As fans in St. Louis savor the tenth World Championship for their beloved Cardinals, the team’s first in 24 years, a sour taste remains in the mouths of fans everywhere. This is not to take anything away from the Cards; they won fair and square in five games and committed only one error, albeit, a real doozy.
It came in the fifth game when right fielder Chris Duncan did the unthinkable, dropping a routine pop-up and allowing a double on a what should have been a sure out. Later Duncan failed to catch a long ball at the wall and was removed from the game, looking as dejected as a disgraced Little Leaguer, even though the call on his second blooper, originally an error, was unaccountably changed and Duncan was only charged with the earlier miscue.
The Detroit Tigers set a new record for World Series errors, five. Three of these were committed by thirdbaseman, Brandon Inge, who committed 22 errors in total for the season. He’s got a great glove and stops most everything that comes near him. However, getting the ball to first base is for Inge an iffy proposition. His repeated failures to do so had a lot to do with the Card’s victory.
“In the American League you don’t handle a lot of bunts and stuff,” said Detroit coach Jim Leyland lamely during a post-series press conference.
Apparently they don’t know much about base-stealing, ball-handling, throwing and catching either. And, most oddly of all, even their vaunted hitting failed them. Only Casey shined, hitting .529 for the series. Granderson hit a pathetic .095 and Polanco batted an even zero. But it was the errors that put the nails in the Tiger’s coffin in this series, the failure of the team to play baseball fundamentals.
The real pleasure of the playoffs and the World Series is to see the best players competing, playing the game at the highest possible level: baseball as it ought to be played. To see error after error in World Series play is not just surprising. It is deplorable. How did this sorry state of affairs come to pass?
I blame the public and its fixation on homeruns. Right now, if you have a kid with some athletic ability who wants to play in the Big Show some day,don’t bother to teach him how to field, run bases, or play defense. Teach hiim to hit homers. That’s all the public wants and that’s all the teams of MLB want from players, and the pay off for these one-dimensional players is in the high six figures or even more. And of course, this obsession for homeruns and especially new homerun records is what is driving the performance enhancing drug epidemic.
You can’t blame the players entirely. By pandering to this perverse obsession of the fans, the teams have created a situation where players like Inge and Duncan command huge salaries. Both are hitters. Inge hit .353 in the series and is .241 for his career. Duncan is a career .290 hitter. Too bad they don’t have a desinated fielder position so these ball-bunglers wouldn’t screw up in front of millions of people on defense. But as things are going, it may not be long.
Steroids, HUman Growth Hormone and the rest of the performance enhancing drugs only aid hitters and do nothing to improve a players fundamental skills. They provide extra strength and speed that translate into bat speed. Extra bat speed means a split-second longer for the batter to study the pitch coming at him at around a hundred miles per hour. Hitting an MLB pitch is theÂ most difficult feat in all sports. An extra split-second to these athletes whose skills are already honed to a razor’s edge means a greaterÂ chance of laying bat on ball. And in today’s MLB that means a fatter paycheck. The fans get what they want and people who love the game get crappy defensive play.
Even the Dodgers,Â for decades the defensive team par execellence, whose typicalÂ victory score would be 2-1 or even 1-0, have succumbed and now possess a lineup of sluggers and usually score seven or eight runs a game, at the price of all the brilliant defensive double-plays and stolen bases of yore.
Baseball is in a sorry state. Maybe some day a crowd will applaud a beautiful bit of ball-handling or boo fielding mistakes loud enoughÂ so thatÂ the MLB management will hear and go back to fundamentals, but don’t hold your breath.