Howard Herman | Designated Hitter: Is baseball dying? Not according to Tom Grieve
Baseball, some of the pundits say, is on an unstoppable downward spiral. Not a fast spiral, but inexorable nonetheless.
The pundits might not like the game, but in the eyes of a baseball guy like Tom Grieve, that is anything but accurate.
"It's a little bit of a different game right now, but to suggest that it's not healthy," he said, "I don't think that's the case."
Grieve, who was a first-round draft pick out of Pittsfield High School back in 1966 where his team won a state baseball title, played in the majors, was the general manager of the Texas Rangers and is currently part of the Rangers' TV broadcast crew.
He didn't just have a cup of coffee either. He spent nine years, seven of them with the Texas Rangers after the Rangers — then the Washington Senators — drafted him, in the majors. In 1976, Grieve had one of his best seasons. While he hit only .255, he had 20 home runs and 81 runs batted in.
Grieve is not the biggest fan of the way the game has evolved.
"I don't like the direction it's going in," he told me when we spoke at Fenway Park recently, as Grieve accompanied the Rangers for a series against the Red Sox.
"I think most people that have been in the game for a while, look at the game as it's being played now, with the emphasis on launch angle, and not giving too much of a care about how many times you strike out," he said, "the ball's not put in play quite as much. I don't really like the direction the game is going in right now.
"It's a trend, and analytics have come into vogue that probably stress that."
Go to Wahconah Park in Pittsfield, go to Fenway, and you see a lot of kids. And sure, the number of kids playing baseball might be down, but so are the number of kids playing most sports.
Grieve said that, in his eyes, the problem isn't that people are or aren't interested, but rather that there are too many noncompetitive games with too many teams that aren't very good.
"You look in the American League and there are going to be three teams that win 100 games, and there might be three teams that lose 100 games," Grieve said. "As far as the competitive balance in the game right now, it seems to be skewed in the American League to three super teams and in the National League, maybe a couple of them there. I think that's a little bit more worrisome than whether or not there are more home runs and more strikeouts."
In baseball's attendance race, the top 11 teams play to no less than 70 percent capacity. Of those 11, only four are lower than second place in their respective divisions. Of the four teams that play to the highest capacity in their respective home parks, Boston (93 percent) and the Chicago Cubs (93.8 percent) are in first place, while St. Louis (96.2) is in third and the San Francisco Giants (92.6) are in fourth.
Pro sports are copycats. Right now, those teams that are really bad might be tanking because the Houston Astros — arguably the best team in baseball currently — tanked to rebuild.
"It's one thing to say this is what you're going to do, and it's going to work because Houston did it," said Grieve, who was the Texas general manager for 10 years. "You have to implement it. Every team is trying to build, so it may be the only way to do it. You can't begrudge a team for looking at their organization and deciding how they want to build their team. There are five or six teams doing it right now, and it leads to a lot of non-competitive games."
Grieve speaks from experience that building a team is not easy, nor is it quick.
"In basketball, you can get a 7-foot center that can turn your team around," he said. "If you come in last place in baseball and you get the No. 1 draft choice, and you don't get in a year where it's Alex Rodriguez or Carlos Correia or one of the great young players, that's not an overnight road to success.
"Nothing's guaranteed just because you come in last place in baseball."
Howard Herman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, at @howardherman on Twitter and 413-496-6253.
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