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Sports News Without Fear, Favor or Compromise

Baseball's Cranks Agree: The Sport Was Better When They Were Part Of It

Illustration for article titled Baseball's Cranks Agree: The Sport Was Better When They Were Part Of It
Photo: Mike Stobe (Getty Images)

Hall of Fame reliever Goose Gossage has been complaining about the state of baseball for so long that his complaints have spanned multiple decades of the sport. It feels like just yesterday, he was lecturing Joba Chamberlain on “the Yankee way.” (Joba Chamberlain is now retired.) Eleven years later, Gossage is still griping.


USA Today’s Bob Nightengale was willing to print the words of not only Gossage, but notorious baseball cranks Pete Rose and Lou Piniella, too. They’re all dismayed at the current state of the sport, with all the launch angles and prurient dongs. Where’s the strategy? (Still there, and arguably much more of it than during their times, but let them cook.)

“I can’t watch these games anymore,” Gossage said. “It’s not baseball. It’s unwatchable. A lot of the strategy of the game, the beauty of the game, it’s all gone.

“It’s like a video game now. It’s home run derby with their (expletive) launch angle every night.”


“All anybody wants to do is launch the ball,” Piniella said. “They’re making the ballparks smaller, the balls tighter, and all we’re seeing is home runs.

“There are no hit-and-runs. No stolen bases. Nothing.

“I managed 3,400 games in the big leagues, and never once did I put on a full shift on anybody. Not once. And I think I won a few games without having to shift.”

Said Rose, who produced 4,256 hits and struck out 100 times only once in 24 seasons: “It’s home run derby every night, and if that’s what they want, that’s what they’re going to get. But they have to understand something ... Home runs are up. Strikeouts are up. But attendance is down. I didn’t go to Harvard or one of those Ivy League schools, but that’s not a good thing.”

The prompt for this column—and what’s a baseball writer to do during the dog days of the season other than write about how much they hate the sport?—was Cubs manager Joe Maddon talking last week about how hitting is being taught to the next generation of baseball players. There are a lot of “hitting gurus” out there, he warned, and not all of their methods are sound or healthy.

“I’ve seen some of the videos that they’re selling online, that parents are paying for,” Maddon said. “Wow. They’re just promoting the strikeout. That’s all they’re doing.”

While Maddon’s critique has some value to it—parents should be wary of any consultants who claim they can turn their kids into sluggers overnight—it’s also a lot more coherent than whatever Gossage, Rose, and Piniella are grumbling about. What about Cody Bellinger’s swing is bad for the game? How does Bryce Harper’s walk-off grand slam not stand out among all the homers? Why is it supposedly bad to find Aristides Aquino’s historic start cool? Does anyone actually give a shit about hit-and-runs?

The most puzzling part is that Nightengale shows sympathy for these grumps by citing examples from other leagues. (Goose really needs to update his material.)

Said Gossage: “They got it so an [expletive] coming off the street who doesn’t even know what a damn baseball is can manage our sport. It’s like rotisserie baseball. These [expletives] won their rotisserie leagues at Harvard and all of those [expletive] schools and now they’re general [expletive] managers.”

Meanwhile, look around the other leagues. Is there a greater NBA coach today than 70-year-old Gregg Popovich of the San Antonio Spurs? Who’s better than 67-year-old Bill Belichick of the New England Patriots? Duke basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, 72, continues to get it done. And of course, 67-year-old football coach Nick Saban keeps rolling at Alabama.

It doesn’t seem like anybody is trying to run those guys out.

These coaches have survived because they’ve adapted. Saban and Mick Krizilonski have the benefit of unpaid talent, but they and Popovich and Belichick have spent their careers altering their strategies to stay ahead of competitors, finding the next inefficiency that’ll give them an edge over conventional wisdom. If you want to pull a more accurate example from another sport, of a guy who’s determined to prove all the nerds wrong and show that the old way works despite the evidence, follow Jon Gruden around and see how his comeback goes.


H/t to Luke