It’s 2017, do you still trust a home run swing?

by Gary Shelton on July 13, 2017 · 0 comments

in general

Morrison is one the leaders  of the home run assault./CARMEN MANDATO

Morrison is one the leaders of the home run assault./CARMEN MANDATO

Thursday, 2 a.m.

After all this time, chicks still dig the long ball. The rest of us, too.

So what's the problem?

More and more, baseballs are heading into the bleachers. More and more, routine flies end up 10 rows deep. More and more, jockey-sized second basemen are trotting around the basepaths. Major league baseball hitters are on pace to hit 6,186 homers this year, which would be an all-time record by almost 500 homers. Five hundred.

And what's wrong with that?

Well, maybe plenty.

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Look, we've been through this before. In the late 90s, home runs came straight out of the medicine cabinet. They were as phony as counterfeit money. There was nothing to trust in those days. Baseball players were con men, swindling their way into the record books. Give him enough juice, and Pee Wee Herman would have been the new Sultan of Swat.

We all like home runs, especially game-winning, extra-inning home runs. It is baseball's kill shot, that defining blow that separates winners from losers. And, yeah, most of the time, it should be saved for the big kids. And that's the problem here. We simply don't trust the home run anymore. It's become too common, too ordinary. There are too many possible factors.

Is the ball juiced? A lot of players suggest so. Theringer.com suggests that fly balls are traveling an extra 7.1 feet this year, which is enough to turn warning track power into the real thing. Remember those Super Balls from when you were a kid; today's baseballs seem to be the same.

Are the bats loaded? Commissioner Rob Manfred brought up this possibility at the all-star game, and I don't suppose it much matters if it's this piece of equipment or that one. But a lot of manufacturers make bats. It seems like a stretch if all of them suddenly had Flubber inside.

Are the players loaded? Hey, after the Mark McGwire-Sammy Sosa wars (and Alex Rodriguez and Barry Bonds and others), you can't discount it. If nothing else, the Steroid Era taught us that all home runs are not from sources good and pure. Some balls traveled over the fence on diesel fuel. The last thing we need is a return to the high-test days,when baseball acted as if it was putting one over on the fans. This time, the key suspects seem to focus on equipment which, of course, isn't the fault of the players.

The thing is, balls keep flying out of the yard at an alarming rate, and sometimes, Jake Odorizzi isn't even pitching. (To repeat: Odorizzi allowed more homers in consecutive games than even Wilson Alvarez. I would have thought that  to be impossible). An infielder named Scooter Gennett hit four home runs in a game; infielders named Scooter don't hit four home runs.

Consider this: In 1927, the year of Murderer's Row, there were six players is in the big leagues who hit more than 20 home runs. In 1961, the year Roger Maris broke Babe Ruth's record with Mickey Mantle right behind, there were 41. In 2000, the biggest homer year of the Steroid Era, there were 102.

Last year, there were 110. This year, there are 125 players who are on pace to hit 20 or more. What's the game here? Slow pitch?

What else could it be? Well, USAToday suggests that one of the problems might be a different approach to hitting. It points out several players who admit they are trying to hit fly balls (instead of the time-honored line drive). That's why strikeouts are so high, too. The website points out that from 1990-99, there were only nine players who weighed 250 pounds or more; this year, there are 50.

Bad pitching could be a problem, too. There are a dozen pitchers who have already given up more than 20 homers. Even 14-game winner Clayton Kershaw has given up 18 home runs.

Again, most of us want to like the home run. Locally, the Rays have set a record for the most home runs at the all-star break … by 14. When a ball disappears into the night, we want to be able to cheer it. We want to trust that it's a good swing by a good hitter, and not a fluke of equipment.

Home runs should be authentic. They should be believable. They should be trustworthy. They should be difficult.

Otherwise, why would they give you four bases?

 

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