Hi all. Here’s how I see baseball on this Sunday, April 29.
Instead of profiling a particular major or minor league game as I usually do in this forum, I mean to tell you about something I heard during the Astros’ game last night. I didn’t realize exactly how bad this year’s version of major league baseball is until the Houston Astros’ broadcasters Steve Sparks and Robert Ford ran out some details. They were in the process of demolishing the Oakland A’s, so they had time enough for some “long-form” material.
The point of their discussion was, as of last night no less than 13 teams were playing under .500 baseball, and some of them are closer to .300-that’s 3 wwins in 10 games. That’s 1962 Mets figures, and the fans of these 13 teams are paying a lot more than fans did to see the 1962 Mets.
Life is good at the top. Both the Mets and Yankees have winning records. In spite of some awful pitching of late the Mets were in first place as of last night. The Yanks and Blue Jays are both chasing Boston but are doing better than breaking even. Below them though, you have the Rays at 12–13 and the hideous Orioles at 7–20, a .259 winning percentage. The Al Central is easily the worst division in the game. The Indians are the only team playing better than .500 ball at 14–11. The Tigers are 11-14, the Twins are 9–13 and just ended an 8-game losing streak yesterday. As of this writing they’re behind 7–0 today. The White Sox are 8–17, usually good for last place but the Royals are just 6–20, even worse than the Orioles at a .231 winning percentage. So that’s 6 losing teams in 2 divisions. The Al West has but one losing team, the Rangers at 11-17. That’s bad form in a city where they relentlessly raise ticket prices every year.
In the NL East, the Phillies are just half a game behind the Mets. Atlanta is actually holding their own in third place. But then come the Washington Nationals, a prohibitive favorite when the season began and we find they have a mark of 11–16. The much-maligned Marlins are 18–8, a .308 percentage. So we’re at 9 losing teams. There’s only one “bottom-feeder” in the NL Central, the Reds at 6–21, a .222 percentage, the worst yet. Then out West, everybody’s chasing the D-Backs at 19–7. The Rockies are the last team keeping its head above water, at 15-13. Then come the Giants at 13-14. Considering how horrible they were a year ago, 13-14 is respectable for them. The Dodgers have underperformed in a shocking way at 12–14. This was the team that had won 90 games by mid-August a year ago and would have won the World Series except for Yu Darvish. Then come the Padres at 10–18.
The reason for such awful play is pretty clear to me and probably a lot of paid baseball pundits. The problem for them is, they could lose their jobs if they said what I’m about to say. There are just too many teams for the game to maintain a high quality of play. In a country where few children play ball all day long as they did 50 or 60 years ago, basketball and soccer have become the games the kids play. Some boys are probably driven away from baseball by insane Little League coaches who think they are Billy Martin and can yell at the kids when they go wrong. “Sports Illustrated” brought that trend out in the open in the late ’70’s but it continues. While there are many good and decent men coaching Little League, some of these guys have no lives and try to live through what they do as coaches.
Then there are the video games that turn some kids into zombies. Last but not least, the baby boom ended a long time ago. Bottom line, America just isn’t producing enough baseball players to stock 30 major league teams and over 150 minor league teams. Major league teams have been scouring the Dominican Republic and Venezuela for years in search of talent, sometimes resorting to chicanery at risk to young lives. The most scandalous incident was the story of a boy of 13, Jimy Kelly being signed by the Blue Jays, a move which created the rule requiring a minimum age of 16. Kelly, who began at 13 was a washout at 19, never having passed AA. Even when the age rule was on the books, some scouts have tried to get around it at serious risk to their jobs. The Japanese leagues have very strict rules about who can or can’t go to the American majors, and at what price. If this weren’t the case, scouts would try to treat young Japanese boys as they do Dominican and Venezuelan hopefuls. There aren’t many Mexican major leaguers now, though I don’t know why.
The only cure for this problem will never be used because of the strength of the players’ union (who are stirring up trouble for the future by the way.) At least 6 teams need to go away, leaving an optimal total of 24, 12 in each league. The present unbalanced setup-14 in one league and 16 in another is insane. 12 and 12 is the best although 10 and 10 wouldn’t be bad if there were no union interference.
Not only are the 13 teams mentioned above under .500, all too often they are getting demolished. There are fewer good, close games and more demolitions when the Yankees face teams as bad as the Orioles and Royals. They caught the Twins during their 8-game losing streak and stomped them 14–1 and 8–3 in the first 2 games of a 4-game sweep. The Astros’ broadcasters could afford to spend time talking about the state of the league because the team got ahead 7–0 early and won 11–0. They’ve had their share of games like that.
So, today’s fan has a chance of paying inflated prices to see a deflated product and I’m not talking about New England Patriots’ football. Pitchers who belong in AA or AAA are facing the best the league has to offer at the plate. The games are longer because pitchers are afraid to throw the ball. When they do, they “nibble”, trying to hit the corners. Doing this they often get behind in the count and have to come right down the middle with a pitch which in all likelihood will end up in another time zone. If a good pitcher happens to be going, he has an excellent chance of racking up double-digit strikeout numbers, because while these hitters can destroy AA or AAA pitching they’re not ready for Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer and what few other good pitchers are around. Aaron Judge struck out over 200 times last year, and if he doesn’t do it again Giancarlo Stanton certainly will. Both strikeouts and home runs have been happening in higher numbers than ever. Also, not since 1999 have this many teams been below the .500 mark. We could see more “white flag” trades even before the trading deadline if a team figures they have no shot. They could unload what talent they have and hope to get prospects who will help the team eventually. That’s what the Marlins did before the season even began. The Yankees will trot out Giancarlo Stanton, one of 5 players the Marlins got rid of as the Bronx Bombers play the Angels in the ESPN Sunday night game. CC Sabathia, who picked up a win Monday tries for his second win of the season against the Angels’ Tyler Skaggs.0