Re: Sometimes it comes down to choices, right?
posted at 10/10/2011 7:38 PM EDT
I pick up on Zilla's remark about "watered down talent" owing to expansion. IIRC, in the "then and now" thread, one argument advanced for the superiority of the game "now," especially since intergration, is the expansion of the talent pool because of the doubling of the population since the mid-1950's. But the doubling of the population has been matched by the doubling of teams in MLB. If, say, only 25 or 22 teams instead of 30 were drawing upon the population of 300 million, this rawly statistical argument might carry more weight. ( Might. ) Some of us in that thread pointed out that whereas in the past, up through, say, the 1960's, baseball had first call on the best athletic talent in the country, nowadays and for some time, baseball has had to compete with football and basketball, in particular for black athletes. Thus, qualitatively
baseball is probably not doing as well fishing in the talent pool of 300 million ( OK, 150 million ) as it did in the talent pool of 150 million ( OK, 75 million. ) It no longer has first dibs. Far from it.
Nothing trumps talent. Not "improved" methods of conditioning. Not better nutrition. ( Here comes the DL. Someone on that thread said that someone else had shown or could show that baseball players were injured just as often and just as seriously in the past as they are now. I've not yet seen the data and the methodology that will support that conclusion. I haven't looked for it, true, but the proposer has the onus of proof. ) Not video analysis. Not "bigger, stronger, faster," especially if a good deal of talent answering to that description is being drained off into other sports. In any case, bigger, stronger, faster are categories of numbers. In a game like baseball, with such heavy reliance on instinct and mental altertness ( and the numerous head games that the slow pace allows players to work upon one another ), the data in those categories do not automatically guarantee better play. More powerful play, yes, but more powerful is not necessarily improved.
In the 1950's one did not hear that the game is better now than it was in the 1920's. On the whole, players in the 50's were bigger, stronger, and faster than had been those in the 1920's. A good deal that had been learned about improved nutrition during World War Two was widely known. Baseball coaches were making use of conditioning coaches. ( At USC, Rod Dedeaux enlisted Jess Mortenson, the track coach, to work with us, especially the pitchers. ) And so on.
On that "now and then" thread, a point was made about the emergence of relief specialists and about new pitches. Few, if any, of the "new" pitches are really new. Some pitchers came to rely upon or to specialize in, say, the splitter, but the action on that pitch was nothing new. Same with the slider. A lot of terrific relievers have been on the scene in the last, say, forty years, but there are many more weak sisters who get to play at all because starters are on pitch counts.
Unless one is relentlessly committed to the doctrine of linear progress ( note how that mind set has run afoul of reality in many non-scientific areas of human life ), pause at the very least is in order before declaring the contemporary game "better." That stance makes one liable to the charge of temporal arrogance. And if one insists that baseball has become or is becoming "scientific," I think that the term is being used very loosely, as it is, IMO, when it is applied to sociology.