#Hot Corner

The Annual Omaha Invitational Bunting Tournament

Stephen Dunn

Hey, did you hear about the important baseball tournament that turned into a bunting contest? Yeah, that's what they're calling this year's College World Series, which has become a different sort of event since radical restrictions on the bats were instituted in 2011. And some people ... well, some people have probably overreacted a little bit. From the Times:

College teams averaged 6.98 runs and .94 home runs a game in 2010 before the new standard was adopted, according to the N.C.A.A. Figures as of March 31 this season (the most recent available), showed a drop to 5.25 runs and .37 homers. Teams are averaging twice as many sacrifices (.74) as home runs. And team batting fell to .270, which, if it stands, will be the lowest since 1973, the last year collegians swung wooden bats.

That has turned this year’s C.W.S. into a bunting contest. Twelve games through Friday night featured 21 sacrifices and 3 home runs. Teams hit 10 homers last year and 9 in 2011, compared with 32 in 2010, pre-B.B.C.O.R. Not since 1974 — when only eight home runs were hit in the first year of aluminum — have there been so few. And in three years at TD Ameritrade, no one has homered to center field.

So coaches adjust. On Tuesday, with North Carolina leading Louisiana State by 3-1 in the seventh, Coach Mike Fox asked the cleanup hitter Brian Holberton, who was 2 for 3 with a home run, to sacrifice. The subsequent run helped the Tar Heels win, 4-2.

I love the logic here: We've got just a two-run lead, so OUR CLEANUP HITTER MUST BUNT.

Uh, no. The bunt is probably a better percentage move in college than in the pros, because there's a better chance for a defensive miscue. But college-baseball coaches just love bunting, because a) it gives them a sense of control that so many of us desperately crave, and b) it feeds into the rah-rah, there's-no-I-in-team, backslapping mentality that everybody in college baseball seems to treasure. But the lower likelihood of scoring 23 runs doesn't mean you have to bunt every time there's a runner on first base and you're leading by fewer than six runs.

I don't really have any standing here, since I don't watch the College World Series. Seems like whenever they're playing, I can find a professional game somewhere. So I don't really care if they're playing 23-11 games or 3-1 games. The new ways do seem more like baseball to me, but beauty and beholders and all that. One coach said something that seems pretty silly to me, but he also said something that makes sense to me:

In South Carolina, Clemson Coach Jack Leggett watched on television with disgust. By his count, Turner’s drive was the third in the C.W.S. that should have left the park but did not. And on Wednesday, Leggett grimaced when Oregon State Coach Pat Casey called for a sacrifice in the first inning against Indiana, a game the Beavers won, 1-0 — the first such score in the C.W.S. since 1985.

“Trea Turner hit a ball that should have been a lifetime memory,” Leggett said in a telephone interview. “Now it’s a lifetime bad memory. The kid hit it on the screws, all you can get, and it didn’t go out. That’s not right.”

--snip--

His solution: leave the bats alone but switch to the livelier baseball used in the minor leagues.

I don't think it's a sport's business to ensure lifetime memories for specific players, and what's wrong with the (very) occasional 1-0 game? Oh, and is it possible that the game wouldn't have ended 1-0 if the managers hadn't been giving away so many outs? But I'm surprised to learn that college baseball's baseball isn't just as lively as the baseballs used in the minor leagues; I just sort of assumed that major-, minor-, and college-baseball baseballs are essentially the same. If not, why not?

p.s. Boy, UCLA sure does look good in those baby-blue stirrups. Maybe I do need to start watching.

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