Baseball, undoubtedly, is a sport that has evolved as much as modern technology. With every invention brought into society, there has been another root upended from America’s pastime. There really are no baseball purists left, no matter how much they cling to their love to a 1-0 victory with three hits combined between the two teams. While I love a pitcher’s duel just as much as the next guy, baseball is extremely different from the original form of the sport. Players from a very long time ago, such as Al Spalding, would look at today’s game and scoff at not only the price of beer in the stands, but also the way the game is played.
Just for some background, Spalding was a revolutionary ball player during his time. His career pitching record was 252-65 over the seven seasons that he pitched. As if his pitching stats weren’t enough, Spalding also hit .313 with 613 hits and 338 runs batted in. Breaking his career down into modern statistical evaluations, Spalding finished with a career WAR of 60.3. Just for reference, that puts him on the same level as Andy Pettitte exactly, and .1 below Keith Hernandez.
Spalding was an interesting character. As a baseball player, he was as retro as they come. In relation to the New York Mets, well, he is as anti-Met as one body can personify. In 1874, Spalding threw for 617.1 innings, which absolutely blew my mind when I read that stat. How someone was able to maintain that kind of arm strength is beyond belief, as he threw more innings than Jacob deGrom, Noah Syndergaard, and Zack Wheeler combined in 2018. While baseball games were very different back in that time, and high numbers of games pitched were common, those numbers are still completely shocking.
While his statistics embody the opposite of modern pitching, Spalding was ahead of his time in thought. Spalding was once quoted as saying “”Two hours is about as long as any American can wait for the close of a baseball game, or anything else for that matter.”
Not only did Spalding predict the current attention span problem that we as a nation are going through, but also that the pace of play would have an effect on how many people showed up to ball games. In 2017, the time of an average, nine inning baseball game was 3:05, a new record. Attendance took a hit as a result the next season, a hit of more than three million fans. This three hour mark is very different than the two hour mark that was recorded in 1894, or the 2:07 mark that was recorded in 1946 when they first decided to record average game time consistently.
If someone were to grab a time machine and bring Spalding to Citi Field in 2019, he’d be quite shocked. Not only do we not use Spalding balls in our sport anymore (he’d have to look to the NBA for that), but also we do not play the same game that he played. It is still baseball, but we see a longer game that is growing less and less reliant on starting pitching.