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Home / Articles / Columnists / Sports Feature /  Mid-Season Baseball Report: Favorites And The Long Ball
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Wednesday, July 3,2019

Mid-Season Baseball Report: Favorites And The Long Ball

By Mark Tudino  

The adage in baseball used to be that if you were in first place on the Fourth of July, there was a good chance you would win the pennant. Of course, that saying was developed at a time when baseball had two leagues, no divisions, and 16 teams. In 1969 baseball made the decision to expand into two divisions, and later that morphed into three divisions with two wild card teams added to the post-season, so the idea of being in first place at this time of the year is no longer a rock solid predictor of success. We’ll get to the races (such as they are) in a second, but the big story in baseball this year is the return of the home run. Or should I say the explosion of the home run. Balls are flying out of parks at such a rate, the conspiracy theorists have reappeared with a bushel full of reasons as to why that is.

A brief recap: So far in 2019, through nearly half of the season, MLB is on pace to hit 6591 home runs. The old record was set just two seasons ago with 6105 dingers. Three teams alone (the Twins, Mariners and Brewers) are already ahead of the pace for a single team’s season record, set by last year’s Yankees. The numbers are staggering: Twenty three teams are headed for hitting more than 200 home runs in a season; the old record was set in 2017 when 17 teams did it – and the weather hasn’t yet turned warm, when traditionally, balls fly out of the parks at a greater rate. So what’s changed? And why should the average fan care?

Taking the second issue first, baseball has always prided itself on being the thinking man’s pastime. Strategy. Position moves. Using your 25-man roster to its fullest to outwit your opponent. Hollywood even made Brad Pitt a star of this “small ball” style when it released “Moneyball” a few years back. Now, it’s bash away and bludgeon your opponents to death; scores of 16-12, 14-13 and 12-10 are now commonplace. Don’t believe me? Check out the morning’s box scores, and at least one game will feature one team scoring in double digits. In a way, the game’s charm has been replaced by brute force, and station-to-station strategy is now lost; the fundamentals of the game could be compromised if this style of play continues.

As to why this is happening, all kinds of theories abound: everything from the ball being “enhanced” (that is, changing its construction to make hitting a baseball like hitting a golf ball), to poor pitching, to the ballparks themselves being configured to accommodate today’s power hitters. And of course, looming in the background is nasty whispers that today’s players are, somehow, chemically “enhanced” to be stronger.

Whatever the reason, attendance has not improved, which suggests fans are not impressed with this orgy of homers so far.

The other reason for the attendance slump is the fact that no real drama exists in any of the pennant races. In the AL, New York, Boston, Houston, Minnesota and Tampa Bay all appear headed for the post-season. In the NL, it’s LA, Milwaukee, the Cubs, Atlanta and maybe Philadelphia who are in the mix; if you live in the other 20 squads, it’s wait until next year.

So enjoy the summer, and here’s hoping your team is one of the chosen few, and not one of the also-rans. And remember, if you’re one of the unlucky fans, there’s always beer.

Play ball!

 

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