something else has stayed with me during this lust for long balls era. Joe Di Maggio struck out 369 times in 13 seasons while hitting 361 home runs as a right handed batter playing his home games at Yankees Stadium. Ted Williams struck out 709 times in 19 seasons while thumping 521 homers. I guess they set a bad example, but guess what? Even players who were not All Stars or Hall of Fame candidates had similar ratios. Verducci pointed out something that should have been obvious to me by now but wasn’t. He said that the average pitcher in Today’s Game is striking out batters at the same rate that the legendary Sandy Koufax did. So I’m trying to go along with you, Tom, but in my dreams there are starting pitchers hurling 16 inning shutouts with about five strikeouts.