Baseball keeps evolving as trends come and go
Where once there were 16 Major League baseball teams, now there are 30 scattered across the country.
Where once the big leagues were populated by players from Decatur, Alabama and Decatur, Georgia and Decatur, Iowa, they are now peopled by players from the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Japan, Curacao, Canada and most points in the free world.
The status quo leaves any team with players it loses to free agency. Where the farm systems of St. Louis, Brooklyn, the Yankees, Atlanta and San Francisco were once stocked with budding talent that kept them just ahead of the field, now every team bids for international draft slots and shrivels if its feeder system isn’t producing a steady stream of upcoming talent.
The minimum salary is $540,000, a staggering figure some 15-year major leaguers of yesteryear could not accrue in an entire career.
And how the game itself is played has changed radically.
Teams once went with four starting pitchers and the forward-thinking ones had a closer. The starters were expected to go seven, eight or all nine innings.
Now days, teams attempt to find five starters who might pitch five or six innings. Specialists come forth for one inning and teams hope their closer can finish the job.
Middle relief wins pennants. The final three months of the season find games settled by the middle relievers.
Injuries were not as prevalent as they are today. Pitchers developed “sore arms” … but Tommy John surgery on arms was unknown. Not now. Tommy John visits every team nearly every year.
Any pitcher throwing 90 mph in 1975 was a phenomenon. Any pitcher throwing only 90 mph today is slammed for home runs, extra base hits … destined to be out of baseball in no time.
Strikeouts dominate the game. Baltimore’s Chris Davis and others can strike out over 200 times. A whole list of pitchers average more than one strikeout per inning pitched.
Specialists like Andrew Miller of Cleveland show mild disgust when they don’t register a strikeout.
Any team without a reliable closer is going to eventually be a reliable loser.
No World Series can be won without effective middle relievers and a closer with outs in his bag when he strides in from the bullpen.
Home runs are everywhere. Some teams score 65 percent of their runs with homers. Stolen bases don’t have as much meaning as before. There are teams with fewer than 30 stolen bases at this point in the season.
The 162-game season wears on the players. Where once there was in place a 154-game schedule, the owners now need the additional eight games to pay the hefty salaries claimed by any player with at least four years experience. Did pitcher Bob Gibson or infielder Ernie Banks make $25 million a season? Not a rhetorical question, but could be?
There are no doubleheaders in baseball. Two games might be played on the same date but each has a separate admission charge.
Concession prices are without a ceiling. Hot dogs are still only a bun of crushed bread and a hunk of meat that can’t be used in any other way … but they cost $7.50 from Miami to Toronto to Colorado. Don’t get thirsty if you don’t want to sell your next of kin for any sort of cold liquid. To park close to the stadium is akin to taking out a second mortgage on your home. And ticket prices sky rocket as if you were flying round trip to Hong Kong with a side trip to Rome.
By August, it will be the injuries that cave the chances of some teams. Even a reliable middle reliever’s demise can bring a team crashing down.
By all means check to see if the umpire made the right decision. Pay close attention to the whirlwind of lights on the jumbotrons and mile-wide scoreboards. Bring home a souvenir hat or shirt with a player’s name imprinted on the back, but don’t expect to return for another game unless you hit the lottery.
Baseball is different. But healthy pitchers still account for most of their team’s wins … and huge salaries still don’t mean a pennant is around the corner next to the bank.