Finally after its winter hibernation, baseball in America is back next week.
Oh sure we’ve had a ton of high-profile trades, steroid drama, sort of gay self-worship drama tied to the steroid drama, spring training, the Grapefruit League and even a full blown pseudo-World Cup played in the sport (well done Japan!) but that’s just baseball.
This now, this is The Show.
This is the baseball that every great, or pretend-great American writer rhapsodises, and has been turned into more decent movies than any other sport. In this regard, it is truly the anti-rugby. I struggled to come up with more than 1 0r 2 truly awful baseball movies that weren’t sequels or made before WW2, and the classics almost anyone can name (The Natural, Field Of Dreams, Bull Durham, Major League, Bad News Bears, etc). Try that with rugby. There’s a lot riding on you Matt Damon.
So, to paraphrase Walt Whitman and Will Leitch, its time for the hush of the outfield grass to give way to the thrill of the opening pitch, the crack of the bat and the roar of the extremely drunk and abusive crowd. Its time for all the guys who paid US$432,000 for field level Yankee season tickets to settle in for their 81 home games, and for Direct TV subscribers to start planning which of the almost 5,000 live games they can watch over the next 6 months.
Welcome to The Show.
10 extremely obvious questions answered
1. Are baseball players actually athletes? Some of these guys are REALLY fat.
Yep. CC Sabathia (a GREAT actor’s name if he ever goes that way) is well over 300 pounds and he’s not alone in this league. Both the the best clutch pitcher (CC) and best clutch hitter (Manny Ramirez) are not exactly athletically built. There are also a some very small guys (Dustin Pedroia), and ultra buff studly types (Mark Texeria, Alex Roid Rodriguez). Baseball is pretty much a game of pure hand/eye co-ordination (see below) and of torque. ALL baseball players have very developed butts. Asses. Glutes. That’s where the hitting power comes from. If you watch someone like a Ken Griffey Jr or Gary Sheffield hit you will see the way they literally twist themselves back to come around to hit. They unwind in a fraction of a second, very much like watching Tiger hit a drive. Immense power is unleashed. Same for pitching. Its mostly in the legs. Given that unless there’s a girly baseball brawl going on there’s no actual one-on-one physical matchup in baseball, as long as there’s plenty of junk in the trunk they can have front porches you could host a barbeque for forty on.
2. How hard is it to hit the ball?
Obviously its difficult otherwise Alex Roid Rod wouldn’t be getting almost $52,000 an attempt to try. This is a sport where a hitting average of .300 (30% successful) is VERY good, and 40% has only ever been done a few times in history. If you were only that successful in any other sport you are not playing at the elite level. Barry Bonds, despite the steroids that have banished him from the game and certainly not because of it, was probably the best hitter to ever play baseball. Because he had the fastest hand/eye co-ordination. At major league speeds a batter has around 1/10th of a second to decide what kind of pitch is coming and compute the physics that will allow him to make contact with his 4″ wide bat. In test cricket from a fast bowler for example, its around 3/10ths. Tennis, on serve, about the same as cricket. The legend is that Barry had an extra 10th of a second because his hands moved faster. His bat speed was still the same as the other elite hitters (about 95mph) but his angle would be more efficient. Once he got the bat to the ball, well that’s when the ‘roids were a big help. And don’t even start with things like sliders, curveballs or the dreaded knuckleballers. No offense to the great game of cricket, but someone like Manny Ramirez, who LOVES curveball pitching, would have eaten Shane Warne alive. By the way, here he is actually playing cricket.
3. Why is the season so f*cking long?
History. Baseball is the bread and circuses of the American industrial age. If you were working six days a week in a factory in New York, Chicago or Detroit having games almost every day through the summer made living worthwhile. The growth of baseball in America very much parallels the growth of professional football in England, and for the same reasons. Sports were a gift from owners and management to their slave armies. As those armies dispersed over the decades across the country so did the teams, most notably the Giants, Dodgers and Braves. But the tradition of each team playing an average of 6 games a week remains.
4. I’m sorry, how much do these guys get paid again?
This is the true obscenity of baseball. The best players make incredible sums and its all guaranteed. If Alex RR gets hit by a bus tomorrow, the Yankees will still have to pay out almost $250M to his estate over the next 8 years. Mark Texiera (pronounced Te-share-a), signed a contract for $20M a year in the off season, and he’s only the third highest paid player on his team. Sure, there are plenty of guys making the league minimum of $400k (hello the Royals and the Rays!), but still, the sky has no real spending limit in this sport. NB: If you have a kid who has any sporting prowess whatsoever, see if he can hit a golf ball or a baseball IMMEDIATELY. I mean it. Run.
5. Why are the games so long?
Because it became fashionable in the ’90s for guys to take a year to get ready to hit, and they rotate pitchers a lot more often. A pitching duel game can be done in about 90 minutes. Its just BAM BAM BAM, line ‘em up, strike ‘em out. I saw one last year that barely made the hour. Ended 1-0 in the 9th. It was like watching speed chess. A good slugfest game runs about 3&1/2 hours. C’mon we watch test cricket for 5 freaking days. 3&1/2 hours drinking beer in the sun? I’m ok with that. (A small aside: That Twenty20 crap drives me nuts. Where’s the skill in it? It would be like baseball being ONLY Home Run Derby’s. Hey, we all love Home Run Derby’s. But pitching, fielding and stamina are part of the game no? I know, its easier to fit in with our ‘busy’ lives – i.e kids – but sorry its not for me. End of Geoffrey Boycott moment)
6. What’s up with the steroids?
Excellent question. This has been almost the definition of a media driven frenzy and a terrific example of sports hypocrisy at its worst. Here’s the thing: I think most fans don’t care. Like really don’t care. Take the Alex Roid Rod expose of this winter. Personally, I was saddened and shocked for about an hour. I’ve never really liked the guy, but I respected him, and you just thought it was sad given his incredible natural talent. However, a month or so later and I couldn’t care less. I DON’T CARE IF HE’S TAKING THEM RIGHT NOW. Because here’s the thing: if him taking steroids means he comes back faster from injury, or turns a line drive into a home run, as a viewer I’m all for that. I’m paying to watch that. I’m not paying to watch him sit in the dugout chewing and spitting while the announcers talk about how his recovery from injury is coming along. I want to watch him right now. If he’s willing to put up with bacne and shunken testicles for my amusement I say, go for it big fella. If I go to Lil’ Wayne gig I expect him to be high too goddammit.
7. What’s with the chewing and spitting?
Well, at least now its sunflower seeds and not chewin’ tabaccy. Baseball players used to have the biggest incidence per head of tongue cancer in the world. It actually came from the amphetimines (’greenies’) the players used to take to stay awake on the long road trips. They were finally outlawed last season. Two things happened: that big exaggerated ‘its 5am in the club and I just dropped my 3rd E’ chewing motion stopped in the dugout, and all the teams suddenly started playing crap on the road. Give it a few years and the habit will die out completely.
8. VORP? PECO?
God, do stat geeks love baseball. The US is a country in love with data, and baseball generates oodles of the stuff. One of the new modern bibles in sports and business literature (’Moneyball’) is actually based on the successful application of esoteric stats to the Oakland A’s. Some of it makes sense. I love VORP which measures how much better or worse the current player is against anyone else playing the same position for that team. For example, Derek Jeter has negative VORP against most of the other shortstops in the AL East. If they were playing for the Yankees, the Yankees would probably be a better team. That makes it easier for me to control my envy of a guy who lives in Manhattan, makes $20M a year and dates rotating supermodels. But apart from that, all the rest is for fantasy baseball guys only. And the most over-rated is wins for a pitcher. If you hear a guy being praised because he’s ‘won a lot of games this year’ that’s pretty meaningless. A manager can easily pad any pitcher’s stats by pulling him early in a game or changing the rotation, or he might be a pitcher getting 6 runs a game from his hitters.
9. Are there any Kiwis playing MLB?
Scott Richmond, part of the pitching rotation of the Toronto Blue Jays is technically a New Zealander thanks to his father, but was born and raised in Canada. Not that that’s a bad thing. Scott Campbell meanwhile, is currently in their minor league system. Previously the closest we came was Travis Wilson in the early 2000’s who never quite made The Show. There are of course, quite a few Aussies. See the end of Question 4. I mean it. Get them training now. What, you don’t want little Joel earning $20M a year and buying you that 3000sq ft beach house and a new BMW every year? Really? If he’s left-handed, he could be earning ’til he’s 45 plus. Just sayin’.
10. God this was boring. Is there anything about baseball you can tell me that will have made it worth reading this?
Ok……well, if little Joel is any good he probably has a shot at Alyssa Milano, who will only be entering her hot cougar phase by then.
The managers wear player’s uniforms which is really bizarre if you think about it.
The AL East is going to be INCREDIBLE because its a three way race for only two spots, and every Red Sox/Yankees stand will feel even more like a mini-World Series.
Watching Manny Ramirez break out his goofy home run grin 40 odd times this year will be fun to watch.
Can the Rays repeat their success, are the Braves really back? (Hey Chipper, nice to see you back on the Clear. Now you can hit again!).
Geriatric Randy Johnson (note: left handed) is still pitching.
Two brand new stadiums in NY. Man, the Mets get gazumped EVERY TIME.
A whole new wave of young speedy guys are entering the game (thank you steroid scandal!) so its a good year to catch new stars being born.
Um, the beer and hot dogs at Dodger Stadium are not half bad?
– Mark Tierney