“Chicks dig the long ball.”
- Tom Glavine in a 1998 Nike Commercial
Chicks dig the long ball. So do young kids, little leaguers, and sponsors.
Baseball has become Babe-ball. As in Ruth.
The long ball is in more than ever before. So much so that it has dramatically reframed the game. And, for the purists out there, the game as we once knew it won’t be coming back any time soon.
2019 has been the year of the home run. As the calendar flipped to Labor Day, records were falling faster than Democratic presidential debate candidates.
In August, major league batters broke the monthly home run record for the third time this season, slamming 1,228 long balls to exceed the record previously set in May then June. Hitters are on pace to hit 600 more home runs than in any previous season.
With a month left in the season, 5 players have already hit 40 or more homers, 31 have hit 30 or more, 97 have hit 20 or more, and a whopping 246 have hit 10 or more – another all-time record.
Last week, the Minnesota Twins broke the record for most home runs by a team in a single season. The Twins closed out August with 268 bombs, bettering the old mark of 267, with a month still to go in the season. 300 home runs looks like a lock for the Twins.
But the Twins are not the only team breaking records. 14 teams are currently on pace to break their own franchise record for homers in a single season, and four others have a shot at it. That’s 60% of the league.
The New York Yankees are one of those teams. Earlier this season, the Bronx Bombers homered in 31 straight games. You guessed it, another record, surpassing the old mark of 27. The Yankees also hit 74 home runs last month, eclipsing the previous record for most homers in one month by a single time. The record was 58, meaning the Yankees bettered the mark by nearly 28%.
Individual records have fallen, too.
Mets rookie, Pete Alonso, broke the NL record for homers by a rookie when he hit his 40th last month, breaking the Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger’s record of 39 set two years ago. (Bellinger, by the way, led the majors in homers as of Sunday, with 43.) A few days after Alonso surged past Bellinger, he became the first rookie in 81 years to break his franchise’s single season home run record, when he whacked number 42.
Another rookie, Aristides Aquino of the Cincinnati Reds, broke the NL rookie record for most home runs in one month, when he slammed 14 in August, breaking the record set by -- you guessed it -- Bellinger. Called up from the minor leagues on Aug. 1, Aquino became the first player in the modern era to hit 13 home runs in his first 100 at bats.
Chicks may dig the long ball, but evidently all fans don’t. Attendance is down from last year. 19 of the 30 MLB teams have seen their attendance decrease from last year, with overall attendance dropping to the lowest mark in the past 20 years.
Pitchers, of course, don’t dig the long ball, either.
Especially those with the Baltimore Orioles. Orioles pitchers had surrendered 267 long balls through Sunday, breaking the single-season record of 258 home runs given up. And, there are five other teams that may zip past the 258 mark before the season is over. Incredibly, in games versus the Yankees this year, Orioles pitchers have given up 3.15 homers per game – the most for any team versus a single opponent in a season. But wait, there’s more. O’s hurlers have also given up five home runs in a game 15 times this season, six more games than any other team in history. It has been a long, long, long season in Baltimore.
All of this may be why Atlanta pitcher Sean Newcomb set off the fire extinguisher in the team’s clubhouse last month. After a loss to the Marlins in Miami, Newcomb came into the clubhouse and kicked a garbage can. The garbage can hit the fire extinguisher hanging on the wall, puncturing it and spraying the foam all over the locker room.
Giving new meaning to a relief pitcher being labeled a “fireman.”
Sadly, neither Newcomb, nor other pitchers have been able to put out this fire.
I recently discussed the state of the game with my friend, and former major league pitcher, Bill Bordley. We agreed that the game is not the same one we played 30 years ago. And then Bill said, “And it isn’t coming back, either.”
Like the balls in the night sky this season, the game we once played and loved is going… going… gone.