May 24, 2022

Lower the Mound or Raise the Players

July 14, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

The score was 1 – 0 heading into the seventh inning in last night’s All Star Game before the NL broke through for three runs.  The low score became an issue this morning after the TV ratings were released.  They were lower than any since 1972.  What does it say?  It is reminiscent of the All Star Game in 1968 when a 1 – 0 snoozer prompted every sports writer from Jerome Holtzman to Red Smith to say that baseball itself was in danger of becoming  “boring” as pitching duels dominated everything.  Do we lower the mound?  Or is there a better idea?

The offensive explosion fueled by amphetamines and steroids is ebbing and the game last night offered none of those fireworks to capture the imagination of fans.  The Commissioners Office needs to examine the rosters from those great All-Star Games of yore.  I think if they do they will find a formula for a renewed zest and appeal, not only for the mid-season classic, but something that will add to the star value of the game overall.

In the seventh inning Phil Hughes and Matt Thornton opened the doors to the National League who drove three runs through them to win the game.  I respect Thornton and Hughes, but when you look back at the rosters of those games in the 1960’s you have to ask yourself how players like that stack up against Seaver, Marichal and Drysdale.  In 1968 those three National League all stars shut down a very good AL lineup anchored by Frank Robinson.  They pitched three innings apiece or two and through out the game the very best pitchers in the game were on display.  There were no upper tier relievers there to wave their home town flag.

It was thought that Ubaldo Jimenez, Josh Johnson, Halladay, and Lincecum might pitch for the NL last night.  Had they, the contrasts might not have been quite so stark.  They are four very fine talents and if longevity allows it, they may attain the fame of their best forebears, but other than Halladay their names hardly reverberate with the awe once accorded to those great staffs that pitched for the AL and NL teams in 1967 and ’68.

Pitching so dominated All-Star Game play in the mid-1960’s that 2 – 1 pitcher’s duels became common and the sluggers of the day were simply outclassed against the best pitchers in the game.  Bob Gibson, Fergie Jenkins, Don Drysdale, Juan Marichal, and Tom Seaver over-matched the AL’s anemic batting order in 1967 allowing only a single run, but the game took 15 innings to determine a winner.  Fifteen innings of a 1-1 tie has all the drama of championship chess and drove the rules committee to make changes in the basic equation of the game.

There is no need for that kind of re-engineering.  What is missing from the All-Star games now is the sheer star power of the best All-Star Games from the game’s golden era.  First, the big name players stayed in the game longer.  The “All-Star” game showcased the stars and gave them a chance to win for their league.  The players who started and even those who came on in the late innings were far more likely to go into the Hall of Fame than those who were trotted in and out of last night’s affair.

I do not mean any disrespect for any of the players in last night’s game.  They are the best of today’s Major League rosters.  Yet the insistence that the game provide every team a little love over its course detracts from its classic value.

Matt Capps, who was the winning pitcher and represents my home town team, is a great example.  Nothing in Capps cumulative resume or in his single-season statistics in 2010 would have earned him a slot in 1968.  He is a good closer, but has not been dominant except for an eight-week stretch at the beginning of this season.

But Capps is a dead lock for the Hall if Hong Chi Kuo is an All-Star.  I do not mean to isolate a single individual or demean his achievements.  Kuo is a fine pitcher and may yet make himself into a household name, but at present he is a relatively obscure relief pitcher and by bringing him into the game last night—or having him on the roster—it denies the ability to make the game a truly “All-Star” affair.

Bud Selig has bet that television audiences will expand in direct proportion to the wider circle of All-Star players who gain exposure in the game.  Last night’s TV ratings scream out the verdict.  Guilty of boredom in the first degree.

It was hoped that getting a larger number of players onto the field would interest fans from a broader spectrum, appealing to fans to watch their home town favorites.   It has had the opposite effect by diminishing the value of the game as an All-Star Showcase.  The question Selig has raised is what is really different about watching Jonathan Broxton pitch to John Buck in the ninth inning?  It could be any game on any other night.  It is just not the same as watching Bob Gibson pitch to Carl Yastrzemski.

Does Broxton’s appearance in the ninth inning highlight one of the great closers in the game going up against one of the great hitters of the game?  No it doesn’t, so why would fans stay up to watch it.  They can take a break from the game just like the players.  If those TV ratings are to be believed, that is increasingly just what they are doing.


2 Responses to “Lower the Mound or Raise the Players”
  1. Mike Lynch says:

    Great stuff, Ted! I couldn’t agree more about this nonsense that every team should be represented. I realize it’s been that way for a long time, but the game should be about the best players regardless of whom they play for. I also don’t like that that game determines home field advantage for the World Series; that’s insane. The game is an exhibition and the managers don’t manage the way they typically would in a regular-season or postseason game. They’re mostly concerned with getting as many players in as possible rather than fielding the best possible lineup in order to win. If it’s an exhibition, as it has been since 1933, their managing is perfectly fine; if it’s important enough to determine home field advantage in the World Series, then substitutions be damned. It’s almost as if baseball can’t decide what this game should be and that’s a shame.

  2. Ted Leavengood says:

    They have tried everything but lost the original idea–showcase the very best players playing against one another. Thanks Mike.

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