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Sports: ‘Too much made of equipment changes? Perhaps’

Nuance in today’s sports? Unlikely. American athletes in recent years have gotten stronger and more massive. Just take a look at towering college women basketball players and mountainous NFL players.

And as the summer sports scene heats up, it’s increasingly difficult to compare baseball and tennis today to what they were a few decades ago.

Sure, today’s baseball and tennis players are larger and more powerful than were their predecessors. But that’s only a part of the picture. Specifically, let’s look at the changes in equipment in both summertime sports.

In tennis, for example, the standard, smaller-sized catgut-strung wood rackets were for decades the norm. Such equipment often helped generate long, tactics-rich rallies on all court surfaces, and especially on clay.

Today’s players, wielding large-frame graphite rackets strung with tough synthetic strings, increasingly produce boom-boom 100-miles plus unreturnable serves. So much for tactics.

And while professional Major League Baseball teams still use wood bats, in all other baseball, everything from softball to college varsity, bats now are synthetic alloy and/or aluminum. And it’s only a matter of time when such powerful game-changing sticks make it to New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers clubhouses, to say nothing of lesser franchises in Denver and Cleveland.

Now it’s true that everything changes and evolves, including a nation’s sports. But it’s unfortunate when much of the change is because of equipment changes in which natural wood has been replaced by strong man-made synthetics.

So is too much being made of such equipment changes? Perhaps.

But it seems unfortunate that a three-quarters speed sliced backhand cross-court finesse shot and a deftly-placed drop shot have all but become endangered tennis species.

Or a well-timed hit-and-run or late-inning slide into third base now appear much, much less frequently in baseball.

And I wonder how Cy Young, Bob Feller or Babe Ruth might fare on 21st-century diamonds, or Bill Tilden, Rod Laver of Bjorn Borg on today’s courts. Hmm.

William Babcock of Durango is a former Christian Science Monitor senior international news editor, and a one-time mediocre varsity tennis player and less-than-average long-ago Little League third baseman.