Sam Arslanian | Daily TrojanIn the 2017 MLB season, baseball fans witnessed the most home runs hit in a single season in the modern era. With 6,105 dingers tallied between April 2 and Nov. 1, the players shattered the previous season’s total by nearly 500 home runs. But that magnitude of an increase isn’t the first of its kind. The 2016 season saw roughly 700 more homers than the 2015 season, which recorded about 700 more home runs than its preceding season. There are a lot of variables that come into play when discussing trends in baseball. The game has a unique way of naturally balancing itself out. Pitchers discover new methods of pitching that batters aren’t comfortable with, or they find a new technique to add a bit more heat to their fastball. At this point it becomes a pitching-dominant game. It isn’t until the hitters adapt to these new forms that we see the game shift back to a more hitting-dominant game.Another element, one that the players can’t control, can have a significant impact on the game of baseball: Rule changes. In 2015 — the year we started seeing these massive increases in home run totals — the MLB’s “Pace of Play” rules were introduced. These rules limited the amount of time pitchers had between innings in an attempt to combat the increasing length of baseball games. While their intention is clear, perhaps the implementation resulted in the increase in home runs. Pitching at the MLB level is no easy task. For many pitchers the break between innings is tough — their arm gets cold or they can get off rhythm. Rushing a proper warm-up at the start of an inning, via the Pace of Play rules, can definitely have a negative effect on pitchers.At the end of the 2017 season, pitchers like Justin Verlander and Yu Darvish made headlines — not for their performances but for their grievances over the baseballs the MLB provided. “I think the main complaint is that the balls seem a little bit different in the postseason,” Verlander told USA Today. “And even from the postseason to the World Series balls. They’re a little slick. You just deal with it.”At first, I was skeptical about this claim (and as a Tigers fan, when Verlander speaks, it’s the truth). Why would the MLB alter the balls for the postseason? It didn’t make sense. Then I watched a World Series with 22 home runs. That is ludicrous. Then, like wildfire, a slew of conspiracy theories overwhelmed the internet claiming that the MLB made the balls slicker to increase the home run count. At the time, I believed there was some weight to this claim. After all, historically, World Series ratings have been on the decline and home runs are fun to watch. I partially believed this theory until a couple of days ago when I read an intriguing article from Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci titled “Countdown to Liftoff: How Joey Gallo and Josh Donaldson Embody Baseball’s New Era.” The article focuses on a few select players who are beginning to break the norm and introduce a new approach when down in the count. “Hitting concepts were once passed down like stories at the Thanksgiving table, generation to generation,” Verducci said. “These outsiders have instead used technology not just to educate themselves but also to disseminate their message, guiding the celebrated midcareer breakthroughs of J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner, Josh Donaldson and Jake Marisnick — to name just a few.”I’ve experienced this phenomenon of passed-down techniques firsthand. Every coach I’ve ever played under has told me the same words when I faced a dreaded 1-2 count: “Choke up, shorten your swing, crowd the plate and put the ball in play.” I listened to those directions. Why? Since every coach was telling me the same thing, I assumed it was just how the game is played.Completely flipping the traditional approach, the early adopters, Donaldson, Gallo and Martinez, are now doing away with the passive approach and instead opting for a more aggressive two-strike approach. Someone else who has adopted this method is the Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner. Verducci quotes Turner’s frustration with the traditional method and decision to adopt a more aggressive approach from his teammate at the time, Marlon Byrd, saying, “‘Screw it. I’m going to start hitting the way [Byrd] told me.’ I go into Cleveland and I hit a home run off [Cody] Allen. Two days later, off [Danny] Salazar, I hit another homer. We go back home, and I hit some ropes off the wall in centerfield. I was feeling really good.”Game 1 of the 2017 World Series was a thriller. The score was tied at 1 entering the sixth inning when Turner launched a 2-run bomb over the left field wall to ultimately grant the Dodgers the 3-1 win. But what separates this from any other game winning dinger is that Turner was down in the count 1-2. If you look at his swing, you can tell he wasn’t thinking “put the ball in play,” he was looking to send a missile to the outfield and he did just that. All the aforementioned theories could be coincidence, perhaps even a perfect storm of variables that has led to this massive increase in home runs per year. But I think there is just too much that lines up to argue against this new hitting approach. With opening day just three days away, I am eager to enter the season as a spectator with an eye out for this new approach. If this proves to be the factor that has been the catalyst for this home run increase, it will be up to the pitchers to find a solution to restore the game of baseball to its balanced state. Sam Arslanian is a freshman majoring in journalism. He is also the sports editor of the Daily Trojan. His column, “Extra Innings,” runs Mondays.
“He used to sit right there,” he said, pointing to the chair in the corner of the Celtics’ equipment room. It’s behind Connor’s desk, where pictures of his children are flanked by pictures of Pierce to the right.Connor is the Celtics’ Travel and Equipment Manager – a position he’s held every year since Pierce entered the NBA.Before the Celtics hosted the Lakers on Friday, Johnny Joe eagerly shared memories of Pierce hanging out in the Dungeon, sometimes quietly by himself, other times busting chops and winning over the room with his quirky sense of humor and supreme confidence. He’d eat his soup and pitch fake trade ideas.Big games, small games, it didn’t change Pierce.“Pressure didn’t bother that kid,” Connor said with the kind of nostalgia in his voice that lets you know he’ll be telling these stories for the rest of his life.He gloated about roasting Pierce in 3-point shooting contests until Pierce started roasting him back.“I used to kick his (butt). But as we went on, he’d make a comeback. And, he’d tell me, being the equipment guy, ‘That’s why I wear the uniform and you wash it.’ That was one of his great lines.”This is the Celtics history that really matters – the longtime employees, the ticket-takers, the ushers, the security guards and the people who have seen it all when it comes to Boston Celtics basketball.“They can share in your history. They can share in your story. So, it’s a friend you grow up with,” Pierce said. “… They can share your story with new people who come in. And, that’s the value of having people who have been there and seen it all, especially with one franchise. Your story never gets forgotten. It carries on. Hopefully, my story and my history with the Boston Celtics will get carried on.”If this was a different organization and a different city, the stories might not be what matters most. But this is a place where a near-50-year employee like Francis O’Bryant can make definitive declarations.“He’s really a true Celtic,” O’Bryant said of Pierce, putting him on par with the franchise’s best.The numbers back that up, too.The 26,000-plus points Pierce scored for the organization, the title he helped bring in 2008, those things absolutely resonate with the fans who walk around the Garden concourse wearing his jersey.“He was the face of the franchise,” Dennis Pagones, a Celtics fan from Dracut, Mass., said Friday night with a beer in his hand and a Pierce jersey on his chest.With the Lakers in town to face the Celtics, Pierce was still a prominent character. The in-arena auctions that featured current Celtics and Patriots – they had Pierce memorabilia too. One of the loudest cheers of the night came when local rapper Mike Boston, at center court being recognized for his work in the community, unzipped his jacket to show his Pierce jersey to the Garden crowd.“I’m a great fan of his. That’s why I bought his jersey,” he said. “It doesn’t get better than this.”Another fan, who didn’t want to be interviewed because he only spoke Spanish, still pointed at his No. 34 jersey and said “Paul Pierce” before politely turning to continue watching the game.The people in the city love Pierce because he didn’t bail. He stayed after being stabbed 11 times at a Boston club. He didn’t leave as the team went from bad to good to bad again before the Celtics eventually acquired Kevin Garnett and Ray Allen.“We remember Paul because he was a great player and won a title. I give him more credit for bucking the trend. He went through a lot of lean years, and I don’t think I ever once heard him say ‘I want to leave’ or ‘I don’t want to stick it out,’” his longtime coach Doc Rivers said. “I never heard him say it. He just hung in there and kept wanting the team to get better. … He exhibited an amazing amount of patience.“… In a time when guys get tired because they’re not winning, they want more guys, they want this, he just wanted us to keep pushing, to keep getting better. And, it turned out for him.”Pierce won his title and completed an odd destiny.The kid from Inglewood, the one who grew up rooting for the Lakers and who could walk from his home to the Forum, became a Celtics legend. Sunday, the crowd, the Clippers and the Celtics will honor his legacy.But in the Dungeon, the tributes never stop.In a room filled with jerseys, shorts and sneakers, where space is at a premium, a tribute to Pierce isn’t going anywhere.A stack of six pairs of Pierce’s unworn size-14 sneakers collects dust in the top left corner of the room.“He always asks for them and we won’t give them to him,” Connor said.The shoes, like the stories, are staying put in the Dungeon. Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error BOSTON >> Paul Pierce will walk out onto the parquet court for the final time as a player Sunday, surrounded by reminders of the Celtics’ history.Above him, the jersey numbers of some of the NBA’s best – Larry Bird, Bill Russell, Bob Cousy, John Havlicek and others – hang as a reminder of individual greatness past. Next to them, reminders of the Celtics’ 17 NBA titles nearly blanket the ceiling.Pierce’s name will be announced. The crowd will roar in appreciation for the 19 seasons he gave to the NBA and especially for the 15 he dedicated to Boston.He might smile. He might cry. He doesn’t know. “To be a part of this history is something that was important to me,” Pierce said Saturday, a day before his final game in Boston.Undoubtedly, Pierce will be a part of that history.When he played his first game in the TD Garden after being traded to Brooklyn, the camera panned to the two empty spaces for future retired numbers – one of which will certainly be filled by Pierce’s No. 34 and by his teammate Kevin Garnett’s.But, there’s another part of Celtics history that Pierce is a significant part of, the kind you don’t see in the rafters or in the gift shops.Deep inside the Garden, in what Pierce called “The Dungeon,” Johnny Joe Connor is holding court, talking about the most important Celtic of the last quarter century or so.