If you’ve watched even one game of the 2019 Major League Baseball season, you probably know that home runs are happening at an insane rate, and that number doesn’t seem to be going down. MLB teams have combined to clobber 3,277 long balls this year, which is on pace to shatter the 2017 record by more than 500 home runs. Home runs per game is standing at a cool 1.36, an MLB single-season record by a considerable margin and an incredible mark compared to just five years ago when the rate was just 0.86.
The Minnesota Twins have hit a remarkable 149 home runs, a season pace of 309, which would absolutely destroy the team single-season record of 267, set just last year by the New York Yankees. About those Yankees, they recently set the record for most consecutive games with a home run, with 29. Earlier this season, the Arizona Diamondbacks and Philadelphia Phillies set an MLB record with 13 homers in a single game.
Individually, the crazy stats continue; Christian Yelich is on pace to hit 60 home runs, which has been done only eight times in MLB history and only twice by players outside of the power-heavy steroid era of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Second only to Yelich (29) in home runs this season is New York Mets rookie Peter Alonso, whose 27 bombs give him considerable odds to beat Cody Bellinger‘s 2017 record of home runs by a National League rookie (39) and a fighting chance to eclipse Aaron Judge‘s 52 from the same season, which is the all-time MLB rookie home run record.
Now, there’s excitement in the home run. Fans scream and cheer, fireworks erupt, and dugouts explode with elation over one flyball. But now that it’s a common occurrence, it dilutes the impact of an action that was once special and takes some of the “thinking man’s game” strategy out of the sport. There are good and wholesome debates to be had on the subject of baseball moving a different way and trending towards something more than sacrifice bunts and stolen bases. But baseball hasn’t been ruined, it just isn’t what it once was, and that’s not only okay. In my eye, it’s ideal.
Sports are meant to evolve. It’s easier now for NFL quarterbacks to stand in the pocket and throw downfield due to rules that protect the quarterback and his wide receivers, which increases offense and makes defense harder. It’s more common to see NBA players, even tall and immobile ones, pull up and shoot an open three-pointer than to post up and take contested fadeaways and bank shots, thanks to the influx of analytics that highlight the value of shot selection.
In the NHL, the evolution of hockey is best noted by the increasing success of undersized players at forward and defense. The game has become less physical and more about possession and speed than ever before, and so, smaller and lighter players like Johnny Gaudreau, Cam Atkinson, and Torey Krug — with their agility, skating speed, and puck-rushing tendencies — are more valuable than prototypical hockey players.
The difference between the other major sports in North America and baseball is that MLB fans have not yet come around to the evolved, 21st-century version of the game. Whereas the NBA has made the three-point shot, and the players best at sinking them, a central point in its marketing, baseball is still — to the general audience — the old man’s game, where nothing has changed, and nothing will change.
NBA teams have adjusted to fit the trends of the modern game and have also made long-range catalysts some of their highest-paid and most well-marketed players. The Golden State Warriors’ run of dominance over the past half-decade has been fueled by the three-point shot, and the Toronto Raptors — the 2019 NBA champions — were one of the most efficient long-range shooting teams in the league last season, averaging 12.4 made threes per game. It’s not a coincidence that as the NBA embraced what its game had become, and made it entertaining, that its ratings and popularity drove upward dramatically.
The NBA is the marquee example for what Major League Baseball is in 2019 and can be moving forward. Marketing issues in the sport are well-documented, but the most important issue for MLB, and we as a fan base, is a lack of adaptability and the inability to embrace what the game has become. Incredible stuff is happening nightly, and we’re letting it all pass us by because of the increase of the resented defensive shift, the attitude of players, the decline of the starting pitcher, the all-out importance of the home run, and just general negativity around the game.
Pitchers are throwing harder than ever before, defenders are making crazy athletic plays every night, and hitters have never been more talented at lifting and clobbering the baseball. Guess what, there’s also a guy who is probably the best player to ever put on a baseball jersey just casually playing every night. Just embrace what the game has become and enjoy it for what it is: the best sport on the planet.