Wednesday, May 06, 2009

The Good Old Days

I have long complained that baseball players, and particularly pitchers, seem to be pampered to a degree today that I think diminishes the game and the achievements of the players. In particular, starting pitchers are coddled, pitch less often and for shorter stints than they did a generation ago.

The 20-game winner is nearly extinct. Pitchers rarely finish games, settling for so-called "quality starts" of 6 innings or so. They shoot for 200 innings in a season, where 300 used to be relatively common. I'm not suggesting that they don't work hard or anything (though some, such as Will Carroll of Baseball Prospectus, contend that pitchers pitch too infrequently in games, and too often between times).

It is comforting, of course, to know that this is not a new issue. For example, this quote from a retired pitcher:
The game of baseball hasn't changed much in the past fifty years, but the players have a different philosophy toward the game. They want to make a lot of money and retire. ... We played for the love of the game; there were few holdouts. We wanted to pitch every day; to win more games than the other guy--not for the money, but for the glory of winning.
It's great stuff, and it comes from Hall of Famer Kid Nichols in Baseball Digest, January 1948 (hat tip to Paul Campos at LGM). Here are some more gems:
...modern-day clubs carry too many pitchers, which prevents the hurlers from working enough to bring out the best that is in them. The old-time clubs carried three pitchers; today, they have 10. ...

Sometimes we pitched every other day. Twice I pitched three days in succession and went the distance in each game. ...

We worked hard, but I wouldn't say we were overworked. During my twelve years with Boston, I took part in 517 games, averaging twenty-seven and three-tenths wins per season. ... If I was overworked, it didn't affect my arm. I spent seventeen years in organized ball, far above the average of present-day hurlers.
It's short, but a good read. Anyway, I guess the more things change, the farther we get from the "good old days," whatever we believe them to have been. And yet, baseball is still pretty wonderful!

I'll just be wandering off in my walker now.


Laura E. Goodin said...

I blush to say that in 47 years on this planet, I have never been to a professional baseball game. (Nor a professional football game, despite my clan's obsessive love of the Steelers.) So, as far as I know, these *are* the good old days!

David Schuetz said...

I wonder what would happen if someone were able to assemble a team full of people with the "old" philosophy -- a simple drive to win. I don't know much about baseball or players, but I think of people like Cal Ripken and they, to me, exemplify a true baseball player, not folks who're constantly swapping clubs or holding out in contract disputes.

Imagine a team full of Ripkens. That'd be a sight to behold, but would they win more games than the next team? Or would they just have more fun?