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With Tongue Firmly in Cheek

By Art Stevens

I constantly hear that in baseball, pitching is seventy to seventy-five percent of the game. I agree with that fully, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. That story is based on pitching, offense (hitting and running), and fielding but leaves out a very important element of the equation, one that although it is present in all sports, lends itself much more to baseball than to the others, and for obvious reasons. The fourth part of the equation is LUCK. Yes, good old Lady Luck. We all know that it exists. Why ignore it?
Why in baseball more than all of the other sports? In a word, ‘space.’ We have a batter swinging a round bat, trying to hit a pitch coming in at 90 mph from a pitcher throwing a round ball. If you ask that batter to predict where he is going to hit that pitch, you will always get the same (or a very similar) answer: “I have no idea. All I’m tying to do is get a good swing, hit it hard, and hit it flush.” That’s where the ‘space’ comes in.
We have ninety feet from first base to second, and ninety feet from second to third. That is 180 feet. We have first and third basemen that may cover about five feet to either side. The second baseman and shortstop may double that. I’m being very lax with these numbers. Feel free to use your own. That means, give or take a few, we have about 120 feet open to try to hit through the infield for a base hit. The outfield? I won’t bore you with numbers, but my, it is spacious, isn’t it?
What I would like you to do at the next game you see is to pay a little closer attention to each at bat. I’m sure you will see a couple of nice fielding plays. You will probably see a couple of hitters hit long balls, and probably the team that gets the best pitching will win. Now look at all those other plays.
1- The batter hits a slow ground ball between the shortstop and the third baseman into left field for a base hit. Is that what he tried to do? No, obviously not. That’s Lady Luck. The next time up he might be thinking “I’ve got to hit it better than that.” Guess what? He does. He gets all of it. Flush. And he hits a hard ground ball to the third baseman, who throws him out at first. Of course, he gets credit for the poorly hit ball and no credit for the well hit ball. Sure, give credit to the hitter. But understand that this is the Lady at work.

2- The batter takes a mighty swing, nubs the ball up the third base line, and beats it out. Great hitting, huh? No, that’s the Lady again.

3- Another mighty cut. A little can of corn (pop fly) to short center. Three guys surround it. It drops in for a base hit. Great hitting? No, she’s back for an encore.

I can go through bad hops, bad calls, seeing-eye ground balls, nubbers, pop singles, and on and on. Yes it IS part of the game, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Baseball is, and will continue to be, the greatest game in the world, but folks, these moments DO happen. If you prefer calling them the breaks of the game, fine, I have no problem with that. As for me, I say respect the lady and hope for the best. Good pitching will still prevail the great majority of the time. Good offense (hitting and running), as well as fielding, will be right there to complement it, and I would place luck next. If you still want to give all the credit to the hitter, you certainly can as long as you give me the old wink-wink.
If you think I’m tearing down the game of baseball, you’re wrong. The saving grace for this game is the fact that it is played every day for about 6 months. In such sustained play, the best pitchers will rise to the top; the best hitters will wind up with the best averages, home run totals, runs scored, and runs batted in. And my friends, this will happen no matter how much luck is involved.
The purpose of my writing this is not to change your thinking about the game, but to bring it to a more realistic point of view. Play ball!