Baseball’s scientists are inventing new ways to suck the life out of the game

DETROIT, MI - JULY 20: Sandy Leon #3 of the Boston Red Sox celebrates his 31st save with closing pitcher Craig Kimbrel #46 of the Boston Red Sox after a 1-0 win over the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park on July 20, 2018 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Duane Burleson/Getty Images)
Duane Burleson/Getty Images
Craig Kimbrel (right) and Sandy Leon shook on another Red Sox win — a 1-0 game that took 3 hours and 31 minutes to play.

Picked up pieces while making hotel reservations for Chicago in October (Sox-Cubs, finally), Atlanta in February (I’ll wear my 28-3 shirt), and San Francisco in June (Kyrie vs. Warriors, again) . . .

 Red Sox vice president of pitching analysis Brian Bannister inadvertently explained what is killing baseball when he told the Globe’s Alex Speier, “Essentially, baseball has become a game full of data scientists. We’re finding ways to get better at what we do, and to provide the players with better information and better recommendations on everything we do on a daily basis . . . The biggest change in the game is the mind-set of ‘Get a hitter out in three pitches or less.’ Efficiency was the most prized thing in baseball. Now the whole art of pitching is the science of the swing and miss . . . When we control all the variables with a ball not being put into play, as opposed to a ball being put into play and all the chaos that causes, it’s worth our time.’’

Swell. Unfortunately for viewers, the “chaos” Bannister abhors is actually what made the game entertaining in the first place. Remember great defensive plays and triples in the gap? Bannister’s smart and winning philosophy is a classic explanation of how analytics is sucking the life out of the national pastime.


Case in point: Friday night’s 1-0 Sox win over the Tigers. It took 3 hours and 31 minutes to play a 1-0 game! Thanks to the stellar/winning philosophy of keeping the ball out of play we got 10 pitchers and 317 pitches in a game with one run and one extra-base hit. Sox reliever Matt Barnes needed 23 pitches for a shutout eighth and Craig Kimbrel threw 23 for his shutout ninth. It is unwatchable. Nothing happens.

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 North Carolina football coach Larry Fedora did his best Woody Hayes/Buddy Garrity act last week at the ACC’s media event when he said he didn’t believe there’s a connection linking football with CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy). He said football is “safer than ever,’’ adding, “I fear the game will get pushed so far to one extreme you won’t recognize the game 10 years from now. That’s what I worry about, and I do believe if it gets to that point that our country goes down, too . . . I do think the game of football has had a major impact on who we are as a country.’’ Wow. USA Today’s Dan Wolken responded with, “You can imagine what America might look like if we didn’t have George Washington’s breakout performance in the Rose Bowl to fall back on.’’

 My favorite piece in the New York Times exhaustive World Cup coverage profiled the bizarre exchanges between international media members and the teams they cover. “The news media is, in theory, meant to maintain a cool, analytical distance from the subject it covers . . . Not so at the World Cup, where it is perfectly fine for reporters from a particular country to wear team jerseys to the stadium; to break into applause when a coach enters or leaves the room; to clamor for autographs or selfies; and to ask questions that are variations of ‘How great are you?’ ’’ Sounds like the NESN school of hard-hitting coverage.

 Apps did not exist when I was a kid, but I would have done anything to have “Homecourt,” a new product backed by Jeremy Lin that tells you how many shots you take every day, how many you made, and lets you watch clips of any of your shots in real time or in slow motion. How many shots did you take before your 30th birthday? A million? More or less?

 I take everything Lou Merloni says more seriously when I remember that he homered off Randy Johnson and hit a triple off Roger Clemens. Framingham Lou also was intentionally walked by Randy Johnson. Remind me to ask the Big Unit about that one when I see him in Cooperstown next weekend.


QUIZ: Name the four players who hit three homers in a single World Series game. Hint: Two played for the Red Sox at one time in their career (answer below).

 New York Daily News media critic Bob Raissman delivered the high heat to David Ortiz, writing, “ . . . this is the same Ortiz who wrecked Fox’s 2017 postseason studio show and was rewarded with a multi-year contract by the Brainiacs in Fox’s Hollywood bunker. Ortiz doesn’t know when to shut up, walks over colleagues, and cannot be controlled by Kevin Burkhardt . . . It was Ortiz who accomplished the impossible by going 0-6 in his Astros-Dodgers World Series predictions. Ortiz was so flustered he declined to make a Game 7 pick.”

 Next time you pass Exit 17 on the Mass Pike heading East, take a look at the new Red Auerbach facility to your right and say a little prayer of thanks to No. 23 hanging from the rafters inside the glass. That’s Frank Ramsey, one of the great, underrated Celtics. Ramsey was the original “Sixth Man” and is a Hall of Famer. “Red really liked Ramsey,’’ the late Gene Conley told me in 1993. “Ramsey was like a general manager. He looked after everybody. If you went to Syracuse and it was snowing he’d make sure everybody had a driver for their car and make sure we stayed in line. He was like an old mother hen, and Red liked that.’’ Ramsey was famous for writing the amount of the winner’s playoff share on the locker room blackboard before playoff games and telling his teammates, “Y’all are playing for mahh money.’’

 There are few things more loathsome and phony than the NCAA. I was reminded of this while reading a Wall Street Journal story about demands the NCAA puts on cities/arenas that bid for future Final Fours. US Bank Stadium (where Malcolm Butler was inexplicably benched) was awarded the 2019 Final Four, but not until pledging to spend $5 million to put a giant cloak on the outer walls of the glassy arena. “The environment that the games are played in has to be maintained,’’ said typically sanctimonious NCAA VP Dan Gavitt. According to the Journal, “The NCAA declined to release the exact specifications for stadium darkness required of bid cities.’’

 Dave Dombrowski has experience with the one-game wild card. His Tigers were beaten by the Twins in a play-in game in 2009.


 The San Francisco Giants are retiring Barry Bonds’s No. 25 on Aug. 11. Meanwhile, the Cubs have issued Sammy Sosa’s No. 21 to nine players since Sammy left Chicago. Sosa has not been to the Windy City in 11 years.

 Did anybody know that former Dolphins quarterback Jay Fiedler was a distant relative of legendary Pops conductor Arthur Fiedler? That’s almost as good as Adam Vinatieri’s bloodlines to General George Custer. Felix Vinatieri, great-great grandfather of the kicker, was Custer’s bandmaster. Fortunately, Custer did not take the band with him to Little Big Horn.

 Read “Tamed Fury,” a Kirk Gibson profile by S.L. Price in the July 16-23 Sports Illustrated.

 The beloved Rico Petrocelli just released a new coffee table book, “An All Star’s Cardboard Memories,’’ featuring baseball card replicas, anecdotes, and data on 56 Hall of Famers who played during the golden age of 1960-66.

 Tune in Monday night at 9 p.m. for PBS’s premiere of “Ted Williams — The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived,’’ an American Masters documentary on Teddy Ballgame, narrated by Jon Hamm. The producuers hired a young Astros outfielder — Kyle Tucker — to simulate Ted’s swing. The 21-year-old Tucker is 6-4, weighs 190, bats left (all like Ted) and went to Plant High School in Tampa — alma mater of Wade Boggs.

 Coming in October: “The Last Pass,’’ detailing the relationship between Celtic greats Bob Cousy and Bill Russell through the eyes of the Cooz. Written by Gary Pomeranz, Penguin Press touts it as “an intimate story of race, mortality and regret.’’

 The 25th annual Old Time Baseball Game is Aug. 16 at St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge.

QUIZ ANSWER: Babe Ruth, Reggie Jackson, Albert Pujols, and Pablo Sandoval.

 Congratulations to John Martin on the publication of “Waiting For Greatness: Memories and Musings of a Sports Television Cameraman.’’ One of the true greats in our industry, the former NESN videographer is battling ALS, but that has not prevented him from putting his thoughts on paper. He inspires us every day.

Dan Shaughnessy can be reached at