The Tenth Inning
 The Tenth Inning Blog
Periodically, I will post new entries about current baseball topics.  The posts will typically be a mixture of commentary, history, facts, and stats.  Hopefully, they will provoke some  of your thoughts or emotions. Clicking on the word "Comments" associated with each post below will open a new dialog box to enter or retrieve any feedback.
Sometimes history repeats itself

I think it was one of Yogi Berra’s famous quips: “it’s déjà vu all over again.” For baseball historians, it is often the case that what is believed to be a unique situation in a recent game or in a season has actually existed before.

How often do we see something that everyone thinks is new, but it’s really not? In fact, we find it existed before, but everyone didn’t know about it or just forgot about it.

I recently ran across the following paragraphs on the topic of baseball strategy:

“The old game of base-stealing, bunting, executing the hit and run, of scratching and straining to grab a few runs and then relying on sturdy pitchers to hold a small lead, had given way to ‘big-inning’ baseball.”

“With the ball being hit all about the lot [park} the necessity of taking chances on the bases has decreased. A manager would look foolish not to play the game as it is, meet the new situation with new tactics.”

“There is no use in sending men down on a long chance of stealing a bag when there is a better chance of the batter hitting one for two bases, or, maybe out the lot [park].”

You might automatically assume these observations came from someone like current Yankees manager Aaron Boone talking about relatively recent changes in the game, and how he might manage his team in today’s environment.

In fact, these came from a book by author Charles Alexander describing New York Giants manager John McGraw’s reactions to changes in the game that occurred almost one hundred years ago.

You’re probably wondering, “How can that be?” Well, sometimes history repeats itself.

The situation about which McGraw was reacting was the result of the end of the “deadball” era in 1919. With the introduction of a livelier ball (sound familiar?), the number of home runs began to soar, compared to earlier years. Of course, the absolute numbers then weren’t anything like we are experiencing today; but relative to the state of the game in that era, it was still significant.

Alexander noted in his book John McGraw (Penguin Books, 1988) that batters from both leagues in 1920 swatted 630 home runs, versus 338 in 1917. By 1925, both leagues produced 1,169, an increase of nearly 350 percent over 1917. Total runs scored in both leagues increased by nearly 40 percent during the same timeframe, while pitchers gave up one and one-half more earned runs per nine innings. One of the consequences of the increase in offensive output, as noted in McGraw’s comments, was a decline in the number of stolen bases and less reliance on a general strategy of “scratching out a few runs.”

All of this sounds very familiar to what we are seeing today in the game. Compared to just 8-10 years ago, home runs and runs scored are up, while stolen bases, bunts, and sacrifice hits are fading away.

However, I don’t imagine McGraw or any other manager a hundred years ago could have anticipated the game would change even more drastically, as baseball strategists and the players have continued to evolve the sport. For example, both leagues produced 6,776 home runs last year, which equates to approximately 3,616 on a 16-team basis, as in McGraw’s day.

What will the game look like in another hundred years? Who knows? Maybe they’ll be talking about a strategy that involves stolen bases and bunts again.

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