It's not unkind to say that America's national sport, the ball of bases, isn't the most exciting of sports. Developed originally in 1839 to give athletes a place to chew tobacco, baseball has always been set at a languishing pace, peppered only with the grandeurs of no-hitters and home runs. But in the early 20th century, those were few and far between.
How much can baseball, a game you tend to picture in black and white anyway, change in a century? Quite a bit, and for the better. At the beginning of the 20th century, baseball entered a period best known as the dead-ball era. During the dead-ball era, baseballs weren't regulated yet, and many pitchers just made their own, resulting in varying and unpredictable balls. Most impotent home-run leaders of the time couldn't even hit more than 10 homers all season, and the average game saw a whopping 0.13 of them. To put that kind of little league effort into perspective, a 36-year-old Barry Bonds managed to hit 73 home runs in a single season in 2001.
But the dead-ball era also happened because players, unable to juggle these weird balls, started focusing less on squeezing off big explosions and more on playing it safe and getting to first base. To do so, they relied on Moneyball-like strategies like stealing bases, bunting, and boring everyone to sleep so that even swelling orchestral music can't wake them up.
This boring period lasted from 1900 until a 19-year-old Babe Ruth joined the game and started single-handedly jerking out of its dead-ball slump by exciting the league's new balls with his vigorous swatting techniques, causing baseball to transform into the medium-exciting spectacle of today.
Or maybe it's more accurate to say: of yesterday. In the past few seasons, baseball experts have noted a dramatic 50% decrease in expected home runs, with balls dropping several feet shorter than previous averages. Despite this, Major League Baseball insists that there's nothing wrong with their new balls and that they still feel and work the same as the decades before. Yet of this, many teams are already switching their strategies to safer plays, and many fear we're inevitably sliding into a second dead-ball era, which could leave the impotent game to wither on the vine in the age of no chew and a million TV channels.
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