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Best Red Sox ever, but baseball is still succeeding in hurting itself

It was a wonderful World Series, wasn’t it — with the best Red Sox team we’ve seen in seven decades of watching them.

But the games were so long.

We knew things had gotten out of hand after Game 3. It was not only the longest World Series game ever played; it was longer than the entire four-game World Series the Yankees and Cincinnati Reds played in 1939.

Before that happened, the only thing the wondrous 2018 Red Sox had in common with the 1939 Yankees was their regular season victories — a very nice 108 games.

But then we had that incredible, 18-inning Red Sox loss in Game 2 and the subsequent discovery that its 7 hour and 20 minute duration was 15 minutes longer than the entire 1939 World Series — all four games together.

True, that game was unlike any ever played in the Series — or on every other occasion, for that matter — so let’s just compare the other four games played in 1939 with the interminable games of 2018.  

The first game in ’39 lasted an hour and 33 minutes and Game 1 in 2018 was 3 hours and 52 minutes.  Games 2, 3 and 4 in ’39 were 1:27, 2:01 and 2:04. (That “long” 2 hour and 4 minute game went 10 innings.) The other nine-inning games between the Sox and the Dodgers were 3:12, 3:52 and 3:00. Do you see a trend?

The 1939 Yankees had future members of the Hall of Fame like outfielder Joe DiMaggio, catcher Bill Dickey and pitchers Lefty Gomez and Red Ruffing. The outplayed Reds had some great pitching and pitching, as we will see, was a major difference between the way baseball is played today and baseball in 1939 and the more recent past. 

For example: All four starting pitchers in the first two games of the 1939 series pitched complete games. Red Ruffing of New York beat Paul Derringer of the Reds 2-1 in the opening game and the Reds’ Bucky Walters lost to the Yankees’ Monte Pearson 4-0 in the second.

Imagine that: four pitchers pitching all nine innings in two consecutive World Series games. There hasn’t been a complete game in a World Series since one by Johnny Cueto of Kansas City in the 2015 series and that was the first in nearly 30 years.  

And therein lies the problem — pitchers don’t pitch the way they used to. Players are bigger and stronger than ever, just like other people. They hit more home runs, run faster, field more skillfully — and pitch fewer innings.  

The complete game was once a most telling statistic when a pitcher’s skill was measured. It no longer exists and a complete game is becoming as rare as hitting four home runs.

No pitcher in either league pitched more than two complete games this season, the lowest in history. The number of complete games pitched by the league leader has been going down for many years. Randy Johnson’s dozen in 1999 was the last time any pitcher reached double digits.

Twenty complete games a season were once commonplace for good pitchers, but there hasn’t been such a season since Fernando Valenzuela of the Dodgers in 1986. Catfish Hunter of the Yankees was the last to pitch 30 complete games in 1975.

There are various reasons for this phenomenon. Agents have tried to “protect” their investments by encouraging them and their teams to keep their pitch counts down. But mostly, the art of pitching — and many other aspects of the game — have been forever altered by statistical analysis.

This was never more evident than in the late Series. There were 17 pitchers used in the 7 hour game, even though the Dodgers’ starter, Walker Buehler, pitched seven innings and Red Sox reliever Nathan Eovaldi lasted six. Others came and went after pitching to one or two hitters, as dictated by the analytics.

And, of course, not only the pitching is different as baseball evolved from a game to a science. If you think the game has long, boring stretches, you’re right. The ball in today’s games is only put into play a third of the time. Nearly 33 percent of plate appearances end with the batter striking out, walking or getting hit by a pitch. During some months of the current season, there were more strikeouts than hits in the major leagues.

To their credit, the Red Sox did play some old-time baseball in their amazing season, utilizing the hit and run, the stolen base and other relics of classic baseball games.  That’s what made them fun to watch—mostly in the regular season.  The series was a science exhibition—and a numbingly long one at that.

 

Simsbury resident Dick Ahles is a retired journalist. Email him at rahles1@outlook.com.