Teams tend to play one of two types of baseball, long ball or small ball. The rise of of analytics has shown sacrificing an out to advance a runner is not in a team’s best interest. Teams are shying away from small ball because, as Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine so eloquently put it, “Chicks dig the long ball.” The roar of the crowd is much different for a Home Run than a Sacrifice Hit, Sacrifice Bunt. Instant offense versus a building block towards a potential Run.
Baseball has changed since the small ball era of the early 20th Century. The small ball era helped produce Eddie Collins and his 512 career Sacrifice, 120 ahead of second place. Clayton Kershaw is the active leader with 108, 334th all time. Small ball produced Ray Chapman’s 1917 single season record of 67 Sacrifices. Bert Campaneris’ 40 Sacrifices in 1977 are the most since 1929. Home Runs have replaced the Sacrifice. Teams swing for the fences. They no longer get them on, get them over, get them in.
A slugger’s value comes from hitting a baseball over the fence, not tapping it in the infield. The top ten Home Run hitters of all time have hit 6,680 Home Runs. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, Alex Rodriguez, Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, Ken Griffey Jr., Jim Thome, Sammy Sosa, and Frank Robinson have played a combined 213 Major League seasons. Only Pujols is active, with two seasons left before Free Agency or retirement. Occasionally these long ball titans sacrifice themselves for the team.
In 22 seasons, Barry Bonds hit 762 Home Runs and laid down 4 Sacrifices. Hank Aaron played 23 seasons, hit 755 Home Runs with 21 Sacrifices. Babe Ruth hit 714 Home Runs in 22 seasons and laid down 113 Sacrifices, more than the rest of this elite group combined. Alex Rodriguez Sacrificed 16 times in 22 seasons, while hitting 696 Home Runs. Willie Mays played 22 seasons, hit 660 Home Runs, and dropped 13 Sacrifices. Albert Pujols has played 19 seasons, hit 656 Home Runs with 1 Sacrifice. Ken Griffey Jr. hit 630 Home Runs over 22 seasons and Sacrificed 8 times. Jim Thome and his 612 Home Runs laid down 1 Sacrifice in 22 seasons. Sammy Sosa had 17 Sacrifices in 18 seasons while blasting 609 Home Runs. Frank Robinson dropped 17 Sacrifices in 21 seasons, with 586 Home Runs. Even the greatest sluggers of all time Sacrifice.
Babe Ruth revolutionized baseball with his power, yet he still played in an era where players were expected to bunt to help their team win. (www.captainsblog.info)
In 213 combined seasons, the greatest Home Run hitters laid down 211 Sacrifices. In an average season they hit 31.36 Home Runs with 0.99 Sacrifices. Their average career was 668 Home Runs and 21.1 Sacrifices, 30.2 Home Runs per Sacrifice. Even ardent believers in small ball know these players should swing the bat.
Jim Thome and Albert Pujols each have just 1 career Sacrifice. Thome and Pujols are not Rickey Henderson. They have hit a 32 triples, 16 each, and stolen 133 bases, combined. Only Pujol’s 114 steals break to top 1,000. Both sluggers were designed to trot around the bases, not sprint.
On July 3, 1994, Indians Manager Mike Hargrove looked to extend Cleveland’s 2.5 game over the Chicago White Sox in the American League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, in a 7-7 tie against the Minnesota Twins, Eddie Murray laced the third pitch to Right for a lead off single. Hargrove signaled his young Third Baseman to Sacrifice. After taking a strike from Mark Guthrie, the 23 year old Jim Thome bunted, moving Murray to Second. Thome reached on an error by Third Baseman Chip Hale. Twins Manager Tom Kelly then replaced Guthrie with Carl Willis. Sandy Alomar Jr. greeted Willis with a swinging bunt down, loading the bases. Paul Sorrento followed with an RBI Single to Right, driving in Murray. Wayne Kirby fouled out to Third. One out. Kenny Lofton hit a Sacrifice Fly to Center, scoring Thome with Alomar advancing to Third. Two outs. Omar Vizquel flied out to Center. Three outs. 9-7 Cleveland. Thome and the Indians won 10-9 in 11 Innings, sending the Jacobs Field crowd home happy.
Jim Thome hit baseballs a long way, his talents were not best used bunting. (www.cooperstowncred.com)
The importance of the game, and Thome’s Sacrifice, were lost as the 1994 season stopped on August 12th. Cleveland was 1 game behind Chicago when the Strike began. The Strike claimed the rest of the 1994.
The St. Louis Cardinals hosted the Chicago White Sox on June 16, 2001. The Chicago Cubs led the Cardinals by 6 games in the National League Central. In the Bottom of the 7th, White Sox pitcher Sean Lowe walked Placido Polanco on four pitches. J. D. Drew then Singled to Right. Cardinals Manager Tony La Russa looked to stretch the 6-3 lead. He signaled his Cleanup Hitter to bunt. In his 67th career game, Albert Pujols bunted the first pitch foul. On the second pitch, Pujols bunted the ball back to Lowe who threw to Second Baseman Ray Durham covering First. Polanco moved to Third and Drew to second. One out. Pujols has not Sacrificed again. Bobby Bonilla was Intentionally Walked to load the bases and replaced by Pinch Runner Jim Edmonds. Craig Paquette Singled to Right, scoring Polanco. Drew scored on an error by the Shortstop, Tony Graffanino. Edmonds stopped at Second. Edgar Renteria struck out looking as Edmonds stole Third and Paquette stole Second. Two outs. Mike Matheny grounded out to First. Three outs. St. Louis won 8-3.
Albert Pujols is one of the greatest right hand power hitters of all time, bunting is not his most dangerous weapon. (Dilip Vishwanat/ Getty Images)
The Cardinals lost to the Houston Astros on the final day of the Regular Season. Both teams finished 93-69. Houston was crowned Division champions by winning the season series 9 games to 7. St. Louis was the Wild Card. The Cardinals lost to the eventual World Series champion Arizona Diamondbacks in a decisive Game 5 in the Divisional Series.
Baseball is a team game played by individuals. Players field ground balls, pitch, and bat alone. No one can help you succeed, but you can help others succeed. Backing up throws, turning Double Plays, executing a relay all help a team win. And yes, occasionally even the greatest Home Run hitters Sacrifice for the team.
As baseball changes, Sacrifices by players capable of putting a baseball into orbit inches towards extinction. The Sacrifice is becoming a lost art as light hitting pitchers in the National League dominate and the Designated Hitter in the American League decimates the Sacrifice. A slugger bunting is now more rare than a Perfect Game. This generation’s greatest sluggers have Sacrificed just twice. If Mike Trout ever lays down a Sacrifice, soak in the moment. It will be the first of his career, and possibly the last time an all time great Home Run hitter Sacrifices himself.
The 2013 MLB All-Star Game was hosted by the New York Mets. Despite working in New York I could not attend the festivities (Bernie did though and one of our mutual friends got to attend the game because of a promotion at the Fan Fest). The 2015 MLB All-Star Game was hosted by the Cincinnati Reds, but I could not attend as I moved to Cincinnati about a week after the festivities ended. However, 2016 is the year I finally made it to the All Star Game, not in San Diego but the South Atlantic League Single A All-Star Game hosted by the Lexington Legends. Not what you may have expected.
Great seats for a great game. (The Winning Run/ DJ)
Obviously these players are not household names, but I recognized a few of them. Luke Dykstra, son of Lenny Dykstra, plays for the Rome Braves. Mariano Rivera Jr., son of Mariano Rivera, plays for Hagerstown Suns. Tate Matheny, son of Mike Matheny, plays for the Greenville Drive. Every player selected to this All Star game has a ways to go before leaving a lasting legacy on the game.
The game itself produced some great baseball. Diving catches, beautifully played ground balls, and excellent pitching. The game featured 22 strikeouts, 11 for each team. Each of the 15 pitchers who pitched a complete inning had at least one strike out, with Jake Cosart of the Greenville Drive striking out the side during his inning of work. The game itself was fun and the players and fans were clearly enjoying the experience. The weather was perfect for the 8,126 fans who watched a crisp game played in under two and a half hours. The casual fun that has always characterized minor league baseball meant wacky promotions and being able to sit close to the field. It gives a sense of closeness and intimacy in contrast to attending a Major League game that has an air of reverence. Sort of like comparing your friend’s backyard barbeque to corporate sponsored tailgate. Both are fun but feel radically different.
A beautiful night for baseball at Whitaker Bank Ballpark. (The Winning Run/DJ)
P.J. Colon of the Columbia Fireflies started for the South team. Colon was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland and grew up in California. There are not many baseball players to come from Europe, much less Northern Ireland, so those who do are key to continuing the international growth of the game. Opposing Colon was the North team’s starter, Mitch Keller of the West Virginia Power. Keller would earn the victory and Colon would receive the loss as Max Schrock of the Hagerstown Suns drove in the first of his two RBI during the first inning. Schrock won the MVP award by finishing the game 2 for 3, with 2 RBI and a double.
Baseball is better with family, especially the soon to be sister-in-law. (The Winning Run/ KCL)
Baseball can be a fickle sport. Most likely not every player on the field during the All Star game will reach the Major Leagues. Seeing talent that is making its way through the Minor Leagues towards MLB is exciting. Although these players are still developing, you can already see how they will help propel the game forward. The next great star is not simple to spot, but on that field were the potential MLB All Star players of the future who will delight fans for years to come. I have seen the future of baseball, and it is good.
“Baseball is boring. It moves so slowly that I fall asleep.”
These are not my words, but the complaints some people levy against baseball. I could not disagree more with this sentiment. Baseball has plenty of action and the charges against the sport that it is slow and boring are unwarranted. Miami Marlins President David Sampson recently said he wants the team to play faster. Clearly he wants to spend more time on the beach instead of working. It is sort of hard to blame him considering it is Miami and it is the Marlins.
In 2013, the Marlins were tied with the Kansas City Royals for the second shortest average length of game at 2:56. The fastest team was the Toronto Blue Jays at 2:55, and the slowest team was the Houston Astros at 3:15. Sampson believes the Marlins can play games on average in 2:40. Sampson is not the first person to suggest baseball needs to speed the game up. I do not understand why baseball is seen as being too long, and why it is singled out among other sports and accused of taking too long to play a game. The average game in the NFL lasts 3:12. So on average football games last longer than baseball games. Why does it take over three hours to play a game designed to take one hour? Perhaps it is because during football games you have the unnecessary stops in play like the two minute warning. Are players incapable of looking at the clock and understanding how much time is left in the half or in the game? Then you have the time outs which are called to “ice the kicker” late in games. I see it as a waste of time, but die hard football fans will say it is strategy. These are the same people who say bringing in a relief pitcher to match up against a particular batter is a waste of time, not strategy. So in baseball trying to give your team a better chance to win is wasting time, while in football it is an important piece of strategy to winning on the gridiron. Yeah, I’m not buying it.
The argument of baseball having so little action is also farcical. Again, these are usually the same people who will lose their minds during football games. Baseball has action and plenty of it. Again, the average football game last 3:12, which is roughly the same amount of time as a baseball game. There is an average of 11 minutes worth of actual action in a football game. 11 minutes of the ball in play and the teams are passing, running, or kicking the ball. The average baseball game has 18 minutes of action. During a single game, baseball has 7 minutes or 63% more action than a football game. Football does show a replay of every big or important play, so as fans watch the actual game they are also watching the highlights of the game. Baseball does show replays, but not nearly at the same level as football. 7 minutes may not sound like much, but do the math. The NFL regular season is 16 games long. 16 games with 11 minutes of action means fans get 2:56 worth of actual game action per season. Major League Baseball has 162 games in the regular season with 18 minutes of action in each, which gives fans 48:36 worth of action a season. I will gladly take the extra 45:40 or 1,556% of action per season which baseball offers. Do not come back with the argument that baseball has a longer season, there is more action in baseball regardless if you want to divide it per season or per game. People make their own decisions, but I choose to see more game action.
Why do people wanting to leave a game sooner? Did they not pay to be entertained? People go to sporting events to be entertained. Ultimately entertainment is what sports come down to for fans. Beyond sports, the movies are the biggest source of entertainment for people. I fail to recall any debate on whether or not movies are too long. The average movie is 2:21 long, with 45 minutes of previews, totaling 3:06. This fits nicely into the average length of a baseball game. People usually flock to the movie theaters to see the latest and greatest out of Hollywood. Roughly three hours later they leave having watched as people, who are among the best in the world at what they do and paid millions of dollars to do one simple thing, entertain them. So why do people complaining baseball takes too long, when they are among the best in the world and are paid millions of dollars to ply their trade?
If people want something to complain about in sports, complain about the last minute of a basketball game when one team cannot win, yet continue to foul. This rarely works if the winning team is up by more than four or five points. It is completely understandable if it is a single position separating the two teams. What about the television time outs, and the bazillion timeouts each team gets per quarter or half. Yes, basketball has more action than baseball, but this is due to the nature of the sport. Anyone who argues basketball is a more difficult sport needs to only give me an adequate answer to the follow. Basketball players could at a time go from high school straight to the NBA, now after a single year of college, yet even the most talented baseball players spend multiple years in the Minor Leagues, why is this the case when baseball is so easy? Football too sees its best players move quickly from high school through college and to the NFL after only three years. Baseball is special among sports. Take a baseball player and he can shoot a basketball. He can throw and catch a football. He can hit a tennis ball or drive a gold ball. While he may not do this as well as the other athletes, he can still do it. Now take the athletes from these other sports and tell them to hit a curve ball or a 95 mph fastball. They will not be able to, this is what makes baseball special.
The easiest answer I can provide is to quote Red Barber,
~“Baseball is dull only to dull minds.”
I do not mean to call people who do not like baseball and find it dull. I feel bad that they miss the beauty of the game. There are countless ways to analyze baseball; it is a never ending quest to understand the game. The history and the daily grind of the season provide baseball fans with a wealth of information to examine, ingest, and analyze. The present day is always compared to the past in baseball. The major records in baseball are common knowledge, such as most career home runs. Other records in sports do not have the same level of reverence as baseball records receive. Baseball and its records are a part of the fabric of the United States in a way that football and basketball can only hope to become.
Baseball continuously seeks to balance progressing with the times while maintaining its tradition and history. The new rule about home plate collisions has changed the game. Yes it leaves the intent of the runner and the catcher to the umpire, but do you think Ray Fosse or Mike Matheny or the other catchers who had their careers cut short due to the abuse they took from home plate collisions would rather have others go through the physical fall out they had to face. The creation of the Designated Hitter (DH) also changed the game, as the American League became a more offensive driven league. I hope the DH never goes to the National League, but the change it has had on baseball has not fundamentally changed the game. Baseball is ever changing and is forever trying to hold on to its past. Speeding up the games do not answer a problem, which I personally do not think exists. The speed of baseball is fine, give the fans the entertainment they came to the ball park for and they will leave happy. Leo Durocher sums it up best,
~“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”
Pay attention to the few.