Welcome to the Golden Age of Baseball

Every year around this time my friend Joel travels to Las Vegas to put $ 5 for me on the Yankees to win everything. It’s a bet that hasn’t paid off in a long time, true, but it’s a ritual that, like Rocky Kolavita, who stretches his arms behind his back and crosses himself before approaching the plate, prepares me for what will happen.

Major League Baseball probably loves fans like me. I watch it on TV, go to games in person, read scores and put a handful of old and new baseball books in my annual reading diet. From April to October baseball becomes part of the rhythm of my daily life as the fifth season of the year.

While the few experiences in life can be compared to the relaxation and enjoyment of leisurely watching a game on a summer night, what ties it all together, and what I love most, is the stories. No sport can compare to baseball when it comes to stories, in part because of its long history, but also because the large number of games provides a stage for more characters, storylines, twists and turns than any can collect. another American sport.

Other sports have taken up much of the national attention previously dominated by baseball. The NFL is now much more popular than the MLB, and my 15-year-old prefers the NBA. Mike Trout, the best player on the planet these days, is a much less national celebrity than Tom Brady or LeBron James. However, as baseball fans know, and probably Trout understands that being the object of obsession has its drawbacks. In 1950, short-stop Yankee Phil Rizuta, who won the MVP that year, received a death threat with a warning not to show up in uniform in Boston. Yankee manager Casey Stengel suggested Rizuta change his number to a newcomer from second base Billy Martin for defense. Rizuta refused, insisting that he would rather face an armed maniac than take him for a quarrelsome Martin, and risked being beaten or beaten by one of the many players with whom Martin had made enemies.

As evidenced by the inconsistency of recognition, baseball faces some challenges. However, on this opening day I think the reports of his slow demise are greatly exaggerated. In fact, in many ways the game we see today is faster, better and more exciting than ever before, even if it keeps in touch with the past, which will always give it more resonance than its competitors.

Today’s players don’t show up for spring training, gaining 30 pounds, selling insurance in the off-season, they need summer to sweat winter beer.

One of the reasons why baseball is better than ever is the quality of the athletes. Gone are the days when Mickey Mentle went all night drinking, stumbling to a plate to hold a home run, and circling the bases, puffing and puffing while his teammates giggled at his obvious hangover. Disappeared Karl Jastrzemski, who in 1966, concerned about trade, went to see a coach who Sports Illustrated called “physical culturologist”. Coach Gene Berde was shocked at how poor the Red Sox outfielder’s physical training was, and couldn’t believe he was a professional athlete. Fans of my age remember how Yaz smoked cigarettes in the dugout, which then did not seem strange to anyone.

But Jastrzemski was a harbinger of the fitness revolution. He spent the 1966 offseason training with Berde, and appeared in spring training stronger than ever. The pitchers, who thought they knew how to defeat Yaz, suddenly found that he was able to move through fields he could not handle before. As a result of his off-season fitness regime, which at the time seemed rather exotic, Jastrzębski spent his best season in 1967, winning the Triple Crown and MVP and leading the Red Sox to the World Series.

Today’s players don’t show up for spring training, gaining 30 pounds, selling insurance in the off-season, they need summer to sweat winter beer. They probably have a lot of fun in their spare time, but on the field they are some of the most well-trained and ruthlessly focused professionals in the world. Imagine an amazing giant like Giancarlo Stanton of the Yankees, or the amazing angels of Shohe Ahtani. Not that we still don’t like the occasional overweight pitcher like Bartholomew Colon, who can knock out a bouncer. Teammate Rudy Mae once said of the Hall of Fame rapper Gus Gossej: “Look at Gossej. His height is 6 feet 4 and most of the fat. Maybe he makes a feed a week. And for that he is paid a million dollars a year. And you know what? He deserves it. “

Another big improvement is the growth of analytics, which is now used in almost every sport but started in baseball. Using statistics analysts and analysts to figure out how teams can improve lineup building, serving, shifting and offensive strategy (and abandon dubiously effective tactics such as banting and base theft), the analytics revolution has expanded baseball from reserve ducks into a beautiful marriage between athletes, botanists and eccentrics. This, in turn, has attracted various people to coaching and management positions, not only former players but also mathematicians, entrepreneurs, software engineers and professional players. Analytics not only gave a slight increase in efficiency; it completely changed the way teams and fans feel about the game.

(As for the change – if a team strategically places players in places on the field where it is likely to hit the ball – it can make it difficult to get shots, but this is nothing new. In the 1940s, left-hander Ted Williams was confused defensive shifts, so Thai Cobb Hall of Fame member sent him a letter explaining how to defeat them.Proud Williams tore the letter to pieces, to the shock of his teammate Bobby Doer, who even at the time wondered how much Tay Kobe’s letter would cost Ted Williams on the open market.)

Analysts have also reduced the value of money in baseball. When the net worth of the owners determined who could buy the championships, analysts created a more level playing field. Although teams like the Red Sox, New York and Dodgers tend to outperform their opponents (often by an order of magnitude), no team in this century has won the World Series in a row. Because the average player is much better, and brains are now as important at least as much as brains, there is much more balance between teams. We no longer face a decade like in the 1950s, when only one manager named Casey Stangel won a pennant in the American League. (This manager was Al Lopez, by the way, a supporter of Stengel, to whom Stengel complimented: “The big blow you hear about Ella is that he has a great record in that he finished second.” Lopez defeated Stengel’s Yankees only twice, brought both the 1954 Indians and the 1959 White Sox to the World Series, but lost both times. Meanwhile, Stengel’s Yankees won eight pennants and six World Series before the end of the decade.)

Another sign of MLB’s strength is its international presence and attractiveness. Of course, baseball has long been played in Japan, Cuba and Korea, and MLB has had a large base of fans abroad for decades. But now generations of these foreign fans have grown to become some of the best players in the world, and the world is still sending the best to America. In the past few days you could, like Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, storm Japan, as they did in 1934, and admire Aidi Savamura, a Japanese high school student. Today the barn is a relic of a bygone era. After nearly two decades in the MLB, Japanese Ichira Suzuki is now considered one of the greatest base strikers in American baseball history – and perhaps rightly so, as his total career shots surpass all others.

Of course, critics may say that fitness-obsessed Olympic-level athletes like Stanton are less close than old stars who absorb beer and chew tobacco, and that over-reliance on data-driven analytics makes the strategy too machine-friendly for many fans. There may be some truth in this, but the fact is that the gin came out of the bottle. No player will return to the random training regime of the past, and no team will be willing to return to strategies that have been demonstrated as ineffective. And fans, despite the occasional grunt, would not like it. As Babe Ruth once said, “Yesterday’s home runs won’t win today’s games.”

Combining change in the game with a lasting respect for its history is why baseball will be with us for a long time to come. And it will look the same as always. Watch a 1950s professional football match and it’s played between rebounds, not in the air. Look at the NBA game from the 1960s, and no one soaks or shoots beyond the free throw line – today it’s just near the basket or behind the three-point line.

But the iconic moments in baseball – catching Willie Mace over the shoulder, Bobby Thompson’s shot heard around the world, winning the World Series Bill Mazeroski home run, Ruth’s throw – all happen with about the same frame rate you see today. If fans of 2122 look back at the 2022 game and the 1922 game, I believe they will see a single continuum and will have no problem with that. This is in the nature of the sport itself.

“It’s a very simple game,” manager Joe Riggins aptly explains in the 1988 film Bull Durham. “You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains. Think about it for a while. ”

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