Unless the arbiters of baseball make some changes in how the game is played, we are in danger of seeing that sport becoming a relic of the past. As a child, I was in awe of the players, and the game sparked my enthusiasm much of which I have maintained in my adult life. But in the last few years, and especially this year, the pitchers appear to be winning the duel between them and the batters. Batting averages have plummeted well below .250, an average less than one hit in four at bats. The New York Yankees, also know as the Bronx Bombers, are bombing out more than they are hitting home runs. As a team, their current strike out or fan rate is 25.3 percent, slightly higher than the major league average of 24.1 percent.
Perhaps the greatest thrill of baseball is the sound of the bat making contact with the baseball. Even if the ball results in an out, the crack of the bat, putting the fielders in motion when they sometimes make great plays, is exciting. In my day as a childhood fan, every once in a while, you would see pitcher duels between two great hurlers. Because you were seeing a rivalry between the best pitchers in the game, as a fan you knew you were witnessing something special. These games offered their own brand of excitement even if the players on both sides struck out. Now, because the ratio of strike outs is so high, it doesn’t seem to matter who is pitching. Because of the high frequency of strike outs, I would maintain much of the thrill of the game is lost.
So, what can be done about this problem? When we were kids, we discovered what a spitball was, the adding of saliva or a moist substance to make the ball move in an unpredictable manner. The rumor mill has it that pitchers may very well be using some substance, such as tar or rosin, that causes the ball to spin more or move erratically making it more difficult to hit. Recently, in a Zoom conference with reporters, Gerrit Cole, Yankee ace pitcher, was asked if he used Spider Tack, a sticky paste that can greatly increase the spin on pitches. He sidestepped answering the question when he said: “I don’t know quite how to answer that, to be honest.” One would have expected him to simply reply “no” if he didn’t use it. His response, however, left the reporters doubtful of his innocence in this area.
The problem is not that the practice of pitchers doctoring the ball to increase its spin rate is forbidden, which it is in baseball. Rather the use of such substances has been widespread and accepted by the teams. However, if the use of Spider Track or other substances is causing the increase in strike outs, then Major League Baseball (M.L.B.) need attend to the matter ASAP. Umpires need to check all the equipment a pitcher brings to a game such as his glove, cap and uniform–resulting in a steep fine and/or suspension for a specified time–if that pitcher is in violation of the rules. If the enforcement of this policy results in fewer strike outs, then it is clear that we have found a solution to the issue at hand.
If the strict enforcement of the above rule does not significantly alter the strike out rate, then baseball need look elsewhere. Here I can offer one of two options or both: 1) Move the pitcher’s mound further from home plate (i.e., from where the batter stands) and/or 2) Make a narrower strike zone by decreasing the size of home plate. I’m sure either of these suggestions would be hotly debated, especially by current pitchers, but they, like the rest of us, need to understand that the greater balance between pitcher and batter makes a far superior entertainment than when the pitcher invariably wins the battle.
To conclude, pitchers are currently overwhelming batters making baseball less exciting than in the past. I think the best resolution for all involved would be to strictly limit any doctoring of baseballs by pitchers with the hope that the strike out rate decreases. Regardless, one of the most important elements in baseball is when fans hear the sound of a bat whacking a baseball resulting in either a great play by a fielder or a hit. I am sure baseball enthusiasts will be delighted when M.L.B. finds a way to make the hitter’s role more productive than it is presently.