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Say it ain’t so: The (downward) evolution of our national pastime | Opinion

World Series time is here, but I must confess to being a traditionalist when speaking of my first love — baseball.

Introduced to the major league game in 1945 at Philadelphia’s Shibe Park, I witnessed two great events: a no-hitter by Dick Flower of the A’s (time: 1 hour, 18 minutes) and a 24-inning game against Detroit, then the most innings ever played in American League history.

I was hooked, despite the fact that both the A’s and Phillies, who shared the use of Shibe Park, traditionally finished last in their league.

I have always been intrigued by the strategy and execution of the time-honored baseball situations, such as the hit-and-run, steal, sacrifice bunt and suicide squeeze — none of which fit significantly into today’s game.

Players often played their entire careers with the same team establishing a deep fan loyalty. Starting pitchers often pitched the whole game. At that time, Tommy John surgery was nonexistent, and salaries were modest. Players played through their “aches and pains,” often working a manual job in the off-season to support their families.

Hall of Famer Robin Roberts completed 30 games in 1952, more than the combined total of all major league pitchers in 2018. There was no designated hitter rule or automatic walk.

Today, teams play for the big inning and the homerun, sacrificing “small ball” for long ball.

A recent player said, “Better to trot around the bases than run.” How sad!

Current players have learned that the money is in the homerun and not necessarily their batting average. Statistics bear this out. As homeruns have increased, batting averages have decreased.

This year, more homeruns will be hit than in any year in history. Also contributing to this increase is the construction of the ball, particularly its questionable weight, size and seams, while a player’s swing plane has been adjusted to elevate the ball.

In addition, modern starting pitchers are now throwing in the high 90s, realizing they are only expected to pitch five or six innings before being relieved by a strong bullpen, who often only face a single batter before being replaced by another 100-mph hurler. One hundred mph. No wonder so many pitchers are suffering through record-setting, season-ending Tommy John surgery.

The old, subjective, minor league scouting system of evaluating players has been replaced with analytics and algorithms, including unique defensive fielding shifts.

Perhaps the biggest change is the players themselves. No longer is there a need to work off-season jobs. Now, salaries, long term contracts and sponsorships can test a fan’s imagination. An average salary of a major league baseball player today easily exceeds a million dollars, many as high as $20 million-plus a season.

No wonder each team’s injury list is so full as players protecting their health and future earning potential.

To compare, my favorite third baseman, Willie “Puddinhead” Jones of the 1950 pennant-winning Phillies, earned a top salary of $25,000 in 1952. He also worked an off-season job.

One complaint often heard is that the game is too slow and takes too long to finish, often taking over three hours or more.

Here are a few suggestions to speed up the game:

Starting pitchers must complete six innings or more to receive credit for the win.

Relief pitchers must finish the inning if they are replacing a pitcher who started the inning.

During player on-field disputes/fights, all players coming onto the field from the dugout and bullpen will be ejected and fined.

Replay challenges only permitted from the seventh inning on, one per team.

Earle Everett of Moss Creek is a retired Sears manager who played semi-professional baseball until age 31. He had tryouts with the Yankees, Dodgers, Phillies and Detroit in 1954; was named to the Journal American All Star team in 1955; and the New York Metropolitan college All Star team in 1956.

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