PDub’s Observatory, Vol 2: people only care when hitters cheat

Gaylord Perry actually wrote a book about doctoring baseballs when he pitched.

by Paul West

Welcome to the second edition of PDub’s Observatory, in which I offer observations on trending sports topics of the week. As always, I hope you’ll find my informed warm takes to be of a reasonable critical standard.

The Suns Might Be In Trouble

At first glance, it seemed like things were stacking in the Phoenix Suns‘ favor: Devin Booker‘s apparent rounding into superstar form; Cameron Payne going off like he was back at Murray State; the Suns surviving a game in which Paul George & the LA Clippers seemed to accomplish most of their goals; Chris Paul set to return to action.

Then Payne left Game Three to an ankle injury after only four minutes, and Paul was forced to play a lot more than intended–through rust, accumulated mileage, and lingering injury. The Clippers won decisively, and all of a sudden people are realizing that CP3 is only CP3 when he’s able to play in controlled bursts. The intangibles Paul provides–calming the team in moments of duress, controlling the flow and pace of the offense, and his presence as one of the truest ‘floor generals’ we’ve seen in the NBA in a while–are his primary contribution, buttressed by his occasional midrange flurry or clutch three; but Payne has been the team’s x-factor. Payne has provided energy, leadership, and dynamic scoring when their general has been off the floor, and sometimes playing alongside him; his presence has helped keep the Suns less overly dependent on their elder statesman, while providing dynamic balance that’s facilitated Booker’s explosion. Lest we forget: this team went undefeated in the bubble last year, before CP3’s arrival; and while CP3 has proven himself the finishing piece, Game Three was a reminder that he’s not the sole reason they’re still alive. If Cameron Payne misses any time, the Suns could be setting earlier than expected.

If Cameron Payne misses time, the Suns could be in trouble.

People Only Care When Hitters Cheat

There’s been one interesting side effect of Rob Manfred’s sudden determination to rid baseball of arguably its most widespread, time-honored form of cheating: people have finally begun to acknowledge it exists in the first place.

Throughout baseball’s history, pitchers have a far longer track record of breaking or creatively bending the rules. Renowned spitballers are in the Hall of Fame, with their exploits still discussed laughingly by announcers and older fans. Gaylord Perry wrote a book called Me and the Splitter, and calls to revoke his Hall Of Fame status are few & far between.

Ironically, people care more about hitters ‘cheating’ because they don’t, in a general sense, care as much about pitching. Relatively few people can recite significant pitching records, or their holders, for anyone but their favorite team–and generally not even then. Meanwhile, 61 was arguably the most esteemed number in baseball until the single-season home run record was broken. The general popularity of hitting over pitching is why the chase to break Maris’ record was so widely and avidly followed, and why 1998–the year of Bonds & McGwire’s epic, season-long home run derby–was seen as a year of resurgence for Major League Baseball. Hank Aaron‘s 1974 pursuit of the career home run record was met with death threats, mainly because of American bigotry but also because Babe Ruth‘s signature number was so revered. This is also why the sense of outrage was so high when the so-called steroid era was revealed to have inflated home run numbers from the late 90s through the early 2000s. It’s worth noting that during the so-called steroid era, pitchers were using performance enhancers as widely as hitters–because PEDs don’t just add distance to home runs, they help athletes recover from repetitive motion activity–but this knowledge, though publicly available, was swept under the rug in the court of public opinion.

Returning to the matter of ridding baseball of the literal junkball pitch: it is, in fact, an idea long overdue. While there’s merit to the notion that loss of ‘feel’ will endanger hitters to a degree, the only fitting response is: if you can’t pitch effectively at the Major League Level without Spider Man fingers, maybe you shouldn’t be pitching at the Major League level–or at the very least, maybe your approach to pitching needs work. The idea that this is a referendum on power pitching and the pursuit of velocity is also misguided; the problem isn’t velocity, which is desirable if done cleanly. The problem is velocity and spin to the exclusion of all other considerations, which you might say is a metaphor for other problems plaguing the game writ large.

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