Are there enough good players or too many marginal players in major league baseball? Remember how it was when there were only two eight-team leagues? Today, with 30 teams, has the quality of the game taken a tumble? Is it too watered down with players who used to be in the minors?
"The game has always been the same," insists Glen Van Proyen, who has been involved in the game as a high school coach and a major league scout for 50 years. "There always have been stars, fill-ins and average players. The great players today are as great as ever."
But there is a difference. Today, with 30 teams instead of 16, there are many players who wouldn't be in the bigs without expansion. There is only room for 750 players at the top of the mountain on any given day. When there were 16 teams, the mountain was harder to climb. But the base of the mountain was wider because there were more minor league battling for 400 spots at the top. Now there are only 3,000 minor leaguers compared to 12,000 to 13,000 in the 16-team era. And other sports have taken a lot of kids away from baseball.
Why don't kids play the game as much as before? When was the last time you saw kids playing baseball in a playground or sandlot? Soccer has made inroads on youth baseball. Basketball has become a year-round activity for many youngsters. There are so many other extra-curricular activities for kids to participate in, sports like soccer and volleyball and golf.
Many people think that the easiest way for their young son to learn to be a major leaguer is to be a catcher or a left-handed pitcher. Van Proyen argues that a parent shouldn't try to bring up his child to be a major leaguer. Instead, he says that parents should expose their kids to all sports and let them choose what they want to do and see the kind of proficiency they develop.
Then, in high school, if a kid has talent that overshadows the rest of his peer group, maybe he should specialize in a sport. "High school coaches are fine. Almost every one I have known has been competent enough to help a kid and not hurt him," Van Proyen said.
In Van Proyen's view, the easiest route to the major leagues is be a pitcher because there are 12 of them on every team. The next biggest need is catcher. Few teams have even one good one, much less two. If a boy is slow afoot but has a good arm and good hands and knows how to play the game and can hit a little, he has a chance to be a catcher, at least at the college level.