miller's musing

    Baseball has long been the sport of America, but recently its grip on the youth of the country has waned while other sports like basketball and football have gained popularity.

    Baseball is truly in dire straits. Labor disputes threaten to wreck the delicate balance between the players and the owners. Bud “”Is that spittle on my face?”” Selig and his cronies are playing bocce ball with baseball teams in an effort to create an environment where they can get a salary cap to curb escalating payrolls.

    The owners feel that they need more assurance of being in the black. Mr. Spittle, you posted a profit last year. The players feel that they should be paid whatever the market can bear: $225 million sounds about right, Mr. Rodriguez, or how about $18 million per year for a retired Albert Belle.

    However, neither the players nor the owners are to blame for the current fighting and the last 10 or so years of labor disputes. The winner of this much-acclaimed moniker is Worth Sports of Tullahoma, Tenn., the first company to mass produce the aluminum bat.

    Worth introduced the bat in 1970. By 1974, aluminum bats were legal all the way up to the National Collegiate Athletic Association level and were the most commonly used bats at all stages of play, excluding the major and minor leagues. Now, where is the connection between aluminum bats and labor troubles?

    In 1970, baseball was stagnant. The heroes of old, like Dimaggio, Williams and Mays, were either gone or fading away, ghosts of greatness. The league was led by youngsters like the Oakland Athletics. Attendance had remained, on the average, at about the 1 million mark per club since 1946, when baseball was the sport of a postwar nation.

    Football and basketball, however, saw increased attendance in the same amount of time. Football had formed two leagues and a national championship game. It was finally organized.

    Basketball flourished under Russel and Kareem; Dr. J was coming and the game had a funk to it that was helped by the American Basketball Association and its afro-dominated roster.

    The aluminum bat was baseball’s response to this. The one thing that basketball and football had was action. Constant up-and-down motion, big plays, big hits and huge dunks captured the attention better than a suicide squeeze with two outs in the bottom of the ninth.

    By introducing the aluminum bat, baseball began to breed sluggers. Any player who had offensive skills was given an extra advantage with the new bat. Dinks became doubles, grounders got through the hole and long fly balls turned into home runs. Yet pitchers still threw the same ball and fielders used the same gloves. Not only were the bats lighter and stronger, giving hitters an unfair advantage, they were also cheaper than wood bats. Little leagues and college teams on tight budgets started using the bats just because of this.

    The 1980s was the beginning of the aluminum-bat era. Major League Baseball averaged over 3,000 home runs per year for the decade. Before this, 3,000 home runs had been hit in a year exactly six times, and four of these were in the 1970s.

    In the 1990s and into the new millenium, the league averaged over 4,000 home runs per year, and since 1998, has hit over 5,000 home runs per year.

    Now, some people say it is the juiced ball that accounts for the offensive explosion. Has the ball been constantly juiced since 1980 or are players built to hit home runs today? The designated hitter could account for part of the increase in offensive production, but what about the shortstops and second basemen that now average 40 home runs a year?

    I thought there was only one Ernie Banks. Or the Oakland Athletics of today, who preach on-base percentage and patience at the plate, and for Christ’s sake, lead off Jeremy Giambi.

    How about the fact that Rickey Henderson is still one of the best leadoff men in the game? No slight to Rickey, ’cause he’s great, but at 43, still one of the best, or is it that the leadoff position is dying, manufactured runs supplanted by quick ones?

    Still the question looms: What is the connection between labor and bats? Aluminum bats have initiated a whole league of players who can hit the long ball. It has given the players that bargaining chip they need to drive up prices. They are now showmen up there to perform much of the time and not to play.

    Much of the intricacy of the game can be forgotten when there are four players on your team capable of hitting 40-plus jacks. Conversely, owners were able to comply. Their profits went up as home runs went up. Attendance increased from its 30-year average of 1 million to its current leaguewide average of nearly 2.5 million. Some teams — the Rockies and the Indians, for example — routinely draw over 3 million spectators a year. It is only in the past 10 years that there has been animosity between the owners and the players.

    Yes, there have been labor disputes in the league before, but not this protracted. I have never seen so much mud slung and so many smokescreens blown as the players and Selig have done in the last five years.

    Each side is struggling to hold onto as much of the profits as it possibly can — truly “”America’s pastime.”” No matter the outcome of this war, the root of the conflict can be traced to Tennessee and the bat that revolutionized the game.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal

    Your donation will support the student journalists at University of California, San Diego. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment, keep printing our papers, and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    Donate to The UCSD Guardian
    $200
    $500
    Contributed
    Our Goal