Are you like me? Are you wondering what the hell is going on with Major League Baseball? Have you thrown in the prediction towel? Have you resigned yourself to the fact that you don’t know anything about anything? That the impossible is in play even when it’s not?
On Saturday, Phillies’ mound android Roy Halladay pitched a perfect game. This in itself is something of a freakscene – it almost never happens. Now consider that it’s the second occurrence in 20 days… and third in 10 months. There have been roughly 175,000 competitive Big League games since 1900. Starting pitchers have taken the hill some 350,000 unique times.
Eighteen men have been perfect… Eighteen in 110 years.
Put away your calculator. I got this one. Odds of pitching a perfect game: about 1 in 19,500.
Did I mention it’s happened three times in 310 days? And don’t forget about Ubaldo Jimenez’s mid-April no-no against Atlanta or that Daisuke Matsuzaka came within four outs of no-hitting the Phillies a week ago. Or that these same Phils – the supposed second coming of Murderers’ Row – just went five of six games without scoring an earned run, and became the first team since the ’92 Cubs to get shut out in five of eight.
Before the start of the season, Grand Master of Dull Bud Selig proudly proclaimed that performance enhancing drugs in baseball are “virtually non-existent.” If this is true, it would be the first time in a half century, and perhaps part-cause for all of the recent madness.
In light of recent offensive woes, the absurd abundance of sub-3 ERAs, and the not-so-infrequent “holy (expletive)” occurrence, I pose to you this entirely speculative, happenstantially-grounded proposition…
Are guys just tired?
Here’s the big difference between baseball since 2006 and baseball in the rest of the modern era: speed is illegal. Not the Carl Crawford kind of speed, the Ritalin kind of speed. Greenies, beans, cranks, Adderall, Ripped Fuel, whatever. Call them what you want. They’re amphetamines. And they give you more energy, sharpen your focus, enhance your sense of well being, and get you up for afternoon games after a cross-country flight. Or rather, they did.
They were baseball’s worst-kept secret – a part of the visible underground since the ’40s when Big Leaguers serving overseas smuggled them into stadiums back home. Players sucked them down like Skittles. Clubhouse attendants used them to spike coffee. Trainers endorsed them as the new breakfast of champions.
The Washington Post reported in 2006 that some players estimated use to be as high as 85 percent. Now greenies are gone, or at least worthy of a 25-game ban upon second offense. Though illegal without a prescription since 1970, Major League Baseball only joined the party after the ’05 season as part of its revamped drug policy. In possibly related stories, physician-approved claims of ADD to avoid Adderall-related suspensions have skyrocketed since 2006 (28 guys filed paperwork in ’06, 106 in ’09), and Ken Griffey slept through a pinch-hit op in May.
Average run production’s also declined every years since the ban, falling from 4.86 RPG in ’06 to 4.47 this season. Likewise, total runs scored have increasingly bottomed out in July as the dog days sets in. Of course, you can’t chalk up limp bats exclusively to stricter policy and testing (especially since erectile dysfunction is a greenie side-effect…), but the correlation between declining run totals and a more vigilant detection plan does make intuitive sense.
Teams will play 162 games over 181 days this year. Guys whose schedules you calculate in “days rest” obviously have the upper hand. For these starting pitchers, it boils down to this: the probability of catching a team on a bad day is just a lot higher now. And if this is indeed a more pitcher-friendly game, perhaps all those discarded concerns from the pre-ban 2000s are worth another look.
One manager told SI’s Tom Verducci in 2005, “Everybody in baseball has to be concerned about how this is going to play out. They’re going to have to shorten the season. It used to be just the 35-and-older guys needed them, but young guys rely on them now too. The level of play could be affected.”
One executive described “naked” players as walking zombies.
It doesn’t help that nine innings stretch an eternity, or that MLB still loads the calendar with night get-away games. I’m 23 and have a problem perking up for back-to-back days of class. It’s not a huge surprise, then, that Philadelphia and Boston, the two oldest teams in the league, half sleepwalk through day games. The two are a combined 17 over .500 in night affairs; six under during the day.
“I definitely see [a change],” one NL scout told the Washington Post in 2006. “Look at how many veterans, older players, guys who are career .300 hitters, who are hitting .240 this year.”
Of course, the rule change isn’t all bad. Along with the aforementioned mound gems, positive side effects include fewer exploding hearts and a reduction in alcoholism. The latter was an especially disturbing issue, as some players would drink all night just to come down from the speed high. ESPN’s Buster Olney reported on the May 2 “B.S. Report” that an all-star player once drank 24 beers during a particularly infamous cross-country flight.
In ’06, future Rangers manager Ron Washington weighed in on the matter, telling the Times that “you can’t be out in those bars with any regularity anymore because you ain’t got help now.”
And with this piece of irony, I bid you happy Tuesday.