What is it about baseball that attracts so many loyal fans to watch a three-hour slow moving game? Slow, yes, compared to most other team sports such as basketball, football, soccer, and rugby. The seven players standing and waiting for the pitcher to receive the signal from the catcher squatting behind the batter. He fingers the ball, winds up and throws the hard small white ball at 95mph. The batter swings and misses. Ball one the referee calls, and the catcher throws the ball back to the mound. The four infield and three outfield players shuffle their legs and arms, rubbing the mitts getting in position for another pitch and swing for the ball to be hit in their direction. Possibly.
The game in various forms has been played since the 18th century or even before, but it wasn’t until September 23, 1845 when its first official rulebook known as the Knickerbocker Rules were formulated by Alexander J. Cartwright. Many updates and modifications have been agreed upon since then.
The baseball is 2.8-2.9 inches in diameter and weighs 5 to 5.25 ounces. The bat cannot be thicker than 2.75 inches with a maximum length of 42 inches.
Imagine the instincts and skill the batter must have looking at that ball approaching the strike zone in less than a second. Does he swing or not? Will the ball be down around the knees or up above his belt? Will it be inside or on the outside corner of the 17-inch wide plate? A fastball or curve, a slider or change-up at 78 mph? The batter wants to swing the bat fast enough to hit that ball square-on with the full force of the swing to cause the ball to roll or fly between the infielders or outfielders or, out of the park. And the picture wants to strike him out or cause him to hit into a double-play. Three missed swings, and he’s outta there. Four balls outside the strike zone without a swing, and he gets a free walk to first. Pop-ups, sending the ball high into the air, is caused by the bat striking the bottom quarter of the ball, when the batter wanted to hit it square on. On ground balls, the bat meets the ball a bit above center. A good hard line drive is when the batter has swung the bat at the right speed interpreting the speed by the perceived vision of the pitcher’s performance. If he swings too soon and he pulls it foul. Too late and the ball goes into the other stands. Just a tag later or sooner and the ball will be in fair territory.
Summary: A star player hitting the ball safely one-third of the time entices the fans to purchase jerseys with his name on it.
Three hours of this, when you may have gone to get a beer, and a hot-dog, that one swing of the bat determined the game. You missed it, but oh, there it is on the replay screen. Twenty to forty thousand watching in the stadium and thousands, perhaps millions watching it on TV. Yes, a one to nothing game can be boring if all the concentration is on the hitting and running the bases.
Fielding is another practiced skill aspect trying to accurately throw a ball from deep left field to the catcher to get the guy out at home plate as he slides into or around the catcher who’s concentrating on catching the ball on the bounce and turning to tag the runner before his hand tags the plate. “Safe,” the umpire signals. “No hold on a minute,” the manager signals. “I want a review.” The umpires signal to the people upstairs to replay and study the videos, while the players and the fans anxiously wait for the verdict. “Nope, he’s out.”
A long, long time ago, I hid on the back seat floor of the Plymouth, when dad and my older brother got ready to drive all the way north to Wrigley Field to watch the Cubs get beat. Somewhere on the drive, I was discovered, and he had to stop to use the pay phone to inform mon where I was. Hmm? I don’t remember a thing about that game.
Wrigley Field is revered in Chicago as a landmark. It’s one of the oldest original stadiums, opening under the name Weeghman Park in 1914 at Clark and Addison at the Lakeview area of the near northside. The Cubs played their first game at Weeghman Park on April 20, 1916, besting the Cincinnati Reds 7–6 in eleven innings. In the early 20’s the yearly attendance recorded 542,283 fans watching the Cubs play. It was not until 1988 when the Wrigley Family added lights to the ballpark. In 2017, the paid fans at the Cubs home games was recorded at 3,199,562.
Baseball is played in nine innings of three-outs for each side. Runs, whatever the offense can muster. According to data, the most runs scored in any single ballgame was 49 in August 1922 when the Cubbies beat the Phillies 26-23. In 2007 The Texas Rangers scored 30 runs in the first game of a double-header against Baltimore Orioles. Baseball can also be a game with lots of excitement viewing them safely hit the ball and run around the bases.
Currently, the teams play a 162 game season starting around the first of April, with the last game the end of September. Then the post-season begins. The final seven-game (if necessary) World Series is between the winner of the National League East, Central and West divisions against the best of the American League 15 teams occurs toward the end of October.
Okay, enough about the game itself. Imagine yourself a 30-some-year old player, married with children spending eighty some nights away from the home field sleeping in motels, flying to the next city after the game for three nights in another motel. Then getting up early to go practice before the afternoon game, or an evening game that may end after ten pm, then flying to another city for another three-hour game starting at 1:30, thirteen hours later. Hardly enough time to get a good nights sleep. This past June, the Cubs played 17 games without a day off.
Currently, there are organized leagues teaching, coaching and playing baseball/softball for kids as young as Five. If the interest is still there, the kids work their way through the various age group leagues and into high school ball and possibly college. If a player proves his skill there, he may be drafted into the majors to advance to the A level, the AA level, the AAA minor league level and finally to the majors if an injury does not force him out. Players are recruited from as far away as Japan, South Korea, South America and our neighbor Canada. A bunch from the Dominican Republic, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Cuba and Venezuela and just a few from Europe and elsewhere. China and Russia, none so far.
Injuries in baseball are quite common. A strained muscle or an ankle, knee, arm, hand or shoulder sprain can sideline a ballplayer onto the Disabled List for some time. There have been broken bones. There have been concussions. Some pitchers have been injured by a ball coming back at them at 140 mph. Some catchers have been injured by a ball slightly hit causing the catcher to miss it, and the ball knocks off his helmet or bounces up into his thigh and crotch. “ouch.” Umpires have been hit by the ball. Fans have been injured trying to catch one of those foul balls.
Each team must have a support staff of base coaches, pitching, fielding and batting coaches, medical personnel, and all those who clean the uniforms to have them ready for the players entering the locker room. There must be drivers of the busses to take the players back and forth to the airports, as well as people to pack the uniforms, the bats, balls, gloves, helmets, shoes, hand gloves and protective equipment they use when facing the ball coming at 95mph. There must be cleaners for the locker-rooms and dugout areas, not to mention the number of people it must take to pick up the trash left by spectators under the seats. A ground crew is needed to cut and mow the grass decoratively. A crew must be available to rake the infield dirt and roll out the carp when the rains come. The grass must be fertilized and watered to maintain the field in excellent shape without ridges and bumps. 162 times a year they play, plus practice sessions and games in spring training in the warmer climates, which stars in mid-February lasting to the beginning of the regular season.
Hmm, the players are at the daily command of the manager and owner for seven and a half months of each year. What do they tell the players to do during that time away from the ball-park?
“Yeah, good, four and a half months off to do what I and the family want. Ah, that three-week cruise you planned was wonderful, but I’ve got to get back into shape or I won’t be able to swing that bat, or chase after the ball as well as I have been, or I might be traded to NY or LA so far away from home. “Sorry honey, I’ve got to go to the gym today, and the media has requested an interview, and the charity ball is right around the corner. Thanksgiving, then Christmas and New Years. “Oh man, I ate too much, enjoyed the desserts like never before.” Five weeks away and a new season starts. “Let’s take a trip to Rome before the team’s golf outing in Florida in three weeks.”
The next possible technical change being investigated is eliminating the behind the plate umpire calling the balls and strikes, as there have been many controversies as to the correct call. “Oh, no, that was off the plate,” the player huffs and puffs in anger, “You are capable of making mistakes Mr. Umpire.”
The future may be in the digital world of calling strikes and balls.
Is Baseball still America’s pastime?