There has been a lot of discussion about the state of the game with respect to Home Runs and Strikeouts. Many of us remember when hitting wasn’t so much hit or miss as it is today, and for many of us remember the game was more enjoyable when teams were “producing” runs. But the HR has always been the attention grabber. The first and arguably the most prodigious HR hitter was the Babe. In 1961 Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle were in a race to beat Babe’s single season record in 1961. After a hip injury slowed Mantle after #54, Maris went on to hit 61 and beat the single season record. #61 was not well received by many in high places.
From this day in history…”He’d hit 61 homers, but his new record wasn’t official. In July, baseball commissioner Ford Frick had announced that he wouldn’t consider Ruth’s record broken unless the player who broke it had hit more than 60 home runs in fewer than 154 games–the number of games Ruth’s Yankees had played in the 1927 season. (By 1961, teams played 162 regular-season games.) Frick had more than a passing interest in the issue: He’d been a good friend of the Babe’s and thought it was his responsibility to guard his legacy as closely as possible.” Of course there never was an official “asterisk” next to the HR number by Maris, but it took until 1991 when an MLB committee on historical accuracy voted to remove the distinction and award the record fully to Maris, who had died of cancer six years earlier.
And then the great Henry Aaron finally broke Babe Ruth’s career mark of 714. On April 8, 1974, in the 3rd inning, trailing 3-1 with a runner on 1st, and facing the Dodgers’ Al Downing, Aaron hit a 1-0 pitch over the left center field wall into the Braves bullpen for #715. The famous HR was caught by Braves teammate Tom House. Many of us watched that game on TV and listened to Vin describe it, but it was HOF Milo Hamilton, the Braves announcer that gets most of the national play.
There were numerous HR moments after that famous HR, but baseball became a must watch event again in 1998 when Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa put on a show for sports fans from all over the world. McGwire went on to hit 70 while Sammy hit 66. I remember that summer like it was yesterday.
Barry Bonds was not going to go quietly into the night. I moved up to Northern California in 2000 and was the CFO for a new home builder in the East Bay. The owner was also a die hard Dodgers fan who I had worked for twice before in Southern Cal, and went to numerous Dodgers games with. He had SF Giants season tickets at Candlestick and then transferred them to Pac Bell. For the next four years I was at Pac Bell and later AT&T for every Dodgers Giants game. And Barry always seemed to want to put on a show.
2001 was going to be a memorable year. On April 17, 2001, I was at Pac Bell (Row G – Seat 1 right behind home plate) when Bonds was batting against the Dodgers’ Terry Adams, and slugged #500 in his career. He was 36 years and 267 days old at the time. Who would have thought what he had in store for the next 6 years? Who knew he had another 6 years?
I was again at Pac Bell on October 5, 2001 when Bonds hit #71 & #72 off Chan Ho Park. With all due respect for this moment in baseball history, I did not wear any Dodger jerseys, which I always wear. But I was wearing my #8 Mark Grudzielanek jersey on October 7, when Bonds hit #73 off Dennis Springer. BondsMania would continue through 2007 when on August 6, Bonds hit #756 off the Washington Nationals Mike Bascik at AT&T. I gave my ticket to a Giants fan for that game, and do not regret not being there. On September 7, 2007 at 43 years old, Bonds hit #762, and his final one, at Coors Field off Ubaldo Jimenez.
Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. then gave chase. A bad hip in 2013 and a one year suspension in 2014 cost A-Rod the chance to catch Barry. He still hit 696 and maybe if he plays both 2013 and 2014 healthy, he might just have matched and passed Bonds. Junior was one of the most gifted baseball players ever to play. He hit 630 HRs, and never seemed to be fully healthy. To his credit, Junior has never been tied to PEDs. Junior and Willie Mays are far and away the two greatest CF’s I have ever had the pleasure to watch. I saw Mickey Mantle in games 3 and 4 of the 1964 WS, but he was a shell of himself at that time.
That brings me to today where the HR is now revered more as a strategy rather than entertainment. Baseball front office decision makers no longer care about strikeouts, and are pushing a change in launch angles for the players to increase the number of HRs. Exit velocity is now as much of today’s baseball jargon as ERA. Early in the season when LAD was having problems with winning games, Farhan Zaidi gave us his impression as to why that was:
“We just haven’t hit homers,” Zaidi said. “When you look at our overarching team performance, I think we still have a positive run differential. There are some positive indicators. But we have been outhomered. We’re a team that’s played a lot of close games. When you’re playing close games and you’re getting outhomered, it’s really tough to win those games.”
Well that issue went away in June when the team set a franchise record with 55, and is continuing into July. Like it or not, the team is built for power, and strikeouts are a part of that strategy and is accepted.
But it isn’t just how the ML team is built, it is how the team is developing their players in the organization. If you do not believe home runs are being pushed, take a look at the Tulsa Drillers, Rancho Cucamonga Quakes and Ogden Raptors. Those teams are leading their respective leagues in home runs and by a comfortable margin.
Tulsa – 139 home runs; next closest at 105; 6 Drillers with double digit HRs and 1 with 9 (Ruiz)
Rancho – 124 home runs; next closest at 98; 8 Quakes with double digit HRs and 1 with 9 (Marte)
Ogden – 43 home runs; next closest at 38; 3 Raptors in top 8, and 2 more tied for 9th
Dodgerrick referred to a NY Post article on what has happened to the game of baseball. It was a good expose on today’s game compared to what many of us grew up with. I grew up in what was for me the best era of the game (60’s and 70’s). My favorite Dodgers and baseball players in general were from that era. In 1974, Mike Marshall pitched 208.1 innings in 106 games in relief. Today, relief pitchers are worn out after 70 innings. Forget the 300-inning starting pitcher, the 200-inning starting pitcher will go the way of the dinosaurs. Now teams are talking about 6-man rotations, when previously 4 was just fine. Teams are starting games with relief pitchers because there is not enough quality starting pitchers.
You can lament the way the game has gone, or you can embrace it for what it is…The Great National Pastime. The game will change again, as it is always evolving. We can fight the change or get behind it. I love the game of baseball and will accept the changes, even the increase in strikeouts (and even the eventual NL DH).
From the minor leagues, Yusniel Diaz and Zach Pop both got into their AA game last night. It did not go as well as Manny’s did. Diaz went 1-4 with 3 K’s, and Pop gave up 3 runs on 2 hits and 2 walks without recording an out. Rylan Bannon has not yet appeared in a Bowie Baysox game as of yet. Valera has not yet appeared in a AAA game yet either.
Gavin Lux’s 19 game hitting streak came to an end. Jacob Scavuzzo’s 21 game hitting streak came to an end.
Gerardo Carrillo, 19 year old pitcher from Guadalajara, Jalisco, Mexico pitched 6.0 shutout innings for Great Lakes, allowing 3 singles and 1 walk. In 10.2 IP at Great Lakes, Carrillo has not yet allowed a run and has a 0.75 WHIP. Batters are hitting .132 against him. Melvin Jimenez gave up the sole run in the game in his two innings, but only allowed a triple and struck out 5.
Pedro Baez pitched in another rehab game allowing no runs on 1 hit with 2 strikeouts.
Jacob Amaya had yet another multi hit game, and is now hitting .362/.474/.521/.995 in 113 PA for Ogden. Amaya and Ronny Brito will be a lot of fun to follow as they climb the organization ladder.