SAPAKOFF COLUMN: College baseball could benefit from livelier ball
Marty Gantt noticed a huge difference right away. Just weeks after leading the College of Charleston baseball team to the NCAA tournament last spring, Gantt was a Tampa Bay Rays minor leaguer experiencing a whole new ballgame — literally.
“Professional baseballs are wound tighter,” said Gantt, the Rays' seventh-round draft pick in 2012. “I could tell from the first batting practice. There was a lot more pop off the bat.”
Gantt makes a swell witness in Jack Leggett's plea for more scoring in college baseball. Offense was sharply diluted with the 2011 debut of BBCOR bats, modified metal technology mandated to work more like (safer) wood bats. The Clemson coach has a simple solution that makes sense: use the slightly harder minor league baseball in college games.
No normal person is calling for a return to the “Gorilla Ball” that gave us Southern Cal's 21-14 victory over Arizona State in the 1998 College World Series championship game. BBCOR bats, adopted for high school play in 2012, have properly encouraged old-school strategy and real baseball.
But home runs per game (0.48) and scoring average (5.38) hit a 30-year NCAA Division I low in 2012.
Maybe the trend needs a tweak.
“The major league baseball is the tightest wound, hardest core,” Leggett said. “The next one down is the minor league ball; it is harder than we are using, and it's something that could be financially feasible for college baseball. I think it would be good for our game instead of spending money to bring the fences in as they are doing throughout the country.”
Leggett pushed the livelier ball last month at the American Baseball Coaches convention in Chicago. He says most coaches agree.
Only science and math will tell, but it seems like a livelier ball would make just enough difference to add interest in college baseball without messing too much with a good thing.
South Carolina scored one run in each of its two College World Series Championship Series losses to Arizona last summer.
Clemson's leading returning slugger is Jon McGibbon, coming off a five-homer season.
As influential Penn State bat analyst Dr. Daniel A. Russell points out in his thorough research, earned run averages also are at a three-decade low.
Some exceptions are found in the Southern Conference.
Samford's Brandon Miller, a Washington Nationals minor leaguer who spent the offseason living in Mount Pleasant, led the NCAA in home runs with 23 in 2012.
Georgia Southern's Victor Roache led the NCAA with 30 homers in 2011.
The College of Charleston over its 60 games last year outhomered foes, 65-28.
Cougars coach Monte Lee and his players probably are a good sample of mixed feelings.
“I guess being an offensive-minded guy, I would be for the new baseballs,” Lee said. “On the other hand, we've been pretty fortunate the last couple years even with the new bats. I like the new bat, personally. It's given pitchers that don't throw 90-plus miles an hour who can throw strikes and offspeed stuff a chance to excel.”
Brandon Murray led College of Charleston with 12 homers in 2012. The junior outfielder is all for a livelier baseball.
“It would be fun,” he said. “The long ball is the most exciting part of baseball. I say go right ahead.”
SoCon preseason pitcher of the year Matt Pegler, you might guess, isn't so sure.
No-huddle and shot clock
“Obviously, as a pitcher, I'd be a little bit opposed to it,” Pegler said. “But I've thrown those minor league balls and I get more movement. It might be better for me, actually.”
He gets more movement because the seams on professional baseballs are lower. There is less air resistance.
Which is another thing nagging at Jack Leggett.
“(With the college ball) if the wind is blowing, it grabs the ball and grabs the seams,” he said. “It's almost like a parachute effect.”
Even Pegler admits: “Fans want high scores; it's just more action. It's more fun.”
Leggett points to other sports.
“I don't know why we went backwards to begin with,” he said. “A lot of the coaches I reached out to feel the same. Everybody in every other sport is going the other way. There's the no-huddle, the (football) hashmarks are in the middle, everything is predicated around 'Let's score more points and have more excitement.' Basketball, you have the shot clock and 3-point line for a reason.”
No need for a shot clock or hashmarks on the diamond, just some slightly bouncier baseballs.
Follow Gene Sapakoff on Twitter @sapakoff.