Last night I made a quick tweet about the quality of baseball today:
<blockquote class="twitter-tweet" lang="en"><p lang="en" dir="ltr">The talent level in baseball is the best it has ever been in my view.</p>— johnsickels (@MinorLeagueBall) <a href="https://twitter.com/MinorLeagueBall/status/656281235317129219">October 20, 2015</a></blockquote>
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I had been thinking about complaints we often hear about how players "don't know fundamentals" like they used to and that the game is not as good as it was when the complainer was young. Many people have pointed out that such complaints are as old as the game itself. Christy Mathewson in 1901 probably heard complaints from Giants fans that he wasn't as durable as Mickey Welch and Tim Keefe.
After sending the tweet, my initial thought was "well that was a banal thing to say." But it turns out that not everyone agrees. Some people do complain about players lacking polish. I still think that is an old saw, but others point out that basketball, football, and rising sports like soccer continue to skim off many of the best athletes who would have played baseball back in the old days.That's true, but the counter-argument there is that an influx of players from Latin America and other countries has made up for any diminution in talent flow from United States colleges and high schools.
Fleshing this out a bit more, I would argue that the talent level (and the game itself as a whole) is excellent for the following reasons:
***A wider population base from which to recruit players. Greater access to talent in Latin America and Asia. Breaking of the color barrier.
***Better medical care. Players still get hurt a lot and always will: baseball is tough on the body, but before the 1980s a serious arm injury was usually a death sentence for a pitcher's career. That is no longer true. Recovery is still not guaranteed but depending on the injury it is a lot more likely than it was 50 or 30 or even 10 years ago.
***More sophisticated training and exercise regimes. Better nutrition.
***Better pay eliminates the need for players (at least established ones) to take off-season jobs, enabling them to concentrate more of their physical, mental, and emotional energies on the game.
***Better appreciation of sabermetric insights by front offices and application of new technologies (PITCH/fx, etc) have certainly changed the game.
***Labor peace. Younger fans may not fully appreciate what a relief it is (for players and front offices as well as fans) not to have to worry about a strike or lockout every three years.
None of these things have made baseball any easier. It is more competitive than ever, and players who succeed have to be at the very top of their game and have to work harder to stay there.
That's my view, anyway. What do you think?