It turns out that baseball’s current affectation isn’t just boring the purists, it’s angering up the blue bloods.
You’re probably hip to the talking points. The game is all home runs and strikeouts, absent all risk/reward gambits because the actuarial tables say they’re a bad idea. Starting pitchers throw five innings and are triumphantly carried off the field on a padded litter fit for Cleopatra.
Then comes a parade of 100-mph relievers sucking the hyperbole from Reggie Jackson’s once hyperbolic assessment of Nolan Ryan: “He could throw a marshmallow through a battleship.” These days, who can’t?
You could hum “American Pie” in the time between batted balls. What crumbs the flame-throwers leave batters are often gobbled up by a defensive shift-o-rama.
Bleacher Report’s Scott Miller surveyed some of baseball’s most revered alumni at last month’s Hall of Fame induction weekend at Cooperstown, and turned it in to must-see reading. He found the stars of yesteryear “disgusted” with the game’s current state.
“I try to watch a baseball game,” said Hall of Fame pitcher Goose Gossage, “and I find it very difficult to be able to watch today.”
It makes you wonder. Is baseball in its current context as good as bad baseball was back in the day? That’s our mission, using five of the worst teams the Giants and A’s have ever fielded in the Bay Area against modern day metrics (thoughtfully supplied by Miller).
Metric: Currently, one-third of all plate appearances are strikeouts, walks and home runs. The gripe: too much standing (or jogging) around.
Let us introduce you to the 1979 Oakland A’s. They lost 108 games. One of the outfielders charged the manager with a bat. In the dugout. During a game. Yet their whiffs, walks and dingers comprised only 22.4 percent of plate appearances. Yes, they were bad, but they were active.
Metric: Hits to strikeouts ratio. Until April, there had never been a month in which major league baseball teams had more strikeouts than hits. More than five months into the season, MLB is still trending in that direction.
Shake hands with the 1985 Giants, the only 100-loss team in the 135-year history of the orange and black. They were led by Jimmy Davenport who, after years of lusting to be the team’s manager, finally got the call. He moaned for most of that season about the team’s offensive futility. “I can’t hit for them,” was a familiar refrain.
That said, the ’85 Giants produced far more hits (1,263) than strikeouts (962). Take that, 2018.
Metric: Strikeouts are at an all-time high this season, accounting for 22.1 percent of plate appearances. Miller cited a Reds-Phillies game in which the teams combined for 14 whiffs — in the first three innings — imagining it thusly: “As if they were 18 blindfolded men chasing a housefly.”
The 1974 Giants were no basket of fruit themselves. They lacked a .300 hitter, a 30-homer slugger, and an 85-RBI man. Dave Kingman and Bobby Bonds combined for 259 strikeouts and still these Giants fanned on only 14.1 percent of their plate appearances.
Metric: As of the publication of Miller’s story, American League pitchers had turned in 24 complete games, while the National League had piled up the puny total of 10. At this rate, the final totals will be 31 (A.L.) and 13 (N.L.) by season’s end.
Say hey to the 1960 Giants, who won the fewest games, 79, of any San Francisco entry during the 1960s. Two members of the Giants staff matched this year’s projected National League complete game total: 21-year-old kid Mike McCormick, with 15, and 34-year-old graybeard Sam Jones, with 13.
Metric: There has been an average of 1.37 stolen base attempts in the majors this season, the lowest figure since 1964.
The 1998 A’s were an interesting collection. Rickey Henderson returned to see if his room was as he left it. Kevin Mitchell dropped by for two home runs. And if the history books are to be believed, general manager Billy Beane was putting the finishing touches on his moneyball scheme which discouraged stolen base attempts unless you were safe 115 percent of the time.
Even with that restriction, the 88-loss 1998 A’s attempted 1.10 steals per game. Add the opposing team’s total and you have 1.59 stolen bases per A’s game.
It wasn’t just Gossage who maligned the state of the game. Miller also talked with Don Sutton, Pete Rose, Bobby Cox, Mike Hargrove, Jim Leyland, Albert Pujols and George Brett, who said that if American League teams would have put a shift on him during his exquisite 1980 season, “I would have hit .600.”
Now that I’d pay to see.