It came to my attention rather quickly last week that my blog post about non-fans and their criticism of baseball players’ spitting habits had created some bad feelings.
That post has since been removed because it was never my intention to offend or anger anyone. Still, I feel an explanation is in order.
I love baseball and have been watching it for more than five decades. Every year, because of the increased media coverage during the October playoffs, non-fans are exposed to the game, and invariably they comment about some of the sport’s most negative aspects, including the slow-pace and spitting by players.
This year I got defensive about it. My post was intended to be funny and snarky, but came across to some people as being mean. I was in the word business for many years and consider any misunderstandings to be a failure on my part. Professional writers — even retired ones — have no easy excuses when their words aren’t clear. It was an error, plain and simple.
My post was not intended to be about any one person’s comments. Those comments certainly triggered the basic idea for my post, but only because I have heard similar comments about baseball more times than I care to remember. To baseball fans, it gets old feeling that we have to always defend the thing we care so much about.
Every sport has blemishes, and that definitely includes baseball. Longtime fans know this as well as anyone, and all we ask is that you not let the warts color your entire perception of the game.
Baseball fans love it when new fans come to the game. In fact, the long-term health of the sport is dependent on new fans. Also, most baseball fans don’t mind explaining nuances of the game that are not easily understood.
My last post was unsympathetic to the concerns of casual baseball fans. It was an error in judgment, and I apologize for it.
I’m going through something similar this year in my own attempt to better understand hockey. When watching hockey, most of the time I have no clue about what just happened.
Recently, I read someone else’s blog about how to watch a hockey game. It gave me the thought to replace my deleted post with this one. I certainly don’t know everything about baseball, but I do know a little bit, and I hope this may help some others understand it better. At any rate, it’s my attempt to replace something hurtful with something helpful.
Frequently Asked Questions I’ve heard over the years
Q) Why does the pitcher take so long between pitches?
A) There has to be coordination between the pitcher and the catcher. That’s why you see the catcher flashing signals to the pitcher, so they’ll both be on the same page about what type of pitch is coming. If a catcher is expecting a curveball and gets a fastball instead, bad things can happen.
Q) Why does the batter keep stepping out of the batter’s box? He’s taking forever!
A) Think about that childhood game where you held your hands out while your opponent tried to slap the tops of your hands before you could jerk them away. You were all tensed up as you waited for that instant when you saw your opponent’s hands move, but you couldn’t hold that tension for very long, so sometimes you’d jerk your hands away before you needed to. It’s the same thing with a batter who’s coiled and waiting for the pitcher to throw a ball at over 90 mph. He can’t hold his tension and readiness, so if the pitcher and catcher are taking too long, the batter may ask for timeout, creating a further delay until everyone is in sync.
Q) I don’t understand about the different types of pitches. Fastball, curveball, slider, change-up, four-seamer, two-seamer, cutter, knuckleball, sinker, screwball … I don’t understand why all that’s necessary, and I can’t see any difference anyway.
A) Thanks to slow motion and high-definition cameras, it’s actually easier to see the differences than it used to be, but even the most savvy baseball fan is sometimes fooled. The most important thing to understand is that hitting is about timing, and pitching is about upsetting that timing. If a pitch is always thrown at the same speed and in the same location, most professional hitters will hit it over the fence with great regularity. Pitchers strive to upset the timing of the batter by throwing different types of pitches at varying speeds. If pitch types are confusing you, think of them as just two: fastballs and a variety of “off-speed pitches.” Most telecasts now use a speed gun that gives a reading for every pitch, right there on your TV screen. Don’t use that information to simply be amazed that the pitcher is throwing the ball 97 mph, but rather to note the difference in speeds from pitch to pitch. If a batter is expecting a 95 mph fastball, but instead gets an 85 mph change-up or a knee-buckling curve, that 10 mph difference is a really big deal. Watch the speed gun readings and listen to the announcer for awhile, and with more experience, you probably won’t even need to watch the speed readings. Soon, you’ll be identifying fastballs, changeups, curveballs and sliders like a champ!
Q) The pitcher delivered two quick strikes, but now he’s throwing a bunch of bad pitches, and that just drags things out.
A) That’s often true, and not because the pitcher suddenly lost his ability to throw a strike. With two strikes, the batter is in a defensive posture, and the pitcher doesn’t want to throw any more hittable pitches unless he absolutely has to. The pitcher would much prefer to get the hitter to swing at a bad pitch. That’s why you’ll often see pitchers throw well off the plate when ahead in the count, trying to induce a weak swing on a bad pitch.
Q) The manager just put in a new pitcher and he pitched to just one batter. Now the manager is changing pitchers again! That’s really slowing things down and seems unnecessary. Why?
A) Modern baseball has become a war of attrition in the late innings, with managers trying to create the best match-ups before they run out of available players. Most teams have five starting pitchers and 6-7 relief pitchers. Think of the relief pitchers as specialists. Perhaps they don’t have the varied repertoire necessary to face an opposing lineup 3-4 times through the batting order like starters do, but they may be devastatingly effective at just one thing. A particular relief pitcher might be very adept at defeating left-handed batters, for instance. Another relief pitcher’s special skill might be inducing ground balls, which may be crucial if a double play is needed to escape a scoring opportunity. The late innings are like a chess match, with one manager pitting his pitchers’ strengths and skills against the strengths and skills of his opponent’s remaining players. The players are like chess pieces, and once removed from the board through substitution, they cannot return to the game. As a fan, this is your opportunity to look at the lineup and predict what will happen 2-3 moves ahead.
Q) Why did the pitcher intentionally walk that last hitter, causing further delay?
A) Do you understand about force plays? If there’s already a runner on second base and first base is unoccupied, pitchers sometimes elect to intentionally walk a batter in order to set up a force play. That way, if the next batter hits a ground ball to an infielder, it may be easier to get a double play and thwart a scoring opportunity.
Q) What’s the big deal about different stadiums? They’re all the same!
A) No they’re not! Unlike a football field that is always 100 yards long, or basketball courts that have the same dimensions, baseball stadiums are different. Yes, they all measure 90 feet between the bases and 60 feet, 6 inches from the pitcher’s rubber to home plate, but the outfields and amount of foul territory are interestingly different. Teams often tailor their players’ strengths to the stadium where they’ll play half their games.
Like anything else, the closer attention you pay to baseball, the more you’ll discover to like, and there’s always more to learn. After watching for most of my life, there’s still plenty I don’t know, but just a little knowledge will go a long way toward increasing your enjoyment of the game.