Fixated on pitch count, game not real baseball

Apr. 28, 2014 @ 03:47 PM

I’ve been to my last Durham Bulls game. They don’t play real baseball, just a facsimile of it.

Case in point: Durham Bulls Athletic Park, Saturday, April 26. Bulls pitcher Mike Montgomery has a no-hitter going into the top of the ninth against the Scranton RailRiders. He gets the first batter out and then is yanked for a relief pitcher. The reason? He reached his pitch count, Manager Charlie Montoyo told The Herald-Sun’s Harold Gutman. 106 pitches, over his limit of 105. “I have a job, and he’s got a pitch count, and I follow my job,” Montoyo said.

The fans booed lustily. I’d have fired Montoyo before he got back to the dugout. And I’d have canned all his bosses who gave him those orders. They aren’t baseball people, they’re corporate drones.

The beauty of sports is the unscripted drama, the walk-off home run, the buzzer-beater basket, the last second touchdown. Today, for the Bulls and a lot of other teams, there’s a script. You reach your pitch count and you’re gone, no matter the circumstances. What if it had been a close game, the Bulls ahead 1-0, Montgomery pitching well but reaching his limit in, say, the seventh inning? Do you remove him and replace him with a more unknown factor? To do so is to say the pitch count is more important than winning. Basketball players keep feeding the ball to the guy with the hot hand, they don’t take him out of the game. For the Bulls, it means they exist only to support the Major League franchise, the Tampa Bay Rays. Whether the Bulls win or lose is immaterial. Montoyo has his orders.

Trying to win is the essence of the game. To do less is cheating the fans and the players, even the opposing players. They want to beat you at your best, not when you’re just mailing it in.

Now, you say, the pitch count is protecting your investment in the health of the pitcher. Got to save his arm for the big league team. Somebody must explain that to me. I don’t mean to belittle the strain on a pitcher’s arm. The twists and torque are beyond what the rest of us can imagine. But that’s why they don’t play every day. And today’s athletes have better nutrition, better training than ever, yet they are such delicate flowers they can’t hurl a complete game? And why was Montgomery’s pitch count 105? Why not 100, or 110? Is it such a science that they know exactly when he’s going to crack?  Balderdash.

This pitch count baloney is happening in the major leagues, too.  I once saw a no-hitter. July 4, 1983, at Yankee Stadium. Dave Righetti of the Yankees no-hit the Boston Red Sox. Magic moment. Fans roaring by the ninth inning on every pitch. One wonders if Righetti would be allowed to finish the game today.

Montgomery might have given up a hit to the next batter Saturday night. We’ll never know.  Fans were deprived of the drama of finding that out. So was Mike Montgomery, and he might never get the chance again. No-hitters are that rare.

What we saw Saturday night wasn’t a baseball game. It was a business meeting. I’ve seen enough of those. 

Bill Arthur is retired after a 40-year career in journalism and now is a free-lance writer in Chapel Hill.