My favorite holiday is Thanksgiving, which may or may not change if the Vikings get beat by the Lions again in a few hours. But since the Vikings loss last year didn’t change things, I don’t expect a potential one this year will, either. Perhaps it’s not the implied blessing to watch football all day long that makes Turkey Day my favorite. Perhaps it’s the idea that we should stop trying to be so selfish and instead be grateful for whatever blessings we have. The idea that we can quit complaining, if even for just one day, is one that’s really appealing.
It’s human nature to want what we don’t have. Hopefully we reach a point where we get past that because sometimes the things we want are counter-productive. When my age was in single digits, my desire was for the Mets to have an artificial turf park like they did in so many other NL cities. It’s difficult to remember why that was a wish of mine – maybe it was the Zamboni that would vacuum up the rain and make more games playable.
Whatever my reason, the Mets never installed turf and that turned out to be for the best. The fields that are in the majors today all have superior draining and there’s no need for a Zamboni. And they’re not the equivalent of playing on concrete, either, so we don’t see people’s bodies breaking down because of the field. So that’s good.
Today, not many people would prefer to travel back in time and play on Astro Turf. But they all seem to long for the actual game that was played on those artificial fields. One where speed and athleticism ruled the day. One where no one had yet to coin the terms PEDs or Tommy John surgery.
I don’t blame any of the greybeards for wanting a return of the game of their youth. There’s a really strong impulse to romanticize the things as they used to be, to build up a mythology around when life was simple and things were pure. There’s a reason you remember your first car or your first kiss or your first job.
Of course, proponents of the 1970s game will insist that it goes far beyond romanticism. And they’re not completely wrong, even if they are diminishing the role that nostalgia plays in their ultimate wish for the game. Few would deny that it’s fun to see a guy like 2011 Jose Reyes hit the ball in the gap and turn on the jets and wind up on third base.
One might even argue that the yearning for 1970s baseball goes beyond romanticism and into the realm of the political and how we identify as Americans. Cue Crash Davis:
Relax, all right? Don’t try to strike everybody out. Strikeouts are boring! Besides that, they’re fascist. Throw some ground balls – it’s more democratic.
One of the most exciting non-Mets moments for me in baseball was the last out of Game 7 of the 1982 World Series. Bruce Sutter was on the mound for those running Cardinals and slugging Gorman Thomas was at bat for the Brewers. The game wasn’t in great peril – Sutter maintained a one-run lead with a perfect eighth inning and the Cardinals tacked on two runs in the top of the ninth.
Rather what made it exciting was the matchup and the execution. Sutter was going for a multi-inning Save and his splitter was the most-feared weapon of any reliever at the time. And Thomas, who led the AL in homers that year, was having just a dreadful World Series. Could the slugger get some redemption against the elite closer and keep the magical season alive for the Brewers?
Thomas fouled off several two-strike splitters but eventually struck out when Sutter threw him a fastball.
For me, I prefer a game with home runs and strikeouts. The problem comes in how teams try to both achieve and combat those things. We see managers make multiple pitching changes, we see batters constantly stepping out of the box, we see pitchers take extra time to deliver the perfect pitch.
A four-hour game is ugly and it makes no difference if it takes four hours because there were 10 pitching changes or it takes that long because pitchers constantly throw over to first base and hold the ball forever to combat the running game. As Tim McCarver once said, nothing slows down the game like speed.
We may never agree on what style makes for the ideal game and it’s probably best if we don’t. Now that would be fascist, if someone in power told you what type of game to enjoy. But I think we can agree on the enemy and that’s pace of the game.
The question becomes: What should we do about it? On one side you have people who champion for the game to find its own equilibrium, that eventually something new will come along and the game will find a proper balance without any outside interference. And on the other side we have people who want to tinker and legislate to force the game into a better state. Limit pitching changes, put in a pitch clock, really enforce batters staying in the box are just some of the suggestions out there.
My preference would be for the first option although the second option is not unthinkable.
There’s been talk that the Mets are going to go to an eight-man relief staff this year. As someone who thinks seven relievers are too many, this isn’t the greatest news ever. But it’s an admission that the way things are going are not sustainable. While I don’t like the solution of this one particular team, it doesn’t mean that another team won’t (eventually) find a different fix to the problem. And if and when that alternate fix succeeds, there’s no doubt others will follow.
But for Mets fans, the real problem isn’t style or pace but rather results. If given a choice to watch a 95-loss team that plays at the style and pace you prefer or a 95-win team that regularly plays long, boring (however you define the term) games – my guess is that most of us would choose the latter.
So, let’s win a bunch of games in 2018 and make everyone happy. And try to play some 2:20 minute games, too. Also, throw in some games with lots of doubles and steals so everyone will have a chance to be thankful.