And That Happened: Thursday's Scores and Highlights

46 Comments

Phillies 5, Marlins 4: Ugly game, with each team trying valiantly to lose throughout, but third base ump Bob Davidson was the ugliest part of all. He blew the call on what would have been the game-winning hit by Gaby Sanchez in the bottom of the ninth, calling it foul when it most clearly was not. Not that he’d know, because he was out of position to make the call. Really, check the screen cap to the right: he’s looking up. The ball is down and to his left.

This crap is just inexcusable. You can institute replay to fix these mistakes or — and this is even more nutty — you can hire umpires who know their ass from their elbow. What you can’t do is let bad calls like this stand in an age when it’s possible to review and correct every single bad call almost immediately after it happens.

Twins 8, Rays 6: OK, this may have been an even bigger horsesh– reason to lose a game than a bad call: Jason Kubel’s pop to shallow left in the top of the ninth hit the
catwalk at Tropicana Field and dropped for an RBI single, giving the
Twins a 7-6 lead in a game they won 8-6. Joe Maddon freaked. As would I have. Then again, at least everyone knew this could happen beforehand because it’s part of the ground rules of the place. No one, in contrast, would have expected that an extra-base hit would be called a foul ball for no good reason in that Philly-Florida game.

Orioles 5, Angels 4: The power of Buck compels you. The Angels have now lost all three Dan Haren starts since the big trade.

Pirates 5, Rockies 1: James McDonald shut out the Rockies over six while striking out eight. I guess that means he’s still helping the Dodgers out, loosely speaking, but eventually they’re going to realize that it was probably a mistake getting rid of him.

Braves 3, Giants 2: Both teams had tons of scoring chances that went by the wayside so in the end the dingers decided it. Two off Tim Lincecum — one for Alex Gonzalez, one for Eric Hinske — which doesn’t happen very often. Jair Jurrjens wasn’t anything special, allowing seven hits, five of which were doubles, and walking three. The Giants should have scored more runs off that, but that’s where this recap started so we’re just going around in circles now.

Red Sox 6, Indians 2: An Adrian Beltre homer and the good version of Dice-K (more valuable because it’s rare!) take care of business.

White Sox 6, Tigers 4: Bobby Jenks did all he could do to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory, but a two-run triple by Mark Kotsay in the 11th sealed the deal for the Chisox. There are too many good relievers in that Sox pen for Ozzie Guillen to keep using Jenks when he obviously doesn’t trust him.

Padres 5, Dodgers 0: Five pitchers combine to blank L.A., and the Padres are now up two games up on the Giants. Starter Kevin Correia was rather lucky, actually, as he had no strikeouts and gave up a few warning track flies in his five and two-thirds innings.

Rangers 6, Mariners 0: Tommy Hunter bounces back from his first loss of the season to shut down the Mariners. Not that they were running at such a high velocity to begin with. The AP game story is the first time I’ve seen the word “embattled” applies to Don Wakamatsu’s name. I don’t expect it to be the last. And I presume by October it will change to “former.”

Diamondbaks 8, Nationals 4: Sticking with AP game stories, this one contained a classic passage that I think says it all: “The few who showed up got to see a sometimes-stinky game filled with
four errors, a botched squeeze and a strikeout that scored a run.”  “Sometimes Stinky” sounds like the name of an album from some twee, overly-studied British folk duo from the mid-90s.

Goose Gossage, Pete Rose and “unwatchable baseball”

Getty Images
2 Comments

There are a lot of things that, in my view and in the view of many others, are suboptimal in today’s game.

You’ve either heard me go on about them in the past year or two or you’ve heard others go on about them, but a short, non-exclusive list includes the view that there are too many home runs and strikeouts now, bullpen use has changed the nature of the game in less-than-great ways, and the game-going and sometimes merely game-viewing experience has become prohibitively expensive for some and annoying in many respects to everyone, to the point where it has become a barrier to even enjoying the product in the first place.

While I never hesitate to make my views known on these matters, I also acknowledge that I do not have a monopoly on wisdom with respect to them. Indeed, there’s a lot to be said about all of these issues — both in support and in pushing back against my views on them — to further the discussion. Baseball has been around a long time, it changes more often than our nostalgic view of its history suggests, and all of us have our blind spots. The only way to deal with that stuff is to talk more about it, to add more voices to the conversation and, perhaps most importantly, to accept that we’re never gonna settle on anything definitive. One person’s ideal game is one person’s “unwatchable” game and it has always been thus.

Are there are limits to who we should talk to about all of this, though? For example, do we really need to know what Goose Gossage and Pete Rose have to add to this conversation? Bob Nightengale of USA Today thinks so. Here’s Gossage:

“I can’t watch these games anymore. It’s not baseball. It’s unwatchable. A lot of the strategy of the game, the beauty of the game, it’s all gone. It’s like a video game now. It’s home run derby with their (expletive) launch angle every night.”

Rose:

“It’s home run derby every night, and if that’s what they want, that’s what they’re going to get. But they have to understand something … Home runs are up. Strikeouts are up. But attendance is down. I didn’t go to Harvard or one of those Ivy League schools, but that’s not a good thing.”

As a matter of editorial philosophy I question whether it ever makes sense to ask Goose Gossage and Pete Rose about anything that is not specifically about Goose Gossage or Pete Rose and even then I’d exercise caution. Gossage has spent the last ten years as every writer’s go-to for easy quotes hating on anything that has happened in baseball since 1988. Rose, in addition to being a loathsome human being who is banned from the game, is also one of those dudes who thinks his generation and his generation alone Played the Game the Right Way. The less we hear from them on this stuff the better, as far as I’m concerned.

Yet, they’re not wrong.

At least they’re not wrong as far as what they’re saying above. That’s how frickin’ messed up baseball is right now. Even Goose Gossage and Pete Rose are on my side of the matter. It’s enough to make a guy sit down and take stock, ya know? At least it’s enough to make me want to be more specific and objective about what it is that bugs me about the game today, so as not to lazily fall into an “everything is new sucks” stance, which I suspect is what animates these two particular stopped clocks.

I think it helps to break it all down into two categories, which lead to very different conversations. One category is the aesthetics of baseball. The other is the structure of baseball.

On the aesthetic side we’re dealing with how any given game plays out. How, on any given night, it seems, that we have nearly a dozen 14-7 games in which the bat boy, or someone quite like him, hits three homers while also taking the mound and striking out 14 guys but somehow getting the loss anyway, with the game ending a crisp four hours and sixteen minutes after the first pitch. This is a slog. It has a lot to do with the juiced ball and the manner in which both hitters and pitchers have been selected for thanks to analytical trends, changes in the strike zone and all of that.

On the structural side we’re talking about the business, economics and leadership of the game and how it has led to a situation in which multiple teams are tanking — telling their fans that, at best, they’ll be competitive two or three out of every ten years — while fielding a roster of players who would have at least a moderate fight on their hands to ensure first place in the International League. This while still charging ridiculous prices for tickets, concessions, and parking while making the games harder and harder to watch on TV without paying for premium cable plans. Nightengale notes that attendance is down something like 800,000 overall so far this year, coming off last year’s 15-year low in attendance. None of this is an accident, of course. When you tell fans you’re not going to try to win while giving them no other incentive to come to the park, you’re going to have fewer fans coming to the park.

As I said, these are two different areas of complaint. I’m open to the idea that my aesthetic distaste for what’s going on in baseball right now is merely my opinion. I’m a middle aged guy and, even if I work extra hard to not be some nostalgic, sentimental simpleton, I’m not immune from falling into that trap of “everything was better when I was 12.” I probably do that more than I care to admit. I don’t think I’m alone in hating the juiced ball game right now, but I also have to nod in deference to people who love it, as I’m sure there are many.

Where I start to become less “it’s all good, everyone’s opinion is valid” about all of this, though, is when observe that a lot of the aesthetic stuff is a direct product of the structural stuff.

  • We have home run fests because we have a lot of guys pitching who have no business being out there but are because a lot of teams are tanking. I think it’s OK to feel differently about a game that has changed because a non-trivial number of teams aren’t interested in competing;
  • We have home run fests because the ball is juiced. MLB denied this for a while and then when it became undeniable they accepted it and claimed it was an accident but now it’s gone on so long it’s an accident that they seem to have no interest in fixing whatsoever. I think it’s OK to feel differently about a game that has changed because of a juiced ball;
  • We have a legion of high-velocity strikeout pitchers because that’s who front offices have all, almost uniformly, decided to favor, and it’s been helped along by a redefinition of the strike zone — there is no wide strike anymore — that has made control or finesse pitching close to impossible. I think it’s OK to feel differently about a game that has changed because of a lack of creativity and a lack of latitude to be creative when it comes to talent development;
  • We have front offices who see no incentive to be creative when it comes to talent development because — thanks to baseball revenues being substantially detached from winning baseball games — there is no upside to going against the prevalent orthodoxy and/or taking any financial risks. And with that, we go back up to bullet point number one.

Again, it’s OK to like the current state of baseball. It’s OK to presume that some of us — be it Goose Gossage, Pete Rose or me — are turned off by it to some extent because we’re just crotchety old dudes who hate change. But it’s fair to say that, like most change in baseball, it has not been exclusively organic. Like most change it is the product, at least in part, of a change in circumstances and incentives. Though, in this case, that change is not necessarily benign. It’s driven by a bottom-line mentality that, while always present in baseball, has far more of an impact on the game on the field than it has in a very, very long time because it’s a bottom-line mentality that can afford to be indifferent about the winning and losing of baseball games.

Maybe history will prove me to be a crank when it comes to this stuff. But I feel like it’s worth examining the roots of the aesthetic issues in baseball via reference to what led to them. If it’s garbage-in, is that which comes out not garbage?