Reports indicating that Mark Prior's time with the San Diego Padres is done have given old, crusty baseball weirdos an outlet to rag about the good ol' days when you walked up a hill 20 miles each way (in the snow, mind you) to get to and from Crosley Field in between tales of how great pitchers were back in the "good ol' era" of baseball and about how these new guys are pansies.
Of course, those were the days when cars lasted forever, gas was cheap and love was free. Now, unless it's from Japan -- it stalls coming out of the lot. And unless you're getting E-85, you're paying somewhere around $3.00 per gallon. And unless you've got $81,000 in a backpack, you're getting no love at the club.
That is where this generation of baseball fans needs to stand up for themselves. For years, I heard those baseball tales, and with all due respect to my mother -- who raised me to be the baseball-loving goof that I am -- she's wrong. That whole generation is wrong. And don't let them tell you they've never made mistakes, for that is the same generation that elected George W. Bush to the U.S. presidency. Twice.
My beef with my mother and the older generation of baseball fans is that they compare this entire era of pitchers with Sandy Koufax, Tom Seaver, Bob Gibson and others of that ilk. All of these guys are Hall of Famers. That would be like Yankee fans complaining about Nick Swisher's production in right field because once upon a time, the Bronx Bombers had a right fielder that averaged 46 homers and 143 RBIs per year.
So, why aren't all 29 baseball teams producing Koufaxes, Seavers and Gibsons? I could tell you about how expansion has weakened the overall talent pool. Or I could talk about how lowering the mound has hurt pitchers' velocity, as this former C-student (in science) could tell you that throwing from a higher leverage point will help you throw harder.
But it is much more simple than that. The truth is: Hitters are better these days.
And to prove my point, I (begrudgingly) have to make an example of Bob Gibson.
In 1969, Gibson led the league in complete games, tossing 28 in 35 starts. And while he threw at least two complete games against each of the other 11 teams in the National League -- an incredible feat in the least -- my argument is that he did so against inferior offensive competition.
The world champion New York Mets, a team beloved in my mother's heart as she grew up a Mets fan in New York. (Yeah, everyone makes mistakes) The Miracle Mets had six everyday players batting .271 or lower, only one player with an OBP over .350 and only two players OPSing higher than .800.
Sounds like a pretty crummy offense for a team that won a World Series.
So, let's compare with baseball's Washington Nationals. Yes, at 33-72, the Nasty Nats are just that -- nasty -- as they hold a firm grip on baseball's worst record. Yet, they rank fourth in the NL in batting average, second in on-base percentage and fifth in OPS.
The '69 Mets ranked seventh, 10th and 11th in those same categories in their banner raising year. No wonder Bob Gibson threw four of his 28 complete games against that pathetic offense. Not to take anything away from Gibson, but 16 of them came against teams that ranked in the lower half of the league in batting average.
A break down of Gibson's CGs are as follows:
To put things in perspective, 2009 league average is .258, which would have been good enough for third best in the NL. In 1969, NL average was .250 -- meaning six teams in 2009 (including five which are at least .500) would have better hitting marks.
Clearly, hitters are better. So, what do pitchers have to do? Throw harder, more stressful pitches later in games. No longer can pitchers ease up when you get to the bottom of the order. Or save his bullets for a late-inning showdown with a team's heavy hitters.
The more a hitter sees a pitcher, the better a hitter knows the pitcher and his arsenal. And as the game goes on, velocity and movement tends to decrease. All of that spells doom for a fatiguing hurler down the stretch.
Why else do you think specialty pitchers have evolved in such ways? There is a reason managers would rather bring in a fire-throwing late-inning reliever rather than risk letting a fatiguing starter miss a spot and watch what was once a comfortable lead sail into the bleachers.
Managers and pitchers have sacrificed the art of the complete game for the bigger picture, which is winning ball games.
And in the end, isn't that all that matters?