Pitching has not been able to hold up under all the offense-inducing changes—especially when so many pitchers are needed. In 1960, the last year of the eight-team leagues, 233 pitchers were used during the course of the season. In '93, 533 pitchers made appearances in the major leagues, with the effects of expansion compounded by an increased frequency of injuries and by the popularity of specialized relief pitching. "I don't know if this age of specialization is good for baseball," Winfield says. "I mean, you're bringing in all these guys for certain situations, but are they all quality guys?"
Says Gillick, "Middle relief is like tag-team wrestling. A guy's knocked out, he goes to the corner, and the next guy comes in and gets the hell beat out of him."
Broadcaster Tim McCarver chuckles at the euphemisms applied to relief pitchers. "The setup guy. What is that?" McCarver says. "It's a guy who's not competent enough to close, and he's not good enough to start."
The San Diego Padres' Tony Gwynn, a four-time National League batting champion, says it's a lot easier hitting now than when he broke in 12 years ago because of pitchers' general lack of experience and confidence. Except for the Atlanta staff, Gwynn sees a predictable pattern of pitching. "Now you've got guys learning on the fly," he says. "The Braves' guys don't follow the book. Other guys go strictly by the book, and sooner or later they'll throw you the pitch you're looking for."
On the whole, pitching has evolved from a power-based craft to one based on finesse and trickery, with few of its practitioners having the command it takes to master such a tack. "What's changed is that even the guys with good arms throw like they don't have a good fastball," says Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer.
"Everybody wants to throw the split-fingered fastball," umpire Rocky Roe says. "And I can tell you it's almost never thrown in the strike zone. Just about the only time it's a strike is when it's a swinging strike." Says Terry Tata, a major league ump since 1973, "The biggest change I've seen since I broke in is pitchers don't challenge hitters anymore."
Amateur players, influenced by the increased television exposure of the pros, are imitating that finesse style, thereby never allowing themselves to develop the arm strength needed to throw a top-notch fastball. When it comes to the fastball, a familiar saying among player development people is "use it or lose it."
"I coached high school for three years and I saw four-pitch pitchers. That's dumb," says former major league ace Tommy John. "At that age all they need is 1½ pitches: a fastball and a little bit of a curve. No one throws hard anymore."
"Of all the college and high school pitchers in the country right now," Gebhard says, "maybe 10 throw in the 90's. That's it."
The short-range forecast for pitchers already in the majors calls for more trouble ahead. "Wait'll the weather warms up," says McCarver, noting that the ball travels better in the heat. "It could be a very disturbing trend." What's more, another round of expansion is likely to occur before the end of the decade.