Baseball has never been "pure"

Leave a comment

Bill Simmons has an interesting column up:

We’re going with a one-question mailbag this week, courtesy of Phil
D. from Montclair, N.J.: “What was the purest baseball era, from a
statistical perspective?”

Honestly, Phil? That’s like asking, “Who’s the purest actress in an
X-rated movie?” Every baseball era has been tainted to some degree. But
if there is no era, maybe we can find a window. A four- or five-year
stretch will do. Two years, even. Hell, I’ll settle for an All-Star
break. Okay, let’s begin.

He dismisses the 19th century for being too primitive and the dead ball
era for much the same reasons. The interwar period and the rest of the
40s are out because of segregation and WWII. The 50s and 60s are also
eliminated due to the gradual nature of integration (a point many
neglect, but a good one all the same — the game really wasn’t fully
integrated until the 60s) and the insanely pitching-friendly
environment. The 70s and early 80s start to look better, but AstroTurf,
odd pitcher usage and cocaine kill it for him, and of course the
1993-present era is out due to steroids. That causes him to settle on
the narrow time frame of 1988-1992 as the most “statistically pure”
period in baseball history.

And he may be right, even if the definition of “pure” is a bit
unclear and maybe not that useful. What is useful, however, is Simmons’
highlighting the fact that, at just about every single point in
baseball history, there was something, be it drugs, or rules, or racist
policies or whatever, that altered the statistical and competitive
landscape. Some of them — and I’m thinking segregation here — were
borne of even more malice than the cheating of the steroids era.

Simmons’ observation puts lie to the notion, so popular in recent
years, that the steroids era’s greatest evil was that it somehow
sullied a heretofore pure record book. There was nothing pure about it,
and certainly nothing consistent about it. Lefty Grove would have been
a Hall of Famer whenever he played, but there’s no escaping the fact
that a lot of the guys he got out wouldn’t have been able to sniff the
big leagues if black players had been allowed in the game. Bob Gibson
would likewise be celebrated, but his 1.12 ERA in 1968 would never have
happened if he was pitching from a modern mound in a modern retro-park.
We talk about baseball’s wonderful continuity all of the time, but
things have changed in radical ways over the years, and no one has ever
presented any evidence to convince me that steroids impacted things any
more radically than did high pitchers’ mounds, huge strike zones,
segregation and dead balls.

So, yes, let us continue to disapprove of and sanction those who
break the PED rules, but please, let’s put an end to the talk that
baseball has been irrevocably tainted, because it quite clearly has

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Getty Images

After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images

So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.