Truly it is a sad day when Pete Rose bitching semi-coherently about juiced baseballs and lost fundamentals represents a pivot towards sanity in the discourse of ornery former ballplayers. Alas.
Rose, like a lot of us, is becoming bored of all these dingers and strikeouts, and misses the days of contact hitters and small-ball. That’s a reasonable take, broadly speaking: MLB has set a new total strikeouts record in each of the last ten seasons, and batters are in year three of a surge in home run production to match the height of the steroid era. So the general stance—baseball is a different sport nowadays, and some of the changes mean less variety, and less variety is bad—is fine, although Rose expressed it with typical Pete Rose oomph:
“I’m going to argue with baseball until the day I die,” Rose said, “that baseball is juiced. I don’t care what anybody says. They’ll say it’s not, which they have to. I saw a ball bounce behind the dugout the other day in Anaheim and it bounced into the second deck. Now, there’s something going on there.
“I saw Bryce Harper break his bat in half, and hit a 420-foot home run in New York. That just doesn’t happen. I know the ballparks are small. It just seems to me that everybody who plays baseball today is a potential home-run hitter.”
Pete Rose is a grouch. It’s part of his charm! But he might not be wrong about the ball being juiced, and he’s for sure not wrong about the fact that virtually every batter in baseball these days has tuned their swing to produce dingers. Rose was a contact hitter, and advances in baseball analytics and strategy have largely relegated his type to the history books. You can understand why he’s “not real happy” when he watches the game nowadays. He even saved some of his ire for modern ballparks:
“The number of ballparks is a joke to pitch in,” Rose said. “It’s not really fair to be honest with you. You think of Camden Yards [Baltimore] ... Cincinnati. Houston is a joke. They’re world champions, but it’s a joke to pitch there. ... Colorado, Arizona.”
You should read this thing, just to appreciate how much bitterness an old fellow can release if someone is willing to just sit there and listen. Rose says too many teams in baseball suck; he says the Yankees are frauds; he bags on Bryce Harper; he waves away analytics; he shows contempt for launch angles; and he poo-poos 490-foot dingers as excessive. And his solutions for making baseball a better entertainment product are incredibly on-brand:
“I probably would have been kicked out of every game by the third or fourth inning,” he said. “If I was a pitcher you couldn’t pitch inside. I don’t know who these geniuses are who keeps wanting to change these rules in baseball. Fans, every once in a while, like a fight at the ballpark. Instead of helping somebody up, kick dirt on him.”
Grouchy old baseball players are certainly more fun when they’re going in on the Yankees and crowing about how they “had some chicks that like the short ball” during their playing days.