Thursday, October 22, 2009

Play Small-ball

I was born in the Bronx and raised a New York Yankees fan. Some of my earliest photos have me donning a blue baseball cap and pinstripes. Many of the fondest memories I have of time with my Dad are watching the Yankees play ball. I was raised to love the Bronx Bombers much like children are raised to love their siblings which makes my mixed emotions over the past weeks are so hard to admit (and potentially earn me getting my thumbs broken by the Yankees Mob). Watching the Yankees face the Twins in post-season play was much like watching my sister get into a fight with my best friend; I’ll always love my “sister” and stand by “her” unconditionally, but I really like my “best friend” a whole lot.

After living outside of New York for over 16 years I understand that a great majority of Americans hate the Yankees. Whether it is over their payroll, tactics, personalities, or history there are many reasons for non-Yankee fans to hate the Yankees. I completely understand the contempt; jealously is an ugly but natural emotion. Regardless, I struggle with many of the same issues non-fans do as the team becomes more a group of hired mercenaries whose soul mission is to win the World Series each year no matter how much it costs or how that cost effects the fans ability to watch games. To the Yankees defense they are not the only team to put forth a high-bucks business model, they just happen to be poster child for the practice.

As the Yankees now face the Angles I am reminded of another reason I just don’t follow my hometown team, or for that matter baseball, like I used to. After watching one homerun after another I realized how boring homeruns are; there’s no strategy, no teamwork, just one person who spends a lot of time in the gym, maybe with a supplement or two, connecting with the ball. My disdain for the homerun driven game spits in the face of contemporary “scholars” who see homerun hitters as crucial to making the game exciting and filling the ballparks. Big brass in baseball turned a blind-eye on the rampant steroid use for simple business reasons; these bulked up super hitters were saving baseball and reviving interest after the strike in 1994 and 1995 soured fans. What this change in players and the game did was attract a new breed of baseball fan, those who hungered for the instant gratification of the homerun. Perhaps the change was necessary given changes to the US overall and the rise of the “me” generation; those who want it all and want it all now.

Personally, I enjoy small-ball. I like it when players work the count. I remember when the leadoff hitter did everything they could to just get on base so they could then steal second and third. A home run was a special treat not a part of your regular diet. As a special treat the home run was fun and exciting, like a trip to the ice cream parlor or cotton candy at the circus. Today home runs are as routine as breakfast cereal is to an 8 year old. Small-ball requires the whole team to work together to manufacturer runs, not just rely on a few superstars to knock it out of the ballpark. Small-ball is what makes baseball a team sport; today’s game is an individual strength competition. Very few players know how to lay down a good bunt anymore. Teams are producing as many stolen bases combined as some individuals used to. The base running blunders we’ve seen in this year’s post season have much to do with the lack of base running practice players get these days; it doesn’t require much skill to jog around the diamond after a home run.

I still love the Yankees, I just don’t like them as much as I used to. I would prefer it if they were a team of players and not just individual guys doing their own thing who happen to wear the same uniform. I still like baseball but don’t enjoy it nearly as much when it was a team sport that required strategic thinking and various skills from each player. Today’s baseball teams are like a band of nothing but tubas; lots of strength, but the sweet music offered by the other instruments is fading away.


Michael said...

As you have focused on baseball, this could probably be very true in all professional sports. There still needs to be team chemistry for football, but pro basketball has become an individual team sport. Just my 2 cents!

Explosive Bombchelle said...

Michael, I couldn't agree with you more! I gave up NBA basketball years ago. It's nothing more than a Vegas-like performance staring a few overgrown guys with pituitary problems and their cheerleaders.

Bethany Zecher Sutton said...

I have often had people tell me how much they enjoy the "minor league" sports in their home town - my sister who lived Iowa City (baseball), our friends who live in Charleston, SC (soccer), friends in Richmond (hockey). Seems to me that maybe that's where the true heart of many sports can now be found. Ben & I went to a NHL game the other night and there were, I kid you not, cheerleaders. At a hockey game?!?!?!?