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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It might not be such a nutty idea, however. Their second-line pitchers would seem to have a greater chance of survival at night, according to statistics sorted out for The Sporting News by Roger Paradis Jr. of Montreal. Here is how five of the game's best hitters performed beneath the moon and under the sun during 1965:

[This article contains a table. Please see hardcopy of magazine or PDF.]

Bill White's argument that the "airport" size of the new ball parks hurts the hitters is only partly valid. First, while bigger outfields should mean fewer home runs, they should mean higher averages, leaving greater areas to hit the ball where people ain't. Secondly, all the "big" ball parks aren't really that big, because the owners still think small. If the playing surfaces of the stadiums in Baltimore, San Francisco and Atlanta were the size the architects intended them to be, a few batters might have to make adjustments and a few more .300 averages might result. But in each case the next step after the dedication of the cornerstone was the erection of a chain fence across the outfield, at a distance calculated to produce a "normal" crop of home runs.

"The trend is going to be the big guy who can hit the ball hard," says Kansas City Coach Luke Appling, who made 2,749 hits, only 45 of them homers. "The guy, the fan and the club like the home run, so the club pays for the homer."

"There is compensation for a guy who hits 30 home runs," says Gene Mauch, "even if he does hit only .260. Look at Dick Stuart. He could do only one thing, and he's made a lot of money." Stuart, whose advertisement for himself is that if you play him every day he will produce 30 home runs, bat in 100 and hit .272, was making $48,000 as he bounced from the Phils to the Mets to the Dodgers this year.

The baseball establishment pays that kind of money for the home run because it knows that it is the only part of the game the average fan can understand and appreciate. It doesn't have to ask him; it just knows. A 1-0 game affects him like a lullaby. Haven't they been feeding him a steady diet of the long ball since Martin, Barton and Fish led the league in double plays? And doesn't he keep showing up? Even the new fans in Los Angeles love home runs. They come out to Dodger Stadium every night, for a week at a time, waiting to see one.

There is a spectator who derives a greater charge from a fly ball over the 43-inch wall in Yankee Stadium than from a double steal. He boos an intentional pass, even if the winning run is at third with nobody out, and he thinks Dick Groat has failed when he grounds to the right side with a runner at second and none out. But you won't find him at the ball park if there's a good demolition derby in town. He's not a fan.

The fan prides himself on his knowledge of the game, which he loves for its very esoterica: none of these guys really understand baseball except thee and me, and sometimes thee seems a bit vague about the balk rule. The fan tries to tell his kid about Billy Herman—you could hit him on the kneecap and he'd still go to right held with the ball—but the kid is reading on the back of a bubble-gum card about Jim Gentile, who has a broad back and once hit 46 homers.

The fan said hooray when Maris hit No. 61, but he realizes that Lloyd Waller's 198 singles will stay in the book much longer—maybe forever—and he finds something sad about that. He sees that the 10th leading batter in the American League is batting .276, and that doesn't seem right. The fan grew up in the 1930s, when they honored .350 hitters. In the 1960s he sees them lionize .250 hitters. He has to wonder who's going to knock .150 hitters—as long as they get their ribbies, of course—in the 1990s.

The owners could bring back the .300 hitter. They could begin by taking some of the money away from the one-thing-to-sell sluggers and giving it to the complete ballplayers, redignifying those who took the time to learn their trade. The owners still weep into their Scotch about the good old days and make clucking noises about kids, nowadays, who won't be taught because they just don't give a damn. But they say their hands are tied because the fan craves the long ball. This is nonsense. It's the owners' ball and bat, and they have a reserve clause and a Supreme Court dispensation that says they can keep them and do whatever they want with them.

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