2019 MLB preview: 4 random thoughts to welcome back baseball
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Sometimes it seems to me — especially when I’m in my crabby, old-man mode — that the only people who deeply care about baseball are stats geeks, citizens without real lives and pinheaded Boston professors who write love sonnets to the ghost of Ted Williams and the splendor of ash, leather and blades of grass.
But I snap out of it.
I really like baseball, too.
And if you’re reading this, you probably do, as well.
The things the game signifies — summer, daily contests, balls thrown and hit really, really hard, men at rest then abruptly running full tilt and sliding in dirt, strategy that is at once simple yet exceedingly complex — those things are fun and mesmerizing.
And dare I say, needed.
Baseball season without baseball would be a terrible thing. It would be like renting a vacation yacht and finding out the boat just sank and you have to fish from shore the rest of your life.
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I know former Cubs manager Lee Elia once said of fans at Wrigley Field (and thanks to Les ‘‘The Grobber’’ Grobstein’s tape recorder for this eternal knowledge): ‘‘Eighty-five percent of the [obscenity] world is working. The other 15 come out here. A [obscenity] playground for the [obscenity]. Rip them [obscenity]!’’
It was 1983 and he had a point.
The Cubs only played day games at Wrigley back then. So, yeah, lots of hooky, job-skipping and what-have-you was going on at the Friendly Confines.
But . . .
Bad attitude, Lee. Baseball demands that you slow down for a spell, take a deep breath and remember there’s likely a game tomorrow. The soon-to-be-fired manager seemed to remember that at the end of his rant, saying, ‘‘We got 143 [obscenity] games left.’’
We got 162 of those staring us in the face right now as the 2019 season kicks off, so let me throw out a few random thoughts — some good, some bad — about this rooted American pastime.
1. The games are too long.
I know part of the beauty of baseball is that there is no time limit. But there isn’t in checkers or cornhole, either. That doesn’t mean you take all day to play.
In baseball you shouldn’t be able to stand at the mound and look in at the catcher and shake your head several times, then step off and readjust your cap, wipe away some sweat, then look in again and eventually nod at something the catcher signaled, then slowly prepare to pitch, then look over at first base, then over at third, then step off the mound and scratch something and wander around like a child trying to recall what it was your mother said this morning.
It’s maddening the way the game slows down for no reason, except that it can.
It’s especially infuriating at the end of games when managers have to prove they’re geniuses by using every pitcher available, even if it’s just for one pitch. And who warms up more than baseball players? Nobody.
Did I mention the torment created by batters who step out of the box between every pitch and essentially re-dress themselves? For the love of God, can’t they stand in there and stay there?
“There’s no clock in baseball for a reason,’’ said Nationals ace Max Scherzer recently, defending the game as is.
Yeah, well, there is a clock in the thing called lifespan. Games over 4½ hours ought to be called on account of boredom and blood clots.
2. The stats thing is getting out of control.
Do any of you remember when the main acronyms we used to understand players’ worth were obvious ones: H, K, E, HR, SB, ERA, RBI, Avg., BB?
Now there’s WAR and WHIP and ISO and DIPS. And there’s BABIP, UZR, xFIP, wOBA, and wRC+, all of which are gabbed about on sports talk radio as if those things are building blocks akin to the DNA helix.
My favorite new stat — ha-ha! — might be tERA, which stands for true earned run average, which is somehow calculated by using the speed and flight trajectory of batted balls via HIT F/X (whatever that is) to determine what a pitcher’s ERA should be.
One more thing.
OPS stands for On Base Percentage Plus Slugging Percentage. Why isn’t it OBPPSP? If you’re gonna be accurate, be accurate!
3. Nobody cares if $10 million-a-year players are underpaid. Free market, schree market. We can’t relate.
“Right now there’s going to be a strike, 100 percent, after ’21,’’ Phillies reliever Pat Neshek told USA Today. The players probably deserve to strike, because the money is out there and owners never share unless forced to.
But for fans, a strike is as much fun as watching that rented vacation yacht of yours sink and then being told you have to clean up the oil slick. If you’re old enough to remember the strike that wiped out the end of the 1994 season and the World Series plus the start of the 1995 season, you know what I’m talking about.
Please, figure it out, owners and union.
4. The food at ballparks is so much better than it used to be, it’s one of life’s great perks. This is a good thing, folks. Very good.
Long ago, you basically got foil-wrapped dog food in the guise of stadium chow. Now both Wrigley and G-Rate Field have burgers and tacos and Italian beef sandwiches that are as good as the food in nearby restaurants. Of course, none of it’s cheap. But this is the USA, and even billionaires have to make a living. It’s America’s game, remember. Play ball!