OFFENSE! MORE OFFENSE! EVEN MORE OFFENSE!
OFFENSE BACK THEN: In 1980, just 13 players in the entire sport hit 25 home runs. The Astros won their division with a cleanup hitter (Jose Cruz) who made 11 home-run trots. The Mets had one player on their whole roster (Lee Mazzilli) who hit more than 10 homers. Get the picture?
OFFENSE NOW: In 2005, 45 men hit 25 homers. Another Astros playoff team had a cleanup man (Morgan Ensberg) who outhomered their entire 1980 outfield. And eight Mets reached double figures in homers. But we'll admit this seismic jolt didn't start with just one innovation. It was more like nine: Shrinking ballparks, weight rooms, the local GNC, maple bats, two expansions, Titleist baseballs, video rooms, 3-inch strike zones, Coors Field and one other little factor that deserves its very own innovation ...
JOSE CANSECO'S STEROID LESSONS
DRUG SCANDALS BACK THEN: We think of this as baseball's "clean" old days.
Except a member of the 1980 Phillies admitted under oath that a clubhouse guy used to sneak in greenies with the clubhouse hoagies. And in Pittsburgh, a cocaine scandal was tied to everyone from a clubhouse caterer to the Pirate Parrot. But big deal. At least nobody broke any home run records.
DRUG SCANDALS NOW: A whole generation of hitters either: (A) lives under a cloud, (B) is praying not to get subpoenaed by Congress, (C) owns its own flax-seed farm or (D) spends every waking moment hoping Jose Canseco never writes another book. Will Bud Selig's beloved new testing program scrub the steroid grime off the game? Well, he sure thinks so, anyway.
WHERE IN THE WORLD IS SAN PEDRO DE MACORIS?
LATINOS IN BASEBALL BACK THEN: In 1981, 10 teams had no players from the Dominican Republic on their 40-man rosters. We kid you not. LATINOS IN BASEBALL NOW: We're just weeks away from watching a true baseball Dream Team assemble in the World Baseball Classic -- and it won't be the U.S. of A. Is there a pitcher alive who looks forward to facing that Manny-Vlad-Pujols-Tejada-Big Papi midsection of the Dominican batting order? Which guy would you walk in that group? One in every four major-leaguers is a Latino these days. And two dozen Latinos played in the last All-Star Game. This is more than just a sign of the times, though. It's a sign of the future.
(THE AGE OF PITCHING SPECIALIZATION)
BULLPENS BACK THEN: The "closer" for Billy Martin's 1980 Oakland A's was Bob Lacey. He finished 31 games. The same year, one of Martin's starters, Rick Langford, finished (i.e., completed) 28 games. So "shortening the game" wasn't even in the managerial vocabulary, let alone the strategy folder.
BULLPENS NOW: A pitcher with a 7.11 ERA (Shawn Chacon) saved 35 games two years ago. Twelve-man pitching staffs pollute rosters everywhere. Tony La Russa used eight relief pitchers in one game last year. But hey, that's Tony-ball. La Russa essentially pioneered the use of the three-out closer (Dennis Eckersley), ably assisted by three-out setup men, in the late 1980s. The age of pitching specialization hasn't exactly abated since.
GMs YOUNGER THAN THE CLEANUP HITTER
GMS BACK THEN: A quarter-century ago, the definition of a "young guy" in the GM's office was a fellow in his mid-50s. A half dozen GMs were in their 60s. One was in his 70s. Only two (Pat Gillick and Whitey Herzog) were 40-somethings. And let's just say none of them prepped for the job at Wharton or Wall Street. GMS NOW: Your current GM demographic looks a tad different: Two (Andrew Friedman and Jon Daniels) in their 20s, four in their 30s, 14 in their 40s, five in their 50s and just three (Gillick, Bill Stoneman and John Schuerholz) in their 60s. Only four modern GMs played in the big leagues. And three (Friedman, Theo Epstein and Josh Byrnes) really could be younger than their cleanup hitters. Age doesn't begin to tell you how much the job has changed in the last 25 years. But here goes, in six words or less ... Media crush: worse. Computer skills: better.