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April 26, 2011

Wezen-Ball

Verducci's "Nintendo Effect"

by Larry Granillo

The lament of "today's pitcher" has been a popular subject for years now. Older sportswriters and ballplayers have been complaining that "pitchers today just aren't what they used to be" for almost as long as baseball's been around. In the 1940s, "today's pitchers" weren't as good as Christy Mathewson. In the 1960s, they weren't as good as Warren Spahn. In the '80s, it was Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. The cycle will never stop.

I bring this up because of an article I found the other day in an older "Baseball Digest". The article was written by Tom Verducci in the August 1992 issue of the magazine, and it was called "Major League Pitching 'Aint What It Used to Be.'". With quotes from Don Zimmer, Lou Piniella, Jim Kaat, and other men from a different generation, the piece says exactly what you'd expect it to say. The reasons for the demise in pitching are explored a bit: relief pitching, the five-man rotation, injuries, a shrinking strike zone. Again, no real surprises.

Well, except one. Remember, this piece is from 1992. Here's the full excerpt:

Nintendo
What's that have to do with baseball? One of the most common complaints among the doomsayers of pitching is that kids don't throw enough growing up. They are not building proper arm strength.

"There are more and more things for kids to do," Stottlemyre said. "I grew up like a lot of kids, playing baseball almost every day. You drive through a neighborhood now and you don't see it. They still play in the organized leagues, but not outside of that. They're playing Nintendo, or basketball or skateboarding, whatever."

"That's why it's a special treat to go to the Dominican Republic," McIlvaine said, "and drive around the country and see kids with broomsticks and balls and bats. Everybody's playing baseball. It's what American probably was like in the '30s and '40s."

I love the "probably" at the end there.

I don't have much to add. I just really wanted to highlight the "Nintendo theory" that Verducci mentioned (and, again, that excerpt includes the entire "Nintendo" section from the article). It seems like a stretch to me... but, then again, most of these reasons are the same way. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised then. If only the internet had been around back then to have dubbed this the "Verducci Nintendo Effect." It has a nice ring to it.

16 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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fantasyking

Was Verducci wrong? Is the percentage of kids playing baseball in their spare time higher or lower today than in the 1940s? Do you have kids? Is it easier to get them to go outside and throw a ball or to turn on an electronic device?

There are plenty of practice hours devoted to baseball in America in 2011, but these hours are concentrated among a smaller percentage of the population. More and more kids find other things to do. Mock the Nintendo quote all you want, but this is a reality.

Apr 26, 2011 06:26 AM
rating: 2
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

There are a thousand reasons why kids would be playing baseball less today: expensive gear, no fields, more schoolwork/activities, fewer "neighborhoods", dozens more sports to choose from, other leagues, television, computers, overprotective parents... Sure, video games are one of those reasons, but I wouldn't put it even in the top five, and I certainly wouldn't brand the entire phenomenon with the Nintendo name.

The same excuses could have been used every generation... in the 1950s, a stodgy sportswriter could've called it the "television effect", in the 1960s the "Beatles effect", in the 1970s the "hippie effect" or something equally silly...

The point is legitimate, but calling it the "Nintendo effect" is lazy and reeks of "kids these days"-justification...

Apr 26, 2011 07:45 AM
 
flirgendorf

Larry, the point is *not* legitimate. Those kids from the Dominican who played baseball all the time are now playing in the major leagues. Shouldn't they be blowing everyone away and throwing 25 complete games a year, a la Mathewson?

Apr 26, 2011 08:56 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

You're right... in the context of the article, the point doesn't make much sense. In a broader sense, looking at how the game is played among kids today, it's a legitimate point, but that's not what Verducci was talking about.

Apr 26, 2011 08:59 AM
 
fantasyking

But Tom Verducci didn't "brand the entire phenomenon with the Nintendo name" -- you did. It's listed as one of many factors, just like you suggest. And it's not even Verducci's theory, it's Mel Stottlemyre's quote.

Apr 26, 2011 08:57 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Larry Granillo
BP staff

Yes, Verducci did. He created a list of bullet points to explain his point. He could have used "kids aren't playing the game as much" as the title of his bullet point; that's the point Stottlemyre was making. Skateboards and basketball were in that same sentence with the word "Nintendo". Verducci is the one who decided to use it as the catch-all. He even later says "Short of returning to eight-team leagues and limiting the import of Nintendo games..."

Apr 26, 2011 09:04 AM
 
Richard Bergstrom

"Short of returning to eight-team leagues and limiting the import of Nintendo games..."

I think Verducci used that as a literary gimmick/joke and seriously doubt that he believes reducing Nintendo imports will bring old-school baseball back. I think you're really trying to stretch your argument by using that line...

I have my own beefs with Verducci at times, but I think his overall point is legitimate... American kids don't grow up playing baseball all the time the way they used to.

Apr 26, 2011 09:49 AM
rating: -1
 
map2history

Clearly Steve Verducci and Mel Stotlemyre have confused coincidence with causation in that unfortunate article. I'm surprised that you believe this to be a valid point especially in light of the seeming re-emergence of the pitcher last season. But assuming that pitching HAS in fact declined, it could just as un-scientifically be linked to increasing amounts of junk food in the American diet or fear of terrorist attacks. The only thing that Verducci's article actually proves is that Americans consistently view the pitching heroes of their generation as superior to the ones that follow.

Apr 26, 2011 12:51 PM
rating: 4
 
eighteen

Right! There is no "pitching demise" except in the ego-riddled minds of old-timers the game has passed by. I remember when throwing 90 mph was a Really Big Deal. Now, not only is a 90 mph fastball ubiquitous, but there's a 2-seam, a 4-seam, and a cut. And there's sliders, curves, change-ups.

Pitchers can't go 300 IP a season any more because the human body can't endure 300 IP of what's required to perform at the modern level. That's not the pitchers' fault; and it says more about the relative inadequacy of yesteryear's heroes than today's.

Apr 26, 2011 13:46 PM
rating: 2
 
smallflowers

What eighteen said. Awesome. Forty years ago, Chapman wouldn't have thrown 105 mph, because he'd either be a starter and expected to throw 300 innings or a long reliever expected to make several multi-inning appearances a week.

It's also worth pointing out they psychological point that every generation views the world as "in crisis" in ways that previous generations were not.

Apr 26, 2011 17:01 PM
rating: -1
 
BP staff member Jason Parks
BP staff

Verducci!

Apr 26, 2011 07:23 AM
 
ObviouslyRob

Is this yelled in the same manner as, "KHAAAAAAN!"?

Apr 26, 2011 09:45 AM
rating: 2
 
tfierst

I've been theorizing the same thing for years about basketball at the U of MN campus. Went from having 2 full court games, each with up to 5 game waiting lists, 5 days a week, to rarely being able to get in a single full court game during peak hours. This was in about a seven year span. Same with the outdoor courts.

I've always blamed video games (with zero actual evidence).

Apr 26, 2011 07:40 AM
rating: 0
 
anderson721

7 years? who are you, Blutarsky?
Just kidding. I have 2 sons. The 13 yaer old got turned off to team sports at about 8 by the ultracompetitivenes, but talks about starting track. My 10 year old loves to shoot hoops, but won't actually play. Video games are a factor with the older one, but not at all with the younger one.

Apr 27, 2011 11:59 AM
rating: 0
 
thegeneral13

I have a different theory on this topic, and it relates to survivorship bias. How much you throw when you're 8 years old has absolutely nothing to do with how strong your arm is when you're 30. People don't seems to challenge this idea when this topic is raised, but it is bunk. What throwing a lot as a youngster does do is put more mileage on arms at a younger age, thus weeding out the non-durable arms before most of us ever know they exist. Same for lack of pitch counts, poor strength and conditioning regimens, etc. The point is, major league pitchers of yore were the survivors, the ones who had already proven to be supremely durable because their less durable counterparts had succumbed to injury. That is a valuable attribute, to be sure, but what we don't see is all the pitchers that died along the way who were actually more talented, that could have made it with more careful handling. I believe what has happened over time is the "babying" of pitchers has raised the overall talent level of major league pitching, at the expense of durability. So we have more Ferraris, and fewer Fords (err, maybe Hondas). I'll take that tradeoff.

Apr 26, 2011 14:19 PM
rating: 3
 
Brian Oakchunas

It is a worthwhile topic for further study in my view. We know that players are better today in a general way, but we also know that there is a larger population pool to draw players from and better technology to help them train. Can the competition of all the distractions, especially in more developed nations be a counter-effect? It seems that a lot more Dominicans per capita make it to the majors than Americans so researching why that is must be worth something. This seems as plausible a reason as any.

I have to say, though, I have no idea why the focus would be on pitchers instead of players in general. While I don't have a citation, it seems that it's been proven that kids who throw more are more likely to get injured when they are older so one could argue that this effect is a good thing for pitchers if in fact it does exist.

Apr 27, 2011 11:19 AM
rating: 0
 
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