(This is my last post in this series on the history of Major League Baseball, as seen by base and run production. In a while I'll start a similar series using "net points" on the history of professional basketball. ) THE RETURN OF STUPIDITY TO BASEBALL I’ve said that a hidden reason for the offensive explosion of the 1990’s and 2000’s was that players started being more patient at the plate, drawing more walks and hitting for higher averages. Hitting the ball more consistently allowed their natural power to produce more home runs. It wasn’t the only reason for the big numbers but guys like Barry Bonds, Frank Thomas, Jeff Bagwell, Chipper Jones, Gary Sheffield, Jim Thome, Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez, Mike Piazza and Miquel Cabrera hit for higher averages than the Reggie Jacksons and Mike Schmidts of the previous generation. Even guys like Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa, who were not .300 hitters and struck out a lot, walked more than they had previously. They were being more patient and looking for better balls to hit and so they got more productive. “Triple Crown numbers” were not uncommon, although the number of players who had them made Triple Crowns hard to win, (Cabrera eventually got one). For a generation before that, nobody won Triple Crowns because nobody had Triple Crown numbers. But now baseball had gotten smart again. Then, about 2010, I read an article in Sport Illustrated, (which I cannot now find), by a young writer who lauded a slugger with a low batting average and a lousy walk to strike-out ratio for being an “old fashioned slugger” who didn’t care about batting averages or how many times he stuck out, as long as he was hitting home runs. I called the writer ‘young’ because he yearned for the 70’s and 80’s when the top sluggers hit .250 with 150 strike- outs and 30-40 homers because they knew that homers were what mattered. He seemed to be ignoring the previous two decades when hitters who seemed to have read Ted Williams’ books re-wrote the record book. I actually got angry enough to fire off a letter to SI about the article that, as I recall, wound up in the circular file. After that, everybody in baseball seemed to read the article as strike-outs soared, batting averages declined, (which, naturally, was attributed to the “post steroid era”). Suddenly pitchers started to be the dominant players in the game, producing not only great ERAs and winning percentages but also strikeout totals we hadn’t seen since the 1960’s, when Ford Frick raised the mound and increased the strike zone in the wake of Roger Maris breaking his old pal Babe Ruth’s home record. This past season I was bemoaning the Met’s limpid offense, which was based entirely on hitting home runs, (until they regained the services of Jose Reyes). They set a team record for hitting homers but at one point, they’d scored the fewest runs of any Met team in 28 years. We were getting 1-2 home runs a game and scoring 2-3 runs per game. I decided to compare the 2016 Mets: 2016 New York Mets Batting, Pitching, & Fielding Statistics | Baseball-Reference.com to my beloved 1986 Mets: 1986 New York Mets Batting, Pitching, & Fielding Statistics | Baseball-Reference.com The 2016 Mets hit .246 as a team. (The all-time composite major league batting average is .262 / in 1968 the National league batted .243, the nadir of the Frick Era). They had an on-base percentage of .316 and a slugging percentage of .417, despite hitting 218 home runs. To use my favorite stat, they produced 2,833 bases, (total bases plus walks and steals) and scored 671 runs in 162 games. For every 700 plate appearances, they had 154 hits that produced 260 total batting bases, walked 59 times and struck out 149 times. They produced 328 bases overall per 700PA. The 1986 Mets hit .263 as a team. They had an on-base percentage of .339 and a slugging percentage of .401, having hit only 148 home runs. To use my favorite stats, they produced 2,978 bases and scored 783 runs in 162 games. For every 700 plate appearances, they had 161 hits that produced 246 total batting bases, walked 70 times and struck out 107 times. They produced 341 bases overall per 700PA. They hit 70 fewer home runs but scored 112 more runs because they played the whole game. They got more hits, ran the bases more aggressively, (stealing 118 bases to 42), got more doubles and triples, (261/31 vs 240/19), walked more, (631 to 517) and had fewer unproductive outs, (968 strikeouts to 1,302). The 2016 Mets numbers are not unusual. The National League hit .254. Per 700 plate appearances, National League hitters had 159 hits which produced 258 total bases, 58 walks and 150 strikeouts. They produced 327 bases. The teams scored an average of 718 runs. The 1986 Mets had a great season but they were no an historical great offensive team. They were just a good deal better than what we are seeing today. Ted Williams still speaks to us today: https://rightoffthebatbook.files.wordpress.com/2015/03/getpart.jpg ETERNAL HOPE Baseball and sports in general are about eternal hope. Most of us live lives centered around assembly lines, fast food kitchens or in and out baskets. You just try to keep up with the pace of things and find pleasure in other aspects of life. In sports we have goals and dreams that might actually be achieved someday. Is this the year we might finally win it all? At least we can hope that this year will be better than last year and next year will be better than this year. In recent years in baseball, a number of ships have come in that finally rewarded the fans of certain teams for their eternal hope and loyalty. It started with the 2004 Red Sox who ended 86 years of futility following the selling of Babe Ruth’s contract to the Yankees, during which they’d made the World Series four times and lost classic series each time, became the first team in baseball history to overcome an 0-3 deficit against the hated Yankees. They then swept the Cardinals who had won 105 games and also had twice beaten the Sox in those World Series for the title. They’d not only ended an 86 year drought, called “The Curse of the Bambino” but made history with that comeback and then beaten exactly the teams they would have wanted to beat in the process. Having broken the lock, they went on to win two more World Series in 2007 and 2013. The next year the Chicago White Sox, (with less fanfare), broke an even longer drought, 88 years, in winning their first championship since 1917. I suppose this would be “The Curse of the Black Sox”. In 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won their second ever World Series and their first in 28 years. Then, the San Francisco Giants won the 2010 World Series, their first since Willie Mays made that great catch in New York, 56 years before. Like the Red Sox, once they’d broken through, the got the hang of winning and won two more in 2012 and 2014. And they gave the Cubs plenty of trouble in 2016 but their “even number” magic ran out. The Kansas City Royals won their first title in 30 years when they subdued my Mets in 1985. Then there were the Cubs. For decades they were one of the most successful franchises in the game. They were a member of the original National Association. They won the first National league Pennant in 1876 and won three in a row from 1880-82 and two more in 1885 and 1886, when the participated in the original “World Series” against the American Association champions, the St. Louis Browns, who later joined the National League and changed their color to Cardinal, inaugurating the Cubs’ greatest rivalry. The two teams tied the first year as one game of seven was allowed to end in a tie due to darkness. Another was forfeited to the Cubs after the Browns manager pulled his team off the field in an argument. The Browns won the Series 4 games to 2 the next year. The team was called the White Stockings until 1890, when they became the Colts. In 1898 they became the “Orphans” and finally, in 1903 the Cubs, just in time to enjoy the franchise’s greatest period. Bill James: “The Chicago Cubs in 1906 won 116 games. This remains the record for the most wins in one season. The Cubs also won 223 games in two years, (1906-07), which is the record for wins in a two season span, and 322 games over three years (1906-08), which is the record for wins over a three season span,. They won 426 games over a four season span (1906-09), which is the record for the most wins over a four year span, and they won 530 games over a five season span (1906-10), which si the record for wins over a period of five years. The Cubs won 622 games over a six year period (1905-1930), which si a record, by far….The Cubs won 715 games in seven years (1904-1910); this is also a record. They won 807 games in an eight year period (1904-1911) which, again is a record…. They won 898 games from 1904-1912, which is a record for wins over a nine year period, and they won 986 games between 1904 and 1913, which is a record for wins over a ten year period. “ He stops there, but you get the idea. Those Cubs that went 116-36 in 1906, (the highest winning percentage ever at .763) were upset by the “hitless wonder” White Sox in 6 games in the third ever modern World Series. But they came back to win the next two series and it looked as if they would win many more. But the Pirates won 110 games to beat them out in 1909, (the Cubs were 104-50, the bets record ever for a second place team), and the Athletics beat them in five games in 1910. That ended their peak years. But they were back in the series in 1918, 1929, 1932, 1935, 1938 and 1945 – and lost every time. They and the Brooklyn Dodgers, (1916-52) are the only two franchises to lose seven straight World Series. But they were still a respected power in the game. Then came what Mike Royko and a saloon-owning friend, William Sianis later retroactively dubbed the “curse of the goat”. Sianis allegedly had been denied entrance to the 1945 series because he brought his pet goat with him and declared “"Them Cubs, they ain't gonna win no more", which was supposed to mean either that they wouldn’t win another pennant or another World Series. Multiple generations of Cubs fans dealt with 20 years of bad teams after the war, star-laden contenders in the late 60’s and early 70’s that could never break through and playoff teams in 1984, 1989, 1998, 2003, 2007-08 and 2015 without breaking through to even get to the World Series. They endured black cats, balls going through fielder’s legs and even fans interfering with balls that could have been caught as well as a stream of jokes about their futility. Finally, in 2016 they overcame everything: beating the Giants with their even year mojo, coming back from a 1-2 deficit against the Dodgers and then a 1-3 deficit against the Indians to end their 108 year drought. Presently the Indians, who haven’t won since 1948 head the list of teams who have been waiting the longest for their ship to come in, along with the Rangers, (since 1961), the Astros (since 1962), the Padres, Brewers and Nationals, (all since 1969), the Seahawks (since 1976) and Pirates (since 1979). And thanks to the Red Sox, the White Sox, the Phillies, the Giants, the Royals and the Cubs, they all have hope. And hope is what sports are all about.