Baseball is a slow sport. Unlike hockey or basketball, this sport is all about patience, drama, strategy, timing... and numbers.
Baseball has long been famous for its obsession with statistics— the numbers about who is on base most, who hits best against whom, how more likely a left-handed pitcher with a shaved head is to strike out a right-handed batter who has eaten three hot dogs before the game than a right-hander (okay, we may have make that last stat up).
Home run is king
But no stats stand as tall as those about home runs. It's easy to see why. Nothing in baseball is more thrilling than watching a ball get smacked 400 or so feet out of the park. Usually, fans are most obsessed by which player has hit the most homers (so far this season it's Giancarlo Stanton of the Miami Marlins with 55).
But in 2017, a new home run record has been broken. And it involves nearly every player in the league. Last night in Toronto, Alex Gordon of the Kansas City Royals hit a home run.
It was the 5,694th homer hit by Major League Baseball teams this season. That is a new record, breaking the old one of 5,693 set in 2000.
And what's more? There's still two weeks left in the season! That's 335 games left, or 3,015 innings, or at least 18,090 more at-bats (a.k.a. chances to hit even more home runs). In other words, that record number is likely to get a lot higher.
The old ghosts
Of course, whenever something like this happens, the natural question is... why? In a sport with baseball's complicated history, the answer to such a question was often a disappointing one.
Back in the late 1990s and early 2000s, sluggers like Barry Bonds (the all-time champ with 73 in 2001), Mark McGwire, and Sammy Sosa were crushing home runs at ridiculous pace.
The only problem? All three players (as well as a host of others) were using illegal performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) at the time. The scandal hurt baseball, but MLB responded positively by cleaning up the sport.
So really... why so many?
So back to the original question... Why are so many home runs being hit?
MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was asked this question by NBC Sports. His answer?
“I don’t think that we are ever going to have a single explanation for exactly why we’ve seen so many. But players are bigger and stronger. They’re playing a little differently, in terms of the way they swing. Pitchers throw harder. The one thing I remain comfortable with: Nothing about the baseball, according to our testing, is materially different.”
Translation? When you combine bigger, stronger hitters (have you seen New York Yankees' rookie Aaron Judge?) with faster pitching, you are likely to get more home runs. When a ball is thrown with more speed, or energy, it actually requires less energy from the hitter to drive the ball a long distance.
And something else? Hitters are striking out more than usual these days, which is a sign that they are really trying to hit the ball out of the park.
In the end, though? No one really knows why this season is the year of the home run. Sometimes things just fall into place.
Or rather, over the fence.