Bill Conlin, the 2011 Spink Award-winning writer who fell into disgrace after being accused of child molestation five months after receiving his award, died in a hospital in Largo, Florida yesterday. He was 79.
Conlin spent five decades covering sports for Philadelphia newspapers. For those of us outside of Philly, he is best known as a fixture on ESPN’s “The Sports Reporters” from its inception until a few short years ago. Conlin was smart. He was frustrating. He was combative. He was funny. Before his retirement he was, like a lot of aging writers, increasingly out of touch. Occasionally, though, you could see his sportswriting brilliance shine through, even near the end. His winning of the 2011 Spink Award came long after he had lost his fastball as a writer and, in many ways, was a gold watch for years of service from the BBWAA.
But anything one can say about his professional legacy was blown away when, in December 2011, it was revealed that niece had accused Conlin of molesting her when she was a child. The accusation came in the form of a complaint to police, as his niece became concerned about children related to Conlin being in his presence. Due to statute of limitations issues no charges were ever filed against Conlin, but eventually three other complaints were made against him. After the allegations, Conlin withdrew from the public eye and spent his final two years on Earth in disgrace.
If the allegations against Conlin were true — and to date there has been nothing to contradict them — he was nothing short of a monster.
“Work fast and throw strikes” has long been the top conventional wisdom for those preaching pitching success. The “work fast” part of that has increasingly gone by the wayside, however, as pitchers take more and more time to throw pitches in an effort to max out their effort and, thus, their velocity with each pitch.
Now, as Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer reports, the “throw strikes” part of it is going out of style too:
Pitchers are throwing fewer pitches inside the strike zone than ever previously recorded . . . A decade ago, more than half of all pitches ended up in the strike zone. Today, that rate has fallen below 47 percent.
There are a couple of reasons for this. Most notable among them, Lindbergh says, being pitchers’ increasing reliance on curves, sliders and splitters as primary pitches, with said pitches not being in the zone by design. Lindbergh doesn’t mention it, but I’d guess that an increased emphasis on catchers’ framing plays a role too, with teams increasingly selecting for catchers who can turn balls that are actually out of the zone into strikes. If you have one of those beasts, why bother throwing something directly over the plate?
There is an unintended downside to all of this: a lack of action. As Lindbergh notes — and as you’ve not doubt noticed while watching games — there are more walks and strikeouts, there is more weak contact from guys chasing bad pitches and, as a result, games and at bats are going longer.
As always, such insights are interesting. As is so often the case these days, however, such insights serve as an unpleasant reminder of why the on-field product is so unsatisfying in so many ways in recent years.