Musings: The More Things Change

By Dick Flavin
Boston Red Sox Poet Laureate
and New York Times Best Selling Author

THE MORE THINGS CHANGE

I don’t pay much attention to baseball’s newfangled statistics like WAR (Wins Above
Replacement) because they give me a headache. I follow baseball because it gives me
pleasure. It draws me back to my days as a boy. Oh, I realize that the new math of
baseball has some merit but it’s all based on complicated formulas and I have no desire to
be brought back to my days in algebra class.
Besides, statistics, no matter how sophisticated they get, can’t totally quantify the value
of great defense. For more than a decade the Red Sox had centerfielders (Johnny Damon,
Coco Crisp and Jacoby Ellsbury) who were great at chasing down fly balls. They had
speed and agility, but, let’s face it, none of them could throw worth a damn. For all those
years Red Sox fans watched helplessly and hopelessly as base runners automatically went
from first to third or from second to home on virtually every single up the middle.
That doesn’t happen anymore. Runners try to take an extra base on hits to the outfield
against the Red Sox at great risk. And they’ve learned that the hard way it. It’s not just
the throwing arm of Jackie Bradley, Jr. they are wary of, it’s those of Mookie Betts and
Andrew Benintendi as well.
The other night, with the score tied in the seventh inning of what would become a 10-8
Red Sox victory in eleven, Pedro Alvarez of the Orioles lashed a drive off the centefield
fence at Camden Yards. He motored into second base only to discover that a rocket
lauched by the arm of Bradley had arrived moments ahead of him. Take a seat, Pedro.
The next night Manny Machado paid the price when Benintendi cut him down at the
plate as he tried to score from second on a single to left. It saved the game as the Sox
went on to win 1-0, again in eleven innings.
The record book shows that the Red Sox swept the Orioles in three games but were it not
for those two throws Baltimore could have won the series, two games to one, and the
Yankees would have picked up two games in the race for the American League East title.
There are no statistics that measure how many runners hold up at a base when they know
the outfielder has a strong, accurate throwing arm. At least I don’t think there are any
such statisics; I might have been absent from sabremetrics class that day.

In a day and age when the home run is becoming more and more a ho hum affair (There
have been more than six thousand of them hit in the major leagues this year. Think about
that.) the most exciting play in baseball continues to be the close play at home plate. It is
no longer the train wreck that it was in the days when catchers positioned themselves
directly in the base path to block the plate and braced themselves for the inevitable
collision to come; it has become more acrobatic, in terms of both slides and tags. Here
comes the runner, racing like the hammers of hell down the third base line, and here
comes the throw from the outfield - will it be on the money and will it be in time? To me
that’s a lot more thrilling than watching some guy jog around the bases, or, worse, plod
back to the dugout after yet another strike out.
Strike outs. They are becoming more common than fly balls, pop ups and ground outs put
together. There used to be some semblance of shame connected with them. Vince
DiMaggio, the third of the famous brothers (although he was in fact the oldest of them)
was treated as a laughing stock because he struck out so often. It was said of the brothers
that Joe was the best hitter, Dom the best fielder and Vince the best singer. He once had
aspirations to be an opera singer and he used to stand out in centerfield, the same position
his brothers played, singing operatic arias. Vince led the National League one year while
playing for the old Boston Braves by striking out an unheard of one hundred thirty-four
times. Players now strike out a hundred times more often than that and no one evens
blinks.
I don’t necessarily like the all-or- nothing approach now in fashion of swinging for the
fences on every pitch and I wince when a fielder casually snatches a fly ball or pop up
with one hand, but baseball is constantly evolving, and that means it’s alive. That’s a
good thing.
And there some things about it that never change. It’s ninety feet from home to first, three
strikes and you’re out and whoever scores the most runs wins. That’s why I still love it as
much as I did when I was a kid all those years ago.

TO BE IN LOVE WITH BASEBALL

When you first discover baseball,
When you’re given your first glove,
You find ou at a tender age
What it’s like to fall in love.
When first you see a big league park,
Those stands, that field of green,
You know as long as you shall live
You won’t forget that scene.
So you root for the old home team
A favorite players choose,

And you learn life’s hardest lesson,
There are lots of times you lose.
Then you realize your parents
And your grandfather, too,
All have this in common,
They love it just like you.
And seven decades down the line
That love is still the same.
For all the memories you have
What counts is the next game.
For your whole life it’s part of you,
Its praises must be sung.
For to be in love with baseball
Is to be forever young.