We all like to see a ball jump off bat and land in the seats, and the batter circle the bases. It is even more fun when your team with runners on the base gives you or adds to your lead. Some of the game's most significant moments have revolved around the Home Run. From Ruth calling his shot, Bobby Thompson's shot heard around the world. Fernando Tatis and his 2 Grand Slams in one inning off the same pitcher. Reggie Jackson's game 6 of the 1977 World Series 3 Home Runs off three different pitchers all on the first pitch! And of course, as a St Louis fan, all I need to say is, Go Crazy, Folks, Go crazy!
For all the excitement of the Home Run, is it overvalued? I don't mean to sound glib about it but do we put too much stock in how valuable the Home Run is? There is no doubt that putting runs on the scoreboard with one swing of the bat is a fun thing for fans and gives a team an immediate boost. What about the hit and run and the Stolen base? For some time now, there has been a concerted effort for the long ball to be prevalent in baseball. Many feel that was one of the driving factors of the "steroid era" and the chase after Maris by McGwire and Sosa.
It has been reported that Major league Baseball is prioritizing Home Runs and Strikeouts in 2021 and beyond. Why pick only two parts of the game, supposedly Millennials and younger fans hate (strikeouts). Baseball is a game of many facets, all of which make the game fun and exciting. What if the NFL said they would prioritize the pass and kick off returns? Or the NBA said it is all about dunks and Blocks? Promoting one facet of the game over other parts is a slap in the face to those who played before and fans who enjoy all aspects of the game.
Yes, people like the Home Run. Who doesn't? They sit in the bleachers to hopefully catch one. Some of the more compelling events in baseball have been around the Home Run; Aaron chasing Babe Ruth, McGwire, and Sosa in Maris's race, Bonds eclipsing Aaron. It has led to sabermetrics, launch angle, bat speed, and exit velocity have become the watchwords. If I have two runners on base and am down by a run, would I like a Home Run? Yes, of course, I would. However, if it is a double that scores two runs, then I am just as happy. The ability to hit a ball over the fence is not the only way to win ball games.
Now I know I will date myself here, but when I grew up, if you had a power hitter who could knock 30 over the fence and he had the support of a couple of guys who could hit 20+, then you were in business. Nowadays, If you don't have three guys able to hit 30, you somehow lack offense.
Some will argue Home Runs mean more, DO they? In 2016 Baltimore hit 218 HRs, most in the majors. They had a winning percentage of .547. The Chicago Cubs hit 170 HRs and had a .645 winning percentage (and won the World Series). Six other teams besides the Cubs had lower Home Run totals but a better winning percentage. The Dodgers hit 51 fewer home runs(267) yet had a better winning percentage .565 than Baltimore. Minnesota belted 172 HRs and had the second-lowest winning percentage at .367.
In 2019 the Minnesota Twins were the first team in MLB history to have five players hit 30 or more HRs in one season. Also, the first team to have eight players hit 20 or more HRs had a total of 307, yet they were swept in 3 games in the ALDS by the Yankees, who coincidentally hit one less total Hrs 306. The Yankees were then taken out by Houston, who hit 288 HRs. Houston lost the World Series to Washington, who only hit 231 HRs.
Okay, I am not saying that Home Runs are not essential or are not fun to watch. Not at all. I am saying that there are other parts to the game that is more important than the Home Run.
Pitchers like Clayton Kershaw, Justin Verlander, and others, When effective, can limit big power bats' ability. Keep the other team off the bases enough until their team can generate offense. Now to me, some of the best games to watch are one-run pitcher's duels where a walk could be detrimental—seeing which pitcher will tire first or make a mistake and allow a base runner in scoring position.
Good contact hitters
Hitters like Tony Gwynn knew how to make contact with the ball and were deadly with runners in scoring position. Runner on second and a clean hit down the line could score a run and was safer than a 390 ft fly out or a strikeout by a big slugger trying to put a ball in the parking lot. Guys that can make contact are often more dangerous than a guy who hits 30+ Home Runs. Now that is not to say that Contact hitters can't have power, Like Mike Trout, for example. However, with the game on the line and outs precious, give me the guy that can put wood on leather.
Effective game management
By virtue of roster management and pitching match-ups, effective managers can have some bearing on the power game. Does he hit fastballs? Can he hit left-handers or right-handers better? Who do I have that has pitched him well before? Who is hitting behind him, and can I exploit that? How a manager approaches his game plan can affect the Home Run.
Effective base running
Things like taking the extra base on a throw from the outfield or on an infield play, even stealing a base. These methods can pay huge dividends in terms of runs without having to hit the ball over the fence. The Small ball theory of the 80s still has a place in day's game. If you have a team that can effectively use the running game. Be it situational running or stolen bases. You do have the ability to score runs without having to wait for a big masher to come to the plate.
All in all, the Home Run is no more important than any other facet of the game. Fans should embrace ALL parts of the game, as should those in control of Major League Baseball. If Rob Manfred and MLB management want to excite fans, then let baseball be played without tweaking for more power. Let the game flow naturally. Don't dictate what facets should be front and center. In the end, you will have better baseball games and better baseball fans.
Thanks for reading.