By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author
A NEW ERA FOR BASEBALL
Do you want to know what I think? Well, I’m going to tell you anyhow.
I think we are entering into a new age of baseball, one which is profoundly changing the
game. If, a century ago, the game was changed from the dead ball era to the lively ball
era, we are now embarking on the home run era. This past season, especially the World
Series, offers evidence of that.
More than six thousand regular-season home runs were hit in the major leagues this year,
an all-time record, greater, even, than the bloated numbers of the steroid era. We in
Boston did not feel the brunt of the explosion since we hit only one hundred sixty-eight
dingers, a major league low. One hundred four homers were hit during the post-season,
also an all-time record. There were twenty-five home runs in the World Series alone,
smashing the previous record of twenty-one which was set, again, during the years of
performance enhancing drugs.
There isn’t a pitcher alive who doesn’t believe that the balls have been “juiced,” and they
have anectdotal evdence to back up their claims, 6,105 regular season anectdotes, to be
exact. Are there different materials being used in their manfacture? Are the strings in
them being wound more tightly? Are they being made by Titleist? Whatever, baseballs
are traveling farther than they used to.
Hitters have learned to launch the ball into the air by using a slight uppercut in their
swings. So what else is new? Ted Williams figured that out more than three quarters of a
century ago. He wrote a book about it in 1970, “The Science of Hitting.” Someone in the
last few years must have read it and decided to spread the word.
Those increased home runs are not mere blips on the radar scale, they are the new norm.
There is a reason for this – they sell tickets and increase TV ratings.
There is a new interest in baseball, piqued by – you guessed it – the home run. Many
observers were calling Game Two of this year’s World Series perhaps the great post-
season game ever; there were eight home runs hit in an extra inning thriller. Then came
Game Five, with its seven home runs in another extra inning nail-biter. Two “Greatest
Games Ever” only four days apart? In Game Four a quartet of Dodger pitchers combined
for a two-hitter against the Astros, but both of those two hits were hone runs. When is the
last time that ever happened, not just in the post-season, ever? You don’t suppose all the
new interest in baseball has anything to do with all those home runs, do you?
In the 2017 regular season an unherladed rookie began the year on a home run tear. By
the time of the All-Star game, just a tad over three months after the season began, Aaron
Judge of the Yankees had become the biggest name in baseball. He was the absolute
center of gravity during the All-Star break. Even as he went into decline in July and
August, he commanded attention, which only increased as he rebounded back into form
Giancarlo Stanton of the Marlins hit more homers and drove in more runs than Aaron
Judge did, but he captured only a fraction of the attention. That’s because he plays in
baseball’s Siberia, (minus the snow), Miami. If, as rumored, he gets traded to a major
market team with an already rabid fan base – a Boston, New York, Chicago or Los
Angeles – his visibility and popularity will soar. That is, if he remains healthy. Stanton,
who turns twenty-eight this week, has a big contract that is guaranteed for ten more years,
so that makes his health a big “if.” But there is always a team or two willing to take the
risk because the upside is all those home runs – and those increased ticket sales and
When was the last time baseball had a star who captivated people, not just in the market
where he played, but all across the country? It’s been years. Basketball has LeBron James
and football has Tom Brady. Now baseball has Aaron Judge and maybe Giancarlo
Stanton. Not that the final verdict is in on Judge; he has to prove himself over time. Will
he be another Babe Ruth or another Willy Mo Pena? Only time will tell, and the
measuring stick will be the number of home runs he hits. If he doesn’t hit them someone
else will, or perhaps, more accurately, everyone else will.
In 1919 the best left-handed pitcher in the game began playing regularly in the outfield
when he wasn’t pitching for the Red Sox. He hit an astounding twenty-nine home runs,
an all-time record. Then the Sox, in their infinite wisdom, sold him to the New York
Yankees, where, playing right field on a full-time basis in 1920, he blasted an
unbelievable fifty-four homers, more than any other entire team in the American League.
It took a few years for the rest of baseball to realize that he wasn’t just an oddity, that he
had changed the game forever, but Babe Ruth became - and still is - the most famous
baseball player ever. He did it by hitting home runs.
Home runs put more than baseballs into the seats, they put fannies into the seats.
Forty years ago the National Basketball Association was having problems of its own
putting fannies into seats. The NBA came up with its own version of the home run, the
three-point shot. For purists, it was heresey, it changed the very nature of the game.
Maybe so, but the three-pointer injected a new energy into basketball; it began on
October 12, 1979 with a three-pointer by Chris Ford of the Celtics. For the first few years
there was just an occasional attempt by a perimeter player, but now they pour into baskets
at a prodigious rate in every game. Seven-foot centers, who years ago never took a shot
more than ten feet away from the basket, are proficient at the three-pointers. They have to
be. The three-pointer has changed the game.
Long balls get attention and they put fans in the stands. Basketball discovered that thirty-
eight years ago and baseball first discovered it ninety-eight years ago. And it has
rediscovered it in 2017.
Get used to it.