THE CHEAP SEATS with STEVE CAMERON: BP doesn't carry over to the game these days
As they say in a courtroom…
Let’s establish my credentials as an expert witness.
I’ve seen well over 2,000 major league baseball games — yes, in person.
This part doesn’t really matter in our discussion today, but I’ve also seen seven no-hitters, including a perfect game (Catfish Hunter, 1968).
In fact, I was the official scorer for the first of Nolan Ryan’s seven no-hitters (Kansas City, 1973).
It’s fun to hear tales about moments like that, but I’m aiming to make a completely different point today.
It involves the Mariners and their embarrassing .199 team batting average — something that should never, ever happen.
Hell, if you’re running a major league club, it shouldn’t be ALLOWED to happen.
I don’t care how young or naïve your hitters are, anyone who has reached the bigs can hit somewhere near .250, at the very least.
Remember that I started this sermon by mentioning that I’d seen more than a couple thousand games.
FANS DID attend those same games, and once the first pitch was thrown, they saw exactly what I saw — no difference at all.
What changed our experiences, however, was what I was allowed to see and hear before the game.
And after the game.
The post-game opportunities speak for themselves — it’s a whole new view of things when you can sit down and go over proceedings with various players and the manager.
But a media member who knows the sport also can learn plenty before the game.
The dugout and clubhouse are open to writers and broadcasters until a half-hour before the first pitch.
It’s amazing what you can see and hear — even if you can’t print some of it.
The second thing, though, is the most important for the point I’m making today.
The media has access to the playing field during batting practice, and if you pay attention, you can see what each hitter (the ones that aren’t brain dead) is working on during BP that day.
THERE IS a long-standing routine for each batter who steps into the cage.
Oh, and before you think I’m just some old fossil who hasn’t been near a batting cage since the “dead ball era,” we’re talking now about just a single decade ago (2011). Right, so here’s how it went…
Each hitter started his first turn with two bunts.
Yes, believe it or not, they bunted in batting practice — although you could see the beginning of a trend where their hearts weren’t in it.
Next, before the guys could begin whaling away and hammering these nothing fastballs toward the fences, they had to hit the ball in various directions.
They started with a hit-and-run situation, in which they had to make contact and put the ball in play to the right side, where a second baseman theoretically would be missing as he moved to cover on the steal.
Next, something up the middle.
And then to the left side.
Pitches in batting practice are not blazing heaters, or the nasty sliders these hitters would see in a game.
THE POINT, though, is that all major league hitters know how to manipulate the bat to “go the other way,” or to spoil a potential strikeout pitch. This is all to say, they know the mechanics.
So, will they use them in a game?
Sadly, all the emphasis these days is on hard contact (remember, exit velocity is being measured), and preferably hard contact in the air (launch angle) so you’ve given yourself a chance for a home run.
No matter if you’re a No. 8 hitter, with a runner on second base and no outs in a tie game, it probably doesn’t occur to you to hit the ball to the right side and advance the runner.
Why should it?
Analytics and all the crap that goes with it doesn’t show up in your arbitration numbers.
Neither does doing little things to win games.
Folks, if it drives you crazy to see a lefthanded hitter leading off an inning with the ENTIRE opposing infield having vacated the left side…
Then seeing the hitter hitting a hard ground ball straight into the teeth of the shift…
I’M RIGHT with you.
The correct sound for that stupidity is…
So, why don’t these guys practice bunting more often?
Why don’t they slap pitches to the left side (or right side, for righthanded hitters)?
The Tigers did that quite a few times while sweeping the Mariners earlier this week, by the way.
Beating a shift yields guaranteed base hits, and suddenly you jump to .273 from that soon-to-see-Tacoma .148.
Baseball needs to put money into something besides home runs.
(And the record number of strikeouts that naturally accompany these all-out, vein-bursting swings.)
When players get paid for helping teams win, you’ll see better games.
More exciting games.
You’d also see the Mariners hitting more than .199
Steve Cameron’s “Cheap Seats” columns appear in The Press on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. “Moments, Memories and Madness,” his reminiscences from several decades as a sports journalist, runs each Sunday.
Steve also writes Zags Tracker, a commentary on Gonzaga basketball which is published monthly during the offseason.
The next Zags Tracker will run on Tuesday.