baseball

Exit 235. Is it worth it for the game to lose its soul?

A couple years ago, I was watching a San Francisco Giants baseball game on TV.  The game was tied in extra innings (for my unbaseballed readers: if the game is tied at the end of the normal game length, they keep playing more innings until the game isn’t tied anymore at the end of an inning).  It is well known in baseball that some pitchers are better at pitching against certain types of batters; for example, pitchers tend to be better at getting out batters who bat with the same hand that the pitcher throws with.  Giants manager Bruce Bochy wanted to put in a left-handed pitcher (I don’t remember the names of any of the players involved here, nor do I remember the opponent) because the next batter was left-handed, but the existing right-handed pitcher would be preferable for the right-handed batters following this one.  Once a player is removed from the game, he may not re-enter the game, and being that this game had gone to extra innings, there were very few players left, especially pitchers, who could enter the game.

Something happened here that I had never seen in all the decades I’ve been watching baseball.  Instead of removing the pitcher, Bochy removed an outfielder from the game, and the right-handed pitcher moved to left field, where the upcoming left-handed batter would not be likely to hit the ball.  After that left-handed batter had finished his at-bat against the new left-handed pitcher, the right-handed pitcher came back to the mound to pitch, and a new outfielder entered the game.

Baseball, especially in leagues where no designated hitter is used, is a game of brilliant strategy.  This part of the game seems to be misunderstood these days by all but the most dedicated baseball fans.  For years, baseball executives have been pointing out that interest in the game is slowly declining, because younger generations see baseball as a slow and boring game.  I wouldn’t disagree with the slow part, but I disagree with the assumption that being slow is a bad thing.  I can go to a baseball game with someone and, because of the slow pace of the game, I don’t have to choose between spending time with my friend and paying attention to the game, as is the case sometimes with, say, basketball, where the ball is constantly moving and scoring happens often.  And, if you know enough to follow the strategy, baseball is not boring at all.  The number of strategic moves required to maximize the team’s chance of scoring, and the excitement of seeing whether or not a strategy succeeds, makes for a very exciting game.

Major League Baseball has proposed a number of rule changes for the 2020 season, and as far as I can tell, the brilliant strategy described above, in which the pitcher briefly moved to left field, would be against the rules for two reasons under the new rules.  Players would be designated as either pitchers or position players, prohibiting pitchers from playing any other position in the field.  This situation that I described would be uncommon, but it is fairly common to use pitchers as pinch runners late in the game, and this would seemingly be prohibited as well.  (For the unbaseballed: this means substituting a player when they are already on base, so if a slow player gets a hit, he might be removed from the game and replaced with a fast player to run the rest of the bases and have a better chance at scoring because of his speed.  I should also acknowledge that there are inconsistencies in the articles I’ve read about the rule changes, and I’m not 100% sure that using pitchers as pinch runners would be against the rules.)

But there is another rule that clearly would affect the game in profound ways: a pitcher will be required to pitch to a minimum of three batters.  In the scenario I described above, the pitcher only pitched to one batter, and this is far more common than any of the other unusual strategies I have described.  And this rule change affects so many aspects of the game beyond on-field strategy, extending to front-office decisions about which players a team chooses to sign and the value of pitchers in a trade or free agent signing.  Many pitchers have specifically built careers around being specialists who are brought in just to get one batter out, typically a batter of the same handedness.  This gives them an additional advantage of being usable in more games, since pitching to only one batter does not wear out their pitching arm or require resting over multiple games before pitching again.  Now, their skill sets will be rendered invalid with the stroke of a pen.

The justification for this rule change is to speed up the game.  Some of the proposals to speed up the game I’m perfectly okay with, like shortening slightly the breaks between innings.  But changing the strategy and the value of certain skill sets will change the game so fundamentally as to render it almost unrecognizable to some of us long-term fans.  And I’m not sure I buy the argument that the young have attention spans too short to appreciate baseball.  After all, younger fans have embraced soccer at levels heretofore unprecedented in the USA, and soccer is certainly a game requiring patience with so few goals being scored.  Or maybe the problem is that fewer kids are playing baseball, with other sports and activities such as competitive video gaming taking up their recreation time, so they never learn all the strategies involved with baseball.

Bruce Bochy and his strategic brilliance will not see these rule changes, since he is retiring at the end of the 2019 season.  But there is another generation of fans for whom the game will not be the same as it was before.  So how does baseball revitalize and reinvent itself for the younger generation?  I don’t know.  The world is a different place than it was a generation ago, and I realize that baseball has been through major rule changes before.  One theory I’ve heard is that MLB owners receive so much revenue from licensing deals that they have little financial incentive to put a winning team on the field, which makes some organizations perpetually not competitive. Maybe we need to look at that.  I don’t have a definite answer.  But is it worth it for the game to lose its soul over this?

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Exit 204. I’m sitting on a train from Sacramento to San Jose right now with no idea what to write.

I’m sitting on a train from Sacramento to San Jose right now with no idea what to write.

Someone I know just got on the train in Davis.  I would say that that was unexpected, but maybe it’s not.  Since June of 2017, I have made three round trips on Amtrak, and twice someone else I know ended up on the same train as me.  Maybe it’s just that I know a lot of people.

The Wi-Fi on the train is actually working today.

I made a list of goals for the summer, as I said I would do last week.  I haven’t made much progress on it, but that’s okay, because I have plenty of time.  I did make small dents in the total number of miles I want to run and bike before I go back to work,   I thought about doing one of my bigger goals (go to a Giants game) last week, but I backed out at the last minute on the grounds that I was better off taking some down time, starting my Teacher Summer with a week and a half of dead time, then going to visit my family (hence today’s train ride, which will be followed by a bus ride from San Jose to Salinas), then tackling my big adventures after that.  But after watching the game I didn’t go to from home, I wish I had gone, because the Giants came back from a two run deficit in the 9th inning to force extra innings and win in the 10th.

The aforementioned dead time was just the right balance of fun, relaxing, and productive.  And now I get four days with my parents, not having to worry about things like making dinner every night.

I left a pile of dirty dishes in the sink at home.  Probably not the best idea.  I hope I don’t come home to a big stinky mess.  I was going to put them in the dishwasher before I left, but there were still clean dishes in the dishwasher from yesterday.  And I literally didn’t have time to put the clean dishes away, because I had a train to catch.  Oh well.  It’s not the end of the world.

I’m now somewhere in the marshlands between Suisun and Martinez, and I still have no idea what to write about.  So I guess this is it.  This is your post for the week.  Have a great week, everyone.

Exit 175. It’s not too late for a comeback.

I have a lot of my mind right now.  None of it is ready to be a full post on here.  And now I’ve forgotten what I was actually going to write about.

Oh yeah… Two big things happened in my world this week: the end of the Major League Baseball World Series, and Halloween.  My team wasn’t in it, but if you know me, and you know how baseball works, you can figure out who I was going for.  The series went the maximum possible number of games, seven (for my unbaseballed readers, the champion is the first team to win four games, therefore the maximum length is seven games).  After around game 3, I predicted it would probably go seven games, because these two teams were so good, and so many of their games had been close, going back and forth.

I tried to keep my mouth shut.  I have very strong feelings against one of the teams that was involved this year, but I know people who like that team, and even though sometimes I want to feel differently, my rational thinking side still believes that supporting different teams is not in and of itself a good reason to lose friends.  At times during this series, I really tried hard to stay calm and keep quiet and not say anything.  I had the game on while I was handing out candy to trick-or-treaters.  The game was visible from the front door, and a few people asked me how the game was going.  I had some choice words for the dad waiting at the sidewalk wearing the jersey of the team I wanted to lose, but I was good and kept them to myself.

One important reminder to take away from this Series is that there is always hope, no matter how gloomy and pointless things can seem.  Many of these games featured one team taking an early lead, only to have the other team come roaring back later.  I often feel like life has me beaten down… but as long as I’m still breathing, it’s not too late for a comeback.  Play ball.

Exit 124. Maybe it’s time to find someone else.

Santiago Casilla has been having a rough couple of months.

Casilla is the closer for the San Francisco Giants baseball team.  For my unbaseballed readers, “closer” is the informal term for a pitcher whose role is to enter the game late and usually only pitch one inning.  The strategy is to use the closer in a close game in which the team is leading, so that the closer can pitch a few quick outs and end the game in a win for his team.

But Casilla not been very good at his job lately.  Recently, when he has entered the game with a small lead, he ends up pitching poorly and letting the other team score, often resulting in a loss for the Giants.  Fans are frustrated, sometimes now to the point of booing when Giants manager Bruce Bochy calls for Casilla to enter the game.  (And I don’t think they were saying Boo-ochy.)  Two months ago, the Giants were the best team in all of Major League Baseball, but since then they have slid precipitously in the standings, now barely clinging to life in the playoff race.

The moderator of a Giants Facebook posted last night that the only thing that makes sense at this point is that Casilla must have compromising pictures of Bochy.  In other words, Casilla must be keeping the closer job by blackmailing Bochy, because Bochy should know better than to use Casilla in these situations when he has caused the team to lose so many games.

Last night, I was playing board games with friends, but keeping an eye on the Giants score on my phone.  The Giants were leading 2-1 over the St. Louis Cardinals going into the 9th inning, but then Casilla came in to pitch, walked a runner, gave up a couple of hits, and left the game with the Giants behind 3-2.  The Giants could not score in the bottom of the 9th.  My friends who also follow the Giants were expressing similar thoughts about why Bochy continues to use Casilla in these situations, and how Bochy keeps deflecting the question when asked this by reporters.  Everyone has a bad day sometimes.  Everyone makes mistakes sometimes.  I get that.  If a closer blows a save or two, it shouldn’t cost him his job.  But when your team’s closer is leading Major League Baseball with nine blown saves this season, most of them coming relatively recently, then maybe it’s time to find someone else to do the job.

Finally, I said, “Bochy needs to let go and move on, and use someone else as the closer.  He’s acting like a guy who can’t get over his ex-girlfriend and keeps hoping they’ll get back together.”

I’ve been that guy before.  This is a hard life lesson for many of us, whether or not it has any connection with baseball.  Sometimes what used to work isn’t working anymore, and sometimes life has changed to the point where it may never work like that again.  Change is hard, but sometimes not changing is even harder in the long run.  Just like the Giants, I can’t stay stuck in my same old patterns and expect to stop being sad all of a sudden.  If I’m doing something that I don’t enjoy, taking time away from other things in life, then it’s time to do something else.  If I’m spending time and energy on people who aren’t making me a priority, then it’s time to stop making them such a priority.  Time to let go and move on.