This July, I visited the Baseball Hall of Fame at the beginning of a baseball trip that took me to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Chicago, Detroit and Toronto for six ball games in seven days. There are eight teams in the area south and north of the Great Lakes and I have wanted to schedule a trip that would allow me to see as many as possible in one trip.
It is difficult to find a time when more than three or four of them are at home at the same time and in a configuration that will allow you to travel by car to those that are home. I planned my trip for the week of Independence Day. The Cleveland Indians, Chicago Cubs and Milwaukee brewers were on the road the week I planned to go but the Cubs were in Pittsburgh and the Brewers were in Chicago allowing me to see seven of the eight teams from the area.
In those six games, we saw nine different teams play, four from the National League Central Division, two from the American League Central and three from the American League East, (Boston, Toronto and Baltimore). In six games we saw a total of 86 runs scored on 149 hits.
We saw Josh Bell, Pittsburgh’s slugging, All Star, first baseman, hit three home runs in one game against the Cubs and barely miss a fourth with a ball to the warning track. We saw Adam Frasier, the Pirates second baseman, tie an all-time Major-League record with four doubles in one game and he added a single to go five for five.
We saw the Red Sox Eduardo Nunez, playing second base, make two fantastic defensive plays in one inning. We watched, in awe, as the Detroit Tigers’ Matt Boyd struck out 13 White Sox batters in just 5 1/3 innings. We watched Milwaukee’s Christian Yellich flick his wrists and hit a low outside pitch into the left field seats. We saw a total of 23 home runs, almost four per game over the six games.
In all 56 innings of baseball, the most exciting play we saw and the one that excited the fans the most was a single. Jose Iglesias, the former Red Sox shortstop with the fastest hands I have ever seen, was at the plate for the Reds in the last of the eleventh inning with the score tied 4-4 with Yasiel Puig on first base and one out.
With the hit and run on and Puig breaking for second, Iglesias chopped a ball that bounced over Milwaukee first baseman Eric Thames’s head and down the right field line. Puig came all the way around from first to score the winning run, in a bang-bang play at the plate, aided by an errant throw from Yellich in right field.
I came home to find the controversy caused by Justin Verlander’s remarks about the ball being juiced and claiming that Major League baseball is making a joke of the game with its emphasis on home runs and its ‘juiced’ baseball.
Of course, Commissioner Manfred was quick to deny that anything has been done to change the ball. Major League Baseball owns the company that makes the balls, so Manfred’s remarks are hard to believe, particularly given the rate at which homers are being hit. To make it less believable, Vladimir Guerrero hit 90 homers in the home run derby the same week.
Manfred has been right up front about his feeling that baseball needs to get more offense into the game to attract fans. As usual, his efforts are misdirected. What baseball needs is not more offense, what it needs is more excitement.
The emphasis on home runs has taken plays like the hit and run, the bunt, the stolen base and hitting behind the runner out of the game and increased the strikeout totals. Strikeouts ordinarily do nothing to add to the excitement of the game. A home run lasts a few seconds and involves just the pitcher and batter from the fans’ perspective.
What excites the fans and what they come to see is the ball put in play. A ball put in play requires an action by the pitcher, the hitter and one or more fielders, all while every other player in the field and any base runners, including their base coaches, do their thing.
As the great announcer Ernie Harwell once said, ‘Baseball is a ballet without the music’. Balls put in play, fielders fielding, runners running the bases are what makes this ballet so special, not watching sluggers doing their bat flips and home run trots or heading back to the dugout after striking out. As Major League Baseball’s newest mantra says, “Let the Boys play”.
As far as the ‘juicing’ of the ball is concerned, I agree with Dennis Eckersley who said on a Red Sox broadcast this summer that the ball is tighter than ever making it travel further. Next time you are in a ballpark and a ball goes into the stands and hits the concrete floor, watch it bounce. It is not a scientific test, but I have been watching baseball for seventy years and have never seen anything like the actions of a ball when this happens. The ball is flying farther and faster than ever before and no one will ever convince me that the ball has not been altered.

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