Hey, who wouldn't want to see the major-league home-run leader?
I found this out while reading Sports Illustrated's baseball preview in the
bathtub this weekend. First, I thought it was a typo. 45 homers? Richie
Sexson? So I climbed out of the tub, cruised online and checked Richie's
career stats on ESPN.com. Sure enough, it was true. Richie hit .271 with 45
homers and 125 RBI, which apparently makes him the modern-day Harmon
Killebrew. I had no idea.
So I was thinking about it ... and thinking about it ... and it slowly dawned
on me that I'm out of the loop. Me and Major League Baseball have officially
jumped the shark.
Hey, I still follow the Red Sox -- diligently, actually -- and watch
good-sized chunks of the vast majority of their games on television. I still
operate two fantasy teams. I still visit Fenway 15-20 times a year. I'm
definitely a baseball fan. But a hardcore fan? Not anymore. Maybe I've been
denying it to myself for years, but the fact remains, I couldn't name three
guys on Florida's pitching staff. I couldn't tell you who's batting cleanup
for San Diego. I couldn't name the Cubs' closer. I have absolutely no idea
who manages the Cincinnati Reds. You could give me 20 guesses to name Kansas
City's catcher and I'd start making up Spanish first names that went with
Now I'm picking up the pieces. What happened? How could this happen to
me, one of the undisputed fantasy visionaries of the 20th century? The guy
who once played 162 games of MicroLeague Baseball between the '69 Mets and
the '75 Sox with one other friend? The guy who could rattle off the stats of
every relevant major-league hitter from 1974 to 1988 without even blinking?
The guy who collected so many baseball cards that he even sorted them into
quirky categories, like an "All-Ugly" pile devoted to people like Bill Stein,
Andy Etcheberren and Walt "No-Neck" Williams?
This couldn't be my fault. Blame? You want blame? I'll pass out some blame.
In descending order ...
Problem No. 6: The Game
What team is Pokey Reese playing for this week?
Too many teams, too much expansion, juiced-up balls, bandbox stadiums, World
Series games ending at 12:30 in the morning ... it's just a crummy product
right now. Expansion has ruined every professional sport to a degree, but
only baseball has been ravaged by it. When only one-third of your franchises have
a realistic chance to win the world championship every season, that's beyond
ludicrous. Surely there hasn't been another league that antagonized this many
fans in this many cities.
To make matters worse, there doesn't seem to be any master plan in place.
Have you ever seen a league with more bozos running it than Major League
Baseball? They should just hire the guy from "Memento" to be in charge --
then absolutely nothing would make sense and we could have exchanges like
-- "Memento" Guy: "I'm disbanding the Pirates and the Royals, then pooling
their players to a team we're stationing in Guam."
-- Assistant: "Um, you already did that."
-- "Memento" Guy: "I did? Well get me the Pirates' owner on the phone. I want to try to save baseball in Pittsburgh!"
-- Assistant: "Huh?"
-- "Memento" Guy: "You heard me! Do it!"
You get the idea. What happened with the Expos and Twins this winter was an
absolute disgrace. I never thought baseball would top canceling the World
Series in '94, but this came pretty damn close. Suddenly baseball has turned
into the MLS. It's really, really bugging me. I'm ashamed to be a
baseball fan sometimes.
Along those same lines ...
Problem No. 5: The Stats
I repeat: Richie Sexson slammed 45 homers last season, 11 more than Jose Cruz Jr., eight more than Rich Aurilia and Bret Boone, four more than Troy Glaus,
four less than Jim Thome, 12 less than Luis Gonzalez and 28 less than Barry
Bonds. It's totally out of control. What used to be the most fun thing about
following baseball -- keeping track of the stats, understanding when someone
or something deviated from the norm -- has been completely thrown out of
whack, and all sense of historical perspective has been demolished.
The spin control really cracks me up. The players are much bigger now!
Weight training is much better nowadays! The bats are better! People recover
from injuries faster! The illegal drugs are better and harder to detect!
Puh-leeeze. You're telling me that there hasn't been just as many
advancements that helped pitchers and fielders?
Face the facts: They shortened fences, watered down pitching staffs and turned baseballs into
oversized golf balls, just to cater to the Cheap Thrill Factor (a k a.: home
runs galore). Most records are meaningless now. Sad but true.
Problem No. 4: The Sports Gal
She doesn't like baseball very much. Tolerates it. Doesn't like it. She
allows Sox games from time to time, and I can even coerce her into watching
Pedro when he's on his game ... but "Baseball Tonight" basically died for me
three years ago. If she even sees Karl Ravech's face, she has some sort of
"Exorcist"/Pavlovian reaction: "No, no, no! We're not watching this! I
recognize that guy! Turn it! Turn it or I will rip your head off!"
That means I only catch "Baseball Tonight" if she somehow nods out early,
which means I practically develop Karpal-Tunnel Syndrome during the baseball
season rubbing her head so she passes out before 10:30. I have even resorted
to watching chick flicks after 9 p.m., then getting the head rubs slowly
going so she'll pass out, then switching channels on mute to baseball, then
slowly increasing the volume while trying not to wake her up. It's pathetic.
Honestly, somebody should just shoot me in the head.
And watching a non-Red Sox game? Forget it. She flips out. It's not even an
option. Having cable on two televisions has helped, but you can't play that
"I'll go upstairs, you stay down here" card more than two times a week or
else they start holding a grudge and pulling the "We only get to see each
other at nights and now you don't even want to hang out with me" routine,
which is about as fun as a chemotherapy session.
(Wait a second ... am I using my out-loud voice again? Dammit!)
With all of that said, I can't really blame her for feeling so anti-baseball.
You either have to follow the game or you can't follow it at all. There's no
middle ground. Subjecting the Sports Gal to the rigors of a 162-game season
just wouldn't be fair. At least until we get a dog.
Problem No. 3: Baseball Robo-Journalism
This deserves its own column at some point, but we might as well touch on it
here. Bill James started Robo-Journalism with his superb "Baseball Abstracts"
in the '80s, which worked because he knew his stuff and remained a fan at
heart. He made the game more fun for me to watch, helped me understand things
better. For instance, I always thought Andre Dawson had an MVP season in
1987... but the fact remains, his on-base percentage was only .322. Can you
really be an MVP when you only get on base 32 percent of the time? James
pointed this stuff out to me. I loved him for it. He seemed like the kind of
guy with whom you could kick back and talk baseball, but not in a nerdy way.
Those people are few and far between.
Unfortunately, James spawned a number of knockoff artists that took his work
to the next level, only without the same feeling and spirit. You know these
guys. You've read them. They're condescending, they're comprehensive and they
could suck the fun out of an amusement park ride (not all of them, just some
of them). When we're getting to the point where somebody's telling me that
Derek Jeter really isn't a great player because his OPS and field range rating don't compare favorably with A-Rod and Nomar ... I mean, haven't we
gone too far?
Here's what really bothers me: These guys make me feel inadequate as a
baseball fan. Either you throw yourselves into this stuff and know everyone's
OPS and EqA's and DT's, or you have to take a step back and say to them, "You
know what? You win. You know more than me. I can't compete with this. If it's
OK with you, I would still like to be a baseball fan, though. Good luck and
So that's what I'm saying. I'm happy so many fledgling writers carved a
mini-cottage industry for themselves with this stuff ... it's just not for
me, that's all. It makes me not like baseball as much.
Problem No. 2: Getting Old
Don't worry, I'm not going to pull a Steve Rushin and wax poetic about how
great things were when I was 8. But when you reach your 30s, your
Tolerance Level drops dramatically, your Responsibility Level increases, and
it becomes much more difficult to subject yourself to the day-to-day grind of
a professional sports season -- there simply isn't enough time in the day. I
find I'm choosing sports over each other. The first one to go was college
football (early '90s). The NHL quickly followed (mid-'90s). College hoops was
next (late '90s). Now I'm down to the NBA (my favorite sport), the NFL (a
close second) and baseball (a distant third), although I love the Red Sox,
Patriots and Celtics equally, if that makes sense.
And when you get older, you never care quite as much as you used to care. For
instance, last year, for the first time in my life, I totally locked out
the Red Sox season. I avoided them for the entire month of September. I
hated last year's team. Really, I did. "Hate" is a strong word, but I hated
that team. They were like a "Real World" episode gone to hell. And maybe 10
years ago, I would have watched all the games, anyway ... but now I have the
attitude of "You know what? I have better things to do." Like watch "Dismissed."
Problem No. 1: The Length of the Games
No question about it ... here's the No. 1 problem. Baseball games take too
damned long. Wayyyyyyyyy too long. I think Game 4 of the World Series took three days to play.
This all goes back to my 150-Minute Rule: Nothing should last for more than
150 minutes, unless there's a really good reason. Remember, the MTV
Generation totally changed the way we watch TV; three-hour-plus baseball
games aren't nearly as appealing as they were 25 years ago, when we only had
six other TV channels. And sitting in the stands for that long ... forget it.
It's like being trapped on a coach flight from Boston to Vegas.
Hey, baseball people know they have a problem. Believe me, they know. When
fans are lapsing into comas, blacking out in the bleachers and trying to get
intentionally hit in the head by foul balls, you have a problem. Last week's
USA Today ran a feature entitled "BASEBALL PLANS TO PICK UP THE PACE," which
was the "U.S. CLOSES IN ON BIN LADEN" of sports headlines this winter.
Whatever. Some of MLB's plans to save seconds were so absurdly obvious, it
was like reading one of those articles about allergies where Rule No. 1 for
avoiding hay fever is "Stay inside."
When you think about it, baseball games possess the least amount of action of
any sport. Why is baseball the only sport that allows players to
intentionally delay the game? Why can't their players be more prepared to
move things along? I didn't realize how bad things had gotten until I read
the USA Today feature, which included some of these actual suggestions:
A. A batter won't get a timeout when he steps out of the box to disrupt
the pitcher ... (he) can step out of the box if he's distracted by an insect
or blowing dust.
B. A batter must have two bats ready (in case one breaks), and the batboy
must have one in reasonable proximity to the on-deck circle.
(Isn't it amazing that we're even suggesting these things? Can you imagine if
you were watching an NBA game and Chris Webber is about to shoot a free
throw, but Shaq keeps stepping off the foul line to distract him? What about
Paul Pierce getting ready to inbound the basketball, then suddenly deciding
that he needs to re-adjust his jockstrap, headbands, wristbands and tie his
sneakers? Or Steve Nash breaking a shoelace, then stopping the game for five
minutes while he heads into the locker room for another shoe?)
C. On his second trip to the mound, a manager must signal for a
right-hander or left-hander from the top of the dugout step before he steps
onto the field. When a reliever hits the warning track, he has 2:30 to get to
the mound and complete his warm-up times. Possible savings: 9-10½
(Well, jeez ... it's always fun to watch an old guy with a potbelly amble out
to the mound and huddle indefinitely with a bunch of younger players,
especially when we can't hear anything that they're saying. Why would they
want to get rid of this?)
D. Pitchers have 12 seconds to throw the ball, starting from the time the
batter has stepped in the box and the pitcher has stepped on the rubber.
(I can't agree with this one. Pitchers should clearly get the 50 to 60
seconds to which they've grown accustomed, because I really enjoy sitting
there and watching a guy grip a baseball, stare straight ahead and
occasionally shake his head back and forth. Please, we need more of this. And
if they can step off the rubber right before the pitch and start the whole
process over again, that's even better.)
E. Some theme songs for players can last 25-30 seconds as the players
comes to bat. Solution: Limit the special music to 5-8 seconds.
(Limit the special music? Limit the special music? But that's why we're
there! We're there for the special music!)
F. When fans become so bored that they start hurling bags of urine onto
the field, they will only be allowed to do so between innings.
(OK, I made that one up. Just wanted to see if you were still awake.)
G. With 25 seconds left in the (commercial break between innings, which
last for two minutes and five seconds), the PA announcer should announce the
next batter, who should be at the plate when the telecast comes out of commercial.
(Wait a second ... why would the batter want to be standing in the batter's
box when the telecast comes out of commercial? Then we wouldn't be able to
see him adjust his batting gloves and his protective cup. This is an outrage!)
H. All pre-game ceremonies must end five minutes before game time.
Extracurricular activites, such as scoreboard quizzes and T-shirt throws,
must be adjusted to guarantee the innings start on time.
All right, enough. I can't take it anymore.
Seeing this stuff in print, seeing how obvious everything is, knowing they
could chop 35-40 minutes off every game just by enforcing the damned rules
... it kills me. Really, it kills me. And the USA Today story didn't even
mention how The Return of the Bullpen Car could chop off a few more minutes
every game. Come on, everyone loves the bullpen car! As a kid, I remember
going to games just hoping for pitching changes, just so the bullpen car
would come out. As an adult, I'd be sitting in the stands betting on things
like "What's the bullpen car driver's blood-alcohol level right now?"
Would they ever bring the bullpen car back, much less make any of these other
changes? Of course not. You and I both know that the Powers-That-Be are too
stupid to pull these things off. You'd have a better chance of seeing Jack
Osbourne named Peer Leader of his 10th grade class.
Would I watch more baseball games if they took 135 to 150 minutes to play, instead of 180 to 210? Absolutely. But it's not going to happen.
Same with the Sports Gal allowing me to watch "Baseball Tonight" ... or
robo-baseball journalists not bugging me ... or the quality of play returning
to a reasonable level ... or the league contracting to a more manageable 26
teams and instituting a salary cap ... or stats becoming relevant again
because the fences have been moved back and/or baseballs can't pass for golf
balls anymore ... or a commissioner who actually improved the quality of the
game (the way David Stern made the NBA a better place over the past two
decades) ... or not getting older ... or not getting distracted by quality TV
like "Real World" and "G-String Divas"?
Would I watch more baseball if these things changed? Yeah, probably. In the
mean time, I'm throwing myself into another Red Sox season, hitting Fenway as
much as possible and following my fantasy guys. Maybe I'll even take Richie
Sexson for one of my fantasy teams. Did you know he slammed 45 homers for the Indians last year?
Or was it the Brewers?
Maybe it was the Astros?
Bill Simmons writes three columns a week for Page 2.