College baseball and its fans have gotten what they asked for, and it's no good. Runs. Runs. More runs. So much offense that Howard Stern looks tame in comparison. So much juice that Orangina is obsolete. All of you who moaned about 2-1 pitching duels? Congrats. The game now scores like football, smells like slo-pitch softball and plays like Tiger Woods with a 100-mph wind at his back.
On the bright side, free balls. On the downside: USC 21, Arizona State 14.
That's not a Trojans-Sun Devils football score but the eye-popping, record-setting tally in last Saturday's College World Series final, an affair that gave Southern Cal an unmatched 12th NCAA baseball title and, sadly, transformed one of the national pastime's most treasured events into what Long Beach State coach Dave Snow appropriately called Arenaball. The Series was high-scoring, high-flying, high-octane—and highly annoying.
"The whole thing is a joke," Arizona State third baseman Andrew Beinbrink said after the last ball had left the yard. "Baseball is about strategy, not how many home runs you can finish with. It's gotten out of hand."
Waaaay out of hand. Consider the following: During the nine days at Omaha's Rosenblatt Stadium, the eight teams hit 62 home runs to smash the old College World Series mark by 14. Homers were hit long. Homers were hit short. Homers were hit with the wind, against the wind and through no wind at all.
Louisiana State belted eight home runs in one game and then came back to hit six two days later. In the title game Sun Devil Michael Collins—a 5'10", 170-pound twig of a shortstop—blasted a grand slam in the second inning that easily cleared the leftfield wall. He was outdone only by series Most Outstanding Player Wes Rachels, the Trojans' second baseman and front-running candidate in the I Will Never, Ever Hit With Power sweepstakes. Rachels went 5 for 7, with a deep home run of his own and seven RBIs.
Somewhere, Mark Belanger is smiling.
Depending on whom you ask, college baseball is either fantastic ( NCAA pencil necks), oversupplied with tiny stadiums (fans without seats), too pitching-lite ( USC coach Mike Gillespie) or too dependent on the head-bashing water pipes that the folks at Easton have taken to calling bats. To its credit, the NCAA—which usually deals with this sort of thing about as smoothly as Keanu Reeves handles a dramatic role—announced a joint research effort with the Sporting Goods Manufacturing Association to examine high scoring. That's nice, really. But, considering Rosenblatt's 332-408-332 outfield dimensions, it's also a waste of time. The answer is obvious: Play baseball in a shoebox with large metal sticks, and this is what you get.
"Someone has to start regulating these bats and making them like wood," said Rod Dedeaux, the legendary former Southern Cal baseball coach, who was waddling around the infield after the final—smiling from dimple to dimple. "I mean, this was a great game. A really great game. Another great game was in 1931—USC 16, Notre Dame 14. But that was football. It's become ridiculous."
The lone saving grace of this competition gone batty was the spirited Trojans, who gleefully bounded from game to game like a pack of Cub Scouts at the Pinewood Derby. USC set a school record with 114 homers this year, including postseason play, but it achieved its 49-17 record mostly with good pitching, solid defense and a scrappy style. The fourth-seeded Trojans dropped their Series opener to two-time defending champ LSU but went on to oust No. 1 Florida and No. 8 Mississippi State in elimination games. Southern Cal then did what zero fans thought it could do—win back-to-back games against Louisiana State, which had hit 14 home runs in its first two games of the series.