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The baseball postseason beckons, and, not for the first time, our former unofficial “national pastime” is under attack. The difference this time is that the criticism comes from within, from people who profess to love the game as they knew it, but not as it is.

One of their usual points is undeniable. The average major league baseball game is far too long. Any game completed in under three hours is a rarity. Much like Mark Twain’s weather, everyone talks about it but we are all powerless to alter the situation.

A pitch clock would surely help. Demanding that hitters remain in the batter’s box for the duration of their stay unless forced out by an inside pitch would help. But nothing can be done about the seemingly endless pitching changes. And now we have the helpful but time-consuming “reviews,” some of which are absurdly long.


But many of us have been railing about game length for a couple of decades. The latest negative development is even more troubling.

For the third year in a row, there were more strikeouts than base hits. This would have been unimaginable even five years ago. But think about it. Was anyone talking about “launch angle,” “exit velocity,” or “spin rate” in 2016?

We are ensconced in what we refer to as the “three outcome” phase of baseball. Far too often, the result of a plate appearance is either a strikeout, a walk, or a home run. We now have far fewer balls in play.

The disturbing part, to me, about not having enough balls in play is that the game is blessed with more good pure athletes than at any time in its long history. This latent athleticism manifests itself on defense. We are quite clearly living in the Golden Age of Defense, especially when it comes to shortstops and center fielders. But thanks to the “three outcome” problem, there simply aren’t enough balls in play for those magnificent defenders to show off their skill for us.


You cannot exaggerate just how good these modern players are. Jackie Bradley Jr. was the best defensive center fielder I’ve seen in just under 60 years of observing Red Sox baseball in person. Yet he has won just one (1) Gold Glove.

There are other fantastic center fielders. I find it hard to believe anyone has been better than Bradley, but if enough experts think that’s the case, then my case is closed. The more balls hit out there, the merrier.

I have to address this strikeout thing.

I realize the game has evolved. I realize there are more hard throwers than ever, and that the best pitch in baseball is still a well-placed fastball, whether it’s 90 m.p.h. or Aroldis Chapman m.p.h. But the rise in strikeouts speaks to a different game than the one your father or grandpa knew.

For the longest time, none other than Babe Ruth was the career strikeout leader. He retired in 1935 with 1,330 career whiffs. But get this: Do you know how many times he struck out 100 times in a season? That would be zero. He struck out 90 times only twice, and once was in 1933, when he was 38 years old. The standards and expectations were a bit different.

When I was a lad, the single-season whiff king was Joe D’s older brother Vince DiMaggio, with 134 back in 1938. We arched collective eyebrows when Tigers rookie Jake Wood fanned 141 times in 1961. Not in our most extreme imagination could we have foreseen the likes of Mark Reynolds, Adam Dunn, or Chris Davis.


As most good baseball fans know, Reggie Jackson is the current career leader with 2,597 K’s. But when I think of a Whiff King, I think first of Davis, with a career rate of one strikeout every 3.04 plate appearances; or of Reynolds, the single-season leader with 223 and a career rate of one K every 3.24 plate appearances; or Dunn, with a career rate of one K every 3.50 plate appearances.

Chris Davis has a career strikeout rate of one strikeout every 3.04 plate appearances.
Chris Davis has a career strikeout rate of one strikeout every 3.04 plate appearances.Tony Dejak/Associated Press

Speaking of Joe DiMaggio, check this out. The Yankee Clipper fanned a total of 369 times in 7,672 plate appearances, with a high of, ahem, 39 in his rookie year of 1936. Nuf said.

Well, not quite. Can you imagine what Ted Williams himself is thinking while watching all this from that Hitter’s Home In The Sky? The Thumper had 2,021 career walks and just 709 K’s, and five times he walked a hundred times more in a season than he struck out.

Yes, a base on balls is a no-action outcome, but in his case, those walks were elegant.

Did someone say “launch angle”? Ted preached an uppercut swing. But the assumption was that you’d actually hit the baseball.

We won’t even talk about Hall of Famer Joe Sewell, who stuck out — are you sitting down? — 114 times in 8,333 career plate appearances, and who, in his final four seasons, fanned once every 120.4 plate appearances. I’ll be fair. I’m not holding anyone to those standards.


OK, now. Excuse me while I mount the soap box.

Yes, there is plenty wrong with the contemporary game. But it’s still Baseball. It is a game of 440-foot outs and 15-foot RBI dribblers. It is a game in which a base hit on a 3-and-2 count with the bases loaded will produce a different outcome than the same ball on a 2-and-2 count.

It is a game in which graceful shortstops dazzle us with long throws from the hole to nip a speedy runner or a deft third baseman makes an incomprehensibly beautiful barehand pickup of a slow roller and gets yet another speedy runner at first.

It’s a game in which the pitcher and batter engage in a compelling game-within-a-game. It is a game in which a man could throw a perfect game with 27 line-drive outs.

It is a game, unlike any other, in which the playing field is an active participant. (“That ball off the wall would have been a home run in any other ballpark!”)

Most of all, it’s a game ungoverned by a clock. You can talk about all the drama possible in any other team sport, but a two-out, two-strike, none-on, ninth-inning comeback victory cannot be topped.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll now say it again. Baseball is the greatest game ever to spring from the mind of mortal man.


I’m now back down from the soapbox. Your turn.

P.S. I could have referenced contemporary whiff masters Joey Gallo, Giancarlo Stanton, Aaron Judge, and Gary Sanchez, but I happen to be in a charitable mood with regard to Yankees fans.

Bob Ryan can be reached at robert.ryan@globe.com.