We talk about stats a lot here at Getting Blanked. I recognize this might rub some people the wrong way, but stats are the language of the modern game; both on the internet and beyond. They inform the way we value players and give us valuable context for bar room debates and blog posts alike. Important as they, nobody would argue stats tell the entire story.
During our football/baseball debate last week, Goal Line Stand’s Brad Gagnon noted that the baseball record book is “a joke” as steroids fueled a never before seen offensive influx. I, respectfully, disagree. There are so many more factors at play that to simplify it down to “drugs” is lazy and inaccurate. Many, many changes revolutionized the way the game is played over time.
Consider the image above, courtesy of the Sports Illustrated archives via the irrepressible Might Flynn tumblr. The man in this photo is Al Rosen, trailblazing Jewish ballplayer and slugger of note during the 1950s. Rosen won the American League Most Valuable Player for the 1953 season after slugging 43 home runs and posted an impressive 1.034 OPS. Small guy, hit for power, good stuff.
Look at the photo again. Think about the positioning of his hands and feet. Compare it to the slow motion breakdown of Chase Utley’s swing below. Watch the video, look at the photo, compare in your mind. Seriously, go ahead. I’ll wait.
The number one thing the old-timey photo at the top of this post conveys to me is motion. Rosen shifts his weight in an exaggerated manner, striding into to the ball as he loads his hands. Very, very few modern players — if any — move at all in the batter’s box (Being an arsenic-based lifeform precludes Ichiro from this conversation). Most players now use tiny step, more of a toe touch, as timing mechanisms. Just like Utley above or the pinnacle of manliness Albert Pujols. Power is derived from rotation – rotating/opening the hips with the shoulders pulling the hands through at high speed.
Add a more balanced, powerful, repeatable swing to smaller ballparks, more tightly wound balls, and the de-stigmatization of strikeouts and the inevitable product is more offense. It is all about efficiency – hitting home runs is a lot better way to score than lunging around with two strikes, desperately trying not to strike out.
It isn’t that modern baseball is better or the older eras of baseball are worse, it is just the way the game evolved. Home runs are the natural bi-product of the ways the game changed, for better or worse. Hopefully we can take this, among other changes, into mind before we indict an entire generation of baseball for vague moral grandstanding. Remember, the chance that Al Rosen is high on greenies (a.k.a AMPHETAMINES a.k.a. illegal drugs!) in the above photo is just about equal to the chance Chase Utley is on steroids. Both help their performance, neither is the whole story.