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Sports Medley: All-Star Game  20 Jul 15

by Tony Medley

Home Run Derby: The best I can say about this is, “Ugh!” I have never watched this monstrosity all the way through until Monday night. I recorded it and it was as boring as it had seemed in the past, exacerbated by truly deplorable camera work by ESPN. You would think that since all they had to do was follow the ball they would choose angles that emphasized the flight of the ball as it soared into the stratosphere. But, no, they shot it all from the high camera behind the plate, more often than not losing sight of the flight of the ball. Zzzzzzzz.

 The Home Run Derby is basically watching batting practice for three hours with juiced-up baseballs. These balls are almost pulsating as they lie on the ground waiting to be hit. Yet in Cincinnati fans filled the stadium, although that was probably due to home town favorite Todd Frazier being in the competition. I fast-forwarded through the first two hours and then my recording stopped. But the thing was so long that it was still going on so I saw Frazier in his last at bat winning whatever it was he won. Why anyone would sit through three hours of this monotony is beyond me. The only interesting thing was to see that strikeout king Joc Pederson can occasionally hit the ball if it’s offered up virtually underhanded, like when you played “over the line” as a child.

 The Game: If this wasn’t the worst All-Star game ever, it was close. How bad was it? The MVP of the game was Angels’ star Mike Trout, who got one hit in four at bats, a leadoff home run off of Dodgers’ Zack Greinke, the first run Zack had allowed in 35 2/3 innings, then struck out, grounded into a force play (eventually scoring the go-ahead run), and walked. For this less than stellar performance to be rewarded with the MVP epitomizes how dismal were the game and the performances.

 Performances: The game did emphasize how bad today’s hitters are compared with those decades ago. These guys all swing for the fences and really don’t hit the ball often enough to be called “major league hitters.” The American League won the game even though they struck out 15 times. A team that struck out 15 times only won the game 14 times between 1901 and 1950! This year it has already happened 14 times and the year is only half over.

 Why are today’s hitters so bad? Despite what Major League Baseball would have you believe, it has little to do with pitching. Before 1920 the ball was much deader than today and a batter’s first priority was to actually hit the ball, so they had to know what they were doing. They had to ensure that the bat was as level as possible when the bat hit the ball and they had to make sure that they actually hit the ball. Even after the ball was livened in 1920, a batter’s first priority was still to make contact. It’s only been in the more recent decades that all that went out the window and everyone’s first priority is to swing as hard as they can to hit a home run, which results in more and more strikeouts.

 Ty Cobb only struck out 681 times in his 24 year career, a yearly average of 28. Other percentages from the past are:

 Name                Strikeouts Years         Annual Average

Tris Speaker       394           22             18

Joe DiMaggio      369           13             28

Stan Musial         696           22             32

Ted Williams       709           19             37

 Joc Pederson already has struck out 107 times and the season is only half over, and Pederson is considered an All-Star. So if Joc continues to play and strike out at the same rate, he will strike out 214 times, achieving in one year 57% of the strikeouts Joe DiMaggio had in his entire career.

 But Pederson isn’t alone. The player everyone says is the best in the game, Mike Trout, struck out 184 times last year and has struck out 85 times already this year, which projects to 170 for the year. It’s my opinion that today’s pitchers are no better than those who came before. Today’s hitters, going for the home run or no count, no longer know how to swing to make contact with the ball consistently.

 As far as Dodgers’ participants are concerned, the nation’s fans got to see Dodgers’ players perform as they have all year long. Pederson batted twice and struck out twice. If you replay his swings in slow motion it is amazing how badly he missed, how far his bat actually was from the ball. Clayton Kershaw failed again in a big game. Adrian Gonzalez swung at two pitches in the dirt striking out. Not only does he swing at pitches in the dirt in virtually every game, the Dodgers as a team seem to swing at more pitches in the dirt than all other teams in baseball combined. Except for Trout’s leadoff home run, Zack Greinke was indomitable, striking out four in two innings.