Baseball may still be America’s pastime, but it sure is a different sport than it used to be. Today’s players are coddled, overpaid, and handled with more care than that egg you had to take care of in high school sex ed class. It’s ludicrous to me that athletes make more money than ever, yet they have to do so much less to earn their pay. The most Babe Ruth ever made in a single season was $80,000 in 1930. Adjusted for inflation, that comes out to $1.2 million today. And the Bambino would go out for a steak dinner after every game, smoke cigars, get drunk, and be ready to kick ass in the next day’s game. Ted Williams missed three seasons to fight in a war and then came back and resumed his career. Meanwhile, all anyone can talk about this week is how David Price’s “mild” carpal tunnel diagnosis may have been caused by him playing video games too much.
And it looks like one of our living legends agrees with me. It shows how drastically things have changed, even since his playing days a decade ago. Pedro Martinez made his MLB debut late in the 1992 season and played for five teams until his retirement at the end of 2009. He pitched 2827.1 innings over his career, starting 409 games. Excluding relief appearances, he averaged 6.9 IP per start. Last year, MLB starters averaged 5.5 IP per start. In 2004, Pedro averaged 6.6 IP/GS, Sox starters averaged 6.2 IP/GS, and the league averaged 5.9 IP/GS overall. And with more of an emphasis on bullpens than ever, the trend seems poised to continue downward.
Last year, David Price’s injuries sidelined him for a good chunk of the season. He only pitched in 16 games, many of them as a reliever. Against the Yankees last month, he lasted one inning and gave up 4 runs. Since then, his Innings Pitched have plummeted, while his ERA has skyrocketed. He gave up 9 runs over 3.2 innings in his last start, and now, he’s dealing with an injury yet again.
And Price’s fellow starters aren’t exactly showing that they’re built for longevity, either. Rick Porcello leads the pack, but only averages 6.4 innings over his 8 starts, and Chris Sale has averaged 6.1 IP/GS. The others are in the low fives. This isn’t even taking into account how they’re performing in those innings pitched. Plenty of starters around the league are holding opposing lineups down, throwing six or seven scoreless innings. It’s just not happening for the Sox rotation. And while the season is still pretty young, it’s not encouraging. Baseball is a marathon, and players need to be built to last.
If the league wants to trend away from starters going seven, eight, even nine innings, that’s fine. But don’t pretend it’s still the same game it used to be. We’re in a new era now, flashier, with less fortitude and substance. Seeing a starter like Pedro take down batters inning after inning was like seeing fine art incarnate, poetry in motion. It’s too bad those days already feel long gone.
Photo: Baseball Hall of Fame