Monday

November 24th, 2014

Insight

Random Banging

Greg Crosby

By Greg Crosby

Published August 22, 2014

As we slowly slither out of the dog days of summer and towards autumn, a few random baseball thoughts have been banging around in my head. It's starting to give me a headache actually, so as a way of relieving the banging I will pitch these thoughts out to you now. The sooner the better. Ready? Here, catch!

I've been watching the Dodgers play quite a lot this year and it got me to wonder why there are only nine men on the baseball field instead of ten. It doesn't make sense. First of all ten is a nice round even number, but more importantly, ten men on the field makes for a better balanced defense. I'll explain.

When they first invented the game someone sat down and figured out the number of players needed on the field. To begin with, they had to have a pitcher on the mound. Okay got it. Now, if you have a pitcher then you need a catcher, right? Got it. Then you have three bases, first, second and third, so you need a guy on each base. So far that makes five. Then you must have outfielders, which would be a man in right field, a man in center, and a man in left field. That gives us eight players so far.

Now here's the part that stumps me. We have a man playing shortstop between second and third base which gives us our ninth player. Why isn't there a shortstop between first and second base as well? Like I said, back one hundred and seventy-five years ago when Abner Doubleday first came up with the rules, why didn't he put in a right field shortstop to match the left field shortstop? It's things like this that bang around in my head and keep me awake at night.

Baseball is pretty much baseball as it always has been, but there are some subtle changes that I've noticed. For instance, pitchers and batters move around more than they used to do. Unless my memory is fooling me, I seem to remember that batters used to pretty much just stand at the plate between pitches. They might tap their spikes with the bat or adjust their stance, but that was about it. Now they leave the batter's box and take a walk between each pitch.

Pitchers do more walking today too. Between each batter, the pitcher walks off and circles the mound. I don't recall that happening as much years ago. And the equipment has changed. Some outfielder gloves are as big as baskets and many catchers' masks have morphed into entire helmets. I don't know if the composition of bats has changed, but they seem to break a lot more than they used to.

The protective apparatus for hands, arms, and legs give batters a look of knights going into battle. The old-timers never had those protections, but then today's ballplayer seems to get injured more today than the old guys did. I think players today push themselves much more, outfielders hitting the back wall, going over the rails, and diving to the ground hard on their chests to make amazing catches. Pitchers so much of the time are going for power and speed, throwing at full-force, twisting their arms in unnatural positions. It's no wonder so many of them have to have the Tommy Johns surgery.

In past columns I've written on the sloppy way ballplayers look and behave. While there are still some that have the clean-cut appearance, too many of them tend towards the hobo, mountain man, or lumberjack look. Haircuts range from shaved heads to mullets, to shaggy hippy-dos.

And then we have the spitting thing. Once upon a time ballplayers spit because they chewed tobacco and when you chew tobacco you have to spit (although even then you didn't see much of that on TV). But today most players, if they chew at all, chew gum. Of course there's no reason to spit with bubble gum but that doesn't stop them. Those who don't chew gum stuff their mouths with sunflower seeds which are spit all over the place. I don't get it, but then again I'm not a twenty-seven year old ball player.

Well, the banging in my head as subsided, but I still think we need two shortstops on the field. And there are some days the Dodgers could use even more than that.

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California.

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