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Please enjoy, perhaps not in its entirety, video footage of the 1982 All-Star game.

Time travel isn’t easy. Like walking into a dark room, the eyes need time to adjust to the blurry, impressionist style of early 80s film, the artist’s affinity for powder blue. Then, the details: The jarring number of Milwaukee Brewers involved. The Spartan backsplash behind the catcher, failing to advertise even the humblest local pipefitter’s union. And the field. Don’t tell Jonah Keri, but Olympic Stadium looks like a disaster. The artificial turf is marred with random lines and patches of off-color green. The lack of dirt basepaths creates the impression of an endless infield, each fielder collecting grounders against a blank greenscreen. The All-Star logo in center field is so large, and so garish, that it seems like the defending team should get extra runs for making a catch inside it.

But beneath this garish facade lies one charming anachronism, nearly expunged from the modern game. It reveals itself quickly. At the 2:12 mark, Brewers first baseman Cecil Cooper faces hometown hero Steve Rogers. The lanky Expo checks George Brett at second base, turns and lofts a 12-6 curve that tumbles out of the strike zone. Cooper is fooled; he flicks out a one-and-a-half-handed swing well below the knees, barely grazing the top of the ball, bouncing it in the direction of the second baseman. At that exact moment, Rodgers has defeated him.

Let’s leave the game there for a moment.

Louis CK once had a bit about his two daughters: One of them had a toy that broke, and so she demanded that he break her sister’s toy to make it fair. (Punch line: He did it.) Children are obsessed with fairness. You can give a kid a candy cane and they’ll be utterly content, up until the exact moment you give their brother what would appear, to the naked eye, to be a perfectly identical candy cane. Tears follow. For a child still struggling to understand how life works, and how to make it predictable and safe, justice can be more important than happiness itself.

Growing up and becoming an adult means abandoning that demand for fairness, understanding that the Golden Rule falls down when not everyone wants the same things done unto them, or the same capacity for fighting people off for them. It also wears down because we discover, almost unconsciously, just how expansive unfairness really is, just how much of it is baked into our backgrounds and our values. Consider the income tax rate of your local school district, the madness of the electoral college, rules on which colors you’re allowed to wear after Labor Day. It’s not that the fairness of children is such a ridiculous concept; there really is no good reason why some kids get more colorful candy canes. It’s learning how difficult it is to create that fairness in a world scored with tradition, inheritance, and scarcity.

One of the virtues of baseball, as an artificial construct, is that they make it easier to create a bubble with more fairness than the outside world. By no means is it a perfect representation, either within or outside the lines: teams from major cities earn and spend more money, home runs in some parks are swallowed by the dimension of others, taller pitchers are gifted a higher perceived velocity on their fastballs. But it does what it can, especially within the iteration of a single game: everyone abides by the same rules, everyone (hopefully) gets the same strike zone and calls. When they don’t … we react like children, generally.

Back to the past: there is no justice for Steve Rogers. The next instant, Cooper’s mis-hit strikes the rubber of the Olympic Stadium turf and bounds high into the air. By the time Manny Trillo collects the ball and throws to first base, Cooper is well past the bag with an unearned single. In the old days, they called it the Baltimore Chop, devised by John McGraw’s 1890s Orioles. It was the fair-foul bunt of its time. Hitters would intentionally top the ball off the plate, or the hardened dirt in front of it—rumor had it that concrete was poured under the dirt as a groundskeeping assist—to give the runner time to scuttle to first.

Eventually the game changed to the point where hitters stopped receiving pitches slow enough to put English on, and another element of game theory was sadly lost. But the phenomenon was revived, in an unintentional form, by artificial turf. But that era, too, has left us. The can of corn still exists, and until baseball transitions to a 30-dome, 12-month schedule, so will the sun double. But in the days of perfectly manicured Kentucky bluegrass, the grounder has lost any element of surprise or virtue.

Here's a chart of all ground balls over the past two seasons, categorized by launch angle and with accompanying BABIP:

Angle

PA

Reached base

OBP

(All)

114519

27214

.236

< -60

1002

231

.231

< -62.5

766

168

.219

< -65

592

118

.199

< -67.5

396

82

.207

< -70

289

58

.201

< -72.5

224

40

.179

< -75

164

28

.171

< -77.5

112

19

.170

< -80

65

11

.169

< -82.5

29

5

.172

< -85

10

3

.300

Thirty-five years too late for Steve Rogers, perhaps, but it seems as though justice may finally have been served: Of the three events from the bottom row, one is a throwing error by Mets reliever Erik Goeddel, who short-hopped a throw to first base a full step in front of the runner. So that leaves two really terrible infield hits, neither on turf, neither of which would be recognizable as anything but a slow bounding roller up the third base line. The last truly successful chop came in 2014, via Brett Lawrie:

There are two takeaways from this, neither wrong. The most obvious one is that the death of the ground-ball chop is a victory for fairness and for the pitchers of the world who have earned their weak contact and should be rewarded for it. The fielding-independent pitching metrics have hurt those guys enough, one could claim. We all root for different teams but we’re also all rooting, whether unconsciously, for talent to correlate with success, so that our successes have meaning.

And it’s true, every bloop single erodes at the concept of victory itself, to justice. But there’s an aesthetic quality to the Baltimore chop, the tension of the infielder waiting for the ball to return to earth in order to make a whip-like throw to beat an invigorated runner. It creates a verticality to the infield, instills just the slightest amount of excitement into the disappearing art of defensive play. It’s almost enough to make someone root for unfairness itself, if only for the sake of variety.

Thank you for reading

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Grasul
1/03
I don't come here to read commentary like "the madness of the electoral college". There are good reasons for its existence, which you may not agree with, but is this really the place for that discussion?
kcshankd
1/03
Yes, let us all unite to protect precious snowflake Grasul's sense of fairness, in an article about baseball unfairness.
Grasul
1/03
I don't care what his opinion is on the EC, he's entitled to it. The part that is disturbing is someone paid for analysis using such a terrible example to convey his point. Its hardly a given the EC is madness among grownups.
doctawojo
1/03
It's actually a fantastic example because it literally treats different people's votes differently, yet, as Patrick says, it's baked in and many take it for granted or argue in favor of it. Whether there are good reasons for it to exist is irrelevant to the question of whether it is fair in the sense that Patrick uses the word here, to mean a Golden Rule type of fairness, a strict equality where two broken toys is fairer than one broken toy.
Grasul
1/03
Civics apparently isn't a strength of the BP Staff.

Its ok, you guys are great anyway.

Have a good one, I look forward to reading more of the enjoyable and informative baseball content you routinely produce.

tearecrules
1/04
I actually just spent $5 to remark on this. Do you have any idea what the "Golden Rule" is? Because it isn't strict equality or fairness. Mr. Dubuque is at least less wrong but if that's your takaway from it you're so off-base as to be in the stands, if not out of the stadium.