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Baseball: the only sport people expect to be stuck in the past

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These two tweets came from ESPN’s Howard Bryant yesterday morning. They came exactly three minutes apart:

The first tweet: a smart reminder to NCAA fans and hand-wringers that the future is not to be feared, that the past is not the only way to do things and that people and institutions adapt to change. The second tweet: a complaint that baseball isn’t like it was several years ago when managers barking loudly and creating controversy was the rule rather than the exception.

That second part is endemic to baseball analysis: “Baseball was best before, and these new things are going to send the sport straight to hell.” Most of the time, you’ll find, baseball was best was when the speaker was a kid. Or, sometimes, when they were a young writer making their first mark in the industry.

I mean, ask yourself, do we seriously compare sprinters, tennis players, basketball players, football players or soccer players to those of the past? Maybe by analogy, but in those sports everyone appreciates that Rafael Nadal, transported back via a time machine, would never lose if he played in the 70s, that a college long-jumper would sweep the medals in the 1956 Olympics, or that if we put Bill Walsh or Bill Belichick in charge of a team in the 50s that they wouldn’t win several consecutive championships. They don’t think like that with respect to baseball, though. No, people still seriously think Babe Ruth would hit .360 with 60 homers if he were facing today’s pitchers. It’s ridiculous, of course, but we allow such magical thinking in baseball for some reason.

And, as Bryant’s tweet shows, it applies to broader analysis than analysis of just the sport on the field. The old, headstrong barking managers like Ozzie Guillen, Dusty Baker and Lou Piniella either barked themselves out of jobs or burnt themselves out and front offices have almost uniformly decided to go in a different direction. In any other sport it’s characterized as innovation or evolution. In baseball, whoa, this is the end of the world.

If you dig down into the conversations Byrant’s tweets spawned, you’ll see that his larger point is that baseball is scared to death of losing young fans and thus, the change to what he calls “science” and what he thinks is “boring as shit” is the worst thing to do. I suspect he believes this applies to broader sabermetric thinking and not just manager choice.

If so, I’d ask him to think about who was leading the game, who the managers were and what the game’s character was as it slid into unpopularity. Brad Ausmus and Matt Williams — two company men cited in the Ken Rosenthal article that inspired Bryant’s tweets — aren’t responsible for that. Lou Piniella and Dusty Baker were on baseball’s scene from the 1960s-on. Which isn’t to say it was their fault either. It is to say, however, that baseball’s popularity and demographic challenges are bigger than the philosophical orientation of a handful of managers and general managers.

And in no event are the solutions to baseball’s problems more likely to be found by looking harder at the past than at the future. Because that’s not the case for anything.

Dodgers clinch NL West on Charlie Culberson’s walk-off home run

WASHINGTON, DC - JULY 20: Charlie Culberson #6 of the Los Angeles Dodgers runs to first base after hitting a single RBI in the second inning against the Washington Nationals at Nationals Park on July 20, 2016 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Matt Hazlett/Getty Images)
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Dodgers second baseman Charlie Culberson delivered a walk-off solo home run in the bottom of the 10th inning, clinching the NL West for the Dodgers on Sunday afternoon. What a way to celebrate Vin Scully’s final home game behind the microphone.

The Dodgers were trailing 2-1 in the seventh inning, but shortstop Corey Seager tripled in a run to tie the game. Rockies outfielder David Dahl untied the game in the top of the ninth with a two-out solo home run off of Kenley Jansen. But Seager once again rose to the occasion, blasting a game-tying solo shot in the bottom half of the ninth against Adam Ottavino. That would set the stage for Culberson in the next frame.

Culberson, a former Rockie, came into the afternoon with a .591 OPS and zero home runs in 53 plate appearances. He finished the afternoon 3-for-5 with the homer.

It’s the fourth consecutive season in which the Dodgers have won the NL West. The Cubs have clinched the best record, which means they’ll play the winner of the Wild Card game. The Dodgers will play the Nationals in the NLDS. The Nationals have a 1.5-game lead over the Dodgers for home-field advantage, so both teams are still playing for something of importance in the regular season’s final week.

Video: Dustin Pedroia’s base running sends Red Sox to 11th consecutive win

ST. PETERSBURG, FL - SEPTEMBER 24:  Dustin Pedroia #15 of the Boston Red Sox is greeted at the dugout by Pablo Sandoval #48, left, and Mookie Betts #50, right, after hitting a grand slam during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field on September 24, 2016 in St. Petersburg, Florida. (Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr. /Getty Images)
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The Red Sox defeated the Rays 3-2 on Sunday afternoon thanks to some nifty base running by second baseman Dustin Pedroia. The win marks their 11th in a row, inching them closer to a division title.

With the game tied 2-2 in the top of the tenth, Pedroia led off with a single off of reliever Eddie Gamboa. After Xander Bogaerts lined out, David Ortiz ripped a double into the right-center field gap. Pedroia, running hard the whole way, rounded third and motored towards home plate, but the relay throw home — from center fielder Jaff Decker to second baseman Logan Forsythe to catcher Luke Maile — beat Pedroia by a good 10 feet. He was a dead duck.

Pedroia danced around Maile’s glove, avoiding the tag. Maile, on his side, continued to attempt to apply the tag on Pedroia. When he finally did, the ball was knocked loose and Pedroia scored the go-ahead run. The play was reviewed but the call was upheld.

Joe Kelly kept the Rays off the board in the bottom of the 10th, securing the 3-2 victory for the Red Sox.

The Blue Jays also won on Sunday, meaning the Red Sox still have a 5.5-game lead in the AL East. Any combination of two Red Sox wins and Blue Jays losses will seal up the division for the Red Sox. The two clubs round out the regular season with a three-game set against each other in Boston.