After a long winter, spring returns with the sound of "Play Ball". For nearly 170 years, baseball has been played in our country. In 1845, the rules of the games were first officially used by the New York Knickerbockers. Since those days, very little has changed in the game of baseball when it comes to the rules and how it is played.
When you think about it, the game is relatively simple. Pitch the ball. Hit the ball. Catch the ball and run. Simple in explanation, but in its play the game can be complex.
Last week I caught up with Coach Dave Cisar and asked for a quick and simple answer to a question. "How has the game of baseball changed since it first began?" He was going to meet with his team to begin the 2014 season against Paden City. "The designated hitter, speed of the game and the replay," was his answer.
Researching the original 20 rules of the game along with coach's answer helps to understand the evolution of the game. Not a lot has changed. The designated hitter rule was put in place beginning in 1973. This allows chosen players to bat for the pitcher in the game.
The speed of the game Coach Cisar refers to has to be the quickness of the game's play. One of the aspects of all profession sports that separates it from amateur play is the speed of the game. Today players condition all year long to stay in top physical shape to be able to move around the field at top speed to make plays and prevent injuries.
The question of performance enhancing drugs in professional baseball is a subject that each year seems to arise. When a player's physical size or speed of play greatly improves over a short period of time we often wonder, has he worked hard in the off season or has he found the answer through modern chemistry?
Records fall in baseball each season. Runs, hits, catches are all numbers that have improved over the seasons. Perhaps the record for home run is often the one most watched by the dedicated baseball fans. Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron, Babe Ruth, and Willey Mays stand at the top of the home run records. Bonds, Aaron, and Ruth all had over 700 home runs to their credit during their careers-an impressive achievement in anyone's book.
Babe Ruth held the record for the most home runs in 1919, 1920, and 1921 ball seasons. In 1927 he had a total of 60 home runs to hold the title for that year. Babe and many other players set records with skills and dedication to the game-no chemical additives needed.
Distance from home plate to first and around the bases has not changed. Pitcher's mound to home plate is the same. But, the distance to hit a home run depends on the stadium in which the game is played. Each stadium is a little different in its design. Some ballparks are well known to be friendly to home run hitters. Coors Field, Rangers Ballpark, Fenway Park, U.S. Cellar Field, Chase Field and Yankee Stadium are considered to be batter friendly. Air density, humidity, and wind currents are considered to be factors in batter friendly parks. In the end, it is the batter that makes the final contribution to the hit.
This season is going to see a new era in baseball and it rules. Major League baseball will begin to use video replay in the games when a question arises about a play in the field. It will not be used to determine strikes and balls at home plate.
We have seen replays when an umpire misses a call of a runner. That missed call affects the game's final outcome. Those are the calls that make the highlight films of the evening sports news and conversation around the water cooler. Since the first umpire missed a call over 150 years ago, it is part of the game.
Why use replay in the game of baseball? I believe it all comes down to money. Sports' betting is big business in this country. Odds makers can predict a game's outcome by using ERAs, batters averages, team errors, and ballpark advantage for a batter. Take all those factors and put them through an odds maker computer and you have the outcome in odds in the house favor. Change one thing and the outcome is not as predicable. No odds maker can predict a single blown call at first base that changed the game's outcome. Use a replay and the house wins again.
I know there are those of you who believe the replay is a good thing in sports. I guess I consider myself a traditionalist. For myself, I say let them play the game. Replays in baseball will, in my opinion, take away from the excitement of the game. I realize sometimes it goes against the team I am rooting for. Other times, it works for the home team. In the end I think it all works out.
One of the toughest jobs in sports is the umpire, who must watch every aspect of the game and make a split-second call. That is their job. Unlike some fans, they are not perfect and mistakes are going to be made. But, now with the help of modern technology that missed tag or foot missing the plate will never again be missed.
What will be the next change in the game? Technology exists to signal if a runner was safe or the first baseman touched the bag first. Small sensors in each of the bases along with ones in player's shoes would eliminate all questions. Laser scanners could call balls and strikes as the pitch crosses home plate.
With sensors in home plate and players' shoes there would be no need for an umpire behind the plate. A perfect game with no missed calls is what modern technology offers us. Abner Doubleday may not recognize the game in the future.
For me, baseball is a game of sliding into first in a cloud of dust and hearing from the blinding haze the umpire call out, "SAFE." It is the inside pitch over the corner of the plate that looked like a ball and we hear, "strike: from behind the plate. Life is not perfect and neither are the umpires who have called the games of baseball for a century and a half. Umpires have done their best and made the game interesting with their calls. Since that first pitch in New York in 1845, people have cheered and booed as they judged the play on the field. It is my hope that video replay does not sanitize the game into a perfect call every time. After all, that missed call has been part of the game for a lot longer than any of us and baseball is still America's game as we make the call Through the Lens.