Monday, August 09, 2004

Technology? Bah, Humbug!

I don’t want to hear any more talk about how technology has improved our lives or how telecommunications have shrunk the globe. I see ample evidence to suggest baseball remains unchanged or worse despite these so-called advances.

HDTV. Just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it?. The trouble is, the notice at the bottom of the screen informing viewers the game is being broadcast in HDTV where available is wasted on the majority of us because we are still watching on analog sets. Who has a few thousand bucks to spare to purchase a plasma screen for the wall? Can’t any of those geeks figure out how to make our existing TV’s backward compatible?

When Cal Ripken broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak, a record no one thought would ever be broken fell. And when Mark McGuire, Sammy Sosa and Barry Bonds topped Babe Ruth’s single season home run record in rapid succession it seemed certain more hallowed records would fall. Why, then, don’t elite starting pitchers routinely win 30 games a year? After all, we are living in the age of Tommy John surgeries and laboratory-aided heroics. Starting pitchers aren’t even required to pitch complete games anymore, just six innings or a quality start, whichever comes first. Yet, not since Denny McLain (1968), Dizzy Dean (1934) and Lefty Grove (1931) has anyone won 30 games or more. Can’t anyone out there build a more perfect arm or at a minimum come up with a legal supplement that can be rubbed on existing ones?

When ballplayers at every level below the pros began using aluminum bats it seemed only a matter of time before the pay-for-play guys would follow suit. Didn’t the “ping” of the alloyed “lumber” sound much more modern than the “thwack” of the hardwood? But no, the bats the big boys use are still made of ash and they still get sawed off occasionally. As far as I can tell the aluminum ones last forever. Isn’t there some sort of filler that can be used in the wooden bats to increase their longevity if not their potency?

Astroturf was supposed to revolutionize the game. No mowers. No brown spots. No watering. No rainouts. All one had to do following a monsoon was get out the squeegee. Owners loved it. Low maintenance. Trouble was the players hated it. Turf generated temperatures that would melt the soles on their shoes. Seams, especially around the bases, would send the occasional ground ball caroming off in unexpected directions including the head. The stuff was hard on the body generally. Many a player claimed the concrete surface beneath the turf shortened their careers and wreaked havoc on their skeletons. A few indoor stadiums without retractable roofs are stuck with stuff, but every new ballpark has gone back to grass. Can’t anyone come up with grass that doesn’t need mowing or watering so that even the owners would be happy?

Whenever the Phillies play on the West Coast they might as well be in Kuala Lumpur as far as I am concerned. Trying to get real-time news about these games is like waiting for communications from a spacecraft on the dark side of the moon. The weeknight games out there start around my bedtime back here and normally end shortly before I get up for the first time in the middle of the night. Granted, some younger fans can stay up that late but many of us cannot. Why hasn’t someone come up with a way to shorten the time zone differences or crank up some way back machine to simulcast the games into the future? (Speaking of which…. I’d like to travel to Europe more often but I dread those seven and eight hour flights, which is exactly how long the journey took on my maiden flight to Europe 38 years ago. Even when the Concorde was an option it wasn’t one for my budget. Can’t anyone fly faster without breaking the sound barrier?)

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