The juiced ball era

by Chris Haffenreffer | 5/16/00 5:00am

I have a problem with the direction of the game of baseball. Although there are a variety of different things I feel the need to gripe about, there is one that I find truly irritating -- the home runs.

As a young kid, I remember being constantly told by all of my coaches not to swing for the fences. Swing through the top half of the ball. Keep your weight distributed. Hit line drives. Every once in a while you might catch the bottom of the ball and knock one out of the park. This is what I was told from the age of six until my senior year in high school. I tried to hit for average, and if I hit one out it was a little something extra.

Why, then, do professionals seem to play in a way that is contrary to everything coaches tell kids in little league? Why was 1999 a record setting year for home runs? Why is MLB on pace in 2000 to destroy that record?

In 1999, 5,528 round-trippers were hit in the major leagues, and this past April 1,257 home runs were hit--more than any April in recorded baseball history. If this keeps up, 6,285 home runs will be hit this season, shattering last season's record.

It's pretty simple actually. Home runs equal money. Attendance increases as a result of home runs, the ball club brings in greater profit, and the player hitting the homers is subsequently paid more. Do I find it fun to watch Mark McGwire bat? Yes, of course I do, but that is not the reason I go to a ball game.

I think back to the good old days when fans would leave their seats between innings or when the visiting team was batting so that they could go get their jumbo dog and Bud Light. Now, the stadium empties after Big Mac's at bat, regardless of how many outs there are. Fans come to the game to see one player hit home runs, and if he doesn't, they storm out of the stadium.

People are idiots. That is my conclusion. What is wrong with these so-called fans, who don't root for a team, but one player? In 1999 the Cubs had a terrible season (again), but attendance was incredible, merely because of Sammy Sosa. Personally, I would much rather watch a 1-0 pitching duel than a 13-12 home run derby.

To really examine the changing face of baseball, let us look at one team in particular that exemplifies this homer trend perfectly. This past April the St. Louis Cardinals hit 55 home runs, tying the major league record for homers in any month. In 1982, a year in which the Cards won the World Series, the team had a total of 67 home runs for the year. In fact, from 1982 to1990, the Cards finished last in the National League in home runs every season but 1985, when they finished second to last. In '86, they hit 58 home runs. However, they finished first in stolen bases every year from '82 to '88, and were first in on-base percentage every year they won the pennant.

It's a completely different type of baseball, and I respect the Cards teams of the '80s more than I do the teams of the '90s. They were gritty, fun to watch, and played as a team. Oh, did I forget to mention that they won?

To be honest, it is not truly the home runs that I worry about. Obviously I respect any player that hits for average and still hits balls out of the park, but an overemphasis and overabundance of the long-ball are what I find irritating.