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Commentary: Sacrifice bunts, opposite-field hitting and defense: Baseball has never been sexier

Courtesy of MCT

During the Steroid Era, the mantra, “Chicks dig the long ball,” was well-known throughout the country. But for all the thrill and excitement Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire gave us during the summer of ’98 along with Barry Bonds’ march on history in 2001, those three have given the game only shame and countless court hearings.

That’s why in the early stages of the sequel to 2010’s Year of the Pitcher, baseball is being played the way it was meant to be played, as a collection of individuals harvesting wins.

Testing of performance-enhancing drugs and amphetamines is one of the major causes of the deterioration of power numbers. Teams no longer can wait on the three-run home run, and must instead manufacture runs, which is to move runners into scoring position by bunting, sacrificing or hitting the ball to the opposite field.

One of the greatest gifts of the new era of baseball is the renewed emphasis on defense.

Back in 2001, when Bonds broke the single-season home-run record, the Seattle Mariners posted the fewest errors in game, with 83, and the Colorado Rockies were fourth, with 96. Last year, the Yankees recorded 69 to lead Major League Baseball, and the World Series-winning San Francisco Giants were fourth, with 73.

A difference of 14 and 23 errors may not sound like a lot over the course of a 162-game season, but in reality it makes a tangible difference. Instead of the having players with bodacious biceps slowing down their outfield and corner infield positions, teams instead are deploying more athletic, well-rounded players at those spots.

The biggest harbinger of baseball’s pitching renaissance is the pitching itself. Virtually every team has at least a small arsenal of flamethrowers and special-pitch wizards. Translation: Teams, especially in their bullpens, can trot out players that can either light up the radar gun (as well as locate their gas-powered pitches) or hurl baseballs that dodge, duck, dip and dive their way to the plate.

Now, this isn’t to say the men who toed the rubber during the Steroid Era weren’t any good — remember, future Hall of Famers Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and many more tremendous pitchers chucked the cushioned cork back then.

As of Saturday, 2011 has the seventh-lowest home-run rate, second-highest strikeout rate and second-lowest walk rate dating back to 1986, according to BaseballReference.com.

So, whether it’s power pitching, better defense or less juicing, baseball is quite the eye candy these days.

Correction: May 18, 2011
 
An earlier version of this story stated: a difference of 14 and 23 runs may not sound like a lot over the course of a 162-game season.  In fact, a difference of 14 and 23 errors may not sound like a lot over the course of a 162-game season.

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