04 September 2018

[Ellis Millsaps] - Baseball Been Berry Good to Me

Haven’t written y’all anything lately ‘cause I’ve been lazy. Okay, even lazier than usual. But I always have things, as Andre 3000 would say, “marinating” somewhere.

One of these things is of course the next chapter of The Porch. Still waiting for Marshal to set up Gofundme so we can get those boys to Graceland.

About ten years ago I wrote a series of maybe a dozen chapters for The Covington News about my father and growing up in my family. I’m at work expanding that into a memoir which will be serially published in the Chronicles.

I also have a piece about businesses in Porterdale for which I did interviews about a month ago. It’s giving me trouble. I’ll explain why when we get there.

But what I want to talk about today is baseball. About now half of my readers are going back to whatever they were doing before they started reading this. That’s okay. I can’t help it. Baseball is in my blood.

When I was a kid baseball was the thing I loved most. (Sorry, Mama.) At the age of ten, thanks to the World Book Encyclopedia and a penchant for book learning, I could tell you with maybe 90% accuracy whether a player you named was in the Baseball Hall of Fame. Didn’t matter if he played in 1890.

I also played baseball every day that the weather allowed until it was too dark outside to see or I had to go to church. One of the happiest moments of my life was when I hit my first homerun in Little League, the out of the park kind, the kind all my Little League compatriots dreamed about, but which 95% never had happen. I finished with two, second in the league.

And this appears to be heading into the time I got locked in the bank vault with Mr Mooney.

The point is that I loved baseball and still do.



I’m thinking about baseball because the Braves have an exciting young team. Since Turner put them on TBS in the seventies, I’ve watched at least 150 games a year (and I hear some of you saying, “Get a life” but I’m pretty much locked into this one).

What prompts me to write is the changes that have occured in the past 3-5 years. I don’t mean changes in the rules. Unlike football and basketball that have rule changes almost every season (the introduction of the forward pass and three point shots being literal game changers) the only two rule changes in the 150 year history of baseball that come to mind are outlawing the spitball in the early 20th century and in this century the abolition of the catcher blocking the plate. You might include the designated hitter as a half rule change.

In the early sixties they lowered the pitcher’s mound six inches because no one could hit Sandy Koufax or Bob Gibson. (Somebody won a batting title hitting under 300.) They juiced up the ball in the 1920’s and they’ve tinkered with what the umpires call strikes, but those aren’t really rule changes. Otherwise the rules are the same as in 1870 and the strategy is still the same, which Wee Willie Keeler encapsulated in the 19th century, “I hit hit ‘em where they ain’t.”

But the way the game is played has changed markedly due largely to cybermetrics and conditioning. Starting pitchers now rarely complete a game. Almost everybody throws in the nineties now and every team has two or three relievers hitting around 100.

The “Willie McCovey shift” came about in the 1960’s to defend that left handed pull hitter. Today most teams shift, i.e. put three infielders on the same side of the diamond, against half the other team’s lineup, even some right handed hitters.

Finally, some teams are emphasizing “launch angle.” They deliberately try to “upper cut” and hit the ball in the air to increase the odds of hitting a homerun, their computer stats telling them what they lose in hits is compensated in runs by more homers.

This runs contrary to what baseball minds have coached since Willie Keeler. Swing level. The result of upper cutting is many more strikeouts and more fuel to the fire of pitching dominance.

One last thing for those of you who have endured thus far. Joe Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak is often called the record that will never be broken. Assuming the country endures, I believe that someone will do it. The record that will never be broken, thanks to video appeals of umpire calls, is Bobby Cox’s record for being ejected from games.

Ellis is a recovering Attorney but has worn many hats over the years: father, bus boy, stand-up comedian, novelist, wiffle ball player, rock'n'roll band manager, and at one time wrote a popular and funny column for The Covington News. A Fannin Co. mountain boy originally, Mr. Millsaps now stays at the mill village of Porterdale by way of 20 years in Mansfield. Usually funny and at times irreverent and subversive, he leans left in his political philosophy but can always be counted on for a pretty darn good write-up. The Chronicles are proud to have him involved...