88th Annual All-Star Game Reminds us of Baseball's Murky Future
The 88th Annual All-Star Game took place this past Tuesday, showcasing some of the league’s biggest and brightest stars, as well as their inability to provide a meaningful experience. How telling, in a season set to break the all-time home run record, that two thirds of the runs scored in the game would be off of solo blasts. That’s not to say that watching a grown man pound a ball over the wall isn’t enjoyable; it is the pinnacle of hitting and deserves our oohs and aahs. However, with home run rates on the rise as well as strikeouts and walks, the game has become rather...dull. This year’s All-Star Game was a perfect example, as 39 percent of batters either hit a home run, walked, or, most often, struck out.
The All-Star Game, of course, serves as a midway point for the season, affording baseball fans a recap of what teams are running away with their division (see Dodgers, Astros, Nationals...Brewers?) and what players have put the rest of the league on watch (see Judge, Bellinger, Scherzer, Sale). The game can also, at times, grant us insight into the state of the baseball. There was, back in 2002, the infamous tie, which led the league to proclaim the renewed importance of the game, so as to avoid a similar result (which almost happened again in 2008). This years game brought to focus the growing problem of baseball: with strikeouts, walks, and home runs occurring at alarming rates, balls in play have become an endangered species.
As a baseball player myself, I can relate with those in the Majors who feel miffed by the current trend. Standing still in the field, waiting for the batter to even put the ball in play so you can break the monotonous tone of inactivity is not the most entertaining thing. The trend also places unequal pressure on hitters. Though strikeouts are no longer seen as gnarly beasts, contact hitters have lost a lot of value. In today’s game, coaches aren’t looking for a guy who can find holes and produce constant line drives. They want somebody who can bypass the defense completely, whether that be by hitting the ball over their heads or not hitting the ball at all.
Though the current direction of the game seems to be a little uneasy for some hitters, it has opened up a whole new world for pitchers. One could argue that the change in play came a little earlier for these hurlers, as a few years ago we began to see the uptick in importance of velocity. Nowadays, that movement has come full swing, painting a much different landscape than the one most baseball fans may be accustomed to. By combining harder-throwing pitchers with batters whose swings more closely resemble swiss cheese, baseball has seen itself morph into a game where action can spring at anytime, but normally doesn’t.
Now, despite all this baseball is still very enjoyable. A recent poll by ESPN showed that 76 percent of fans watch the game just as much or more than they did in previous years, and that 70 percent of fans do not think the game is boring. When asked whether baseball was gaining, maintaining, or losing popularity, 66 percent of fans said the game was headed in the right direction, as its popularity remained the same or even rose.