SI Vault
Jack Mann
September 26, 1966
Batting is a dying art, mortally wounded by night games, big gloves, scientific defenses, unending lines of relief pitchers and the unreasoning stubbornness of the batters themselves
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September 26, 1966

A Farewell To .300 Hitters

Batting is a dying art, mortally wounded by night games, big gloves, scientific defenses, unending lines of relief pitchers and the unreasoning stubbornness of the batters themselves

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Wally Moses says, "They don't mind walking a man as much as they used to, because they're afraid of the home run. Everybody can hit a home run.

"But," Moses adds, "I think it's the schedule that's killing a lot of them. It wears you out. It's not so much the idea of playing under the lights, but it's a night game, then a day game, then a twinighter. You don't eat the same time or sleep the same time or do anything the same time two days in a row. It gets your system all out of whack."

"It's still easier to fly than to go on an all-night train and play that afternoon," Grissom insists. Still, waiting around an airport until 1:30 a.m. after a night game, then waiting around a hotel lobby until 5 a.m. for baggage, does not give one a feeling of gracious living. (Pitchers also stand and wait, but most of them work only once in a while, and then only part-time.)

Many ballplayers, like many other people, do not like to fly, and some are terrified by the idea. Fear of flying is no more to be ashamed of than sunburn, seasickness or poison ivy: you get it or you don't, and there's nothing you can do about it. Besides, you're in the company of stouthearted men. Carl Furillo, the old Dodger, feared nothing that walked or crawled, but the man sitting in the seat next to him on a plane could feel sympathetic vibrations from his trembling, and his exhaled breath when the wheels touched was the sigh of a soul released from purgatory. The Giants and Dodgers of the middle 1950s each had a four-man "ground crew" that went by rail whenever possible, and Sal Maglie was a member of each. Sal did not refuse to fly, but he suggested that he not pitch for two days after a flight because it took him that long to get his nerves unwound.

(The next time you see a group of ballplayers rollicking around an airport bar, and you will, please be kind. Some of them will be killing time in the most humane way they know, but those two down at the end, drinking the doubles, will be administering anesthesia. If they didn't get half smashed it would take a first baseman and two outfielders to drag them aboard the plane.)

Baseball will expand some more before it contracts, so one gets used to flying, like Jim Gilliam, or quits, like Jackie Jensen. Getting used to it, however, does not mean liking it. Gilliam may have logged more miles by now than Eddie Rickenbacker, but he hasn't joined any soaring clubs for off-season kicks.

Ball clubs do fly by night, and they will. Simple night games are hardly worth complaining about anymore. In 1956 night games were 38.5% of the major league schedule, and this year they are 57.5%. "No night games on getaway day" has been a solemn rule for more than a decade, but it has never been given more than lip service and it never will be, because the players have never done anything about it but grumble. The Baseball Players' Association is one of the world's weakest unions, principally because the owners dangle the pension plan like the sword of Damocles, and modern players talk more about security than they do about sex.

The owners in their infinite greed went on to contrive the twi-night doubleheader, and the only people young enough to enjoy the apathetic nightcap of a twi-nighter are those who shouldn't be up late. And now, based on the two-for-the-price-of-two principle, which was one of the late Branch Rickey's contributions to the game, we have the day-night doubleheader. The Dodgers played one on a Saturday in Atlanta on June 25. They also played the night before and the day after, and then hopped merrily on a plane to Cincinnati.

The day-nighter as an institution deserves at least passing consideration, not merely because of the contempt it shows toward all those wonderful fans, but because it raises an interesting legalistic point. The Yankees were playing a day-nighter in Boston two years ago, and a heavy rain and other sloppiness carried the afternoon game into the evening. As the clock passed 6:30 a command decision was made in the Red Sox front office. No inning of the day game would begin after 6:50. The matinee crowd would be asked to leave, and the evening crowd would be admitted for the night game, as scheduled. Even Mel Allen, with his agile logic and his intense loyalty to The Game, was hard put to rationalize it. "It wouldn't be fair to those fans waiting outside," Mel argued at great length, but somehow it wasn't convincing. Baseball fans are like sheep and will stand for almost anything, but suppose one individualist in the crowd clutched his ticket tightly and refused to go because he'd paid to see a complete baseball game and he damned well wanted to see one. Would they throw him out bodily? And if so, what would Representative Celler say about that? One of these days we're going to find out.

It is generally assumed that night baseball per se does not affect hitters, because the lights are so much better. It is true that most of the dark corners have been eliminated, but it is also true that some of the lights are always out. Under the best of the bulbs, in Chavez Ravine, the right fielder still occasionally casts three shadows, suggesting that the men at G.E. have not yet improved on sunlight. "The lights are better," says Whitlow Wyatt, "but you can't tell me they don't make a difference. If I had a choice between pitching against a certain team by day or night, I gotta take the night. I'd be crazy if I didn't." And a manager would be crazy to juggle his rotation so as to show off a smoke-thrower like Jim Maloney or Bob Gibson in the sun. So they don't.

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