I grew up a Yankee fan in Stonington, Connecticut, on the southeastern Connecticut shore, where being a Red Sox fan was not mandatory, as it is in Maine. The state’s residents’ loyalty is generally split between the Yankees and Red Sox. People like to say that, the closer you get to New York, traveling west and south across the state, the more Yankee fans there are and the closer you get to Boston traveling east and north, the more Red Sox fans there are. 

Carl Johnson

In my experience, this is generally not true. Unless you are in towns like Fairfield, geographically closer to New York than the rest of the state, or in a town west and north of Hartford, closer to Boston, most towns are pretty well split among the two teams. 

Living next to the Town of Groton, the location of a large Naval Base, I often heard a story about Yogi Berra, the Yankees Hall of Fame catcher, who was stationed at Groton for a time and who had more rings than anyone, even Tom Brady.

Yogi, as everyone knows, was famous for his strange sayings. One of them, which supposedly happened in Groton, when he was in the Navy playing for the Base there, was a favorite story when I was a very young baseball fan in the 1940s.   

Yogi supposedly went to the plate in a game there and swung at three bad pitches in a row and struck out. The story goes that, when he came back to the bench, the coach chewed him out, saying he had to think while he was at the plate and not go after bad pitches. Yogi went to the plate the next time and took three called strikes, right down the middle, without lifting his bat off his shoulder. When he returned to the bench and the coach confronted him, Yogi is supposed to have complained that he couldn’t think and hit at the same time. 

This story came to mind recently when reading an article by Tom Verducci in the March 25th issue of Sports Illustrated about the use of technology in baseball today. (All quotes in this column are directly from that article.)  Reading it, you might wonder how pitchers can pitch while thinking due to the overload of information they are getting about spin rate, release point, baseline mechanics and all the other information they get from the equipment their research and development departments have acquired in the recent past.

They use pitch tracking devices, such as the $4,500. Rapsodo, which Verducci says tracks “10 different metrics so that a pitcher can … design your perfect pitch.” The Chicago Cubs opened a hitting lab this year where they use something Verducci calls “force plate technology” which measures “how well a batter holds his torque directionally as opposed to spinning off the ball” and a Rapsodo for hitters that measures exit velocity, launch angle and spin as the ball leaves the bat. (This sounds to me as if it means the same thing as the coach yelling at me to keep my head in there and swing through the ball when I played many years ago.)

The Dodgers have a “wireless motion device called K-Vest,” which costs $2,500 and “measures the swing and the body through three planes of motion-forward and backward, side to side and rotational – providing data on the sequence and speed of the four major parts of the kinematic chain of hitting (pelvis, torso, upper arms, hands) among other metrics.”

Today’s ballplayers are college graduates; although not many have degrees in molecular biophysics and biochemistry that Craig Breslow has. Craig, who, during a mediocre career, pitched for 10 different Major League teams, including the 2013 World Champion Red Sox, is now the Director of Strategic Initiatives for Baseball Operations with the Cubs. That fancy title makes him responsible for evaluating and implementing data based throughout baseball operations under former Red Sox General Manager Theo Epstein.

A large portion, if not all, of the Major League teams have committed their organizations to the use of technology. Some have more than others. The Los Angeles Dodgers apparently lead the way by spending $20 million annually on research and development – hardware, software and salaries, according to Verducci.

Houston Astros ace Justin Verlander, according to the Sports Illustrated article, has used the Edgertronic camera to study his slider and has “made improvements that were stunning.” On the other hand, a veteran pitcher like Jon Lester says, “There are ways that this information will help us, but you still have to look at the players. Does the guy have the ability to compete and get outs?”

To me, it reminds me of the dilemma faced by parents today who see their children going through seven complex calculations in the “new” math to get to the same answer they would have gotten with the “old” math in one simple calculation. 

All this explains why we have to listen to television and radio analysts explain things like exit velocity and launch angle and then explain to us that the fly ball that didn’t get caught, had had a 76 percent chance of being caught and that his route to the ball was 15 degrees too oblique and he ran so many feet to get to it when all we care about was that the ball dropped between Mookie and Jackie, bounced into the stands for a ground rule double and put the Sox further behind. 

I had a nice surprise on Tuesday, enjoying Dave and Jerry during the Red Sox Opener and finding out that ESPN had sent their crack team of Ken and Barbie, also known as A-Rod and Jessica, to cover the Sox Opener. I knew then that, when I turned on the television to watch the Yankees and Astros that night, I would not miss a lot of the game. For some reason ESPN thinks that fans are more interested in what a player drove to the game and what his children are doing and have AR-od and Jessica ignoring the game so they can drive us crazy with trivia like that. Jon Sciambi and David Ross did the Yankees-Astros game and they are a much more interesting combination.

Give me back the old baseball, with scouts in the stands, and Mel Allen and Curt Gowdy on the radio. I know a base hit, a home run and a strikeout when I see them and don’t care about the exit velocity, launch angle or spin rate that made it happen. Yogi is probably spinning in his grave thinking about it.

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