You’ve likely heard about Houston Astros pitcher Justin Verlander’s stance that Major League Baseball is using baseballs that are juiced to allow more home runs, and thus more scoring.
Verlander’s comments sparked a bit of a debate over the MLB All-Star break, the loudest of which was this: If it is true, and the MLB was intentionally changing the way its baseballs were manufactured so they travel farther and differently, would it be good for the game?
To me, there are two sides to this. And one, easy answer.
On one side, you have the traditional baseball fans. They love watching a great pitcher’s duel with limited offense. They think batters shouldn’t swing for the fences on every pitch they see. They don’t believe in shifting the defense, because who cares about advanced stats anyway. They don’t think batters should show off and flip their bats after a home run, they think the batter needs to put his head down, trot around the bases and act like he’s been there before.
But this is 2019, and the traditional-baseball-fan group is getting smaller and smaller. So is baseball’s popularity in this country. Seemingly every year, you hear about how TV ratings and stadium attendance are down, and how baseball is becoming more and more a regional sport.
Which leads me to the other side of this: Wanting to grow the game.
Along with his many other duties, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred is tasked with growing the sport. A great way to grow baseball is to get young people interested in it. An even better way to get young people interested in baseball is to increase scoring.
And kids love themselves home runs. I mean, who doesn’t?
Kids these days are growing up with cell phones in their hand. They’re on social media all the time. They’re used to digesting quick bits of information and then they move on to the next thing. For kids that are into sports, that includes short and sweet highlights. Let’s be honest, if it’s not a cool defensive play, baseball’s offensive highlights on Twitter and Instagram are home runs and bat flips. It’s not a single or double to right field. That’s just how it is these days. Young kids want to crush the ball.
This was an eye-opening stat from ESPN’s Jeff Passan:
“Overall, players hit 3,691 home runs in the season’s first half and are on pace to hit 6,668 home runs, which would obliterate the record 6,105 hit in 2017.”
That’s a ton of long balls. But long balls are exciting. They help generate buzz. The sport has a strong cast of young stars like Mike Trout, Kris Bryant, Christian Yelich, Cody Bellinger, Pete Alonso, Ronald Acuna, Javier Baez (I could go on) that all crush the ball.
Excitement is good. Baseball needs more of it. I’m sorry, Justin Verlander, but if the MLB is making its baseballs in a way that allows them to travel farther, I’m all for that. Your teammates are hitting the same balls as the hitters you’re facing.
Maybe Verlander is just upset because he’s given up a MLB-leading 26 homers. I would be upset if I was him, too. But come on, man. We all know you’re one of the best pitchers in the game. No need to make excuses about how it’s the ball’s fault, and not yours.
Home runs are good for the game. Keep swinging for the fences.
Everyone have a nice Friday.