In my corner of the world, Summer and its heat still lingers, but the baseball season is turning its calendar to October and the playoffs. Already we know a few things about 2019.
Despite tweaking a few things, the average game is longer than ever – three hours and nine minutes, of which just under 18 minutes of action occurs. That’s more advertising than on a NASCAR racer.
Parity is still an issue among teams. In the end, only one division was truly competitive with four teams winning 100 games or more for only the second time, although some will argue, and as noted, there is plenty of time for that.
And most notably of all, home runs are at an all time high, eclipsing even 2017 and all the years of the steroid players. To all those who love baseball like me, tradition is elemental to the game, so the debate over this change is as important as it is a mystery. Here is a comprehensive and incredulous analysis.
Some experts point to hitting coaches, who espouse an upwards angle of swing to match the downward path of the ball from the mound. Others suggest harder woods in bats, such as maple which has grown in popularity. The betting money, which you can’t do in the game, is on the ball itself.
The “juiced ball”, according to 538, dates from after the 2015 All-Star break. They suggest that a less dense cork core and perhaps a more uniform placement in its center may have something to do with it. Scientists at the University of Washington believe something has reduced the ball’s “coefficient of drag.” Of course, there are also conspiracy theorists, which baseball seems to attract, who claim that, whatever the cause, the league owners sponsored it to try to draw more fans, which by the way have actually gone down.
Since this site is my own soapbox, I offer global warming as the culprit. Warmer air, which we have a lot of these days, is less dense and thus has less resistance to a high fly ball to left, or any other, field. For the same reason cork itself and even the wool within the ball is apt to be different than it was a hundred years ago.
There are plenty of reasons to challenge my theory, but it is more fun to posit one than to do the kind of research that the scientists at UW are doing. One thing is for sure, it’s not baseball without something for loving fans to argue about. With all that love, I offer you this:
Field of Dreams
Baseball is more than a game. It is life played out on a field.
The magic that occurs to a little leather ball
in the sixty-six feet between the pitcher’s mound
and home plate is proof if any is needed
that God exists and that he invented baseball
And if you marvel at the complexities
of nature and the mysteries of the universe
you can trace the mischief in his fingerprints
through the mystic depths of the infield fly rule
that quantum state in which a dropped fly
is deemed caught even if it could not have been
as mysterious as the retrograde of planets
retracing their arcs in the night sky
Where else can cold-blooded statisticians
and grass-stained boys share the uncommon joy
over twelve extra hits in a season
or stand in awe of a sinking fastball?
Inhale the scent of new mown grass
hear the crack of hand-sewn leather on ash
believe the dream of a walk off homer in the ninth
it may be in a sand lot – but it is also Wrigley Field
Life my feel as cruel and unfair at times
as a called strike that was high inside
but in baseball every day is opening day
and hope lives forever in the two words “Play ball!”