In a recent four-game baseball series, the Colorado Rockies and the San Diego Padres jointly produced a record 92 runs, with 17 home runs.
The fans were delirious. Of course! Who doesn’t love a carnival, with endless cotton candy and a ferris wheel and a roller coaster whirling you up and down and around and around, and hopefully only a little vertigo and nausea.
And who doesn’t love inflation, the carnival’s political cousin, with the same wild ride and slightly wobbly ending.
If Major League Baseball were a country, it would be Venezuela, and the officials and owners would be President Maduro — myopic, clueless, stubborn.
There are things in baseball that need fixing (the time-wasting shuffle of relief pitchers; the waiting for hqs to review footage of the play at first base), but the major villain is The Home Run.
Baseball has been, and can be, a beautiful sport, but the Home Run Era starves it of its most strategically challenging and exciting moments — the bunt, the steal, the suicide squeeze, the hit-and-run and, most important, the base hit that invites the players to demonstrate these other skills.
But, realistically, why would any sensible manager rely on these stratagems when the bludgeon of a home run is available?
Even if we wanted to cure the home run plague, there are substantial obstacles, beyond fan sentiment. Expanding the outfield would require impossibly massive stadium renovation. And there are the players who hit home runs because they are bigger and stronger and more skilled than ever. They shouldn’t be arbitrarily penalized for doing what the fans love.
The only practical pressure-point is economic — provide fans with entertainment that’s better than what they’re getting, an alternative whose skill requirements, including batting skill, are as rigorous as in the major leagues, but whose physical differences limit out-and-out power, specifically the power to hit 17 (boring) home runs in 4 games.
We should support women’s professional baseball. It can’t start at the major league equivalent, but we’re already well along, with skilled, competitive women hardball and softball players (the latter could make the transition to hardball easily, as did the players in the 1940’s All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, memorialized in the movie, A League of Their Own).
If we need examples, they’re right in front of us:
As the Home Run Derby was taking place, the American women’s World Cup soccer team was starting its run. The first match was no test, but the second, against Chile, was better-balanced and demonstrated that, when teams are close in skill and style, the fact that the women may not run quite as fast as the men, nor kick quite as hard, is irrelevant. Given a high-enough level of mastery, it’s the comparative skill level of the two teams that makes the game exciting.
Women’s hockey is another example. The best men and women hockey players are exceptionally skilled. But the flow of the men’s game is regularly impeded by physical intimidation that ties players up on the boards, slows them or knocks them down, sometimes injures them, and, not coincidentally, prompts fights that are the game’s greatest stain.
Women hockey players are not exactly pansies, but the difference in size and brute strength produces a game that flows better, is less encumbered by skirmishes, and actually ends up being speedier, more graceful, and more interesting than the men’s game.
Yeah but, you might object, where are these women going to play? Nobody’s going to build new stadiums for them.
During the season, every professional baseball stadium, major and minor, is vacant as often as it is filled (every home game for one team is an away game for the other). That’s a lot of real estate standing idle, begging its owner to be used profitably.
So, let the wild rumpus begin. May the better (not necessarily bigger or stronger) side win.