I know perfectly well that I have my contrary ways. I’m reminded of it when I’m watching movies with my family, and when everybody applauds some funny thing the main character does, I’m the one shaking my head saying, “Nobody would ever do that.”
Baseballs are flying out of major league parks at a ridiculous rate this year, and most of us just want to sit back and enjoy the show. But I shook my head again last week when, on a nationally-televised game on ESPN, the color guy said, “Why try to analyze it? Just enjoy it, everyone. Home runs are great for the fans.”
Well, OK. If more home runs are so wonderful, let’s let the hitters use aluminum bats. And don’t stop there: Let’s bring in the fences to give us even more homers.
The Minnesota Twins are pounding them out this year with unheard-of regularity. In their first 65 games they hit 127 of them. And they’re on pace to hit somewhere in the neighborhood of 317 for the season.
Not bad. The team’s all-time best home run total for a season is 225, set in 1963. MLB’s all-time record is 267, set by the New York Yankees in another crazy home run year, 2018.
I don’t question the rumor that baseball fans like to see home runs. And I don’t begrudge the Twins anything they do in this exceptional year, where they’re not only homering like crazy, they’re winning like crazy, too. More power to ‘em (no pun intended).
But, pardon me, in a year where the only player who seems incapable of hitting home runs is Miguel Cabrera, something just doesn’t seem right. Through midweek, 25 MLB players were on pace to hit 40 home runs. At this rate, players will collectively hit 6,566 in 2019, nearly 1,000 more than were hit in 2018.
It’s easy, of course, just to say the ball is juiced and leave it at that. And there are knowledgeable people who tell us that baseballs are as juiced as an orange tree plantation. It’s hard to disagree, given the evidence. But you’ve gotta wonder how much of this power surge has to do with less sinister explanations.
Surely, hitters are swinging harder. They’re able to do that, in part, because pitchers aren’t allowed to intimidate them (ala Don Drysdale) in ways that they once were allowed to. Also, the idea of moving runners around bases the old-fashioned way (with bunts, for instance) is practically a thing of the past. Hitters are bigger nowadays, and stronger. They want to swing for the fences (even on the third strike) and managers usually let them. Ty Cobb would be shocked. But former Baltimore Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who said the best strategy in baseball is the three-run homer, would be pleased.
But I don’t think we can explain it all on more powerful hitters and such. Little guys are hitting opposite-field homers one handed, for crying out loud. If this keeps up, future home run records will have to be displayed with an asterisk.
As for the Twins, I wonder what Harmon Killebrew would say if he were alive today. Nobody ever questioned whether his clouts were legitimate; he hit many of them in the late 60s, when pitchers dominated.
Yeah, fans like home runs like candy. But eat too much of it and you’ll get a tummy ache.