Glen Van Proyen, a former baseball coach at Maine South who has been a major league scout for the Dodgers and Cubs since 1965, the year of the first major league draft, doesn't argue the fact that the game is more popular today. But he points out that fewer Americans are playing the game and those who are aren't as fundamentally sound as their predecessors.
"The game was played more fundamentally sound in the 1950s and 1960s," Van Proyen said. "Almost everyone could execute a bunt, a double play, a hit-and-run. But players of today aren't as fundamentally sound. Many players from other countries, where they haven't had coaching, where they learned the game on their own, developed skills likes throwing and hitting and when to run because of their passion for the game."
If you have watched a major league game in recent years, you immediately notice that certain basic fundamentals are lacking--bunting, pitchers holding runners on base, outfielders hitting the cutoff man, base-running, among others.
"Bunting is atrocious at the major league level," Van Proyen said. "Some batters don't even have hand-and-eye coordination. They aren't great athletes. They don't practice against a 90 m.p.h. fastball. And why don't left-handed pitchers have more effective pickoff motions to first base, like Whitey Ford or Andy Pettitte? Because they haven't learned at a young age or been taught the right way."
And what about conditioning? Did anyone ever heard about the DL (disabled list) 20 years ago? Despite all the offseason conditioning and personal trainers and new technology, bodies are breaking down more than ever before. Remember when baseball players used to show up at spring training in February to get into shape? Now they work out year-round and break down during the season.
On any given day in the major leagues, 40 to 50 players are on the DL, from seven to 15 to 60 days. Yes, I believe athletes are overconditioned. I'm not saying you shouldn't be physically fit...strong legs and arms and lungs. But if you bench-press 160 to 350 pounds, I don't see how that relates to baseball. It is an arms-and-legs game, not biceps.
Instead, athletes neglect the building of triceps. They build their quad muscles but forget the muscles in the back of their legs, the hamstrings, to equal the strength of the quads. It is a season of 162 games, with all the travel and time changes and day/night games, and it all has a bearing on injuries and the quality of the game.