Baseball is a constantly evolving sport, even if the changes are often seen as small and incremental. The days of the legal spitball and shine ball are gone. Designated hitters aren’t an experiment anymore, and the strategy used to win games has changed as well. Until Babe Ruth came along, games were ruled and won by teams that had speedy contact hitters and three solid starting pitchers that took the ball every third day and pitched until one inning past when they should have collapsed.
According to Bleacher Report, at least two Hall of Fame pitchers that now count as old-timers look back to an earlier era and lament the way the game is played now. Rich “Goose” Gossage helped redefine the way that closers were looked at for a generation, and Don Sutton piled up wins and innings that in this era of baseball seem unfathomable. In his entire career of 23 years, the only time Sutton didn’t throw more than 200 innings in a season was in the strike-shortened 1981 season, and his last two, one of which he still tossed 191 in. Sutton thinks the game is all about the “sexy stats” now.
“As soon as somebody decides it’s not a good idea, then people will draft differently. They’ll train differently. But right now it’s about the home run and the strikeout and give me five good innings [from a starting pitcher]. Tom Seaver and Steve Carlton are not loving this. Neither is [Sandy] Koufax or [Don] Drysdale.”
Gossage feels much the same way. While he is hailed as one of the pitchers that revolutionized the closer role, even to him, the game has become too much about home runs and specialists. Although Gossage is called a closer, the way he closed versus today’s version of the role is very different. A modern closer such as Aroldis Chapman might throw 50-60 innings in a year to save 30 games. Gossage may have thrown 100-130 to save a similar number as can be seen at Baseball Reference. That is how the roles have evolved, and Gossage thinks it makes the game boring.
“We could sit here and talk all day about the way the game has been changed, and not in a good way. I try to watch a baseball game, and I find it very difficult to be able to watch today. It just breaks my heart to see the changes that have been made. Huge changes.”
Hall of Fame manager, Bobby Cox, who had one of the greatest starting pitching staffs of the 90s with the Braves, chimed in at Bleacher Report saying the game has become predictable. On more than one occasion, Cox has been on record saying you can almost predict the outcome of a game before the first pitch is even thrown anymore.
“Every box score you read, it’s 5.1 innings pitched for the starter. I’ll bet some guys in our box in Atlanta. A buck. Before the game, we’ll say, ‘What’s the over [for how long the starting pitcher will last]? It’s 5.1. I’ll bet the under because you know the starter is not going to make it. Even in the American League [in which, because of the designated hitter, managers don’t pinch-hit for pitchers].”
Change is inevitable. The MLB discovered a long time ago that people are more likely to show up to see a game where guys are going to rake a few homers. If someone is showing up to see a pitcher, it is probably because he has a shot to strikeout a load of hitters. The days of the average fan getting excited over a low-scoring pitcher’s duel are in the rearview mirror. Until what fans want from the game changes, the game will stay the way it is, and no amount of talk about the good ‘ol days is going to change that. Sorry, Goose.