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Crack! Smack! Conk!: Do Home Runs Make Boring Baseball?

Monday, October 17, 2011

It's an argument baseball fans have been having ... well, forever: Home Runs, Yay versus Home Runs, Boo. They'll dress it up more than that, but that's all it is.

Arguments in favor: a towering home run is an awfully impressive achievement, it sounds great and looks awesome (if you've never heard a really big hit in person, it's weird how loud it is), and that it's a display of raw power that baseball doesn't otherwise necessarily offer. Moreover, in special circumstances, it can score a bunch of runs at once and hugely affect the course of the game. After all, major league teams score an average of four or five runs per game; the right kind of home run can score four in one play. If football had a 21-point play, people would get pretty excited about it, even if it didn't happen often. Moreover, it's efficient. There's not a guy who hits a single who wouldn't be better off, you know, hitting a home run.

Arguments against: It's boring. Nothing really happens. The ball isn't even in play. No sport should expect people to get overly excited about anything with "trotting" in it, unless it's dressage. And perhaps even then, you know? Many home runs aren't that much more exciting to look at than fly outs. In fact, many of them almost are fly outs. Some of them would be fly outs if they were in a different ball park. And, of course, to some people, they're unromantic and don't focus on the fundamentals and so forth.

The home run surge of the late '90s and early 2000s seems to be letting up a smidge, according to this spiffy graph. But you wouldn't know it from the final game of the National League Championship Series that sent the St. Louis Cardinals to the World Series last night (where they'll meet the Texas Rangers) and sent the Milwaukee Brewers home (where they'll ... drink beer, one assumes). While the game eventually settled down, it did bring the home run debate into rather stark relief when the various pitchers on hand gave up a total of six home runs in the first three innings.

Now, in fairness, that pace was not matched for the rest of the game, so there were not eighteen home runs in the game. In fact, only one run scored after the fifth inning. (They didn't stop changing pitchers, though. It's not every day you see a nine-inning game in which thirteen people pitch, not one pitches more than 2 1/3 innings, and seven of them pitch one inning or less. I mean, really. I've seen fewer new faces on The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills.) (I apologize. A little.)

Those opening innings weren't boring, exactly, but they were a great example of how home run after home run can feel kind of ... anticlimactic. Now, that's not a "give me the poetry of the scent of freshly cut grass as the game turns on the fundamentals and Americana lifts its blah blah yoinkety-yoink." They're perfectly valid baseball. But it did seem like a lot of ... well, remember the trotting? There was lots of trotting. Trot, boom. Trot, boom.

Now, if you need white-hot excitement at all times, (1) you probably aren't watching baseball anyway, (2) you will never appreciate beautiful things like no-hitters, and (3) you'll never get a chance to go get a snack. But six home runs in three innings? I'm not prepared to say it was dull, but when I want the close-up of Albert Pujols winning the Aw Shucksy Award for nonchalance, I will ask for it.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Source: NPR

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