Saturday, September 7, 2013

Juiced: players, bats, balls, parks.

Juiced players are the most familiar form: pumped up on steroids and other banned performance enhancing drugs (PED).  Next are balls.  I received an interesting comment to a recent post.  The comment was published but I will highlight it here.

Friday, September 6, 2013
Juiced baseballs and the season home run record ... in Japan.

The New York Times: A scandal erupted earlier this season after the national Nippon Professional Baseball league admitted it had quietly juiced up the official ball for greater bounce off the bat. Players in Japan had unknowingly used the juiced ball in nearly 60 games, with home runs increasing by more than 40 percent from the previous year by the time the changes were revealed.
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comment:
Robert Whiting said...

(Sadaharu) Oh hit his home runs with a compressed bat . Compressed bats generate much more distance than conventional bats. It was forbidden to use compressed bats in MLB. And they were banned in Japan after Oh's retirement.

There were plenty of juiced balls in Oh's era too. Teams were allowed to manufacture their own balls and many of them had jackrabbit in them. it wasn't until 2011 that the ball was standardized. The new ball proved dead which led to the new livelier this year.
So, yes, batters had an advantage this year but then so did they in Oh's time

Bob Whiting
Friday, September 6, 2013 at 11:14:00 PM EDT
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Say what?  Until  2011 teams in Japan made their own baseballs to their own specifications?  What?

Juiced baseballs have been suspected in the U.S., a charge which I generally dismissed except for 1987.  In 1961 when Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle challenged the home run (HR) record of 60 hit by Babe Ruth in 1927 I recall that The New York Times itself tested or had an outside group test the baseballs, which were shown not to be juiced.

So how the heck can ball parks be juiced?  Easy.  Just change the dimensions.  It's allowed.

From the original stand alone Radical Baseball document from June 9, 2006, which was the first post on this blog:

Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Radical Baseball

1. Start the closer.
2. The Real scandal of the last 16 years: propagation of non-uniform playing areas.
3. Four leagues, no divisions.
4. Walks: a terrible rule.
5. Designated Fielders and the Six-Player Batting Order.
6. Clock, time-outs, … you know, like the other sports.

2. The Real scandal of the last 16 years: propagation of non-uniform playing areas.
It’s not steroids. It’s the fences. Baseball is the only American team sport in which the playing area is not uniform...

Baseball does not merely get away with it. It’s considered cute, charming, traditional, blah, blah, blah. Here’s the real travesty: the non-uniform playing area perverts baseball’s most cherished event: the home run. It undermines the very integrity of the game that is supposedly threatened by steroid use. 

Some thinking fans categorize baseball events into random and non-random. To them a home run (one hit over a barrier on a fly, not an inside the park home run) is clearly a non-random event because a fielder has no chance to catch it. A home run is a random event. Here is why. Is a 180 foot fly ball a random event? Clearly, it is random: it may be caught or it may not. But how about a fly ball hit 380 feet? The non-random advocates would be forced to ask in what direction and in what park the fly ball was hit. In other words they can only certify its randomness by waiting until it lands. The same could be done for the 180 foot fly. Like the three point shot in basketball (OK, the line is closer at the sideline to fit in bounds but that’s basketball’s problem) the only thing that should matter is how far did the fly ball go. With uniform playing areas that alone would tell us if the fly ball is a home run or not.

However, in some cases a fly ball can travel 50% further than a home run and be an out. The distances to the barriers are not just different from park to park but they are different in some parts of the outfield in the same park. A home run should reward the batter for hitting a fly ball over a barrier and for that to be fair and meaningful the barrier should be the same distance and the same height in every direction in every park. That’s pretty basic stuff. How about 375 feet to a ten foot high barrier? If you were starting baseball today and making the rules, that’s clearly how you would do it. But baseball evolved and that’s how it has always been. So? About 13 new parks have been implemented in the last 16 years (with two more coming in New York) and baseball had a rare opportunity to correct this historic inequity. Instead it allowed and even encouraged teams to replace parks that were in many cases at least symmetrical with parks that were irregular in the shape of the playing areas. Irregularities were often unavoidable in old parks because of streets and other things that required some imagination in building a park. In recent years there were no such impositions, just a warped intent to make new parks that looked old fashioned. See the Rangers park in Texas, built in an open space.
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Since that was written a new version of Yankee Stadium was built, which makes the short distance in right field even more of a joke than it had been.  Before Yankee haters go wacky, remember: Ruth hit 32 of his 60 on the road and Maris hit 31 of his 61 on the road.

In last night's game at the Stadium Mike Napoli of the Boston Red Sox hit a four run HR to right field that should have been caught.  Yankee manager Joe Girardi replaced former center fielder Vernon Wells in right field with Ichiro Suzuki to improve the fielding and to protect a fragile five run lead in the seventh inning.   Suzuki has several atrocious habits at bat, on the bases and in the field.  Suzuki drifted back and mistimed his jump and still barely missed the high fly hit by Napoli.  A fly ball hit no more than 350 feet produced four runs.

Major Baseball League (MBL) commissioner Allen Huber "Bud" Selig should be embarrassed.


Tampa Rays park left field corner:

Was the wall always much closer and much lower than just a few feet further into fair territory or was that done to make Red Sox fans suffer more?  Evan Longoria's winning hit was really a double, not a homer.  That configuration is a joke, maybe intended to have hypocritical Red Sox fans complain.  You live by the wall, you die by the wall.
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OK, I'm a Yankee fan finally paraphrasing my paraphrase:

You live by the short porch, you die by the short porch.

Selig presided over this mess.  He could have steered the MBL in the right direction but instead Selig became its chief steroid zealot even though his family may have benefited more from the financial boom of the steroid era than any in the MBL.

Bud, the parks are juiced and will remain so long after you've chased your last PED player.  Wake the heck up.

6 comments:

Andrew Turnbull said...

Football field dimensions may be uniform, but that's all. The surfaces are different (some grass, some turf), the grass surfaces are different (different grasses, different foundations, cut to different heights, etc.), there's different kinds of artificial turfs, the stadium seating configurations are different, creating different air flow and wind patterns from stadium to stadium, the light stanchions are configured differently, etc.

Hockey rinks have different quality ice, different quality boards, different lighting, etc.

The fact is, whatever the dimensions of a playing arena, ALL the players - on both teams - have the SAME conditions. So there's nothing inherently wrong with baseball parks being unique.

Individual facets may be needlessly problematic - e.g. Yankee Stadium's short porch is unnecessary, but the Mass Pike pretty much precludes anything other than the Green Monster - but there's no substantive reason to make all ballparks cookie-cutter identical.

Sure, it can distort statistics, but that ship sailed more than a century ago. Homogenizing the ballparks will do nothing to fix that, and nothing to fix anything else for that matter, but it will pointlessly change the game experience for the worse.

Want to fix baseball's real problems? Get rid of Selig, enforce the rules regarding time-to-pitch and staying-in-the-batters-box, stop blaring mind-numbing ear-shattering music between half-innings, and more. But leave the stadiums alone.

Kenneth Matinale said...

Andrew, thanks for the comment, although I disagree with much of it. I don't deal with hockey, only football and basketball as other American team sports.

Everything you wrote about football also applies to baseball. Non-uiniform playing areas are inherently unfair. Tactically, a team can build its roster to take advantage of its park.

Using pejoratives like "cookie-cutter" and "homogenizing" only makes my point. Those terms would never be used to describe the uniform playing areas of football or basketball. Baseball has been around so long that we feel compelled to defend even its most fundamentally unfair aspect.

I do agree with much your of final comment:

"Want to fix baseball's real problems? Get rid of Selig, enforce the rules regarding time-to-pitch and staying-in-the-batters-box, stop blaring mind-numbing ear-shattering music between half-innings, and more."

Andrew Turnbull said...

Kenneth, thanks for your reply. To me "cookie-cutter" and "homogenizing" aren't pejoratives. They're accurate descriptions of basketball courts and football fields. In those sports, the playing fields have to be "cookie-cutter," because of the nature of the games. And in fact baseball fields ARE cookie-cutter, to a degree (basepaths, pitching distance, mound height), and it's not a pejorative to use it in that regard, either.

I disagree with the notion that tactically building a roster to take advantage of its park is inherently unfair. Not all sports are the same, and viewing them all through the same lens is what's, well, not "unfair," but misguided.

In golf's Ryder Cup (yes, I know, you only deal with baseball, hoops, and football, but the analogy is apt) the home team builds its team and more importantly its golf course to give itself an advantage. The playing fields are of course not cookie-cutter, and golf is the richer for it. Imagine if every golf course were identical. Not a very pretty picture, is it, even if they were all made like Augusta National.

The point is, variety in ballparks gives baseball an appeal that basketball and football don't have, and can't have. To say that variety is "inherently" unfair is to avoid actually making and supporting the argument.

It's like saying, "trust me, the movie is bad." No, tell me WHY the movie was bad. Similarly, tell me why nonstandardized ballfields are unfair? Saying that teams can build their rosters to suit their park is a feature, not a bug.

Having said that, I think it's indefensible to put a mound in deep centerfield (where is that? Arizona? Who in their right mind thought that was a good idea??). Why not put a pretty maple tree behind 2nd base as well? The foliage would be nice for September games.

In any event, what will it take to get rid of Selig?!

Thomas said...

"...baseball’s most cherished event: the home run."

Idolization of the home run is what is wrong with baseball. What is the genesis of the PED's epidemic? The home run! Without the need for more 'power', players would not have gone looking for (morally) cheap ways to obtain it.

I am not saying that the home run is terrible or should be 'banned'. I am talking about emphasis. The home run brought about the abomination known as the DH. The DH has removed all the finesse from a great game. Hit & run; sacrifice; double switch; do you pinch hit for the pitcher who is losing 1 - 0 in the 7th? Manager of the Year in the AL is a joke - what does he do besides arrange the players provided by the GM into a line-up?

I have a friend who invites me to Yankee Stadium once a year (he knows that I am a fan of the NL). The typical game final score is 3 home runs to 2 home runs. Yawn. Little drama there. To me, the most exciting play in baseball is a double to the gap with runners on base. Outfielders chasing down the ball. Infielders positioning themselves for ensuing action. Runners hell bent for leather trying to score. Two (two!) perfect throws to nail the runner at the plate. Batter trying for third on the throw. Now that is exciting! Pitcher throws the ball & batter hits it over the fence. Everyone stands around while the hitter (slowly) circles the bases. Double yawn.

Andrew Turnbull said...

Agree with Thomas. In basketball, it's the dunk. It's become borrrrring. No one does them like Dr. J anymore. They're just slamdowns. Big friggin' deal.

Raise the basket to 12' or ban the dunk, I say.

Kenneth Matinale said...

Basketball: don't ban the dunk; ban touching the rim. Then the few dunks you see will be tremendous.

Baseball: eliminate the victory lap home run; make them all inside the park. Any fair ball hit into the stands is a ground rule double. Then watch how quickly teams adapt.