Long Ball Over Situation Hit
Ever since baseball was invented and expanded, strategy has been a key contributor to it; from the shift, to the hit and run, and bunts, the founding fathers found a way to make it exciting. Now, as we enter a new year and a season, things are changing. For one, the shift is going away per the new CBA and we now focus on…the long ball. The ire of baseball purists, the home run has had both a great history and something of a dark glint to it. Before this century, the home run was special, seeing players like Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Mike Schmidt, and even Fernando Tatis, Sr. launch balls into orbit. Now, the era of steroids and possibly juiced balls in the modern age have us all questioning: Why did we get into the home run and leave small-ball in the dust? Well, let’s look at small-ball first.
Small-ball tactics (essentially hitting for contact, hit and run plays, and the sacrifice bunt) were the keys to winning most baseball games in the early days of the game and the Dead-Ball age. Back then, the balls were hit with weight and as a result, you couldn’t really hit the ball far. Stars like Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, and Tris Speaker were able to be great by hitting for contact and having speed; by hitting doubles and doing the hit and run, and bunts, you could get runs easily and without much hassle. Before Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs in 1923, the record for most homers in a single season was 25 by Roger Conner. Yes…25. When balls became lighter following the end of the 1919 season, they carried out and records would soon shatter left and right. The old school tactics of hitting and running, sacrifice bunts, don’t really carry a lot of significance in this age of the game. It’s too…bland and boring according to most. Home runs make action, as shown by the walk-off home run and a grand salami. Stealing bases is the art of an age gone by. Rickey Henderon, Eric Davis, and Ty Cobb are the dregs of a bygone era. Yet, why do we ignore and forget the customs of the past for the home run?
Simple; it’s entertaining. When baseball was on the verge of dying in the late 1980s and early 1990s, we saw the majestic home runs in the form of the Bash Brothers, Jose Canseco, and Mark McGwire. Their big muscles made questions arise but that’s for another time. Once 1998 came, we saw magic; Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa made a run for baseball immortality: Roger Maris’ mark of 61 home runs, the most in a single season. The two of them go on to make history, with Mark hitting 70 in a season, a mark which held for three years before Barry Bonds came. Now, we see home runs everywhere. Aaron Judge breaking Roger Maris’ record this year is proof enough: the home run is the drug of choice for the fan and you can’t change it. Barry Bonds himself is the home run king, yet many put asterisks next to this record due to his use of steroids. We still acknowledge he hit nuclear bombs, but yet we can’t really bring ourselves around to accepting him as the king.
Without home runs, our attention to the game is getting shorter and we are not really paying attention too much. A lot of the fans love the home run ball because it’s like a drug: there’s fast action, and the drought can feel like you hit rock bottom until you get the rush again. This is why we need small-ball to make a comeback: you get more action and more heart-pumping action as soon as the game reaches its heroic climax. You see men become heroes, and heroes become legends. You can get as much of a high from a walk-off single as a home run, but at the same time, the home run makes the victory feel memorable and historic compared to a measly single.
Submitted by Dave Hummel