Reflections on a Season Gone By (Guest Post by Ed Botti)
“You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, and sometimes it rains.” -Bull Durham
With the annual passing of another baseball season and thinking back on previous seasons and summers gone by, one often reflects on the past year; personally, professionally, health wise and of course always remembering what took place in October.
This year when I reflect on another Baseball season and all the ups and downs, highs and lows, blowouts and tight games, the dominant thought I have is how the game is changing.
If your baseball induction came from the likes of Horace Clarke and Celerino Sánchez, like mine did, then you are watching a game that is very different than the one we watched and played as kids.
Whether that is for the best or not, the jury is still out, in my opinion.
I think back about players like Thurman Munson, limping after foul tips in the 1977 World Series, and fighting to get back into his crouch behind home plate, with two aching knees and bent fingers. I still remember one instance where the umpire stayed on one knee while Thurman painfully went back to his position, allowing for a few extra seconds of recovery, even though Thurman irritably brushed off the trainers that wanted to check on him. There was no way he was coming out, and he didn’t. We all know what it took to get Thurman to stop playing.
A lot has changed in baseball since August 2nd 1979.
I am not quite sure of the exact date, but somewhere along the line someone told us that throwing 130 pitches or so a night is all of a sudden a bad thing for highly trained and fine-tuned athletes. So, guys Like Catfish Hunter, David Cone, Dave Righetti, Mel Stottlemyre, David Wells, and Ron Guidry, to name a few, somehow miraculously survived?
More recently, we’ve been told that batting average is no longer important, and that now we need to look at stats like WAR, weighted runs above average and launch angle, because they are suddenly more important.
There was a time not too long ago when strike outs were viewed as a complete failure. A player would strike out, put his head down and sneak back into the dugout, somewhat ashamed for his failure to put bat on ball. Not anymore. Someone told us that a strike out is no worse than a line drive to the left fielder.
And of course, now we see the infamous “shift”. Three infielders on one side of the diamond, and the fourth just a step or two from second base. Most games, it is complete chaos when someone does try to steal (another lost art) and you see defensive assignments completely blown, cut offs throws lost, and extra bases taken. Even worse, we rarely see the batter slap the ball into 90 feet of vacant real estate.
Sorry, but there comes a time when keeping it simple, really is the ingenious concept.
Keep in mind what the most famous Yankee sage of all time said “Baseball is 90% mental and the other half is physical.”
Yogi was on to something all those years ago. Keep it simple.
Now I am not trying to be one of those people that think their generation has all the answers and everything was so much better back in the day. My generation; raised by the WWII generation was the one that decided to grow their hair long and tune out all authority. So this is not about that.
It’s more of a “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality.
So we should stop trying to make such drastic changes to the game, and just “let the kids play”, as MLB’s recent promotion suggests.
Thankfully, there are still players that follow that thought process.
A perfect example of this is to just sit back and watch DJ LeMahieu play. A throwback in a lot of ways. A keep it simple approach to the highest degree.
A microcosm of his entire 2019 season can be seen in his epic final 2019 ten pitch at bat.
He saw 7 fastballs from 94-98, 2 curve balls, had 5 foul balls, took 3 balls out of the strike zone, and called 1 time out to ice the pitcher, before hitting pitch #10, an outside fastball into the right field seats. He didn’t try and do too much, took what was given, and made contact on all strikes except pitch #2.
He kept it simple. He wasn’t going to strike out under any circumstances. He shortened his swing, got a good full look at all of Roberto Osuna’s pitches, worked out the timing, and delivered.
What made the at bat so memorable to me wasn’t the fact the result of his at bat was a game tying home run (although that was remarkable). It was his consistent approach. Even in the pressure situation of 9th inning down by two runs in an elimination game, he continued with his steady and consistent approach.
That approach is what will be needed by his teammates next season. Too many times this past post season, as well as 2018, did we see players change their approach, and just try and hit the ball out of the park; seeking launch angle approval.
LeMahieu’s consistent approach to making contact, and making the pitcher earn the out was inspirational. It appears to me that he is not buying into this whole new sabermetric approach to playing.
We saw that approach the entire season, along with being the most unselfish player we have had in a long time, shifting between 1st 2nd and 3rd base all season, without any issue or complaint.
That is how I remember baseball. It’s not about what magazine cover or back page you might be on, it’s not about a fancy bat flip, it’s about sticking to your plan and executing. We got very use to that watching Derek Jeter for 19 years that we may have taken it for granted, and it’s great that we have it again.
We have all winter to reflect on this past summer and analyze the pending transactions that will be coming very soon.
Stay tuned, plenty more to come.