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Saturday, October 25, 2014

Baseball Has Become a Pitcher’s Game and the Mendoza Line May Need an Adjustment

Quick, someone alert Don Henley: it appears the boys of summer have gone. The worst part about it is that it isn’t even June yet. At some point over the last six weeks you probably can remember how one player or another made you crazy and remember how they made you scream. Go ahead. Take a look at any of the box scores from recent Major League Baseball games. I’ll wait. (It’s not like I have anything better to do at the moment.) Big name signings like Jayson Werth (.228), Adam Dunn (.184), Carl Crawford (.210), and Vernon Wells (.183) have suffered a greater fall than Humpty Dumpty. Even guys who have been traditionally strong hitters have struggled, like Albert Pujols (.268), Raul Ibanez (.231), Magglio Ordonez (.172), and Justin Morneau (.204), not including the San Diego Padres, who started five guys on Sunday afternoon hitting .245 or less. It may take more than the king’s horses and men (with a few million thrown in) to put these helpless schlemiels back together again.

If this continues, they might reconsider Mario Mendoza for the baseball Hall of Fame (the American one, he is already in Mexico’s Baseball Hall of Fame believe it or not). Mario’s baseball immortality stems from the fact that he carved out an eight-year baseball career while hitting a less-than-stout .215. From his uncanny ability to do what was necessary to avoid getting on base, the expression “Mendoza Line” found its way into baseball vernacular. So anytime a batter has an average of less than .200 (or less than George W. Bush’s approval rating), he is said to be hitting below the Mendoza Line. Well if old is the new new and 50 is the new 40, then why can’t hitting .200 be the new .300?

Fans who have been watching Major League Baseball for any period of time will no doubt hearken back to the late ‘90s, when the President so famously broke out his cigar, Saturday Night Live episodes still elicited laughter, and the only thing that was larger than a baseball player’s ego was his hat size, apparently. Home runs were leaving ballparks at record rates, injecting life into baseball as they were being, well, injected. Left fielders and first basemen, for the first time ever, discovered the rejuvenating powers of flax seed. Chicks digged the long ball, to say nothing of the side effects.

Nowadays, forget home runs. Hits are hard to come by. The one-time “chicks” have aged, so much so that, now, slightly older ladies have simply become enamored with the sacrifice bunt. Certainly not as sexy, but as baseball’s answer to a bulk-producing laxative, it gets the job done. Never mind trying to find one player to become the first player since Ted Williams to hit .400 — one would have a difficult enough time these days trying to find three guys who would combine to hit that much.

When Bob Gibson totaled a 1.12 ERA and Denny McLain won 31 games (but apparently has not passed ‘Go’ in some 40 years) in the so-called “Year of the Pitcher” back in 1968, baseball responded by lowering the pitcher’s mound. When accusations of the ball being “juiced” were levied 30 years later, baseball responded with a shrug and a humidor, turning the game’s cherished horsehide into a rounded Robusto.

Well, coincidentally (italics added to emphasize sarcasm) following the michigas on Capitol Hill, baseball has begun to trend in the opposite direction again. To explicate the drop in offense, conspiracy theories and explanations abound. The most frequent reason posited is that the athletes are no longer relying on illicit supplementation, no HGH to add to their RBI, or T to cut down on the Ks. Detractors may question why pitchers wouldn’t notice a drop-off. Well, looking at the MLB tote board of pitching wins leaders reveals a who’s who of “Who?” Among the leaders, guys named McClellan, Harang, Correia, Garcia, Jurrjens. Not necessarily 300-win material (well, individually that is).

Judging by recent attendance numbers, home runs have been replaced by people running home instead of to the ballpark. Rounding third has been rounded down. For crying out loud, two pitchers threw no-hitters last week alone. Baseball used to be a place for swingers. Now a trip to the ballpark is like a singles weekend. Certainly, balls continue to fly out of the parks at record rates, though in the wrong direction. At least shattered bats have become a declining problem. Through extensive research it has been shown to be a difficult task to saw off maple when contact with the baseball is not made.

While pitchers continue to seek their revenge on the hitters for 15 years of countless home runs and inflated biceps and ERAs, a study of the batting averages at a MLB box score looks more like a circuitous route to the local general store somewhere in the Midwest — 146 to the 83, get off at 195 (You come back, ya hear?) … Of course, it could always be that it is still May and that the numbers will get better. Or, maybe, Mighty Casey gave up a little too soon on his Major League career prospects.



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