No Joy in Mudville
As we enter this first weekend in June, baseball is starting to take center stage, as the NBA Finals and Stanley Cup Final (note that the NBA makes the word “Final” plural, while the NHL does not) close out their sport’s respective seasons.
Starting this weekend, a Shenandoah Valley tradition resumes, with the start of another Valley League Baseball season. Feel free to revisit my post of a year ago about the VBL, and get out to a few games this year. You might be watching a future major leaguer, or two. There’s nothing like sitting in the bleachers of a Valley League game and enjoying a hot dog and soda on a warm Shenandoah Valley summer night…
Now, for this week’s main topic. In the baseball movie Bull Durham, Kevin Costner’s character “Crash” Davis utters the classic line “chicks dig the long ball.” I guess the “chicks” are loving Major League Baseball these days, because in the last few seasons, we’ve seen an incredible spike in home runs. And not just garden-variety “taters”, but tape-measure jobs, at that.
While I’m ok with homers (I get that the game is being marketed to a younger fan base), I’m not ok with the correlating increase in strikeouts. In 2016, the average MLB team struck out 8.1 times a game. And it’s becoming routine to see a team whiff 10 or more times a game in 2017 as pitchers throw 100 MPH, and batters take a “feast-or famine” approach at the plate.
It’s not really the strikeouts that bother me. I love seeing Max Scherzer stomp around the mound during an 11-K performance. It’s the prevailing attitude now in baseball that strikeouts are ok. On a national sports talk radio show this week, former MLB star Gary Sheffield said that he used to be embarrassed when he struck out and had to make the slow walk back to the dugout. In 1941, the great Joe Dimaggio struck out only 13 times in 541 at bats. Over his illustrious career, only 5.4 percent of his at bats resulted in strikeouts, an amazing statistic. The object of the game for a batter is to make contact with the ball, a concept seemingly lost in today’s game.
I am a baseball traditionalist, I guess. I love the home run as much as anyone, but I love “small ball.” I love the manufactured run, when a player reaches base on a single, the next batter moves him along with a grounder to the right side of the infield, moves to third on a passed ball, and scores on another base hit. That, to me, is a thing of beauty.
The strikeout, to me, is symbolic of failure. However, it seems commonplace now for a player to strikeout and walk back to the dugout with a “who cares” expression on his face.
In the classic poem by Ernest Lawrence Thayer “Casey At The Bat”, the central character is in the batters box in a crucial moment in the bottom of the ninth for the Mudville nine. With runners on second and third and two out, the Mighty Casey strikes out.
Instead of swinging for the fences, a single would have tied the game…
That’s it from the Booth. Until the next visit…GO HORNETS!