And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

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Pirates 8, Reds 7; Reds 7, Pirates 5: The first game was the completion of Monday’s suspended game with all the homers. The second one was the scheduled game, played in temperatures in the 30s when most other cold weather games were cancelled. And for whatever reason it showed up on my Extra Innings package even though I’m usually blacked out from both the Reds and the Pirates. Glitch in the matrix, I assume. Still, I wasn’t much into it so I watched “Night Court” reruns. Specific shoutout to “Chrizzi’s Honor,” the 1988 episode in which my inner circle childhood crush Markie Post had a party to celebrate Prince Charles and Lady Di’s sixth wedding anniversary only to have it interrupted by a siege in which hitmen tried to kill the anglophile dude she invited to her party because he was going to serve as a witness to the mob. The entire episode couldn’t have happened if cell phones existed or if anyone knew then how twisted the Charles-Di dynamic was at the time. Outside of some “Three’s Company” episodes, I don’t think I’ve seen a more dated episode of television that I actually watched in its first run. Oh, Mike Leake hit a home run.

Marlins 11, Nationals 2: A three-run homer and five RBI for Giancarlo Stanton. The homer was an absolute moon shot off Stephen Strasburg. Marcell Ozuna had four hits and Casey McGehee had three. Quite a definitive way to break an eight game losing streak.

Rangers 5, Mariners 0: When were one of you guys gonna tell me that Kevin Kouzmanoff was still alive? All this time I’d been thinking that he was killed in a bus accident in late 2011 or something, and here he pops up with a homer and three RBI like it’s 2007 or something. Figuring this Kouzmanoff thing is a Winter Soldier situaish? People recognize him, but he has no memory of his Padres days? Metal arm, etc.? Figure that has to be it.

Cardinals 6, Brewers 1: I figure one more game like this and those “so, are the Brewers for real?” questions I get on talk radio hits will dry up.  Shelby Miller, who spent the end of 2013 on the side of milk cartons, struck out seven and allowed three hits over six innings. Mark Ellis came off the DL yesterday and then drove in two.

Royals 4, Astros 2: Yordano Ventura was totally boss, striking out seven and allowing one earned run over seven while averaging 97 on his fastball. This kid is must-see TV. Like, real Must-See TV. Not one of those lame series they tried to shoe-horn in between “Friends” and “Seinfeld” back in the day. Starring Jonathan Silverman or some b.s.

Editor’s Note: Hardball Talk‘s partner FanDuel is hosting a one-day $125,000 Fantasy Baseball league for Wednesday night’s MLB games. It’s $200 to join and first prize is $20,000. Starts at 7:05pm ET on WednesdayHere’s the FanDuel link.

White Sox 2, Red Sox 1 Xander Bogaerts one-hopped his throw to first baseman Mike Carp in the bottom of the ninth, Carp couldn’t scoop it up and Alexei Ramirez scored from second. And while there’s no guarantee he does any better with the throw, Mike Napoli would’ve been a first base in the ninth if he hadn’t dislocated his finger earlier in the game.

Blue Jays 9, Twins 3: The AP game story says that the Blue Jays knew it was “only a matter of time before they got to” Phil Hughes. Yep, them and about 28 other teams in major league baseball. The Jays put up a five-spot in the sixth and Brett Lawrie made it a laugher in the ninth with a grand slam.

Mets 9, Diamondbacks 0: The day he was called up to replace the injured Juan Lagares, Kirk Nieuwenhuis had a homer among his three hits and three RBIs and he also made a diving catch in center field. Not a bad way to debut for the year. Bronson Arroyo was touched for nine runs on ten hits in three and a third innings. Eww.

Rockies 3, Padres 2:  Juan Nicasio started off a bit shaky, but then settled down and finished with six solid innings, which the Rockies’ staff needed.

Athletics 10, Angels 9: Mike Trout hit a two-run homer to tie the game in the ninth and send it to extras but then Josh Donaldson doubled in Jed Lowrie in the bottom of the 11th for the win. Those of you who dig bullpen drama should know that Sean Doolittle blew the save for Oakland and then Jim Johnson came in and pitched two scoreless innings and got the win. The A’s have won eight of nine.

Giants 3, Dodgers 2: Hector Sanchez singled home the winning run with two outs in the 12th. He said he had to win the game because his wife and young daughter waiting in the parking lot, had been at the game for three hours and that the daughter had school this morning. Ever heard of a cab, Hector?

Rays vs. Orioles, Braves vs. Phillies, Cubs vs. Yankees, Indians vs. Tigers: POSTPONEDI waited for you winterlong. You seemed to be where I belong. It’s all illusion anyway. If things should ever turn out wrong. And all the love we have is gone It won’t be easy. On that day.

Goose Gossage, Pete Rose and “unwatchable baseball”

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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?