31
Oct 19

RANDOM BURSTS OF WISDOM…

  ...OKAY, RANDOM BURSTS OF SOMETHING

 

THE NATIONAL BEWILDERED ASSOCIATION

   The 76ers with a Basketball IQ of...well, 76

I’m watching the last few minutes of the Raptors and the 76ers.  The Raptors are getting their butts whipped like an advert for an S&M reality show.

So Nick Nurse resurrects an ancient sword, the Full Court Zone Press.  Something you see in the NBA as often as pigs fly from Sacramento to  Dallas.

So I’m thinking, Good for you, Nick.  Obviously, the 76ers will surgically demolish the press.  But at least you’re pulling the plug and draining your Strategy Bag.

But I’m so wrong.  Not only does the press work, but it confuses the Sixers so much they look like the closest they’ve ever come to a basketball is the Spalding factory in Bowling Green.  They had as much chance as the Dems have of actually impeaching the Master Narcissist.

(Which fits just about every politician ever.  And “Quid Pro Quo”?  Hasn’t that been the Modus Operandi of every president since Washington?  You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours.  Just ask Hunter Biden.  And please don’t accuse me of supporting The Donald.  I’m just pointing out he’s par for the course.  Do you really think Bill Clinton, Dubya, and Obama aren’t narcissists?)

Image result for Free pictures of George Washington

        What was that, George?  NEVER IN BOUND INTO THE CORNER?  Got it.

      Raptors Steal and Score...Raptors Steal and Score...

But I’m veering off the track.  This is supposed to be Dissecting the Supreme Ignorance of the Philadelphia 76ers.  So let’s get on with it.

There is one thing you NEVER do against a zone press.  You NEVER in bound to a guy in the corner.  That means he’s boxed in and wrapped up like a Christmas gift under the tree.  A Raptor in front.  A Raptor inside.  The sideline next door.  And the end line behind him.

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So, faced with a simple zone press, what do the Sixers do?  Of course, THEY IN BOUND TO A GUY IN THE CORNER.  Boxed in like wearing a straight jacket.  It’s like swallowing a cupful of arsenic to see how it tastes.  They looked like a robot programmed by 2 and 0.  (That's droll inside Tech humor I just made up.)

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The Raptors steal and score.  The 76ers in bound into the corner.  The Raptors steal and score.  The Sixers in bound into the corner.  The Raptors steal and score.  The 76ers in bound into the corner.  I could go on and on but you don’t play pro basketball in Philly so I’m sure you’ve already got it.

Not to be one dimensional in their incompetence, The 76ers turn it over on an 8-second violation.  And then an over and back.  This is becoming a lot of fun.

It’s like watching a Dangerfield joke.

Image result for Free pictures of Rodney Dangerfield

     "So they passed into the corner again...and again...and again..."

I could make some brilliant wise ass crack like, “The Sixers looked like a Grade 8 girls team.”  But no way.  That would be an insult to every Grade 8 girls basketball team everywhere.  I’m sure I could find hundreds of Grade 8 girls basketball teams that can handle a zone press better than the Philadelphia 76ers.

Eventually Philly staggers to victory.  Apparently, the Sixers play in the NBA.  Apparently.  Must be the National Bewildered Association.

 

MY HERO, ZACK GREINKE

     The Feces on Your Dumbbell

I’m told Zack Greinke got severely distempered when he was with the Dodgers and guys forgot to wash their paws after using the clubhouse toilet.  The fact he had to remind them tells you something about pro athletes.    

I’ve never been a huge Greinke fan.  That’s probably because I’m not a fan at all.  Never have been since I realized all pro sports are merely commercial enterprises that con believers into living vicariously.

I’ve also heard from a major leaguer that Zack is not the best of teammates.  But now I’m doing a 180.  Anybody who appreciates soap and water is fine by me.

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                         Would you disobey this man?

I’m OCD.  I don’t shake hands, I knuckle.  I’m cautious about what I touch.  I wear gloves at times.  I wash my hands thoroughly twice a day.  I’m not dysfunctional, I’m just careful.

My doctor, the late and very great George Chalmers, told me he had a patient who bleached her children.  That’s not OCD.  That’s madness.

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“We're bathed in human feces.  People spread feces on their hands and it can be transmitted very easily.”
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Doc Chalmers graciously booked an appointment for me with a psychiatrist, which I thought was very cool.  Never talked to a shrink before.

          Many Thanks, Doc.  You ARE a Great Man.

The psychiatrist said I had a very mild case of OCD.  By comparison, he had one patient who virtually stood at the sink and washed his hands every waking moment.  Now that’s as dysfunctional as Howard Hughes.

I was booked for half an hour but it was his last interview for the day so we bantered back and forth for 90 minutes, dissecting everything from Existentialism to writing books and scripts to Eternity and the Universe.  Mundane things like that, not nearly as important as the Canucks.

Image result for Free pictures of Zack Greinke

                                                Now that's better.

The other day I browsed into a story about the amount of feces we encounter almost every day.  When you’re OCD, stories like that are a Trip Into the Depths of Hell.

I won’t delve into all the details, just some icky highlights to brighten your day.  Here are a few things doused with feces.

          From $$$ to Your Favorite Dumbbell

***Money.  Dollar bills in New York City, for instance, make friends with over 100 strains of bacteria.  Just ask Howie Mandel.  He washes his money.

***Ice cubes.  You don’t need to go to Mexico.  Your local restaurant will do.

***Public swimming pools from parasites when you swallow water contaminated with diarrhea.  The CDC says they can even last 10 days in chlorine.

***Smartphones.  One study found feces on one in every six phones.  Toilet talk.

***The floor.  On a subway, a public washroom, a restaurant, a sidewalk.  Take your pick.

Image result for Free pictures of dumbbells        The knockout right cross for all you weight lifters.

***Dumbbells in the gym.  Oh, how sweet.  This study burped the news that free weights crawl with 62 times more bacteria than public toilets.  Once again, that eight-pound dumbbell you use for reverse curls is a luxury hotel for germs that can cause skin infections or sepsis.  Maybe you should lift with a stack of toilet seats.

I covered a high school basketball game many moons ago and one of the teams had a large open tub of Gatorade.  There was a lot of flu going around and several player were coughing and spewing.  But all of them were scooping Gatorade and drinking out of the same ladle.  Made we wonder how careless a high school coach could be.

          Don't Panic...Well, Only a Little Bit

“We're bathed in human feces,” says NYU Microbiologist Philip Tierno.  “People spread feces on their hands and it can be transmitted very easily.”

But don’t panic.

We’re exposed to bacteria as often as politicians stretch the truth but most of it doesn’t cause a serious problem. 

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"It takes thousands of bacteria from feces to cause illness," says Ben Chapman, a food safety prof at North Carolina State U.  "Trace amounts of bacteria are not going to make you sick.”
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Still, fecal matter can survive for weeks so washing your hands before you eat, drink or touch your face is as crucial as dropping your underwear when you sit on the john.  You might even caress your phone, your mouse and your lover with a Lysol wipe.

(That may be a limp joke...but...STD tests can save a lot of post mortem grief...And I know how naive that sounds in a moment of libidinous passion.)

But I digress.  “If you're looking for feces, you’re gonna find it,” says  Chapman. “In fact, it would be a bigger surprise  if a study was looking for bacteria and didn’t find it.”

          It Can Keep You in the Lineup

If your kids are forever coming down with colds or the flu tell them to listen to my hero, Zack Greinke.  My hero, I say.  They don’t have to wash their hands for three or four minutes like OCD nut cases like me.  But 30 to 60 seconds of soap and warm water can keep you in the lineup.  Enough said.

And that’s my PSA for today.

 

“Lamar Jackson is making guys look stupid the same as Connor McDavid and somebody can’t wait to get their licks in and just take him out.  Somebody wants to take him out.  And say you’re not going to beat me.  I’ve had enough.”

--Jeff "The O-Dog" O'Neill

 

IN THIS ERA OF CLOWNS AND EGO TRIPS

      A Mike Mussina Story I Really Love

I’m not 100 per cent sure Mike Mussina belongs in the Hall of Fame.  But I’m glad he is. 

We live in a shameless era of posing hatless on the top step so the groupies can admire your hip haircut, of elaborate, asinine hand puppet salutes, of self conscious hip bump celebrations in the outfield, of showers of seeds as you prance and high five the length of the dugout, of inane end zone choreography that takes more practice time than a power sweep, of Tarzan chest pumps for routine sacks, of “Look at me, Mommy, look at me, Daddy, aren’t I special,” of the utter stupidity of clowns who get paid huge $$$ and act like Needy Little Children who can never get enough attention.

What’s more, these Precious Poseurs are so self consumed they aren’t even embarrassed by their Insatiable Egregious Ego Obsessions.    

On the other hand we have Mike Mussina.  And Thank God for that.

Mussina is virtually the definition of a Pro Athlete.  If you wanted to teach your kid how to prepare like a Marine, how to compete like a tiger, how to take responsibility like a mother, how to persevere like a spider, and how to accept idolatry with the humility of a saint, then Mike Mussina would be your blueprint.

Image result for Free pictures of Mike Mussina

                         This pic fits this story and the next one as well.

          "I'd Never Heard That Before.  It was Brilliant."

Catcher John Flaherty tells a great story about Mussina’s innovative, brilliant and One of a Kind prep before he pitched.   And I love it.

It was the first time Flaherty was behind the plate for Mussina.  So naturally he went over to Mike’s Yankee Stadium locker to discuss how they’d attack the lineup.  Mussina was working on a crossword puzzle but he looked up and said, “Not now.”

This severely teed Flaherty off.  It was as if Mussina couldn’t be bothered talking strategy to a new receiver.  “My Irish temper rose up and I stormed away,” Flaherty remembers.

A few minutes later Mussina came over.  “Why would I talk about the lineup now,” he said.  “I don’t know what kind of stuff I’ll have today.  I’ll go out to the bull pen and warm-up.  And then when we’re walking back to the dugout, I’m going to tell you how I’m going to get every hitter out.”

Flaherty was amazed, impressed, stunned.

“I was 11 years into my career,” he said.  “But I’d never heard that before.  Not from anyone.  He warmed up, figured out what stuff he had and then went through the lineup.  He told me this is how he’ll get this guy out and how he’ll get that guy out.  It was brilliant.”

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Mussina was a master at understanding what weapons he had in his tool box each start and how to adjust on the hill.

“He could be a finesse pitcher one day,” Flaherty says.  “And a power guy the next time out.  It all depended on how he felt.”

Remarkable.  MLB starters will tell you they have great stuff maybe 30 per cent of the time.  And they feel like they’re horse manure about the same.  The rest is somewhere in the middle.

And the test of a great pro is always, ALWAYS, how well you deal when your arm’s asleep, when your velocity is as weak as a toddler, when your command feels like you’re walking on stilts.

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"When you put down hook ‘em horns I’m going to throw a split finger."  And I said, "Moose, you don’t throw a split."  And he said, "I do tonight."
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That’s when we separate the men from the also rans.  Can you scramble and scratch and claw to post a W, can you survive and conquer?

Mussina found a way.  “I can’t go into the clubhouse and say I’m sorry guys  but I just didn’t have it today.  I’m only going out there 30 times a year and I’ve got to find a way to do my job.”

Flaherty has another classic example.

“We were playing the Red Sox at Fenway.  In the second inning Mike called me out to the mound and said, ‘When you put down hook ‘em horns I’m going to throw a split finger.’  And I said, ‘Moose, you don’t throw a split.’  And he said, ‘I do tonight.’  He invented a pitch on the fly.  And he went six innings.”

That was a Mussina trademark.  “There were other games when I made stuff up,” he says.  “You throw slower, you throw harder…”

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“He could be a finesse pitcher one day.  And a power guy the next time out.  It all depended on how he felt.”
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Going Deep Into the Game was Mussina’s Mantra, his Obsession, his Reason to Believe.  There was that legendary  moment when this was underlined in black ink, doused in yellow highlighter, and etched in stone.

Mussina on the hill.  Manager Joe Torre walks to the end of the dugout and starts up the steps.  He’s obviously on his way to pull Moose.

Mussina takes three or four steps toward Torre and shouts, “Stay there!  Stay there!”  He is not about to leave the mound.  This is HIS game.  HIS.  He owes that to his teammates.

And Torre turns around and goes back into the dugout.  Grinning.  How in the hell do you pull a warrior who believes in himself that much?

Image result for Free pictures of Joe Torre

                      "Stay there!  Stay there!"

Mussina didn’t win 20 until his 18th and final go round in 2008.  By then his velo was at low ebb but he was better than ever.  And throwing INSIDE like a Smucker’s jam machine.  One more adjustment for the ages.

Ultimately, Mussina is so humble he almost seems embarrassed by being inducted.

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”I did okay,” he says.  “I did all right and I did it for a long time.  I’m just really appreciative of everyone who voted for me and felt I deserved this.”

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Then he contemplates the company he keeps in Cooperstown.  “Being with them is a bit strange.”

In this day and age of trash talking clowns and self promoting poseurs it’s a pleasure to hear from a dude with the heart of a lion who competed as fiercely as a momma bear protecting her cubs.

And is sublimely thankful for entering the hallowed Hall of Fame.

 

THE GENIUS ON THE MOUND

    “Mad Dog” Maddux and Pitching Inside

Mussina pitching inside reminds me of Greg Maddux and his heater…well, his “warmer.” 

Maddux would toss his “sizzling” 88 in on the hands as often as Connor McDavid skates holes in the wind.

Mad Dog’s theory was simple and lethal.  He’d be inside by design, maybe three or four inches off the black, but the prey couldn’t resist.  A limp fastball that looked as tasty as a wiggling worm enticing a salmon.

But it’s a challenge to drive that batting practice fastball on your hands and keep it fair.  Instead of staying inside the ball, hitters would come around it and hook it foul.  And Maddux could care less how far it went.  440 feet?  Foul?  Strike one.

Image result for free pictures of Greg Maddux

       One of the greatest "pitchers" of all time.
      Immaculate control of fastball, curve, slider and change. 

          He Never Missed a Thing

Ryan Dempster used to sit next to Maddux in the dugout when they were with the Cubs.  He told me Maddux never missed a thing.  He made mental notes on everything every hitter did, every tendency, every adaptation, even the slightest miniscule change in his stance or his approach.

Mad Dog was anything but mad.  He was The Genius on the Mound.

       "What the Bleep is Mad Dog Talking About Now?"

I’m not sure where I heard this story.  Maybe from Ryan, maybe it’s apocryphal.  No matter, apocryphal stories are always the best.

At any rate, sitting on the bench, Maddux warned the Cubs to watch the enemy first base coach.  Heads turned.  What the bleep is Mad Dog talking about now?

Sure enough, the hitter strafed a line shot six feet foul that came within inches of crashing the coach as he did a two-step like one of those dudes dancing with bullets in a western.

Image result for Free pictures of cowboys dancing from bullets"Start dancin', podner.  I'm loaded with line drives."  (Okay, be nice.  I tried)

The Cubs were floored, absolutely sure Maddux was a soothsayer, a prophet, as clairvoyant as a UFO pilot from the planet Fortune Teller (or Penn and Teller) in the Palm Reader galaxy.  But the truth was as mundane as toothpaste, a testament to focus and observation.  In other words, simply hard work.

Maddux knew the Cubs were pitching this left hand hitter inside all day every day, jamming him up like an elephant stepping into a telephone booth.

So the hitter eventually made an inevitable adjustment.  He opened his stance about three or four inches so he could drive the bat head and barrel the next inside fastball.  For Maddux that was like sending a text message.  “Line shot foul about to happen.”

I wonder if Mad Dog ever plays the horses.  I could do with some help.

 

 

BUILDING A BETTER PITCHER…AND HITTER

 

     Extension, Extension, Extension

Three Words That Give Velo to the guy on the hill and Jack Power to the dude in the box. 

What’s that?  It’s only one word?  Well, who’s counting?

  

COMMITMENT, COMMITMENT, COMMITMENT (3 MORE)

             Throw THROUGH the catcher...

                     ...Not TO the Catcher.

A pitcher who finishes with extension and the total commitment of a German Shepherd chewing on a sirloin steak is like liquid gold flowing into your kitchen sink.

Think about martial arts.  When a black belt blasts through wood with a karate chop he drives his hand to a spot six inches below the board.  This ensures maximum power at contact.

So let’s take this same concept to the hill.  Commit 100 per cent. 

Throw the ball through the catcher, through the umpire, through the backstop.

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                                            Pedro extends out front...

       The Keys to High Velocity Extension   

Drive aggressively off your post foot.

Reach out to the catcher.  Let the ball CARRY.

Bury your shoulder to the plate.  Finish with a flat back.  Parallel to the ground.  Your head over your front knee.  Put your nose into the catcher’s glove.

Back foot UP, UP, and AWAY.  Watch MLB pitchers.  Most of them finish so strongly their back foot actually ends up as high as their head.  But…

Most young pitchers don’t even get their foot up to their waist because they lack core strength.  That’s why abdominal, lower back and oblique exercises are so important.

Your throwing hand should FLOW to the outside of your front leg.    Pedro Martinez wrapped his fingers around his knee and actually touched his hamstring.  Really, he did.  Is it any wonder Pedro never met Tommy John and was as dominant as the Lion King.

No recoil.  Never yank your arm back to shunt your follow through.  Recoil is the fast track to shoulder and back inflammation.  There are more muscles for deceleration than there are for acceleration, as strange as that might seem.  Be friends with those babies and finish smoothly.

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 ...and then flows to a finish...wait a moment and you'll see his foot head high.

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CAUTION: Never Strain.  Never Overthrow.  

I always have second thoughts about posts like this.  Because I worry about young guys reading it and misunderstanding.  (Do young guys read any more?)

Let’s be very careful here.  There is no way I’m advising pitchers to STRAIN and OVERTHROW.  Just the opposite.

I’ve repeated my favourite words for pitchers as often as waves wash over the beach in Hawaii.

               See How Easily You Can Throw Hard.

Throw with your WHOLE BODY.  Never just your arm.  In Rhythm.  In Synch.  With Tempo.  You MUST understand that. 

I repeat.  Never STRAIN.  Never OVERTHROW.  Let Your Body Work.  Flow through your delivery.  And drive all your energy to the plate.

When you get extension and finish like this it actually saves your arm.  It reduces injuries.  You are generating velocity by marshalling your whole body to throw the ball.  And your arm is just along for the ride.

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Image result for Free pictures of Mariano Rivera

          Fooled ya...switched to Zack Wheeler.  Arm through.  Foot head high.

                      WHY IS FINISH SO IMPORTANT?

Your finish actually tells me a lot about your start and your middle.  If you load properly, if you lead with your hip, if you drive down the hill with balance, if you pop your hips and explode, if you finish aggressively, long and strong, it means you used your WHOLE BODY to throw the Rawlings. 

The start of your delivery creates the finish of your delivery. 

You won't throw 100 per cent unless you finish like a travelling salesman closing a deal.  It's not just window dressing.  Your follow through, in fact, is the barometer of your mechanics.  It tells me a lot about your entire delivery.

And it also protects your arm.  A long finish, with no recoil, allows proper deceleration, which takes a lot of stress off your shoulder and elbow.

                             STRONG TO LONG

“STRONG" means LOAD to EXPLODE--shoulders tilted, leading with your hip, driving down the hill.  No mythical balance point.  Your whole delivery has to be as balanced as Nureyev.  This is a POWER POSITION and you should "feel" it.

"LONG" is EXTENSION out front.  Commitment to the plate.

STRONG to LONG is the Mantra of the Baseball Gods.

Image result for Free pictures of Mariano Rivera

                                 I know, I know, I use him way too often.
    But Mariano is the epitome of See How Easily You Can Throw Hard.

 

DEMPSTER--A CLASSIC EXAMPLE

September, 2002.  Friday night.  The Cincinnati Reds playing at home against the Cubs.  Shortly after the game I call Ryan Dempster’s cell to leave a message.

He answers.  I’m surprised.  He lives in an apartment near the park but he should still be in the clubhouse or out with the guys to a club or a restaurant.  But he’s home.

“What’s up?” I ask.  Ryan sounds very unhappy.  We talk for a few minutes.  Nothing profound.  He says he doesn’t feel right about the way he’s been throwing.

“What do you see?” he asks.

“You’re throwing the ball to the catcher.  Not through the catcher.”

He contemplates.  Remembering how much we emphasized this.   Then he says, “You’re right.  I am throwing to the catcher.”  

We talk for a few more minutes.  Also, nothing profound.  He’s pitching the next day against the Cubs.  When we finish I ask him how he feels.  “Just watch me tomorrow,” he says.

          From 94 to 97 with Late Life

The next day Ryan is brilliant, his best start of the year.  He finishes everything like a laser beam.  His velocity jumps from sitting on 94 to 96-97.  His fastball is down, his slider is tight and nasty.  He has late life.

He wins big, striking out 10 and giving up only three hits in seven and the Reds clip the Cubs 3-1.

Ryan makes two more starts in September, both just as strong.  It’s a classic example of a superb athlete making a small but potent adjustment.  On his own.

And the Reds pitching coach takes credit for the revival.  As usual.

 

Image result for Free pictures of Ryan Dempster

Ryan at his best.  Beautiful drive to the plate.  The genesis of extension.

Stay Tuned.  Next we'll talk about the best hitting drill in the world for developing extension through the ball.  The EXTENSION that gives you home run POWER.

 

 

BASEBALL PUZZLE

How can ONE team get SIX hits in ONE inning and NOT score a run?

31
Oct 19

I really enjoy writing this epic blog.  And I truly appreciate all my faithful readers.  

But it takes a lot of time and effort.  And financially it's about as productive as selling ice cubes in Aklavik.  

I could make it a subscription blog but that would probably shut out a lot of young players.  No way I'd want that.   

So I'm left with a Donate button.  I'm not asking for a fortune, just a few bucks, like $10, $20, or, if you're Warren Buffet, maybe three or four million.  Warren are you there, bud?

At any rate I'd much appreciate any DONATION you can make to my PayPal account, which they tell me is secure.  Otherwise, I'll eventually have to pack it up.       

Just hit the Donate button.  And thank you.




KYLE CHALMERS and JEFF FOUNTAIN--Thanks, guys.  All the best.

 

"Gimme the beat boys to free my soul
I wanna get lost in your rock and roll
And drift away"

 

                             Dave Empey

Dave Empey has developed five major league
players, including Yankees ace James Paxton
and 
Ryan Dempster, who dominated the hill
for 16 MLB seasons, was an all-star twice, and  
won a World Series ring with the Red Sox. 

Plus reliever Rowan Wick, the Rookie of the
Year for the Chicago Cubs, who is expected
to be their closer next season. 

Dave has coached 21 pro players,
including 11 pitchers and 10 hitters.

He's placed a dozen athletes on the
Canadian national junior team and
over 
100 into college programs.    

As a sports writer with the Vancouver Sun
Dave interviewed home run king Roger Maris,
iconic heavyweight champ Rocky Marciano,
legendary sprinter Jesse Owens, Hall of Fame
pitcher Bob Lemon, classic daredevil Evel
Knievel, and NHL hard rock Tiger Williams.

Dave has covered almost ever sport you can
name, including baseball, football, basketball,
soccer, hockey, horse racing, lacrosse, boxing,
hang gliding, swimming, figure skating, rugby,
track and field, tennis, curling, and skiing.

In Kelowna he sat next to Billy Schumacher,
the greatest hydroplane driver of all time, as
they blistered through three laps at 150 mph.
 "That ride with Billy was a lot of fun," he says.  

Dave also managed and produced an album for
the rock band Paul Anthony and The Invasion.

Contact--daveempey@shaw.ca

Ryan and Dave in Las Vegas

 

2017-18 visitors--80,036

2019 visitors--35,955

 

TODAY’S LINEUP

I GIVE UP, JUST NEW--The 76ers Basketball IQ of...well, 76
EXTREMELY MORE NEW--The Feces on Your Dumbbell
EXTREMELY NEW--A Mike Mussina Story I Really Love
SO NEW IT'S TOMORROW--"Mad Dog" Maddux
Extension, Extension, Extension
Throw Through the Catcher...

Not To the Catcher
BASEBALL PUZZLE

Johnny Chung, the Celestial Comet

"And After 20 Years He Still Grieves"
PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
Weighted Baseballs
SAVING BASEBALL
Time to Snap, Crackle and Pop

"White Lightning" at 120 mph
RANDOM BURSTS OF WISDOM
Ellsbury, The O-Dog and LBJ
PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
Joel Zumaya--104 Solar Heat

120 Games a Year in the Land of Igloos 
Starving Children and Innocent Animals...
              ...Mean More Than Champagne
The 800 Grand Party to End All Parties
Cora Sank the Sox in Spring Training

"The Giants Win the Pennant"
Those Damn Cheatin' Astros
Kawhi, They Hardly Knew You

THE NECTAR OF THE GODS
--Great Wine, Gourmet Food, Endless Summer
PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
--The Scourge of Tommy John Surgery

RANDOM BURSTS OF WISDOM
--Whatever Happened to Late Night TV?
The Moment the Astros Rolled Over and Quit

BUILDING A BETTER HITTER
--Michael Brantley and Iron Mike
Most Powerful (and Hated) Man in Baseball

DEVELOPING CATCHERS
--If You Can't Block, You Can't Catch
James Paxton is NOT Laid Back

The Goose and Lou Vomit All Over Baseball
Sorry, John Smoltz, But You Don't Have a Clue
The Bringer of Drizzle: 3 for 19
Shades of the 1919 Black Sox

PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
--Mariano Rivera's Perfect Delivery

Rowan Wick, Cubs Rookie of the Year
Pitching in the Mariana Trench

PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
--Warming Up is the Gold Standard
Rowan Wick's Best Inning Ever
PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM
--Most MLB Coaches Don't Understand 

Trent Thornton's Leg Kick, I Kid You Not

Vlady, The Junior Versus The Panda
The Nightmare of Odie, the Boxador
$638,000 Just to Step on the Diamond
The Bringer of Drizzle Speaks Drivel

Boog, Eduardo and Sutt
The Greatest Pitcher Who Ever Lived
The Tragic Destruction of Young Players
What the Hell is a Cutter/Slider?

The Utter Bull Shit of Moneyball
And the Beat Goes On
Just How Good is Joey Votto?

Mickey Mantle, the King of Jacks
Wick Stakes His Claim in Wrigley Ivy
The Saga of Nathan Patterson
How Baseball Eats Its Young
The Rock Star On Chicago's South Side
Michael Kopech Nails 110 mph

"Dave, I'm Going to The Show Today"
The Masters...or the Master Race?
The Grand Daddy of all Sports Hoaxes
My Buddy, Duke's Coach K
The Golden Age of Morneau and Dempster
The Pendulum Swings West
Jupiter's Win at Any Cost Jackasses

A Tale of Two Trades
Bring On the Sloth Triplets
The Insanity of Tommy John for 15-year-olds
Is Icing Good for a Pitcher's Arm?
What has Hockey got to do with this?
Koufax versus Kershaw
BASEBALL PUZZLE

"Just Play the Game"
The Spirit of Billy The Kid
One Bad Pitch
"The Players All Love Him"
Innocent Until Proven Guilty

The Lethal Weapon No One Uses
The Ineffable Ernest Hemingway
The Incompetence of MLB Coaches
Alabama and Ole Miss Never to be Found
The Bringer of Drizzle
Rowan Wick called up to the Padres
What is wrong with human beings?

The Dempster Slider
"I Gotta Go"
The Inane Babble of the Media
Rocky and the Nerds 

Killer Koepke and The Assassin

THE PITCHING PACKAGE (2)
Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

Developing COMMAND
Power Pitching
SEE HOW EASILY YOU CAN THROW HARD
Protecting Your Arm

Stride
The Road to Velocity
LOAD--Lead with your Hip
Explode
Finish
Throw through the Catcher
The Curveball

Johnny Chung, the Celestial Comet

THE PITCHING PACKAGE (1)
The Catch 22 of Relief Pitchers

Shadow Boxing Your Delivery
Balance Like a Gymnast
A Controlled Knee Raise
The Gold of Coil and Go
Lefthander's Pickoff Move
Stealing Against a Lefthander

Sidd Finch and his 168 mph Fastball

Much, Much, Much More in the Archives
And all Great Stories
Take my Word for It

14
Jun 19

 THE ALL AMERICAN WHO NEVER EXISTED

       Johnny Chung, the Celestial Comet

Ever heard of the brilliant, unstoppable running back Johnny Chung?  Heisman candidate.  As dominant as Nolan Ryan slashing 102 mph aspirin tablets at high school sophomores. 

The Plainfield Teachers College went undefeated way back in 1941 because no one could keep Chung from crashing the end zone.  He was a force of nature, right up there with Bronko Nagurski, Jim Thorpe and Sally Fields.  (These things just come out, a stream of consciousness.  I have no idea why.)

How good was Johnny Chung?  Well, his nickname was the Celestial Comet.  That good.  And more than a few football journalists were tabbing him as a sure thing All American.

Only one minor problem.  He was never born.  Never took a breath.  Never ran.  Or walked.  Or crawled.  Johnny Chung was a ghost.  Invisible.  Because he never existed.

Johnny burst in full flight from the fertile imagination of a man who loved having fun with the media.  And he was ingenious enough to even fool the New York Times, the Bible of Print.

This time it really was Fake News.

The immortal Jim Thorpe, surely one of the greatest athletes ever, a star in both the NFL and MLB.  But he certainly could have used a better glove.  So could Sally Fields.

          When You Mix Vodka and the Marx Brothers...

Morris Newburger was a Wall Street stock broker who grew up with the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy coursing through his veins like a tumbler or two of high octane vodka.  Which undoubtedly explains his insouciant, irreverent outlook on life.  A little bit of irreverence goes a long way.

Newburger and a couple of his buds on The Street invented a football team, complete with a legend, just to see if the newspapers would run with it.  And they did.

On a Saturday afternoon in September Newburger called papers like The Times and the Herald Tribune to give them the news--Plainfield had just clipped Winona College 27-3.    With this phenom named Johnny Chung rushing for 125 yards and scoring a pair of TD's.

And the papers ate it up like steak and lobster.

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It was coach "Hurry Up" who invented the revolutionary W-formation with both ends facing backwards so they could follow Chung's path, the better to block for him.
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Nobody had ever heard of either of those stalwarts of higher learning but, at that time, small college football teams shuffled in and out of the picture faster than Trump’s cabinet.  Newspapers printed several editions in those days so Newburger hustled out at 2 a.m. to hook into copies of a dozen publications.

“They bought it,” he exulted.

There it was, in all its pristine beauty, the Plainfield score on the first page of The Times sports section, right next to 1941 heavyweights like Fordham, Army, Notre Dame and Penn State.  It was as if a motley crew of high school grunge metal rockers were sharing billing with The Rolling Stones.

Johnny Chung was quickly doused with Star Power.  Apparently, he was 6-3 and 212 pounds of ripped muscle and he sliced through hapless linebackers like King Arthur’s Sword of Excalibur attacking a snowflake.

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“The gentle humor in the Plainfield hoax appealed to the imaginations of both sportswriters and the public.”

  --Bob Cooke, sports editor, The Herald Tribune, in 1941
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Chung was half Chinese, half Hawaiian and half apparition, thanks to Yogi Berra.  (You have to keep up here.)  Newburger claimed he wolfed down bowls of wild rice at halftime for a boost of energy, which smells very much like a racist comment but this was the Dark Ages, Pearl Harbour was moments away, and all those Asians looked alike to caramel US of A.

 

               Johnny Chung.  Yes, the Celestial Comet, himself.  It's magic.

One story even said Johnny ran in barefeet.  Which made him the Barefoot Celestial Comet.  (Now you really have to keep up.  Google Ava Gardner or Bogart, the King.)

But Johnny was also taking his first lunge toward the Heisman Trophy as college player of the year.  Which would have been an interesting presentation ceremony, I must say.

The Celestial Comet was a sensation from the get-go.  After they hammered Randolph Tech 35-0 the New York Post wrote, “John Chung, Plainfield’s Chinese sophomore halfback, has accounted for 57 of the 98 points scored by his unbeaten team.”

        You've Never Heard of  "Boarding House" Smithers?  

Newburger was a master of invention.  He baptized himself as a sports information director named Jerry Croyden and sent out news releases under a Plainfield letterhead.

He dubbed his stalwarts “The Lions” who were led by head coach Ralph “Hurry Up” Hoblitzel.  It was Hurry Up who invented the revolutionary W-formation with both ends facing backwards so they could follow Chung's path, the better to block for him.  Obviously, this was a work of genius, a fascinating concept that captured the imagination of sports editors across the country.  And one of those ends was “legendary” 6-3 receiver Al “Boarding House” Smithers.

To embellish the story Newburger gave names to the mythical linemen and backs.  Wall Street names, including himself.  He was at left tackle in one game, quarterback in another.  And any brokers Newburger didn’t like were on the losing teams.

          Frank Leahy was about to ditch the Fighting Irish to coach Johnny Chung

With only two games left Plainfield was heading straight into the prestigious Blackboard Bowl in Atlantic City.  Surely, you’ve heard of it.   What’s more, rumours swirled around that Notre Dame legend Frank Leahy was about to jump on board to coach the Lions.

          "Will the Celestial Comet make All-American?"

At which point it all blew apart.  World Telegram sports reporter Joe Williams visited the city of Plainfield, New Jersey and couldn't find a trace of a football team.

The jig was up, whatever that means.  Time Magazine gloated, “The sports pages of the New York Times have dutifully recorded their football victories.  The only error was that Plainfield and its opponents never existed.”

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Like any dedicated hoaxer Newburger was undaunted. “It’s too bad about Chung,” he persevered.  “He was a stalwart, brilliant, shifty halfback, and definitely All-American material.”

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So SID Jerry Croyden sent out his final news release: “Due to players flunking midterm exams, Plainfield has been forced to call off its last two  games.”

The Philadelphia Record, which bought into the hoax like a crocodile spotting an Olympic swimmer, was sympathetic.  “We don’t see why exposure of the gag should end the team’s career.  It should keep playing the rest of the season.  And we’d love to know if the Celestial Comet can make All-American.”

That’s the spirit.

          A Great Time For Another Johnny Chung 

You might think you couldn’t get away with such a blatant hoax in these days of instant Social Media.  But that’s a gimme.  There is so much garbage spinning through the Net every day I think it would actually be much, much easier.

It would just mingle with the UFO sightings, the JFK conspiracies, the magic cures for everything from acne to ED, the latest Big Foot sighting, and Meghan Markle is either a robot or a spy intent on handing America back to the British.  Fake news is as prevalent as MLB jacks.

So how about it?  Use your imagination.  It doesn’t have to be a brilliant scam because people are so naïve they’ll believe anything, ANYTHING, these days.  Maybe it’s time to bring Johnny Chung back to life.  Even if he never had a life.

Morris Newburger, a senior partner at a Wall Street brokerage firm, was one of the perpetrators of the hoax.

                     Morris Newburger pretending to be John Barrymore 

JIMMY STEWART FOR THE AGES

    “And After 20 Years He Still Grieves”

I’m watching It’s A Wonderful Life for the (fill in the blank) time.  And, as usual, I start crying.  Not macho.  No way.  But no choice.  The tears of joy just leak out like drips from a faucet.  Can’t help it.  Jimmy Stewart does that to me. 

About 25 years ago Stewart was on with Carson and he read a poem he’d written for his dog, Bo, who had passed.  Stewart obviously overflowed with love for that wonderful animal and the poem broke your heart, a cut so deep it left you staggered. 

Even Carson, who was not easily moved, began to tear up, the studio audience joined him, and I’m sure several million more in Cyber Space were weeping like an open fire hydrant.

Bravo, James Stewart, you were—ARE—magnificent.     Image result for Mr. Bojangles' Dog

                        I can only pray this little one was adopted.

Do you remember the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band and Mr. Bojangles?  There is this verse that haunts me. 

“He spoke through tears of 15 years
How his dog and him traveled about
The dog up and died, he up and died
And after 20 years he still grieves”

I still grieve for the animals I’ve lost.  And I always will.  No choice on that, either.  They dig into you.  Their unending loyalty.  Their simple joy at being alive, going for a long walk, sleeping next to you, or the little ones on your lap.  They are existential.  They are innocent. They are pure.

And, after 20 years, I still grieve.

Image result for Free pictures of Jimmy Stewart

                       He brought Carson to tears

          The Ineffable Jimmy Stewart

I have this terrible addiction.  Call it Classic Movie OCD.

Has there ever been a more natural, gifted, convincing actor than the ineffable Jimmy Stewart?

He is the Epitome of Humanity.  He’s Mr. Smith taking on the whole bleeping US of A government.

He’s Winchester ’73 and Broken Arrow and The Naked Spur, the essence of the western hero.

He’s Flight of the Phoenix and the Spirit of St. Louis, flying the Atlantic for the first time, and Strategic Air Command, which indelibly underlined his service as an Air Force General in the Big One.

He’s Anatomy of a Murder and friends with an invisible rabbit called Harvey and he’s brilliant bandleader Glen Miller and baseball’s Monty Stratton.  He’s staring out the Rear Window and…

          ...He’s It’s a Wonderful Life, Capra’s Classic.

His range seems infinite.  About the only parts he couldn’t play would have been a five-year-old or a woman.  And, maybe…

Whatever happened to movies?  When did they become CGI Special Effects and Sci Fi and Super Hero Franchises with about as much heart as a robot?  It started with Star Wars, which actually had deep feelings, but now it’s all aimed at 15-year-old gamers.

I’m not complaining.  Really, I’m not.  Marvel escapes from reality are a lot better than drugs or booze or hallucinations.

But It’s a Wonderful Life transcends.  Jimmy Stewart makes me cry for the joy of being alive.  Isn’t that the True Magic?  And it’s all good.

Image result for Free pictures of Jimmy Stewart

                                  "Oh, the humanity"

 

PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM

 

THE DEVIL IN DISGUISE OR HALLELUJAH?

                Weighted Baseballs

It’s hard to find something more controversial in this game than weighted baseballs. 

In some in-bred circles, the Trump Presidency, The Game of Thrones, Justin Bieber, Socialism, Colin Kaepernick, abortion, and eating spaghetti for breakfast barely cause a stir.

But mention weighted baseballs and blood pressure soars like a hang glider in a thermal draft and fist fights break out.  I’m not sure why.

I’ve got nothing against weighted baseballs.  I’ve got a four ounce and a six but I use them about as often as a leprechaun plays shortstop for the Yankees. 

Opponents will tell you heavy baseballs are the Devil Incarnate--an alien predator who will rip your arm right off your shoulder and tear your elbow up like a jack hammer. 

On the flip side the salesmen swear that weighted balls add velocity faster than a wind tunnel.  Not only will they NOT hurt your arm but they’ll actually protect against injury.

Image result for free pictures of Colin Kaepernick

               Colin Who?  We'll get to him soon.

The pitchers I’ve helped to invade the pros and The Show, including Mr. Dempster, never used weighted baseballs. What’s more, despite the fact they’ve been around at least 50 years, there are still only a handful of testimonials from big league pitchers.  If I was promoting weighted baseballs I’d surely list all the high profile guns who’ve used them.   

The biggest problem is how heavy you go.  I’ve heard of coaches using a 13-ouncer, which is like throwing a wrecking ball.  And I truly mean WRECKING BALL.  Hello, Tommy John, how are you, bud, and who’s that surgeon you’re with?

Most gurus recommend not going any heavier than 20% above the 5-ounce ball.  Even kindergarten math tells you that’s a six ounce ceiling.  But, apparently, a lot of coaches never went to kindergarten.

Image result for Free pictures of Ryan Dempster

            Weighted baseballs?  Never heard of them.

Now you have to understand I’m talking about THROWING the heavier balls.  That’s a ligament tear or a rotator cuff demolition sitting patiently in the waiting room licking its lips. 

But there are programs like Driveline that use the heavier balls, eight ounces or more, for special strengthening exercises.  That’s essentially weight training, similar to using a one-pound dumbbell.  In which case, they are NOT THROWING them.

         Studies?  We've Got Studies.  All Contradictory

There have been some interesting studies.  All contradictory. 

The prestigious American Sports Medicine Institute concluded that weighted balls definitely add velocity.  Interestingly enough, the ASMI said underload (4-ounce baseballs) worked as well or even better than overload.

Of course, even that has been disputed.  Google the words VIOLENT DISPUTE and you’ll see a pic of WEIGHTED BASEBALLS.   

So who to believe?  Think for yourself.  And experiment if you can.  No matter what, I’d vigorously suggest these absolutely crucial guidelines.

 

    FIVE "MUSTS" WITH WEIGHTED BALLS

1) Never throw weighted balls until your arm is in shape and you’re already into a regular routine of long toss and bullpens.

2) You absolutely MUST throw with proper mechanics.  Obviously, this is crucial no matter what you’re throwing but it’s even more important with a heavy ball. 

3) Don't just go out and start tossing weighted balls.  Research an actual throwing program from an expert.  Follow it carefully.  

4) Be conservative.  When you start don’t go any heavier than 6 ounces. 

5) Until you do some research.  Study the process.  Learn.  It’s your arm.  You own it.  Take control.  

More on WEIGHTED BALLS next week when we’ll dissect the PROS and the CONS ad infinitum.  (Only if you speak Latin.) 

Which will leave you reeling, quivering with anxiety, cursing the Gods of Baseball, and mumbling, “Why can’t they make up their minds?”  My gift to you.                                         

MY BLUEPRINT FOR SAVING BASEBALL

         Time to Snap, Crackle and Pop

I didn’t think I’d have to save baseball.  But I guess there’s no other choice.

The Powers That Be are just too damn stupid to figure it out.

MLB attendance continues to drop like a thermometer at a skating rink in Iceland.  Teenagers and 20 Somethings would rather have their teeth pulled without freezing than drag their ass out to the ball yard. 

They’d rather eat a plastic sandwich than suffer through a game just as boring as asphalt eroding or a Taylor Swift song.  You spot a 16-year-old in the stands as often as dinosaurs lip synch “Highway to Hell” with LL Cool J. 

So baseball fans are either gnarly adults or fuzzy kids.

But the Powers That Be are obsessed with attracting those recalcitrant teens and 20’s.  They salivate at the thought, they slobber, they hyper ventilate.  It’s like a rampant sugar addiction.

So what is their genius solution?  Speed reading.

They are obsessed with Time.  Just Speed Up the Game and the Young ‘Uns will flock to Tropicana and Comerica like ants to a honey hill.

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                         "Where's that damn T-Rex when I need him?" 

I won’t dissect all their asinine Speed Drills here.  I cover all that in an earlier post.  But I will point out they are as useless as yelling at the clouds to stop the rain from falling.

Teens and 20’s simply have no interest in baseball.  It’s yesterday.  As out of touch as the Joe Pepitone fan club.  As relevant as a dial phone.  As invigorating as watching mud dry.  And who can blame them.  In this world of Snap, Crackle and Pop and Minecraft Video, baseball is an eviscerating, suck-the-blood-out-of-your-veins Slow Mo torture chamber.

And, as the inimitable philosopher Yogi Berra once said, “If they won’t come out to the park, you can’t stop them.”

But don’t despair.  I have the answer.  It’s the Empey Formula.  I give this to you, baseball, even though I know you’re too stupid to use it.  Because this isn’t just thinking outside the box.  It’s wiping out the box.

You want teens and 20’s to get involved?  Then forget all the Speed Reading bull shit.  Jump past Yogi for the solution.

Image result for Free pictures of Yogi Berra

Or: "No one goes there any more.  It's too crowded."
Or: "Baseball is 90 per cent mental and the other half is physical."
Or: "It gets late early out here."
Or: "Pair up in threes."

    1) Rock Bands, Rappers, Magic, Comedy, Fashion, Tech

Put three stages around the concourse under the stands.  Circled by tables where teens can savage foot long hot dogs, nachos and Cokes.

There are hundreds of young acts hungry for exposure who will perform for virtuallly nothing.  Rock, rap, pop.  But that’s only the beginning.

Magicians.
Stand-up comedians.
Fashion shows.
Techies demonstrating smartphone secrets.
Strippers.  (No, that’s a joke.  Although…)

You’ll need some sound-proofing for the bands, of course, but I think even baseball people can figure that out.

      2) Where the Girls Are

Where do teenage girls shop for clothes?  H&M?  American Eagle?  Hollister?  Aeropostale?  McDonald’s?  I dunno.  But find out.  And then give each store 1,000 tickets to hand out free to girls who buy something.  Good for business and good for baseball.  Load those three stages with performers and the girls will be front and center.  And wherever girls go I guarantee you boys will follow.  A doubleheader.

      3) An App for Predicting the Action

Now our Ace in the Black Hole.  We’ll trap these teens and 20’s with their own specialty.  Social Media.  An app on their Smartphone.

You predict the next play.  Will it be a base hit?  Or a K?  A walk?  A jack?  Groundball to short?  A pop up or wild pitch or a double in the gap?

This is where all those useless bleeping Analytics actually pay off.  You have odds on everything.  A single might be 10 to 1, a strikeout 3 to 1, a 63 groundout 20 to 1.   Adjusted for every hitter.

When you get it right, you amass points correlating to the odds.  And you can save them up from game to game.  The payoff?  Pick up enough points and your reward is a free ticket when the Yankees come to town or pure, unadulterated $$$.  Maybe swag or merch.  T-shirts and hats, an autographed ball, a Rawlings glove, a Louisville Slugger, even a pair of Nikes if you post a monster score.  Teenage Bingo.

Talk about focus.

Image result for Free pictures of techies

I have no idea what this pic means.  I was looking for a techie shot.  So it'll do.

Of course, there'll be several dozen computer stations to validate your attendance for that game.  All you have to do is check in and start piling up points.

And the ball park will ROCK like never before.

          4) This is MY Team

Play Fantasy Baseball every day on this app.  Fans select three players from each lineup.  Points based on performance.

          5)  Put Down Your Fingers

And same app for Call The Pitch.  Predict a heater.  Or curveball, slider, change, split.  The scoreboard flashes the result.  You can even have Levels 1, 2 and 3 with points for every jump.

     A NEW GENERATION OF BASEBALL AFICIONADOS

All of this will get your teens and 20’s involved faster than Fortnite and GTA or a date with the hottest cheerleader.

They’ll be on the concourse listening to rap or rock and focused on the plethora of screens surrounding the stages so they can make their predictions.  They’ll be imbedded in the game deeper than a Texas oil rig.  They’ll morph into Baseball Aficionados.  They’ll spend $$$ gargling pop corn, peanuts, ice cream and Pepsi.  (I already mentioned Coke.  This is an equal opportunity blog and I'm sure Coke and Pepsi both need the massive publicity.)

Sure, most of the teens and 20's will stick to the concourse.  But gradually, inexorably, little by little, they'll also gravitate into the stands.  Either way, baseball wins.

Image result for Free pictures of baseball catchers

           Okay, Ace, call for a slider.  I dare you.

      Leave the Game alone

Will baseball adopt this genius Empey Formula?  Of course not.  Baseball is too stupid to try anything this intelligent.  Their mantra is speeding up a game that craves peace and quiet and just wants to be left alone.

The commish and the owners and the GM’s have as much imagination as an envelope.  They obsess about stuff as peripheral as waving the hitter to first base on an Intentional Walk.  And how much did that save us?  Forty seconds every full moon.

They’ll continue to stumble and fumble and bumble their way into oblivion compelled with the insane and morosely moronic idea they can mysteriously attract 25-year-olds by reducing mound visits.

          Teens and 20's Will Be Addicted

And, meanwhile, the 12-year-olds will gradually drift away to those teenage pleasures that are a lot more interesting than sitting on your butt watching desultory multi millionaires loaf like sloths on groundballs to short.

But, hear ye, hear ye, we can actually entice some of those teenage pleasures to visit the yard.

The Empey Formula will turn the tide.  Attendance will soar.  Baseball will be fun again and teens and 20’s will be addicted.  They’ll even be texting their buds and BFF’s bragging about the Trout jersey they just won by predicting a line drive off the wall in left center.

Too bad the Powers That Be aren’t listening.

Image result for Free pictures of a Rawlings baseball glove

                  Win a Rawlings, a T-shirt or even a pair of kicks

 

      TED WILLIAMS: "I Never Saw the Ball."

STEVE DALKOWSKI, THE HARDEST THROWER EVER

          "White Lightning" at 120 mph

Believe it or not, there are some things I don’t understand.  Quantum Physics.  Why I love eating licorice.  Why men wear ties.  What WAR means.  Why Bryce Harper inked for $330 million.  Why anybody would sign Manny “What, Me Hustle?” Machado.

 And why there’s nada, zip, zero, no way, no how, nothing, not one second of film of Steve Dalkowski pitching.  Not one frame. 

Yes, it was film in those days, which made it as expensive as gargling with Dom Perignon.  But still…

The guy defines certain words.  Phenom.  Icon.  Freak. Of. Nature.  In the World of Baseball Legends Steve Dalkowski rates right up there with Babe Ruth Calling His Shot.

And you’ve probably never heard of him.

They called him “White Lightning” for good reason.  He’s the hardest thrower who ever lived.  Ever.  

EVER.

Image result for Free pictures of Steve Dalkowski

You’ve undoubtedly seen the video of Aroldis Chapman sending the radar gun into stunned shock at 105.

Well, Dalkowski was 5 mph faster than that.  Or 10 mph faster.  Or 15 mph faster.  Depends on who you listen to because there ain’t no radar guns in the 1960’s.

As a physical specimen White Lightning was a mystery.  He was Deep State.  Big Foot.  The Loch Ness Monster.  Donald Trump’s hair.  You’d think the dude must have been 6-10 with arms as long as the Mississippi River.  An eight foot stride.  Legs like oak trees.

No way.  Dalkowski was a scrawny little lefthander who measured 5-11 and 170 pounds.  A bleeping runt compared to the strapping hulks of these days.

We have all these moronic Analytics, all these endless inane stats that buzz around like flies tasting horse dung, all these meaningless numbers that numb your brain like cocaine shutting off arteries.

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 "Dalkowski threw a lot faster than Nolan Ryan."
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But no one has ever examined Steve Dalkowski to find out how he threw a Rawlings not just harder than anyone else but at least 5 mph faster than anyone who has ever stepped on a mound.  Forget about all this WAR bull shit.

He’s still alive and kicking.  So please, Mr. Scientist, please American Sports Medicine Institute, please NASA, please Zuckerberg, please Microsoft or Amazon or Instagram or Bull or Game of Thrones or Your Friendly Neighborhood Chiropractor, please, please hook up Steve Dalkowski, the Ninth Wonder of the World, to an MRI machine.

And dissect him all to hell.  Browse his neuromuscular reflexes, his fast twitch muscles, his leverage, his coordination, his toenails.  A long shot there, I know, but you never can tell.

Bleeping find out why a 5-11 parking meter could throw with such freakish velocity.  Maybe he has brain damage, like all us lefties, or he’s Jeff Goldblum in The Fly.  (Attention all you young southpaws.  That’s a lame joke.  We are all superior intellects and better lovers than any of those weak, limp righthanded pussies.)

But diagnose exactly what genetic gift handed White Lightning the Hammer of Thor and you’ll get rich quicker than…well…White Lightning.

          How Fast Was Dalkowski?

Who knows?  Cal Ripken, Sr., his catcher, swears by the ghost of Walter Johnson that Steve’s sonic bullets broke the sound barrier at 115 mph.  Yes, yes, 115.  He said it, I didn’t.  But who would know better than the guy on the other end of those ballistic flame outs.

Most observers agreed he routinely hit 110 or better.

Some even claimed 120, which is ridiculous (isn't it?) but radar guns have only been omnipotent for about three decades so there's no way to tell for sure.

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“His fastball would rise about two feet between the mound and the plate.  It looked like an airplane taking off.  But most of the time it never came near the strike zone.”
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Doug Harvey, who umpired for 30 years and saw a truckload of great ones, including Koufax and Gibson and Ryan, was positive Dalkowski threw more heat than a solar eruption.

“Nobody could bring it like he could,” said Harvey, who met one of Dalko’s heaters head on.  A White Lightning fastball broke his mask in three pieces, drove him back 18 feet, and sent him to the hospital for three days with a major concussion.

Nolan Ryan dented the radar gun at 100 plus as often as the sun shines in Phoenix.  His fastball was a shock wave that left hitters feeling as useless as wearing handcuffs.  Earl Weaver, who saw them both pitch many times, said, "Dalkowski threw a lot faster than Nolan Ryan."

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      Sure, you throw aspirin tablets.  But Dalko threw invisible aspirin tablets.

          And How much did his Fastball Move?

It wasn't just the velocity that was so impressive.  It was also the soaring hump that resembled an elevator on speed.

“His fastball would rise about two feet between the mound and the plate,” says third baseman Ron Hansen.  “It looked like an airplane taking off.  But most of the time it never came near the strike zone.”

Catcher Andy Etchebarren painted this Picasso.  “His fastball looked like it was coming in at knee level,” he said, “only to sail past the batter's eyes"

You throw 110 and you have that kind of action?  Find the plate and they’d need a separate building called the Dalkowski Hall of Fame.

And this is as strange as a Norwegian speaking Spanish in Beijing.  Both Ripken and Etchebarren insist Dalkowski was fun to catch.  His fastball was “light” due to the backspin and Ripken said, "Dalko was the easiest pitcher I ever caught. He was only wild high and low, rarely inside or out--but the batters didn't know that."

Even though hitters felt like they were locked into a guillotine, the lefthander  rarely nailed anyone.  In fact, he told friends he almost killed a hitter and was afraid to come inside.  If the truth be known Steve Dalkowski was as humble as a monk and as kind as a grandma.

This was undoubtedly imbedded in his psyche after a pitch tore off a batter’s earlobe and another heater drilled a kid in the head and he never played again.  Hard to deal with that swirling around in your memory.

          How Wild Was He?

Dalkowski spent nine seasons in the minor leagues terrorizing hitters with a heater that exploded out of his hand like an atomic bomb.  Unfortunately, he never pitched in the big leagues because he was as wild as a crocodile in heat.

In his rookie season Dalkowski struck out 121 helpless hitters in only 62 innings.  The infielders played cards while he tossed more K’s than Disney sells tickets.  That sounds as dominating as The Hulk wrestling your great grandmother, who is on crutches.  But…

He went 1-8 with an 8.33 ERA. 

Impossible?  A typo?  A stat spewed out by a psychotic app?  No, it’s straight goods.  Because White Lightning also walked 129 and scattered 39 wild pitches.  His catchers got in shape chasing the ball to the backstop.

 One of those games was as amazing as Joey Chestnut devouring 3,000 hot dogs in 20 seconds.  Dalko struck out 24 but also issued 18 walks.  He plunked four bruised hitters and added an exclamation point with six wild pitches.

And lost 8-4.

The beat goes on.

A no-hitter with 20 K's and 18 walks.

A season with 262 whiffs and 262 BB’s.  A dead heat.

All in all Dalkowski’s lifetime record was 46-80.  He fanned 1,396 and walked 1,354.  A photo finish.

But get this.  Over nine years and 995 innings he gave up only 37 home runs.  Yes, 37.  In 995 IP’s.  There isn’t a pitcher anywhere in the Universe who can come even close to matching that astonishingly stingy number.  Even in the 12th Galaxy to the left.

         Image result for Free pictures of Nuke Laloosh

                           Crash and Nuke try to figure it out

          The Legend of Dalko

Steve Dalkowski stories are as abundant as bananas and as entertaining as Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield doing stand-up for St. Peter and the angels.  Here are a few beauties.

Dalkowski hit a fan in the back—while he was standing in line to buy a hot dog.  (The dude asked him to autograph the ball.)

A teammate bet $5 he couldn’t throw a baseball through the outfield wall.  Steve warmed up, moved 15 feet away, and cut it loose.  Right through the wooden fence.

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"Dalko was the easiest pitcher I ever caught. He was only wild high and low, rarely inside or out--but the batters didn't know that."
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He once crowhopped, tossed a ball from the plate, and watched it disappear over the centerfield fence, 440 feet away.

A heater caromed fiercely off a hitter’s helmet and ricocheted to second base like a line drive.

Three of his howitzers crashed through the backstop and sent terrified fans scrambling like bowling pins.

A wild pitch clipped the catcher’s glove, hit the umpire in the mask…and knocked him out cold.

 One scout said, “He’s fast enough to drill holes in concrete.”

 Rick Monday was one of the first bonus babies, signing for 104K, a record in those days, believe it or not.  Dalkowski fanned him four times and muttered,  "$104,000, my ass."

Remember Nuke Laloosh, the pitcher in Bull Durham?  Screenwriter  Ron Shelton, who played in the minor leagues, based the part on Dalkowski.

          And then there was booze

Dalkowski had this monster sitting on his shoulders throughout his career.  Alcohol.

Joe Altobelli was his roomie at AAA Rochester where his challenge was to "help mature the kid."  Joe said he loved Steve but seldom saw him because he was usually out drinking all night.  At one point Dalko’s best bud was Bo Belinsky, renowned for dating Playboy bunnies and partying.

Still, Dalkowski always showed up to pitch.

Image result for Free pictures of Ted Williams

          Ted Williams: “I never saw the ball.”

Williams, the most iconic hitter ever,  faced Dalkowski for one pitch during spring training.  He watched Dalko wind-up…and then he heard the ball pop into the catcher’s glove.

“I never saw the ball,” Williams said.  The Splendid Splinter told reporters Dalkowski was the fastest pitcher he'd ever seen and added, "I never want to face him again."

         Blowing away big league hitters

White Lightning blew his fastball past MLB stars in spring training, including Don Hoak, Dee Fondy and Alex Grammas of the Reds, who all went down the tubes on just 12 pitches.  Fondy fouled off a bunt attempt that scorched into the backstop so fast he joked it was one of the hardest balls he ever hit.

Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts told Grammas to stay off the plate as far as possible.  “I’ve been playing for 10 years,” Grammas said, “and no one else can throw a baseball as hard as that.”

Dalko also smoked nine Dodgers in a row, including stars Tommy Davis and Maury Wills.

          Paralysis by analysis

The Orioles tried everything they could to tame Dalkowski’s command.  It was like testing lab rats to see how many stupid experiments they could survive.

 He tossed bull pens with hitters on both sides of the plate.  And threw strikes.  Too bad they didn’t send them up two at a time in games.

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“There wasn’t anything I could tell him he hadn’t heard 100 times before.  So I decided to just be quiet.  I told him to forget what everybody told him.  Just throw the ball down the middle.”
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They had him pitch for three hours, hoping he’d get so tired he’d get the ball over.  I have no idea why.  Dalkowski proved he had super human stamina.  And super human wildness.

Pitching coach Harry Brecheen stood behind him in the bull pen and massaged his brain with positive words.  This improved Dalko’s confidence and command but only worked when Brecheen was nearby, which would have been rather difficult during a game unless he was astral travelling.

They adjusted where Dalko stood on the mound, they changed his stride length and his arm slot, they gave him glasses, they had him throw BP for two weeks, they set up a wood target, which was splintered in the time it takes to say, “Steve just made sawdust.”

It was paralysis by analysis and it accomplished about as much as running on ice.

Image result for Free pictures of Roger Maris"

                                 He hit 61 but he couldn't touch Dalkowski

          Weaver to the Rescue

 Finally, Dalkowski got a break and hooked up with Earl Weaver, his manager at AA Elmira.  Weaver administered an IQ test and discovered Steve was a few bricks short.  In fact, all this info was numbing Dalkowski’s mind as if they’d injected ice into his brain.

“We were going about it all wrong,” Weaver said.  “We were telling him to hold runners close and teaching him a changeup, and he couldn’t process it.  We were overloading him. If you had something to teach 100 people, Steve would be the last to learn.”

Think about that.  The Orioles had a guy throwing 110 and they wanted him to develop a change-up and a pick-off move.  In the Hall of Stupidity Fame that one rates a block long monument.  Things don’t change much, do they?

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"His failure was not one of deficiency, but rather of excess.  He was too fast. His ball moved too much. His talent was too superhuman.  But once, just once, Steve Dalkowski threw a fastball so hard that Ted Williams never saw it.”
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So Weaver simplified.  “There wasn’t anything I could tell him he hadn’t heard 100 times before.  So I decided to just be quiet.  I told him to forget what everybody told him.  Just throw the ball down the middle.”

Weaver also had an ace in the hole.  He told Dalko to take something off his fastball, just relax and be nice and easy.  Until.  He heard the signal.

When White Lightning was ahead in the count Weaver whistled from the dugout and Dalkowski grinned and cut it loose.  “He loved to hear that whistle,” Weaver said.

Miracle of miracles, Dalko tossed a five-hit shutout without walking a man and a reporter asked him why.  Dalkowski shrugged, “I wish I knew.  But I sure hope it continues.”

It lingered like perfume.  He was on the hill for three shutouts in four starts, collecting complete games like they were baseball cards and his command bordered on surgical.  “It’s unbelievable,” Weaver grinned.

When that season drifted to a close Dalkowski posted a 3.04 ERA.  Over one 52 inning stretch he fanned 104, walked only 11 and gave up just one earned run.

And this is amazing.  In an extra-inning game he struck out 27 and threw 283 pitches.  Do that today and the Players Union would have the Supreme Court waiting in the clubhouse to file a billion dollar lawsuit.

Dalkowski still partied and drank way too much.  But he was on his way to the big leagues.  Until…

          …He Felt his Elbow Pop

There are several versions of the tragedy that ended Steve Dalkowski’s career.  But we know for sure it happened in spring training in 1963.

It started well.  Over eight innings he gave up nothing.  Not one hit.  Struck out 11.  Then it all fell apart.  He came to the park hungover, as usual, but there was very good news.  The Orioles clubhouse guy measured him for his first major league uniform.

Dalko took the hill against the Yankees and blitzed a pair of Bronx Bomber legends, Roger Maris and Elston Howard.  So far, so great.

Then Phil Linz stepped into the box.  Some say he threw a slider to Linz and felt his left elbow pop.  Some say Linz bunted and Dalkowski injured his arm throwing to first.  Either way this was well before Tommy John surgery and the elbow was gonzo.  If only Dr. Frank Jobe had been around in those days.

The hardest thrower in baseball history was done.                

Before…

Steve Dalkowski must have been a brilliant athlete.  In high school he tripled in football, playing quarterback, halfback and defensive back for a team that won back-to-back state titles in Connecticut.  He was an honourable mention All-American and he’d have stayed on the gridiron if his dad didn’t love baseball so much.

As early as grade nine Dalko was unleashing a blistering fastball.  His coach said it made a loud buzzing sound and eventually it notched him two high school no-hitters, striking out as many as 24 in one game, which tells you something about wild pitches.

And his heater was so intimidating the terrorized hitters tried desperately to stand outside the batter’s box.

Dalkowski signed with the Orioles for $4,000, the maximum bonus allowed in 1957, but the scout, who reportedly went by the name Beauty McGowan (I kid you not), added $12,000 under the table, par for the course those days, and topped it off by buying him a new car.

          …and After

Steve Dalkowski is 80 now and living in a long term care facility in his hometown of New Britain, Connecticut.

Which is a minor miracle in itself because excessive alcohol poisoning and vulnerable brain cells don’t mix very well.  He has dementia and says he’s unable to remember anything from 1964 to 1994.

In 1970 Sports Illustrated ran a profile on Dalko.  "His failure was not one of deficiency, but rather of excess,” it said.  “He was too fast. His ball moved too much. His talent was too superhuman.  But once, just once, Steve Dalkowski threw a fastball so hard that Ted Williams never saw it.”

I think that says it all.

What would it have been like to see him pitch in the big leagues?  That question lingers in the air, waiting for the Time Machine to take us back and erase that one moment when an Arm For The Ages was shelved forever.

Here’s to you, Steve Dalkowski, a scrawny, introverted, bewildered and shy little guy who gives us all hope.

You are, by far, the hardest thrower who ever lived.        

 

 

      RANDOM BURSTS OF WISDOM

 

Image result for Free pictures of Jacoby Ellsbury

                      Yes, he could fly so fast he was a blur.
But so could the Roadrunner and he'd sign for a million less.

        If Jacoby Ellsbury is Worth $153 Million...
                                         ...Pigs Can Fly

The Yankees released Jacoby Ellsbury last week.  But they still owe him $21 million for next season.  And GM Brian Cashman still has a job.

Think about that.  I'm sure Ellsbury is a nice guy who loves his family and his dog Fluffy.  But in 11 major league seasons he jacked exactly 104 home runs.  With 512 RBI's.  Career BA of .284.

Do the math.  You average just over nine jacks (yes, NINE) and 46 ribbies (yes, FORTY-SIX) per year.  And the New York Yankees are willing to ante up 153 mill for your services.  Was Ellsbury's agent named Bernie Madoff?

Jacoby did steal a whole lotta bags.  Which is nice.  But maybe Cashman should have signed the Roadrunner.  I'm sure he'd have inked for $152 million.

Image result for Free pictures of Jeff O'Neill

      The O-Dog always speaks his mind.  And thank God for that.                   

                         The O-Dog Strikes Again

“If an older guy thought there was a snot nosed punk on his team he would call his grisled old buddy on another team and say, ‘run this guy into the boards and give him a lesson in respect’.”

         --Jeff O'Neill, NHL center for nine seasons, the Overdrive O-Dog

                                     Image result for Free pictures of LBJ

                                   LBJ Nails It

“Being president is like being a jackass in a hailstorm. There’s nothing to do but stand there and take it.”

        --Lyndon Baines Johnson, the most underrated president of all time

 

 

       PROTECTING THE PITCHER'S ARM

 

THE FLAMETHROWER WHO LUNGED

           Joel Zumaya—104 Solar Heat

The legend tells us Joel Zumaya threw a Rawlings 104 miles per hour on four different occasions for the Detroit Tigers. 

And he stunned the radar guns in 2006, throwing 233 pitches 100 mph or more.  That isn’t just Heat.  It’s Solar Heat. 

But Zumaya may have set an all-time record for more injuries than a stunt man.  An inflamed wrist from playing Guitar Hero.  A ruptured tendon.  A shoulder separation after a box fell on him.   Shoulder surgery the next year.  And then, tragically, he fractured his arm just below the elbow after throwing a 99 mph fastball.  Finally,  Tommy John surgery for a torn ligament.

Obviously, some of these injuries had nada to do with throwing.  But the fracture and the TJ were undoubtedly created by horrible mechanics.     

Zumaya was a lunger, which meant he was an arm thrower.  Lunging arm throwers have the life span of a mosquito.  But Joel’s wing was so strong he overcame this lethal fault.  For a very short time.      

Image result for Free pictures of Joel Zumaya

How many faults?  Let me count the ways.  He lunges.  His upper body is already out in front.  His elbow reaches for the stratosphere.  Your stride should land full foot but his heel is about to dig a manhole into the clay.  

A lot of baseball fans asked me about Zumaya.  And my answer was always the same.  "He's incredible.  But if he keeps lunging he'll be gone in two years."  And he was.

Here's what happens when you lunge down the hill.  Like a drunken sailor.  Like Long John Silver.  Like a sleep walker.  Like Joel Zumaya.

You're leading with your shoulder so your upper body rushes forward.  Which shifts your weight on to your stride foot so early it's screaming, "Where in  the hell is the rest of my body?"  This virtually eliminates hip rotation.

So now your weight shift is gone.
And your rotation is visiting Pittsburgh.
Your body is on strike.
And all you've got left is your arm.  Let me make this CAPITAL LETTERS CLEAR.

When you ARM THROW it's a BLUEPRINT FOR TOMMY JOHN SURGERY AND SHOULDER INFLAMMATION.

The correction?  LEAD WITH YOUR HIP.  Your lower body ALWAYS leads.  And you NEVER LUNGE.

If the Tigers had taught Joel Zumaya to throw with his whole body he'd be in the Hall of Fame.

By Comparison...

Image result for Free pictures of Gerrit Cole"

        Gerrit Cole.  Almost at POWER TRIANGLE.  Leading with his lower body.  

 

     THE INCOMPETENCE OF MLB COACHES

 

DO WE PLAY ON SKATES?

         120 Games a Year in the Land of Igloos

November 15 in Vancouver.  It’s 14 degrees Celsius, 57 Fahrenheit.  Warm enough to suit up for a DH. 

So, you ask, have I become the Weather Bureau or an advert for Vancouver tourism?   

No, it’s just another classic example of why I think so many MLB coaches are incompetent. 

Okay, okay, that’s a stretch as long as the lane at Keeneland race track.  And a really dumb way of making an obscure point.  But bear with me.

Nat Bailey Stadium named one of North America's best minor league ballparks

   November 15 baseball in Vancouver.  Well, not really.  But it could have been.

Many moons ago we had a young man pitching for the North Shore Twins.  He’d already been with the National Junior Team but the scouts advised him to leave Victoria and throw for the Twins because we were getting two or three players drafted every season.

So he joined the party for Fall Ball.  His first bull pen at Robert Burnaby Park was a revelation.  I turned to my right hand man Paul Gemino and asked, “How many?”

“Four,” Paul said.

“No, it’s five,” I answered.

This 17-year-old had already collected five serious mechanical faults.

Short stride
Coming around his curveball
Low elbow
Against his body
Weak load

We thought we had our work cut out for us.  Paul and I would see kids who came to us at Negative Ten.  They had so many bad habits it might take months to get them to Zero.  Then we could head toward Positive Ten.

We showed this young man the corrections he had to make.

And, to his immense credit as an elite athlete, he made those changes in only two bull pen sessions.  It was as remarkable as curing a heroin addict by snapping your fingers.

Image result for Free pictures of Trent Thornton

             At least he wasn't doing this

Eventually his velocity sat on 90-91 and the Mariners drafted him in the fifth round.  He was on his way to The Show.

Jump to seven years later.  Now he’s the closer for the Detroit Tigers.  He’s a stud.  Stronger.  And better.  Right?  Wrong.

His velocity should be sitting on at least 94-95 but the Mariners and Tigers had managed to reincarnate his Negative Five delivery.  Several of the faults we corrected were alive and well and Rearing Their Ugly Heads.  He was short striding again and his velocity had dipped to 88-89.

Pro coaches had actually managed to reduce his teenage Velo.  What a remarkable accomplishment.  Almost impossible.

And, of course, the Tigers pitching coach had the answer.  “Pitchers from a northern climate take longer to develop,” he said.

What utter bull shit from an utter moron.

          120 Games a Year, With 100 IP's and 400 AB's

Yes, Vancouver is in the North.  But our climate is milder than almost all of the United States.  Only a few places like Arizona, SoCal, Florida, New Mexico and Hawaii are more suited for baseball.

We seldom get snow in the winter and, honestly, we only live in igloos three or four months of the year.  (Do you know what the median price on a Vancouver igloo looks like?  Try $1.4 million.  Or $3.2 million if you live in West Van.  The only place less affordable in North America is San Francisco.)  And some of us have never skated in the NHL.  Really.

The Twins played 120 games every year from March to October.  Try that in Nebraska or Wisconsin or even Oklahoma.  A lot of our pitchers threw over 100 innings and we had hitters who amassed 350 to 400 AB’s.

And I can promise you this for an absolute certainty.  If Paul and I were undeveloping our players, making our pitchers or hitters worse rather than better, we’d have stopped coaching as fast as a hiccup.  Unlike the Detroit Tigers, who took a top prospect and somehow screwed his mechanics and chopped his mph.

I repeat.  Do you wonder why I think so many MLB coaches are incompetent?

          Or this...

JOHN LOLLAR on the hill for Murray State in a great shot from photog Jeff Drummond.  I assume the Tigers don't teach this.

      

Starving Children and Innocent Animals...

                    ...Mean More Than Champagne

If you're a Red Sox fan it's best you just pass on the next two stories.

I've posted them before but I've mounted my soap box again.  I just don't understand why immensely rich multi-millionaire athletes can be such grossly uncaring narcissists.  

The Red Sox squandered almost a million dollars celebrating their 2018 World Series.  While children starved to death.   And innocent rescue animals couldn't find a home and were euthanized.  

Obviously, I realize it's their $$$ and the Red Sox can spend it any way they want.  But...

I don't know about you, but I can throw a helluva great party for $10,000.  And that would leave $790,000 to save children and animals.

For me that would be the most magnificent way to celebrate on this planet.    

 

$1,000 FOR A BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE

       The 800 Grand Party to End all Parties

Not sure what to make of this.

On the one hand I have enormous respect for the Red Sox Culture.  Alex Cora demands excellence.  JD and Mookie are consummate professionals.  And Dustin Pedroia, who only played a blink of innings this season, prowled the dugout, a vivid reminder that You Play the Game Right. 

But, on the other hand, there’s This Thing, this 800 Large Thing, This Thing that stalks the Sox like a mushroom cloud hanging over the Green Monster.

I’m sure you’ve been bombarded by the stories of the Sox partying like it’s 1999 and Prince is on tap.  They allegedly dropped a cool 500K in the Nightingale Plaza, an upscale lounge on La Cienega in LA.  It’s only open from 11 to 2 three nights of the week, which kind of makes you wonder.  And it’s owned by Jay Z, whose father was XY and Z and his mother ZZZ because she slept a lot.  And that makes you wonder even more.

The Google reviews for Nightingale are mixed, which is par for the course.  They range from “This is my favourite club” to “Horrible,” from “I love their menu” to “Be smart. Don’t let them rip you off,” from “Awesome” to “Don’t waste your time.”

I won’t bore you with the details but here’s a slow-mo Instant Replay of the booze the Red Sox slurped down at Nightingale.

60 bottles of Moet
48 bottles of Dom Perignon
43 bottles of Ace of Spades
17 bottles of Jack Daniels
12 bottles of Perrier-Jouet
11 bottles of Jameson
5 bottles of Veuve Clicquot
1 bottle of Cristal
Multiple bottles of Don Julio and Belvedere

                       Jay Z, who is worth $500 mill, with Sean Combs at Nightingale

Moet, Dom, Cristal, Veuve and Perrier are all quality champagnes. At Nightingale the prices ranges from $485 a bottle to 20 large. The average hovers around $1,000.  I don’t know about you, Warren Buffet, but that’s a few bills over my budget for champagne.

Ace of Spades is a story unto itself.  Jay Z, who is worth over $500 million, bought the company four years ago and it’s become a Rapper’s Delight, selling for 300 bucks a bottle, unless you’re in Nightingale, where they charge anywhere from a solo to 10 grand.

The Jack Daniels and Jameson whiskey, the Belvedere vodka, and Don Julio tequila all go for $495 per.  Maybe the Red Sox should have found a liquor store and a hotel room.  Of course, that wouldn't impress the hot Nightingale women.

The bill was 300 large but the Sox added a $195,000 tip, which we trust Jay Z spread around to his roster of 40 servers. 

When they got home, they weren’t hungover enough so the Sox blew another load.  But they kept it subdued this time.  Only 300 grand at Boston’s Icon club where the Don Julio was a steal at $400 and you could lock down the Ace of Spades for a mere $825 and the bottom line on Veuve was $250 and that cheapo Moet went for $165, if you wanted to live like a peasant.

Just to show their versatility the Sox settled on 15-litre bottles of Belaire at $5,500 each and 40 cases of sparkling wine.

Baseball, Fenway Park, Boston

                                            The Green Monster weeps                         

Do I trust the stories on Social Media?  Of course not.  If you believe anything you see or read on SM I have some stock in Kik Cola and a telephone answering service I’ll sell you at a rock bottom price.  Well, maybe sand bottom.

The Red Sox have denied these reports, of course.  Well, almost.

Red Sox spokeswoman Zineb Curran said, "The team put together a gathering at the hotel for some of the players and their families after the  Series but did not arrange any outing in the city." She said the team did not pick up the nightclub tab and one source said the bill wasn't nearly that much.  The whole thing could even be a hoax.  But, still, the players haven't denied it.

          The Red Sox One Percenters

So there’s some confusion over who paid for all of this but, apparently, J.D. Martinez picked up a portion of the tab for his teammates, including Mookie Betts and Steve Pearce, and a "generous benefactor" sent some bottles over to their table.  Generous, you say.

Make no mistake.  Rich people, the one per centers, can spend their money anyway they want, whether they play baseball or the stock market or buy real estate or commodities or trucking companies or inherit it or sock it away off shore or they’re the CEO of General Motors or they create Facebook or  Amazon.  No problem.  That is their right.

But…

There are five million children starving to death in Yemen.  And the Boston Red Sox spent 800 grand on booze for two parties.

And there are loving, wonderful rescue animals being euthanized because they have no home.  And the Boston Red Sox spent 800 large on booze.

And there are single mothers living in ghetto poverty, trying desperately to raise three kids while they work two jobs so those kids can eat.  And the Boston Red Sox spent $800,000 on  vodka and whiskey and tequila.

And there are homeless veterans of Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan who think about ending it every day.  And the Boston Red Sox spent 800,000 on Moet and Veuve and Dom.

I think I have a new name for the Boston Red Sox.

The Boston Assholes.

And here is one reason the Red Sox didn't repeat.  I don't believe in Karma.  But...it's an interesting thought...

 

SO LET’S FIRE DOMBROWSKI

        Cora Sank the Sox in Spring Training

The Red Sox fired Head Honcho Dave Dombrowski on Monday.  But they got the wrong guy. 

Alex Cora scuttled the Sox in spring training.  They never had a chance.

Because Cora understands pitching as well as Joseph Stalin understood  compassion. 

Image result for free pictures of alex cora

            Sorry, Alex, but the truth is the truth

Let’s time travel back to the World Series last October.

The Boston pitching staff was stretched to the limit.  Like an infidel on the rack.  The bull pen saw more action than a hooker at Mardi Gras or Super Bowl Sunday.  Nathan Eovaldi bolted awake in the middle of the night screaming, “No, Alex, no.”  They cut the chord to the bull pen phone.  They called 911.  And they filed a grievance with the Longshoreman’s Union.

They were as punch drunk as a sparring partner for Muhammad Ali.

So Alex Cora had a brilliant idea.

When February hit the calendar he decided he would “baby” the pitchers.  Treat them like princesses.  As delicate as a rose.  Just like the QB wearing his Don’t Touch Me jersey in a scrimmage.

           Let's Scale it Back...For No Reason at All

We’ll go easy on the pitchers this spring, Alex thought.  Scale back.  Deep Six their workload.  Make sure we don’t blow them out.  We owe them that after such a strenuous October. 

Makes sense, right?

As much sense as going to a job interview in your underwear.

In fact, it was as stupid as Hitler invading Russia in the middle of the winter.

Going half ass left the pitchers in disarray.  Uncertain.  Searching for their mechanics, their stuff, their command.  Not sure if this was kindergarten or Physics 101.  And about as ready to compete in April as a four-year-old enrolled at MIT.

Chris Sale opened in Seattle getting hammered by three dingers.  Rick Porcello threw bull pens every day trying desperately to find some rhythm in his delivery.  The comatose dudes in the bull pen were as lost as Columbus searching for San Francisco on his cell phone.

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                           Porcello searching for his mechanics

And the Red Sox stumbled and fumbled out of the gate like a drunk at closing time.  They never recovered.  So fire the Executive of the Year.

What’s more, by babying the poor multi, multi millionaires Cora was playing Russian Roulette with their weapons, their arms.  If anything is worse for a pitcher than throwing too much it’s not throwing enough.  Go into combat with your elbow or shoulder under nourished and you’re saying hello to Doctor Knife, the friendly neighbourhood surgeon.

The pitchers didn’t need three and a half months to heal.

The pitchers didn’t need two months to heal.

The pitchers didn’t need a month to heal.

The pitchers were healed about four days after that disgusting $800,000 World Series Booze Party.

A week later they could have thrown nine.

          The Pitchers were Healed in November

Should pitchers take at least two months off in the winter?  Of course.  They all should—whether they threw in the playoffs or finished 30 games out.  Do some Jobe’s and let the ligaments, tendons, cartilage and muscles replenish and strengthen.  That’s automatic.  For everyone.

Start playing catch again in mid December or right after New Year’s.  That's your choice.  Gradually add some long toss.  Light bull pens in the middle of January.  Methodically, professionally, increase the workload until you hit camp at Fenway South in Fort Myers on February 15.  You’re on target.  You’re in synch.  You’re ready to roll.

There was as much bleeping reason for Cora to baby his pitchers as sending them to Antarctica for spring training.  Yes, the South Pole is a mile deep in ice but it doesn’t see rain.  Ever.

The pitchers were healed.  Back in November.

They were good to go.  Back in November.

As usual.

As long as there wasn't a ligament tear in the elbow or deep chronic inflammation in the shoulder they would heal very quickly.  Even from the severe stress of World Series Overload.  Give it a week, some chicken soup, a few rounds of golf, two dozen beer, a bucket of protein powder, and several nights of solid ZZZ's.  Presto, Who's starting tomorrow at Wrigley?

This isn't Rocket Science.  But it is Science.

Unfortunately, Cora knows as much about pitchers as a eunuch knows about…well, I’ll leave that to your imagination.

Babying them was as dangerous as dumping a sack of rattlesnakes into the clubhouse and yelling, "Say hello to my little friends."

See the source image

                How do you spell S-C-A-P-E-G-O-A-T?

To be fair Cora is a player’s manager and far, far from being alone in his ignorance.  He just has a higher profile than most.  MLB is making a crusade out of injuring the arms of their young.  It’s an epidemic.

Analytics is the catch word that dominates baseball these days.  Spin Rates and Launch Angles and more stats swirling around than vultures over a carcass.

But obviously it’s asking too much for managers and pitching coaches and trainers to study the Kinesiology of the Arm.  What the hell, Dave, this isn’t Cal Tech or Harvard.  And common sense is for mothers.  Or hockey.  (That’s a joke, okay?  Hahaha.)

So Cora gets a pass and Dombrowski pays the David Price.  (Another joke.  We’re on a roll here.)  They say the CEO was on a slippery slope already because the Sox farm system is running on two cylinders and he has to go to Wikipedia to spell A-N-A-L-Y-T-I-C-S.

But I’m sure in Beantown, where the natives are as restless as an insomniac, this dysfunctional season greased his slide into oblivion.  Winning the Series a year ago wasn’t enough to save his ass.  What did you do for me on Tuesday, Mr. Pres of Baseball Operations?

And, after all, we couldn’t fire Alex Cora.  Even if he knows as much about pitchers as a Goldman Sachs trader knows about poverty.

THE SHOT HEARD ROUND THE WORLD

         “The Giants Win the Pennant"

         "The Giants Win the Pennant”

This was one of the most legendary moments in baseball history.  And Sign Stealing was a supporting actor.    

It's 1951.  Yes, Millennials,  there was baseball 68 years ago.  Really.  On August 11 the New York Giants trailed the Brooklyn Dodgers by 13 and a half games.  No point in even playing the rest of the schedule. 

But Giants manager Leo Durocher was as feisty as an otter.  His vocabulary did not include the word Quit.

So the Giants just kept on Keeping On.  And those 13 and a half inexorably disappeared like snowflakes landing on a hot plate.  The Giants won 37 of their last 44 games and, by the end of September, they were all tied up.  The National League pennant would be decided by a two-out-of-three playoff.

They split the first two games, which set-up the dramatic finale at the Polo Grounds on October 3.  This was the first game ever telecast  nationally but TV sets were as rare as flying saucers.  These were Radio Days and most every baseball fan on the continent was tuned in.

Image result for Free pictures of Bobby Thomson"

Bottom of the ninth.  Dodgers ahead 4-2 with one out.  But the Giants had runners on second and third.  It’s 3:58 p.m. (We bring you all the news)

Bobby Thomson, the Flying Scotsman himself, in the box.  Righthander Ralph Branca gets a called strike on the inside corner.  Then he goes up and in with his best heater, a purpose pitch to set-up a breaking ball away.  Which he never gets a chance to throw.

Thomson turns on the fastball, pulls his hands in…and hammers a low line drive that carries…and carries…and carries.  All over North America there is a vacuum as millions hold their breath.

And it carries.  There’s a short porch down the left field line at the Polo Grounds and Thomson’s shot smashes into the seats only a few feet over the fence and barely fair.

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Giants play-by-play radio guy Russ Hodges goes bananas.  “There's a long drive ... it's gonna be, I believe ... The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! Bobby Thomson hits it into the left-field stands and they're going crazy! They’re picking Thomson up and carrying him off the field!
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          Do You Believe in Miracles?

It’s the most legendary call in baseball history, right up there with Al Michaels and hockey’s “Do you believe in Miracles?”

And do you believe in Stealing Signs?  For decades the Giants avoided those heinous words but in 2001 they finally admitted they were picking up the Brooklyn signals like a Beijing Hacker.

“Everybody was stealing signs,” admitted Giants coach Herman Franks, who was their Chief Architect in Charge of Pilfering.

Franks sat in the Giants centerfield clubhouse armed with military binoculars, relaying the Dodgers signals with a buzzer connected to the dugout and the bull pen.  One buzz for a fastball, two for something off speed.  And back-up catcher Sal Yvars tipped off the New York hitters.  In those days this wasn’t even illegal in the MLB.

“Every hitter knew what was coming," said pitcher Al Gettel.

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"I didn't want to diminish a legendary moment in baseball. Even if Bobby knew what was coming, he had to hit it.  Knowing the pitch doesn't always help."

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So did Thomson know what Branca was throwing?  This is where it gets as confusing as programming a computer.  “It’s out in the open,” Thomson said.  But…

On the one hand, Yvars said he relayed Rube Walker's fastball sign.  But Thomson insisted he was so focussed he didn’t pay any attention to the sign stealing.  And he didn’t know what was coming.

But…then again.  “This comes out now and maybe it will take away the pressure Ralph has felt all these years,” Thomson adds.

Okay.  He knew. He didn’t know.  Take your pick.

Related image

You probably didn't know this but colour didn't exist in 1951.
The world was all black and white.

Was Branca royally pissed?  Probably, but he showed the class of a true champion.  "I made a decision not to speak about it,” he said, later. “I didn't want to look like I was crying over spilled milk and I didn't want to diminish a legendary moment in baseball. Even if Bobby knew what was coming, he had to hit it.  Knowing the pitch doesn't always help."

Yvars said the Giants were a sign-stealing monster.  “We were getting the signs in the Polo Grounds.  But we were also stealing signs on the road. No one writes about that.  We were thinking all the time.”

Sign Stealing.  About as new as those revolutionary machines they call cars.

 

“YOU BETTER STOP OR SOMEONE’S GONNA GET HURT”

        Those Damn Cheatin’ Astros

The Astros are at it again.  For years now they’ve been accused of using nefarious ploys to steal signs.

The latest testimony reared its ugly head in The Athletic when former Astros pitcher Mike Fiers blew the whistle so loud it rocked the city of Houston into the Gulf of Mexico.  Fox News thought it was another attack on their beloved president.

I’m sure you’ve read about it already.  Basically Fiers and a couple of his buds warned the rest of the MLB the Astros had a camera in centerfield sending a feed to their dugout. 

At which point some evil, unwashed, atheist slime would bang on a trash can when the catcher called for a breaking ball.  Sort of Bang a Gong, Bang a Gong, Get it On.  My apologies to T.Rex.  I just couldn’t resist.

St Louis Art Print featuring the mixed media Bob Gibson, 1964 Game 7 Series Mvp by Thomas Pollart

            Gibson, who competed like a Roman Gladiatior

Now you might ask why they’d need their own camera when all they have to do is watch the MLB telecast.  But that feed is often delayed anywhere from seven to 30 seconds.

Fiers had back-up from former White Sox hurler Danny Farquhar.

“There was a banging from the dugout every time I threw a change-up,” Farquhar said.  “I was throwing some really good changeups and they were getting fouled off. After the third one I stepped off.”  They changed the signals and that incessant clamour suddenly stopped.  Enough said.

This is old hat to the Astros, who have  been accused of spying for years.  Players insist the ‘Stros always seem to know what’s coming.

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I don’t think it’s any secret they do it,’’ one source charges.  “We’ve heard they have cameras around the park and they pass the signs to their bull pen.  Just look at their home record.’’
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Stealing signs, of course, is a baseball tradition.  But most of the time it’s been perfectly legal and above board.  On the other hand, TV feeds are not a felony—but they are as vile and against the rules as Corked Bats and Greasers.  Hmmm, that’s another story.

Two years ago the Red Sox were caught using an Apple Watch to spy on the Yankees at Fenway.  They were fined, which is like giving a jaywalking ticket to Tony Soprano.

Sometimes stealing signs works.  And sometimes it’s a recipe for sitting on the seat of your pants in the batter’s box.

In this case the Red Sox were getting the signals relayed electronically to a trainer who passed it along to a player on the bench, who then let the hitter know, probably with a verbal signal.  Which is about as complicated as filling out your tax return.  You have to give them credit for speed reading.

T. rex hunted live prey but wouldn’t pass up a free meal if it sniffed one out

              Bang a Gong, Get It On.  (You have to keep up)

This CIA subterfuge is reminiscent of the 1980’s Chicago White Sox who had a 25-watt refrigerator bulb imbedded in the Comiskey Park scoreboard, directly in line with the hitter’s vision.  An 007 sat in the clubhouse watching the telecast, fingering a toggle switch.  When the catcher put down two fingers, he’d flip the switch and the bulb would light up.  Apparently, TV was so naive in those days there was no delay.

There are, of course, repercussions.

Tim McCarver, the erudite former Cardinals catcher, has some great stories about Bob Gibson, who was as competitive as a Roman Gladiator battling to avoid being introduced to a hungry tiger.  To call Gibson tough would be like saying Bill Gates has a few bucks.

McCarver ambled out to the mound once to deliver some advice.  “Get back behind the plate,” Gibson said.  “The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it.”

Most sign stealing comes from a runner on second base, which is as legal as walking your dog, but can also be dangerous, especially with Gibson on the hill.  He was not only renowned for his vicious slider and a heater in the mid to upper 90’s but he also loved to come inside.  “The hitter can only have one side of the plate,” Gibson said.

McCarver remembers when a runner on second was relaying pitches.  Gibson noticed.  He turned to the runner and said, “You better stop that.  Or someone is going to get hurt.”  Needless to say, the hitter, about to vomit,  implored the runner to cease and desist.

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"If we thought hitters were getting signs relayed from second base we’d call a breaking ball, and then I'd throw a fastball up and in. That stopped it right then. It was over. They were done."
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So how does the runner relay pitches?  Paul Molitor was an expert.  He’d tap his helmet or knee.  Some guys will rub their hand across their chest for a fastball or their thigh for a curveball.  To indicate location you lean on either foot or reach out with your arm.

Obviously, the catcher is flashing multiple signals with a runner on second and it’s hieroglyphics to most fans.  Usually the first or second sign is live.

But they might also use the first signal as the indicator.  When the catcher puts down three fingers it means the third signal is live.  So if he follows the indicator by flashing one finger, then three, then two, and finally four, the pitch is a curveball.

The catcher can also use his uniform as the indicator.  For instance, tapping the chest protector means the second signal is live, touching the knee says it’s the third.  Or where he touches his uniform actually calls the pitch and what he does with his fingers is as meaningless as what he ate for breakfast.  Whoa.  Is that clandestine enough?

              "What if he's wrong?"

There is one very violent way of putting an end to all this sign stealing nonsense.  A reversal.

If the catcher touches his mask it means you throw the opposite of what he calls.  He then flashes a set of signals, calling for a curveball down and away.  Which reverses into a fastball up and in.  And the hitter, who has been tipped by the runner, is leaning over the plate expecting a breaking ball.

When he either gets nailed by the high heat or winds up eating dirt, he will never trust a relayed signal again.

That’s exactly what happened to Blue Jays slugger George Bell when he acted on a tip from the runner.  Bell dove in over the plate, expecting a breaking ball, and was drilled in the head by a fastball.  Suffice it to say, George ignored base runners from then on.

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"If you do that again, I'll hit you in the side of the head.  I threw the next pitch right down the middle and he took it for strike three."
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In fact, a lot of hitters don’t want anyone giving them signals.  That included Hall of Famers Cal Ripken and Tony Gwynn.  "What if he's wrong?'' Gwynn asked.

I think guys like Gibson actually welcome a runner stealing signs.  It gives them free rein to retaliate because no one can logically complain.  This was underlined by Goose Gossage, who had a sizzling fastball with life and a slider that was so filthy it showered three times a day.

"If we thought hitters were getting signs relayed from second base,” Gossage said, “we’d call a breaking ball, and then I'd throw a fastball up and in. That stopped it right then. It was over. They were done."

Image result for Free pictures of Goose Gossage

                                                 The Goose

Some hitters have actually been know to take a peak at the catcher’s signals.   Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven, whose curveball broke like a U-turn, said, "That's a no-no. I don't think too many players peek back at the catcher.  There's going to be repercussions.”

Orioles ace Jim Palmer remembers the time Jim Spencer, who was a friend of his, was sneaking a look at the fingers of catcher Rick Dempsey.  “I walked off the mound and said, 'If you do that again, I'll hit you in the side of the head.' I threw the next pitch right down the middle and he took it for strike three."

So the Astros are stealing signs electronically and that’s forbidden.  But I’m pretty sure it’s not unique.  And, in this era of smartphones and technology that never sleeps, I’m also sure baseball teams will find ingenious ways to pick a catcher’s pocket.

Chips imbedded in a player’s head that read the movement of the fingers?  A sensor in your back pocket that tickles your butt?  Alien space lasers that buzz your brain?  Martian UFO’s betting on the World Series and looking for an edge?

The possibilities are endless.  And the Astros will be first in line.

The Raptors got clipped by the Clippers.  And, apparently, there were Big T.O. fans who would have gladly traded four Toronto losses on their road trip for one win against Kawhi Leonard's new team.  Yes, really. 

When will fans learn the word LOYALTY is now spelled $$$$$$$.  By both players and owners. 

At any rate, I give you this magnificently perceptive epic I wrote last June.  And don't accuse me of being too lazy to do something new on the Raptors.  Even if it's true. 

HOW THE RAPTOR FANS DROVE HIM TO LA

            Kawhi, They Hardly Knew You

By now you’ve undoubtedly had your fill of Kawhi Leonard.  As they say at Goldman Sachs when the traders are engulfed by a shit storm of wheeling and dealing:

         It’s Like Drinking From a Fire Hydrant.

So I’m going to give you two Mantras to wrap it all up.

MANTRA ONE—The Ignorant Raptor fans destroyed any chance of The Chosen One returning to Toronto

MANTRA TWO—It doesn’t matter anyway.  The Raptors wouldn't repeat even with him in the lineup.

Big T.O offered Kawhi free sushi, steak and seafood for life.  They offered him access to Warren Buffet’s bank account.  They dropped to their knees and offered him Jock Sniffing Reverie.  They offered him a paid up subscription to Sports Illustrated--plus the models from the bathing suit edition.  They offered him Icon For Eternity in Drake lyrics, for whatever that’s worth.

They slobbered over him insatiably.  They had the dignity and integrity of a meth addict throwing up on the cake at his daughter’s wedding.  Look in the dictionary under the word “Pathetic” and you’ll see a 3D pic of Raptor fans.

They were sycophantically living vicariously through a guy bouncing a basketball.

Idolatry.
Worship.

That should clinch the deal.  Everybody wants to be worshiped.  Right?  Think again.

                 A private man who had to endure the endless idiotic hype  

It was, in fact, precisely the wrong thing to do.  The Raptor fans not only know nothing about basketball.  They understand human psychology about as much as a two-year-old understands Quantum Physics.  No, I take that back.  A two-year-old is Einstein compared to Raptor Faithfuls.

Understand this.  Kawhi Leonard is as private a man as J.D. Salinger was after Catcher in the Rye exploded.  He loves to play basketball.  Period.  That’s it.  Basketball.  Not idolatry.  Not worship.  And the relentless, suffocating sucking up by ignorant fans and hopeless media undoubtedly made him feel like he was drowning in Lake Ontario.

All the Idolizing, all the endless Hype, all the Knee Deep Bull Shit was an enormous weight, as if Kawhi was carrying a five ton truck on his shoulders as he sank into a deep sea of quicksand.  He was The Second Coming who would lead the Raptors out of the wilderness and establish a dynasty lasting for decades if Kawhi could just keep draining jumpers and pulling it down off the glass until he was in his 60’s.

The expectations were so high he must have felt like a triumvirate of Santa Claus,  The Tooth Fairy and E.T.

Those expectations absolutely killed any chance of Kawhi camping in Big T.O.  He was smothered by Fake Love as Suffocating as a 600-pound Sumo wrestler sitting on his face.  He was strangled by Phony Adoration, the kind you give to someone just as long as they produce.  And no doubt he knew it.

Runaway, Kawhi, run like the wind. 

Living up to those moronic expectations was like competing with Joey Chestnut in devouring hot dogs without puking.

                                                      Sumo Suffocation

And Kawhi also undoubtedly understood MANTRA TWO.

The Raptors didn’t beat the Golden State Warriors in the NBA final.  They didn’t play the Golden State Warriors.

With KD and Klay Thompson out of the GS lineup in game six Steph Curry was the only pistol the Warriors had left in their armoury.  So the Raptors reverted to the Box and One they used in game two.  With Fred VanVleet shadowing Curry like a pick pocket it was as stifling as playing 3-on-3 in handcuffs.  But Toronto still only prevailed by four points.  Four.

Four.  Yes, four.  I swear that’s true.  Four.  Yes, four.

With Durant and Thompson in drydock Toronto could barely win by a pair of jumpers.  And, if the Warriors could actually shoot foul shots, they’d have won going away.   With two injured superstars in the locker room.

So let’s put a mirror on it.  Let’s say KD and Klay were both on the floor and Kawhi and Kyle Lowry were gonzo for the Raptors.  How much do you think Golden State would have won by?

Twenty?  Easy.
Thirty?  Of course.
Forty?  Probably.
Fifty?  Possibly, if they kept the throttle to the floor.

A slaughter.  Custer at Little Bighorn.  Stalin in his prime.

Unlike the Raptor Ignorants, I’m sure Kawhi is well aware of that.

      These two guys weren't playing and Toronto only won by four?  Really?

Coming back to Toronto with those ludicrous expectations hanging over his head like vultures waiting for the rot to set in and knowing in his heart the Raptors barely edged past a Warriors team on crutches was a gimme.  For the Clippers.

         Slithering Sycophantic Suckholing

Of course, the fans never realized they were driving Kawhi to LA with their Slithering Sycophantic Suckholing.

Kawhi is not an icon.  He is not Baby Jesus with a basketball in his cradle.  He’s a Down To Earth, Deeply Introverted Guy who is as interested in idolatry as much as Donald Trump relishes humility.  And, if you don’t understand how a famous dude in the spotlight can still be an introvert, try studying psychoanalyst Alfred Adler, who knew we are all born insecure and spend the rest of our lives trying to overcome it.

          He Just Wanted to go Home

Kawhi Leonard makes his living running around in his shorts playing a game for little boys and girls.  Call it basketball and try to put it into perspective.  It isn’t the cure for cancer.  It doesn’t save children from starving to death.  It doesn’t stop innocent rescue animals from being euthanized.  And global warming doesn’t give a flying bleep about a three-pointer.

Kawhi is pretty good at his job and he just wanted to go home to do it.  Without all the debilitating Toronto bull crap.

Maybe the Raptor fans should also find something they’re pretty good at rather than living their lives vicariously through a very private man who never wanted to be their Saviour.

They Fake Loved him out of Big T.O.  So maybe they should read a book on psychology.  If they can read.                    

13
Jun 19

               THE NECTAR OF THE GODS

 

JOSH RIDGWAY LIVING THE DREAM

  Great Wine, Gourmet Food, Endless Summer

I don't drink a helluva lot these days.  But I love a glass or two of wine  when I’m eating.  Mostly these are Bottom Shelf reds or whites because that’s about all I can afford. 

So I’ve learned to uncover hidden treasures like a veteran scout devouring the bush leagues for flamethrowing arms.  I’m talking about good wines $15 and under.  I know that’s hard to believe but they actually exist.  But, then again, I don't have aficionado tastes.

So today It’s the opening kick-off for a weekly wine post.  And I’ve got a bona fide expert to be my quarterback. 

Josh Ridgway and I have about 25 years of history.  From the days when this 17-year-old shortstop from Richmond worked out with the North Shore Twins to the year I spent as his pitching coach when Josh was head honcho at Douglas College.

Josh Ridgway

I loved working with Josh.  And there are very few people on this planet I respect as much as him.

These days Josh is living the dream.

Imagine this.  Your home is the British Virgin Islands.  That’s already enough, right?  Year round splashing sunshine, blue sky forever,  pristine soft white sand saturating endless beaches, sipping rum and margaritas until sol slips into the ocean.  What more could you ask for?

Well, lots more.  Josh is General Manager of Proudly African, a company that distributes more than 250 brands of wine throughout the Caribbean.  And his wife runs two high class restaurants.  What’s more, one of his buds is former MLB star Jayson Werth, who just might help him generate a Virgin Islands baseball league.  How’s that for a trifecta?

But I’m not finished yet.  Josh is also a Level 2 Sommelier, which means he’s a wine expert, even if he humbly says he’s just a vino lover.

We’ll get into this more each week.  But, for openers, I love this recommendation.

            From Josh 

Wine is great because it’s individual. What one person says is best, may not be best for you.   I like PINOT NOIR and ITALIAN.  But I really appreciate French wine the most.

SHIRAZ is best with BBQ and MALBEC is great anytime. Try Shiraz from Australia or South Africa, where they learned from the French way back when and are one of the top producers.

Image result for Free pictures of Jayson Werth

                Jayson Werth with some unknown dude named Harper

I also love this anecdote because it combines three of my greatest loves--food, baseball and vino.

            From Josh 

Jeff Zielstra and I coached the French National Team from 2007-2009 and we had a great experience with the French culture. As you know, they are very passionate about everything.  But food and wine with family are probably the most important. And we were fortunate to get a very personal look at where that passion comes from.

We needed to cut back a bit on expenses so we streamlined the meal plan.  Big mistake.  We’re at the 2008 European Championships in Barcelona and after lunch we’d usually get desert.  That was automatic.  I’m used to having it after dinner.  But in France it’s customary to have a little something sweet with a coffee or tea just after your extended lunch.

 I loved that part of it because in North America we tend to eat fast and not enjoy our company. Such a rush. It was natural to spend two hours at lunch time. There was no need to eat fast. And I really miss that.

          "You could hear the mumbled French cursing"

At any rate, one of our budget cuts was desert after lunch.  So Jeff and I get up after the bill was paid.  Usually that meant the players would follow us.  But this time they all remained seated like they were glued to their chairs.  We said “Allez” which means let’s go.  Nothing.  No movement at all.  Now the team captain takes control.  He asks “what about desert?”  But we didn’t respond.  Another big mistake.  You should have seen the look on their sour faces.  You could hear the mumbled French cursing under their breath.

We got steam rolled 11-1 in our opening game.  So Jeff and I suddenly found the money to put desert back on the menu.

Good move.  With desert back in the picture we came within an out of reaching the semi final.  But we blew it when we had to bring the infield in with the bases loaded and our shortstop froze on a routine groundball.  And then a double cleared the sacks on the next pitch.  Game over.  Season over.

Much more on wine next week.  Including the best price range if you want quality without having to take out a bank loan.  Stay tuned.

   

PROTECTING THE PITCHER’S ARM

 

THE DEMOLITION DERBY ON THE MOUND

        The Scourge of Tommy John Surgery

If your son is a high profile pitcher I have a word of wisdom.  Well, two words actually. 

Be afraid.  Make it three words.  Be very afraid.

That’s gross hyperbole, of course.  But is it?  Let’s just say I’m trying to get your attention.

Let me slide a few statistics into your cerebral cortex.  Stats that prove once again the utter incompetence of many MLB pitching coaches and trainers. 

Now that’s a pretty arrogant sentence isn’t it?  What the hell does Dave Empey know?  These MLB guys are far more tuned in than I am.  They must be.  They’re in The Show and I’m coaching kids in the hick town of Vancouver.  No contest.  

You be the judge.

 

Image result for Free pictures of Jordan Hicks

A national treasure named Jordan Hicks.  Until The knife sliced into his elbow.

Here’s some mind numbing numbers from a great story by Tom Verducci in Sports Illustrated.

We’re talking about the cream of the crop, the top 11 pitching prospects  drafted out of high school in the past few years.  They signed for astronomical bonuses, more $$$ than 99 per cent of the human beings who stumble through life on this planet will ever see.

And, in the past two years, eight of them did not finish the season intact.  They were in dry dock.  Sitting at home staring into the abyss.  Wondering If they’d ever pitch again.

Eight out of 11.  Yes, EIGHT out of ELEVEN.  One more time.  EIGHT out of ELEVEN of the best prospects in the whole damn game were damaged goods.  So damaged they couldn’t throw a five ounce Rawlings 10 feet.

Does that sound like competence to you?

Here’s the sad list.

TOMMY JOHN SURGERY
Michael Kopech, White Sox
Jesus Luzardo, Athletics
Brent Honeywell, Rays
Alex Reyes, Cardinals
Hunter Greene, Reds

Image result for Free pictures of Michael Kopech

       Michael Kopech, who threw 102 before his UCL popped

SHOULDER INFLAMMATION
Mike Soroka, Braves
Sixto Sanchez, Phillies
Forrest Whitley, Astros, plus drug violation

Now I ask you this.  Let’s say you’re the CEO of a company manufacturing smartphones.  And 73 per cent of them keep breaking down in only a few months.  Would you continue handing out cheques to your techies?  Just keep on doing the same thing, guys.  Don’t change anything. 

 I think not.  In fact, I think you’d fire the whole damn lot of them and bring in a brand new crew.  A competent crew.

Not baseball.  This game just staggers along, eating its young.  It’s like the Powers That Be can’t read the Injured List.  As if they have no comprehension of the horrendous damage being done to young, vulnerable arms.  Arms worth hundreds of millions of dollars, because we always have to make it about money, don’t we?  Not the shattered dreams of a young man.

          19 out of 47 Under the Knife

This may be understandable when you realize how few GM’s actually played high level baseball.  After Billy Beane you need a magnifying glass to find anyone who got within 1,000 miles of the big leagues.

You crave more stats?  Sure, let’s feed your need.

Verducci points out that from 2011 to 2014 MLB teams drafted 47 high school hurlers in the first round.

And 19 of them went under the knife for elbow or shoulder surgery.  That’s right, 40 per cent.  Forty bleeping per cent needed operations on their arm.

 And here’s the left hook knockout punch.

Seven years ago there were 15 high school pitchers signed in the first round.  SEVEN of them suffered TJ or labrum surgery.  And get this.  Five of them were gone from pro baseball before their 25th birthday.

 

person holding smartphone beside tablet computer

          But, boss, you can't fire me just because I'm incompetent.

Verducci blames these abysmal numbers of lame, forlorn, tragic arm demolitions on the Cult of Velocity.  Yes, of course, kids are throwing harder than ever and The Gun is God to crosscheckers and Scouting Directors.  And the Growth Plates of teenagers are quivering in fear as they face the onslaught of the relentless need to pop 90 plus to even get a scout to glance your way.

But Velo has always been The Holy Grail.  And there’s far more to this than the Need for Speed when you’re 17.

Why are there so many MLB pitchers, very much grown men, visiting the IL as often as the bathroom?  Or recovering from Tommy John?  These guys are as sturdy as oak trees.  But they see the surgeon as often as that Trivago commercial repeats and repeats and repeats.  Some have even had TJ twice.  It’s like they’re aiming for a record.

          Have They Ever Heard of R&R?

Why were four of the Mariners starters, including James Paxton and King Felix, on the DL two years ago?  Why did an absolute phenom like Jordan Hicks, who sat on 102 to 104, surely the best flamethrower since Nolan Ryan, pop his UCL?

Obviously, the MLB Gurus don’t know What the Hell Their Doing.

Let me give you a Heads Up.  In our next visit to PROTECTING THE PITCHER’S ARM we’ll dissect, examine and toss around the ineffable need for Rest and Recuperation after you pitch or throw a bull pen.

Rest and Recoup are as crucial as sleep.  And it seems a whole slew of MLB managers, coaches and trainers can’t spell R&R.

Image result for free pictures of Nolan Ryan

The greatest right-handed pitcher who ever lived.
Blitzed 102 mph.  Struck out the world.
Threw seven no-hitters and 12 one-hitters.
One of those no-hitters at age 45.
Never needed Tommy John.
Obsessed with good mechanics and conditioning.
Did no one ever learn from him?

 

RANDOM BURSTS OF WISDOM

                                              (And how humble is that?)

                 Whatever Happened to Late Night TV?

I’m watching a couple of old Johnny Carson clips on YouTube.  His guests are legends.  Frank Sinatra.  Don Rickles.  Burt Reynolds.  Buddy Hackett.

The Boss himself, the ineffable Sinatra, and a parade of heavyweights.  Rickles as sharp as ever and Hackett, one of my favourite stand-ups.  I saw him in Vegas and you got the feeling he had so much material he could go in 10 different directions at once, like branches of a tree, adjusting to the reaction of the saloon crowd.  The ultimate pro.

Image result for Free pictures of Don Rickles

                                                 Rickles riffs

By comparison, I’m browsing the Guide to see who’s on the current late night lineup.

James Corden has Wiz Khalifa, Zach Wood and Sara Bareilles.  I’m not kidding.
Conan has Lil Rel Howery.  Yes, he does.
Colbert has Norman Reedus, Cynthia Erive and Miranda Lambert.  No joke.

Who are these people?  Do they just drag them in off the street?  Are they relatives of the producers?  Audience members?  Tourists from North Dakota searching for a washroom?

I know, I know, I looked them up.  They are actors and comics and singers.  Right up there with Sinatra and Rickles.  Stars for the Millennials, whatever that means.  Super stars, I’m sure.  Yes, they certainly are.

I don’t watch Fallon or Corden or Conan as much as possible.  They are pathetically lame and dull, as creative as a comatose telephone pole, and as interesting as watching bread bake.

          Carson and Dangerfield--15 Minutes of Joy

They have not the slightest understanding of the Blueprint of Carson, the King.  Make The Guests Look Good.  Feed them set-ups.  Play the straight man and let them riff.  Dangerfield was the classic example.  When Carson and Rodney hooked up it was 15 minutes of unequalled joy.

But I did tune in to Colbert one night when he had Paul McCartney.  And, of course, Colbert blew it.  McCartney was promoting a book.  So Colbert’s staff put together half a dozen fake book covers mocking his senior citizen old age.

Paul was not amused.  That’s the ticket.  Book one of the most iconic performers in the history of the planet and embarrass him.  Way to go, Jackass.

What’s that?  You’re a Millennial and you’re wondering who the hell Paul McCartney is?  Just ask Zach Wood, the legendary long snapper.  Or his friends at EA’s Madden 20.

Hell, they may have even heard of some band called The Beatles.  And isn’t that a ridiculous name.  They’ll never sell a record.

Image result for Free pictures of Rodney Dangerfield

           "My mother never breast fed me.  She said she liked me as a friend."

A CALL SO BAD IT’S HALL OF FAME

 The Moment the Astros Rolled Over and Quit

There was an indelible moment in the eighth inning last night when I knew the Astros were done.  Kaput.  Gonzo.  Screwed, blued, and tattooed.

Trailing 4-2 with one gone Carlos Correa is called out on strikes on a fastball at least eight inches inside.  It’s as if the umpire is delusional on acid and the plate has suddenly doubled to 34 inches wide.  A call so terrible it should earn a plaque in the Hall of Fame.  And what made it worse, the ump was directly in line with the pitch as he rang Correa up.

Correa argued briefly but his heart wasn’t in it.   

I waited for the explosion from the Houston dugout. 

But…

Nothing.  Zilch.  Nada.  A library. 

At that moment the Astros should have gone as ballistic as Godzilla with an electric prong shoved up his butt.  Off the wall.  As enraged as a Brahma bull about to gore the prima donna asshole in the tights waving his sword around.

Image result for Free pictures of Carlos Correa

          Correa listens for the explosion that never came.  I know, I know...

That call was so awful there should have been a visceral, emotional, testosterone outburst strong enough to light up a Black Hole.

But A.J. Hinch, the master of dead pan, staring straight ahead, I’m Not Going to Show any Emotion, did absolutely nothing.  Neither did his coaches.

One of these dudes should have charged from the dugout screaming like a police siren.  And been joyously ejected.

But the Astros were as comatose as teenagers listening to desultory rap that sucks out their blood like a voracious vampire.

          The Message from Martinez

Compare this to the night before when Dave Martinez lost it after Trea Turner was called out for running directly to first base instead of sprinting outside the line even though the bag is inside the line.  If you can make sense of that moronic rule you should be on the Supreme Court.

Martinez sent a message, I am as passionate about this as you are, 100 per cent, so deeply involved I can’t control my anger over the stupidity I just saw. 

By contrast Hinch showed the emotion of a totem pole.  At a time when the Astros desperately needed juice, desperately needed righteous anger, desperately needed a kick in the testicles, desperately needed RELEASE, RELEASE, RELEASE of stultifying tension, they got…nothing.

And that was the moment I knew it was over.  The Astros had quietly given up.  Quit.  Rolled over.  They were dead meat, as washed out and whipped as a cuckold husband.

If you can’t go ballistic on a call that egregious there’s no blood left in your veins.  And you are losers.

Bravo, Stephen Strasburg.  You deserve it.

Image result for Free pictures of A.J. Hinch

   What?  Me worry?  We'll just steal their signs.  Is the camera rolling?

 

BUILDING A BETTTER HITTER

 

DEVELOPING A 3-HOLE BOMBER

             Michael Brantley and Iron Mike

The Astros have Monsters in their lineup.  Springer.  Altuve.  Bregman.  Gurriel.  And a dude named Michael Brantley, who fits the three hole like butter fits bread.  Like Lucy fits Desi.  Like boots fit cowboys. 

Brantley is a Gap to Gap line drive banger with power who can also steal a bag.  What’s not to like. 

He is also a product of one of the most intelligent approaches to BP since Ted Williams hit .406.  Yes, he did.

Image result for Free pictures of Michael Brantley

Michael is the son of Mickey Brantley, who played four years for the Mariners before spending time with the Blue Jays and Mets as a hitting coach.  Which means his son was impregnated with an alien virus called the Louisville Slugger.

As Michael grew up taking his rips in their backyard batting cage pop had one basic rule.  “We can do this all day if you’re serious about it,” Mickey said.  “But, if you want to go out and start fooling around, your dad doesn’t have time for that.”

Michael was no fool.  So he never fooled around. “My dad never forced me to go hit,” he says.  “He always told me to enjoy it. Whenever I came off the field he asked me if I had fun. He never embarrassed me, never yelled at me from the stands.  Not once.”

          North Shore Twins Story Time

Mickey also knew exactly how to use the pitching machine that lurked in their cage like an armed robber.  It’s name was Iron Mike and it was a venerable, wise old dude with many secrets locked into its machinery.

I will tell you those secrets in a moment.  But first…Story Time.

Many moons ago when I was coaching the North Shore Twins we were getting two or three players drafted almost every year.  We had one strapping young guy who stood about 6-4, packed with 220 pounds of muscle.  But when he came out for early work he couldn’t hit a lick.  Limp, dribbly groundballs.  Weak anemic pop ups.  He was as frustrated as a guitar without strings.

Which was strange because he told me he’d been hitting all winter.  Off a pitching machine.  Sirens went off.  Hitting off a pitching machine. Bingo.  Of course.

Unless you know precisely what you’re doing hitting off a machine is a disaster waiting to strike like Darth Vader.

Star Wars, Darth Vader, Villain Action Figure, Toy

              The Star Wars two wheel pitching machine sells for $630 million.

There ain’t nothing that will bleep your timing faster than a damn pitching machine.  Why? You ask and I applaud your choice of words.

Most pitching machines are two wheelers that shoot the balls out of a hole like a pistol.  They get up on you like a stalker and I’m not talking about the radar gun.  Whoosh. And the damn thing is past you.

But you have to see a pitcher’s Delivery to time him.  His Arm Action ignites your Load and  your Stride.

You are halfway through your stride at the pitcher’s release point.

Try to time that when you're hitting off a machine that bursts bullets without any arm action whatsoever.  You can't find the rhythm.

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“I wanted to hit home runs, and he told me no.  He told me to learn to hit and the power will come.”

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Without seeing Arm Action there’s just no way to Load.  It’s like trying to hit in a closet with the lights off.  If you take your Full Stride with a two wheel machine you are lost.  Your timing is as screwed up as walking on one leg.  So you have to make a major adjustment.

You Hit From Load. 

Before the ball goes into the machine you take your Full Stride and Load onto your back leg. Then, when you see the ball, you just pick up your stride foot an inch or two.  And hammer.  This simulates the same timing you’d have hitting off a pitcher.

The two wheel monsters are great for curveball BP.  You simply adjust the angle of the wheels and then run them at two different speeds to get the break you want.

Image result for Free pictures of Mickey Brantley

                                                  The Guru                                                                        

But you have to Hit From Load, especially for fastballs.

Unless…

You’re using a simulator with a video of a pitcher in synch with the machine and ejecting the ball at release point.  Hitting World sells them for $7,000 U.S.  No, sorry, that’s $6,995.  Way better deal.

Or…

Our good buddy Iron Mike.  The new ones cost any where from $1,450 for the starter to $3,985 for the pro version that can pop 85 mph.  The old ones are yesterday, even if they’re better than most of the two wheel machines today.

The Brantley cage was Iron Mike’s home ground, courtesy the New York Mets.  The same machine Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry once used in spring training.  It was a decade old and, when the Mets were throwing it away in favor of a newer model, Mickey Brantley yelled Whoa, hold on, I’m coming.  So he adopted Mike like a proud father.

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“We talked about driving the ball to the left center gap.  I got very comfortable on fastballs away.”
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That Iron Mike was a box the size of a large refrigerator with a decrepit, cranky rotating metal arm that fired fastballs.  Yes, an Arm.  Just like a pitcher.

It vibrated and clanged and whirred, but Mickey knew it was far superior to the modern two-wheelers because the hitter saw actual, real, essential, mandatory Arm Action.  Which means a normal stride and Rhythm.  

 What’s more, it was unpredictable.  Iron Mike spewed out heaters in, out, up, down, everywhere but loose...like real baseball.

“The one with the wheels will mess up your timing,” says Michael.  A hitter needs timing like a baby needs mama’s milk.  "Timing is everything,” says Mickey.  Amen.

Image result for Free pictures of Barry Bonds

Bonds choked up an inch or so.
He crowded the plate.
And he had the bat speed
of a lightning streak.

Mickey coached a lot of great hitters and Michael’s swing became a synthesis of their best qualities.  The extreme head turn of Barry Bonds, allowing him to track pitches with both eyes on target.  “Most guys are peekers,” says Mickey.  Or John Olerud’s ability to start to swing, only to lay off at the last moment if it wasn’t a hitting pitch.

Mickey was all about developing a gap to gap line drive bomber.   He insisted Michael drill shots into the back end of the cage and never into the top of the netting.  “I wanted to hit home runs, and he told me no,” Michael says.  “He told me to learn to hit and the power will come.”

There were tee drills like bottom hand only, using a short, heavy bat, nicknamed Fat Albert, to work on bat path.  Or two hand swings with the tee elevated to the top of the zone.

But Iron Mike was always the star.  Take your hacks for real, Michael, with Arm Action and Load and Stride and hammer that sucker into the back of the net like Ronaldo. 

Michael learned to go Oppo with power, Ph.D time, and he graduated with honors.  “We talked about driving the ball to the left center gap,” he says.  “I got very comfortable on fastballs away.”

I have no idea why the old Iron Mike machines disappeared like morning mist.  Maybe too erratic or hard to sell.  After all, the manufacturers  are more interested in making money than building a Michael Brantley.

But kudos to Father Power.  And a guy named Mickey who understands how to develop a 3 hole hitter.

Image result for Free pictures of pitching machines

 

The JUGS two-wheeler is great for curveballs.   Hit from LOAD.       

 

DISSECTING THE BRYCE HARPER DEAL

Most Powerful (and Hated) Man in Baseball

Scott Boras has often been called the Most Hated Man in Baseball.  Or the anti-Christ.  Or Satan.  Or Evil Incarnate.  Or a Serial Killer.  Or That *&%#$% SOB.

If you own an MLB team (You do? Really?) you probably view Boras as the scum pickpocket who keeps stealing from the billion dollar nest egg you earned the hard way by inheriting it.  Or by selling real estate or digging oil wells or creating a mutual fund.  With your own hands.

Scott Boras is The Most Powerful Man in Baseball.  By far.  By miles far.  By many kilometres far.

He’s the most potent dude since Babe Ruth kicked off the Home Run Derby.  Since commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis axed the 1919 Black Sox.  Since George Steinbrenner ruled the Big Apple.  (And who names their kid “Mountain”? I like it.)

Boras is the Uber Super Agent of All Time, the Head Honcho of the four per centers, the Main Man of the Blood Suckers Fraternity.  In other words, he’s damn good at it.

He collects his endless fees like De Niro in Taxi Driver.  Click.  Click.  Click.

Image result for Free pictures of Scott Boras

Take a look at just a few of the guys Boras reps these days.

ASTROS--Gerrit Cole, Jose Altuve
NATIONALS--Max Scherzer, Anthony Rendon, Stephen Strasburg, Juan Soto
RED SOX--JD Martinez, Xander Bogaerts
DODGERS--Hyun-jin Ryu, Cody Bellinger, Corey Seager
CUBS--Kris Bryant, Nicholas Castellanos
PHILLIES--Rhys Hoskins
ATHLETICS--Matt Chapman
BRAVES--Dallas Keuchel

And, oh, yeh, some dude named Bryce Harper.

He negotiated Harper’s con job $330 million deal.  And Cole is so sizzling, searing, flamethrowing hot he could well be the first $300 mill pitcher.  Strasburg has opted out of his contract to join the Hit Parade of $$$$ rolling down the hill.

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          The Bottom Line
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How much does the Boras Corporation siphon off from this largesse?  Well, it may come as a surprise but I’m not privy to their books.  There is no MLB restriction on agent fees so the going rate would usually be somewhere between three and 10 per cent.

But this I can tell you.  In 2017 Scott’s company collected $108 million from approx $2 billion in MLB contracts.  My very rough, very quick long division says that’s around 5.7 per cent.  (Okay, smart ass, do your own math.)

These transactions are as intricate as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity but that looks like $18 mill from the Harper deal and a projection of $17 mill when Cole autographs a contract.    Over the long run, of course.

And that doesn’t even come close to the money from endorsements where agents often charge 20 per cent.

Image result for Free pictures of Gerrit Cole

                   How does it feel to be worth $300 mill?

So why is Boras so disliked by the powers that be?  Simply because he negotiates like Jaws.  Nothing is left to chance.  Every dollar is trench warfare.  This just seems like good business to me.  But some owners and GM's get so roughed up they are loath to sign one of his clients and won't draft a high school or college kid he represents.

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          In the beginning...
----------------------------------------------------------------------------------- 

Boras kicked off 36 years ago repping Mike Fischlin and Bill Caudill, who both work for him now.  Along the way he’s inked more firsts than Michael Phelps.  First $50 mill deal, Greg Maddux.  First for $100 mill, Kevin Brown.  And first to touch $200 mill, A-Rod himself.

Of course, Boras, who is 67, doesn’t scoop all this gravy personally.  Overhead at his Newport Beach HQ in SoCal includes 75 employees with everyone from an economist to a computer engineer to five personal trainers to the perfunctory sports psychologist to a coffee klatch of attorneys, and, finally, a punch drunk dude or dudess who has to watch every MLB game played that day and file a report.  The job from hell.

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          The Anatomy of a Major League Deal
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His negotiating technique is simple but deadly, like wrapping a python around your neck and praying it’s well fed and not too pissed off.

Five years in MLB.  Free agency.
No extensions.  None.
Ask for the keys to the city of Miami.  Or LA.  Or Chicago.
Nurture Social Media rumours, gossip, conjecture.
Drive up the price like Bernie Madoff.
Sit back and wait.  Wait.  Wait.
Until somebody panics.
Go to the jugular.

The Harper Deal is a classic example.

Harper has posted exactly one humongous MLB season.  One.  Not two.  One.  In 2015 he hit .330 with 42 jacks and 99 RBI’s.  His career BA is .276 and he averages 27 bombs per season.  If that’s worth $330 mill then Joe Pepitone is a Hall of Fame first baseman.

Money wise he is surely the most overrated player in history.  He leaves the Nats and they're in the World Series.  He signs with the Phillies and the city goes nuts, devouring his jersey and conjuring images of a dynasty.  Only to sputter like a VW running out of octane.  Fire the manager.  Welcome Joe Girardi.

So why $330 mill?

Image result for Free pictures of Juan Soto

            And what will this Juan be worth five years from now?

Washington GM Mike Rizzo manned up to accept some of the blame for Harper’s departure.  Some say the Nats sucked up to Harper without accountability, which is always a Chernobyl.

Were other teams interested?  Harper is a good bud of Freddie Freeman and apparently the Braves were choice Numero Uno but they didn’t value Bryce enough to empty their bankroll.

The Dodgers were on board.  They offered a record amount of bread per season but only for four or five years.  And the Giants fit perfectly into the Boras Game Plan when they upped the ante to 12 years in the very friendly neighbourhood of $310 million.

Time to finesse the Phillies.  Or is that “fleece” the Phillies?

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          "I may have said five minutes worth of words."
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Boras must have salivated when Philadelphia owner John Middleton admitted his team had copious amounts of $$$$ and “we may even be a little bit stupid about it.”  Analytics be damned, this had become a Sale by Emotion.

Of course, there was the obligatory video featuring Philadelphia’s finest imploring Harper to join Mr. Balboa for another charge up the Rocky Steps.

It all came to a head when Middleton and Harper took their wives to dinner with Boras there to supervise.  Apparently, it was as convivial as two Democrats discussing impeachment.

“I may have said five minutes worth of words the entire time,” Boras said, later.  “John and Leigh, Bryce and Kayla, they just talked.”  He didn’t mention who paid the bill.

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“The reality is the greatest and most successful aspect of Hollywood are the stars,” Boras says. “George Clooney, Jennifer Lawrence, Bradley Cooper … whatever movie they are in is about them. People identify with the greatest of great people. In sports you think about Michael Jordan and Tom Brady. What is best for baseball is what the fans tell us: when you have the greatest, most iconic players, the fans will come.”
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Finally, Phillies manager Gabe Kapler, who is in better shape than his players, met with Bryce to talk training and nutrition.  “They hit it off,” Boras said, despite some reports to the contrary.  “They were two peas in a pod.”

Case closed.  Contract signed.

Now it would be easy to conclude Middleton and the Phillies got taken for a ride like Jimmy Hoffa.  But that would be foolish.  Season ticket sales went to Mars, merch flew off the shelves, and it remains to be seen what the Girardi Era will do for the franchise.

As far as Boras is concerned it was just another notch on a belt with more dents than Wild Bill Hickok.

He may be hated by some but that’s hard to understand.  Nobody forces an owner to sign a contract.  And this is just Free Enterprise.  Even if free costs a fortune.                                               

24
Nov 18

                Image result for Free pictures of Aroldis Chapman

            Flame throwing Aroldis from the Sportsmockery web-site.

               DEVELOPING CATCHERS

THE REAL REASON CHAPMAN THREW A HANGER

       If You Can’t Block, You Can’t Catch

I’m not going to beat up on Gary Sanchez.  No point.  I feel sorry for the guy.  Apparently, the New York Yankees have no idea how to develop a catcher.   

And this is really about the importance of Blocking.

Aaron Boone tells us Sanchez has really improved.  He’s cut down his passed balls and he calls a good game.

But let’s take a closer look.  

                    Yes, he hammers every once in awhile.  But...

For openers, catchers don’t call the game.  They put down fingers as  suggestions.   And then the pitcher either accepts or rejects.  Pitchers call the game.  When they shake their head they're not telling the waiter they're passing on dessert.

Okay, so what about the passed balls?  Sanchez had 18 in 2018 but chopped that to seven this season.  Eighteen passed balls last year.  Eighteen.  Hard to get past that abysmal stat.  Even seven is barely acceptable.

But it misses the point by four or five hundred miles.  Sanchez thinks blocking is for guards and tackles.  More baseballs scoot under his glove than conspiracy theories hatched by Internet loonies.

None of these are counted as passed balls.  But in most cases they should be.  Instead they’re notched as wild pitches.  Which means the dude on the bump takes the rap every time Sanchez fails to block a breaking pitch in the dirt.

This, of course, is as asinine as blaming Microsoft for your kid’s addiction to video games.  Catchers simply must block curveballs that bounce.  Yes, framing and receiving and throwing bullets are crucial.

But, if you can’t block, you can’t catch.  And Gary Sanchez often doesn’t even try.  Instead of driving his knees to the ground with his glove between his legs, he just picks.  And breaking balls skip past him like the roadrunner in full flight.

Image result for Free pictures of catchers blocking pitches

              Brian McCann anticipates this breaking ball in the dirt.

Now you might argue that a pitch that bounces is definitely as wild as the wind.  And you would be right.

But…

Outstanding catchers are like brick walls.  For my money Mike Matheny was the greatest blocking catcher since Genghis Khan buckled up his shin guards for the Mongol Marauders in the Dark Ages MLB.        

Getting a Rawlings through Matheny was like invading the White House carrying an AK-47 and a bag full of grenades.  Matheny didn’t just block.  He smothered.  He even put up the Berlin Wall when the pitcher was tossing his eight warm ups at the start of each inning, which is great psychology.  See, dude, you can’t get a pitch past me.  Not ever.  NOT EVER.

Ryan Dempster told me pitchers loved throwing to Matheny because they believed nothing would get through him.  The two aces catching in the Series, Martin Maldonado and Kurt Suzuki, are also blue chip.  Their mission is simply No Ball Shall Pass.

On the flip side, when the receiver is a sieve there’s an inevitable Domino Effect.  If you’ve never pitched you probably won’t understand.  So pay attention.

When you stand on the hill with a runner on third and the guy back there puts down two fingers and you agree, you better be damn sure.

____________________________________________________

Damn sure it’s the right call.
Damn sure you’ll get on top and pull down.
Damn sure you won’t hang it.
Damn sure you’ll break it off.
And damn sure if it bounces it won't get through.
_____________________________________________________

Because your catcher will block it like the Maginot Line.  Damn sure.

You have to believe that.  Totally.  Without reservation.  You need 100 per cent certainty your catcher will block anything and everything you throw up there.

If there’s even the slightest subliminal DOUBT lingering in your cerebral cortex you’ll be as reluctant to break off a filthy slider as a vegetarian served a steak dinner.

This is not a conscious thought.  It’s not up front and personal.  It’s just this lurking, stalking DOUBT that infects your subconscious like a virus.  Break one off and watch your catcher chase it to the backstop while the runner scores.

  • Image result for Free picture of Mike Matheny

               Matheny also tracked foul pops like radar

Just ask Aroldis Chapman.

Moments after he hung that second slider and Jose Altuve drove a cannon shot into the left field stratosphere one of the 4,921 cameras zeroed in on Chapman’s mug and captured what looked like a forced smile.  Anyone familiar with pixels knows you can freeze frame just about anything you bleeping want to get any expression you want.

Chapman says he was just shocked and couldn’t believe it.  Sounds reasonable.

But Social Media is far from reasonable.  Chapman’s psychotic. Altuve is on his Fantasy team.  He was betting on the Astros.  Such Droll Trolls.

I know it’s hard to understand why a guy with a 100 mph four-seamer would throw sliders back to back.  But Altuve starts so far off the plate he’s almost in the dugout.  Then he Sky Dives in almost three feet.  The idea was to jam him up like a sardine with razor sharp sliders on his hands.

As a concept it makes a lot of sense and it certainly doesn’t compare to Russell Wilson throwing a Super Bowl pick with Beast Mode ready to Smashmouth the Patriots.  That one has to rate as the worst decision since the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbour.

___________________________________________________________________

“We’ve been working on reacting to unexpected pitches.  I mean location. You always want the pitch where you call for it, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. So how do you react so you can receive those?”
_____________________________________________________

But…again…

There’s a runner on first and you don’t want a wild pitch in the dirt skipping him along to scoring position.

So you have to believe, you have to know, you have to be 100 per cent certain, you have to be absolutely committed to this breaking ball.  You have to KNOW your catcher will BLOCK.  Not HOPE he’ll block.  Not MAYBE block.  FOR SURE he’ll BLOCK.

If you don’t have that certainty you have a sliver of DOUBT.  Without really knowing it a tiny part of your brain isn't totally sure.  So you let up just a little bit, you don't pull down a shade hard enough, and you don't bury your slider deep enough.  And that translates into one word.

HANGER.

Now I won’t tell you that’s the only reason Aroldis Chapman threw a lollipop and Altuve licked his lips and crushed it.  But I know this for sure.  When a catcher can’t block he sends his pitchers en masse to their friendly neighbourhood psychiatrist.

Sanchez is a big guy, 6-2, 230 and the Yankees seem to use that an excuse for his inability to get down.  But that’s pure rationalizing bull shit.  Matheny is 6-3 and he blocked like concrete.  Size is not a detriment.

Sep 7, 2018; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Miami Marlins catcher J.T. Realmuto (11) throws to first base to retire Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Chris Archer (not pictured) during the third inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports (Charles LeClaire)

J.T. Realmuto frames like Van Gogh, throws lasers, and blocks everything.

Catchers are my favourite players.  They work their butts off and seldom get the credit they deserve.  I’ve coached some good ones, including Chris Dempster, a tireless worker, and Kenny Scott, the heart of the Delta Tigers, and one of the toughest blockers I’ve ever seen.

Sanchez always seems embarrassed when a pitch blitzes through him and he obviously wants to improve.  “We’ve been working on reacting to unexpected pitches,” he says.  “I mean location. You always want the pitch where you call for it, but sometimes that doesn’t happen. So how do you react so you can receive those?”

That’s a framing conundrum and always a challenge.  But today we’re talking about breaking balls in the dirt.

You want to teach blocking?  Get your receivers into the cage and shoot bouncing spinners from a curveball pitching machine loaded with soft incrediballs.  Over and over and over and over.  Until blocking becomes automatic.  High school and college and pro teams do this all the time.

Maybe somebody should tell the New York Yankees.  

           

30
Aug 18

TIPS FROM THE BIG MAPLE

          James Paxton is NOT Laid Back

“We saw emotion from James Paxton and this is something the Mariners talked about last season.  Mel Stottlemyre, Jr. said Paxton is such a nice guy, so laid back, so quiet.  They wanted him to pitch with more edge.  After he struck out 16 A’s and no hit the Blue Jays Stottlemyre said its hard to teach toughness but he found a way to get it out of himself.”

                     --Ken Rosenthall

“If he stays healthy you’re going to see him with Cy Young talk.  He’s that good.  He’s so stoic and laid back he wasn’t bothered by an eagle landing on his shoulder.”

                     --John Smoltz

This is NOT the James Paxon I know.  Not at all.

Yes, James is quiet.  He is not about bravado.  Or dancing in the dugout.  Or posing for the cameras.  Or posturing for the fans.  Or bringing attention to James Paxton.

None of that.

James Paxton is about Being the Best He Can Be.  About doing everything possible to help the iconic New York Yankees win.  About preparation.  About composure and focus.

James Paxton is about being a Pro.

 James Paxton (40573399583).jpg

Pax getting Down the Hill.  Note he is about 10 inches against his body.
It works for James but I don't recommend it.

And, believe me, there is nothing laid back about James Paxton.  He is one of the most intense competitors I’ve ever coached.

I’m not alone in this observation.  “James was always tough,” says former North Delta coach Ari Mellios, who knows James a lot better than I do.  “His demeanor never changed on the mound.  But James was never laid back.  Never.”

Remember the old bromide Never Judge a Book by its Cover?  That happens far too often.  James is quiet.  He's a nice guy.  James doesn’t exhibit his emotions.  So, obviously, he’s laid back.

No way.  Open the book and read the pages and you’ll discover a young man with the heart of a lion and the toughness of concrete.  Just take the time to get past the cover.

____________________________________________________

"The crowd was pleading for Boone to leave Paxton In."

____________________________________________________

It reminds me of the perception so many have of Ryan Dempster, who has a great creative sense of humour.  So people think that’s who is.

I can’t imagine anything farther from the truth.  Have dinner with Ryan and you’re talking to Rodney Dangerfield.  But put him on the hill and you have the Baseball Equivalent of a Serial Killer.

Perception.  Sometimes it’s 180 from the truth.

I’m not going to dissect Paxton’s demolishment of the Astros.  You saw that first hand.

Instead I’ll pass along some invaluable tips James sent me two years ago.  Welcome to the Anatomy of a Pitcher’s Preparation.  In his own words.

On Monday, the Seattle Mariners traded away ace James Paxton to the New York Yankees. Has Seattle... [+] finally committed fully to player development? (Photo by Stephen Brashear/Getty Images)

                                     A strong finish 

          Arm Slot

“I was looking at video with my pitching coach in AAA and we discovered my arm slot had raised considerably since 2014 when I was throwing really well.”

They went to work diligently and James returned to his ¾ delivery when he pitched for the North Delta Blue Jays.

“It made things feel drastically better.  My velo jumped and my command got much better.  I’m back to where I should be.”

          Load

“I stress getting a good load before moving forward. And then leading with my hip.  You need to have strength in your legs before throwing the ball.”  

 NOTE: You have to Get Down the Hill but you Load first and then Lead with Your Hip.  I’ve stressed this so often it’s like a Mantra from Heaven.

“A drill for getting a good load is to put a resistance band around your waist and have a partner behind you pulling on the band. I do this before workouts as a warm up as well as a pitching drill.”

           Staying closed

“Staying closed as long as possible in your delivery will allow you to get on top of the baseball and create good plane and action.” 

          

                                                    The Eagle Has Landed

          The cutter slider

“I throw a cutter by design. I’m always working on that pitch and sometimes it moves more like a slider.”

NOTE: For the difference between a cutter and a slider check out the post after this one.

          Throwing bull pens

“I throw one bullpen between starts--about 35 pitches the second day after I pitch.  Then I have two more days of playing catch before I get in a game again.” 

          Video  

“Before each game I watch video for about three hours and make notes on every player. Then I'll compare my notes to the team notes and the stats we have.  I go over it all with my catcher before the game and we talk about what we want to do.”

          Challenging the Hitter 

“I try to hit spots.  But I never sacrifice intensity.” 

 NOTE: James has always been aggressive.  Sure, he works both sides of the plate.  But he believes in his stuff and he’s never afraid to CHALLENGE a hitter.

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                                       His natural arm slot

          Pre-Game Prep

“My routine begins two hours before a start. I take a warm shower and finish with a blast of cold water to shock my system and wake me up.

“Then I'll head to the gym and ride the bike for 10 minutes, followed by rolling out on a foam role and some core activation exercises.

“After that, I go to the training room to put some heat on my shoulder and elbow. I finish with a leg and arm stretch by my trainer.

“Finally I'm ready to go outside and do some more warm ups before starting to throw on the bull pen mound.”

 NOTE: I love the idea of rubbing heat into your shoulder and arm.  We did this with Dempster.

          Long Toss

“I long toss quite often before I get into my five day season routine. I feel out my body every time I play catch and decide how far to go depending on how I'm feeling. Once I get into my five day routine, I throw long toss once between starts before my bullpens at about 200 feet.” 

          Conditioning  

“I do most of my cardio exercises on the bike--intervals for about 25 minutes.  And I do various agility exercises with my strength coaches.”

          Off season

“I take about three weeks off after the season.  Then I like to throw once a week at about 90 feet to keep my arm loose and free from scar tissue build up. I begin to throw more often towards the end of December. 

“I train in the gym four days a week in the offseason and I also do YOGA three or four times a week. I focus most of my attention on building strength in my legs and core, the foundation for pitching.”

NOTE: Legs and Core.  Legs and Core.  Legs and Core.  Cannot emphasize this enough.  POWER, DRIVE and STABILITY all begin from the ground up. 

                       So stoic.  So laid back.  So unemotional.           

                                  

AND THAT SPELLS TROUBLE WITH A CAPITAL T

   The Goose and Lou Vomit All Over Baseball

"I can’t watch these games anymore.  It’s not baseball. It’s unwatchable. A lot of the strategy of the game, the beauty of the game, it’s all gone. It’s like a video game now. It’s home run derby with their bleeping launch angle every night.’’

                    --Goose Gossage

“All anybody wants to do is launch the ball.  They’re making the ballparks smaller, the balls tighter, and all we’re seeing is home runs. There are no hit-and-runs. No stolen bases. Nothing. I managed 3,400 games in the big leagues, and never once did I put a full shift on anybody. Not once. And I think I won a few games without having to shift.’’

                    --Lou Piniella

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                                The Goose, one of the best closers ever

I love the MLB commercial spewing out during the playoffs.  First some vintage black and white video overlapped by colour shots of current rippers.  “They say baseball isn’t what it used to be,” asserts the  Propaganda Machine.  And then it insists today’s game is Younger, Faster,  Harder. 

All of which is true.  But they forgot one word.

Better. 

As we all know baseball has become Jacks and K’s.  Crush or whiff.  Yes, there are still some great defensive plays.  But too often it’s live, competitive BP between a guy throwing bullets and a slugger who believes God created Heaven and Earth…and then the Launch Angle.  No, no.  The Launch Angle came first.

Never go the other way.  Hitting Oppo is for pussies.  Drive the damn Rawlings over The Shift like a bleeping man.  Shift be damned.

Never bunt for a hit even if the left side is as wide open as Wyoming.  Bunts are for Eunuchs.

Never steal a bag.  You’ll have to slide and you might get a bruise.    Nobody making only $20 million should have to endure that torture.

                  The High Five Line Dance.  Just call it bonding.

Never run hard on a groundball to short. They’re just going to throw you out anyway so you’re only wasting your Launch Angle energy for the next AB.  Just ask Manny Machado or Kendrys Morales, who think Hustling is something you do on a street corner.

Never learn how to turn a double play four different ways.  Too much energy.  Too much time.  Stay in the cage instead perfecting your Launch Angle uppercut.  If you don’t turn it the broadcast crew will give you an A plus for effort anyway.

      How did Grade 9 Girl's Volleyball Invade This Blog?

Never show discipline at the plate. That just leads to bleeping walks and you’re not Barry Bonds.  Walks may help the team win but they won’t give you a dollar on your free agent contract. So swing at high heat 18 inches above the strike zone and curveballs that bounce.  Hell, you might even hammer one every 100 AB’s or so.  And cricket is always an option.

Never Hit and Run.  Oh, sorry, you’ve never heard that term.

Never squeeze bunt.  It’s exciting as hell for fans but you never practice bunting and you’ll just pop it up into a double play.  That’s embarrassing.

After you crush a Jack always choreograph some signature move as you salute the guy on deck.  And then parade through the High Five Line Dance in the dugout so the camera will follow you for 15 seconds.  Touch everyone like you’re on a grade nine girl’s volleyball team and you need reassurance after every point.

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        Sweet Lou, one of the rare moments he wasn't berating an umpire

Always take your hat off and pose on the top step of the dugout so the cameras will find you.  Pretend you’re dissecting strategy so the broadcast crew can point out what a mentor you are to the younger players.  Even when you’re talking about last night’s Baseball Groupie or which bar you’re going to after the game.

And don’t forget to color your hair purple or crimson so the girls will notice.

Never move a runner over.  Even to win a game.  Did anyone ever sign for $20 mill because he moved a runner over?  Are you crazy?

Never think Gap to Gap Line Drives.  Yes, of course, that might make you a .300 hitter.  But George Brett and Rod Carew were yesterday.  And, yes, Brett hit .390 one year and Carew was an all-star 18 times and won seven batting titles with a lifetime .328.  But who cares?  This is Overwatch time.

And never, never think Oppo Contact with two strikes.  What the bleep.  Swing from your butt.  All the time.

Attendance at the 30 MLB parks has subsided around 800,000 in the past year and there are a plethora, a myriad, a bundle, a barrage of reasons,  and that spells Trouble with a Capital T, Trouble, I say…No that’s from another movie.

Which we’ll get to tomorrow.

                        

NOW I TAKE ON THE HALL OF FAME

Sorry, John Smoltz, But You Don’t Have a Clue

“The rhythm of a pitcher is very important to a lot of guys.  The goal is to pitch out of the windup as long as you can.”

                             --John Smoltz

“The Yankees wanted to get Verlander out of the windup and into the stretch.”

                             --Tom Verducci

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 06: Pitcher John Smoltz #29 of the Atlanta Braves throws against the New York Mets September 6, 2006 at Shea Stadium in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City. (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

                 Smoltz was a terminator as a starter or a closer.  With rhythm. 

Here we go again.  Now I have to educate a Hall of Fame pitcher and an excellent Sports Illustrated writer.  Is there no end to this?

First let’s examine what they’re saying.

Is rhythm crucial to a pitcher?  Absolutely.  It’s as important as protein.  As fundamental as breathing.  As necessary as walking.  As productive as chewing.  As creative as Hemingway.

Rhythm is the basis of the Holy Mantra of pitching.

          See How Easily You Can Throw Hard.

San Diego Padres v New York Mets

Noah Syndergaard, a starter who throws 101 from the Set.  The new normal.

So let’s give Smoltz an A plus on that one.  Rhythm we want.  For sure.  And John always does a tremendous job analyzing.  Well, usually he's right on.  Usually.

In fact, there are pitchers who feel the windup keeps them loose and relaxed and flexible.  Which adds to their rhythm.  Good.  No argument there.  To each his own.  I used a wind-up all the time and it felt natural.

But...

The windup is a Complicator.  It adds complexity without value.  A big over the head motion can actually throw you off balance, especially on an amateur mound that’s an uneven minefield of sand or recalcitrant dirt.

          Without Balance?  Bring on the Wild Pitches

Balance is the basis of Command.  Without balance you are walking a tightrope on skates.  A pitcher off balance is a wild pitch waiting to happen, a catcher blowing in the wind, Little Richard slippin' and a slidin'.

That’s why so many starters have silenced their windups to a simple rocker step with their hands as quiet as a mime.

And, of course, the Yankees wanted to get Verlander into the stretch. That would mean BASERUNNERS.  I have no stat on this but it’s quite possible he doesn’t throw as well from the set.  But why would that be?

Watch Verlander with a runner on first.  Yes, he’s in the set.  But that’s not the problem.  When he’s holding a runner Verlander chops his delivery.  He cuts down his knee raise and speeds it up to get quicker to the plate.  That’s what righthanders do to shut down the running game.

littlerichard

                        Little Richard at a time when rock was real

So if Verlander is diminished throwing from the stretch it isn’t because the Set is bad news for his rhythm.  It’s because he stifles his mechanics to stop a raging stampede of stolen bags.

If he used a full knee raise and didn’t rush, his rhythm would be the same in the Set as it is in the windup.  The same. The bleeping same, dammit.

If the windup is so important to rhythm why do more than 80 per cent of pitchers never use it?  And they all aren’t relievers.  Starters like Noah Syndergaard and David Price and Yu Darvish and Tyler Glasnow are imbedded in the Set.  For the full merry go round.

To them the windup is as useless as the so-called comedians on Saturday Night Live.  Well, at least the current SNL.  There was a time…Google Belushi and Ackroyd and Curtin and Radner and Murray and Murphy and Chevy Chase and Farley and Hartman and Carvey.  You might even laugh for a change.

And I wonder if Smoltz was watching the next night when Stephen Strasburg threw another Blue Chip, Lights Out, Dominant Gem for the Nationals.

Without winding up at all.

Not once.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  Every pitch he threw was from the Set.  And his RHYTHM was as smooth as Patrick Mahomes unleashing a 50-yard bullet, as precise as Quantum Physics, as devastating as a tornado married to a tsunami inside a hurricane.  You don’t pitch much better than Strasburg right now—unless your name is Gerrit Cole.

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              The Great One, Belushi at his best...or worst...who can tell?

Finally, there were 15 pitchers on the hill for the Astros and Yankees that night.  And 13 threw only from the Set. Not one pitch from the windup.  Not one.  That’s 87 per cent who never used a windup even with no runners.   Are they all hallucinating?  Don’t they listen to Smoltz?

Rhythm equals velocity.  If you were a closer coming in for a clean inning and you knew you could throw two or three mph harder from the windup  you’d have to be a moron to stay in the Set.  Are all these guys just stupid?  Or such Nice Guys they don’t want to humiliate the hitters by throwing even harder than hard?

They throw from the Set because they know the windup is basically useless and often a negative.  Rhythm comes from athleticism and balance and knee coil and getting down the hill.  It has virtually nothing to do with winding up.  Nothing.

Just ask Aroldis Chapman, who has peaked at 105 mph.  Or Jordan Hicks,  104.  Or Noah Syndergaard, 101 plus. Or Josh Hader, who K’d 138 in only 75 innings this year.

And none of them ever throw from the wind-up.

I rest now.                    

                Words of Nonsense From

                 "The Bringer of Drizzle"

“If you're 10 years old and your coach says get on top of the ball, tell him no.  In the big leagues these things they call ground balls are outs. They don't pay you for ground balls, they pay you for doubles and home runs.”

                          --Josh Donaldson

Image result for Free pictures of Josh Donaldson

                 "Wow!  Another fly ball out.  I should ask for $30 million."  

 SO LET’S GIVE HIM ANOTHER $23 MILLION

          The Bringer of Drizzle: 3 for 19

That quote is so moronic it's hard to believe even a Candy Ass like Donaldson could utter it. 

There are more hits on groundballs than anything else in baseball.  And telling kids to uppercut fly balls is like advising your grandmother to yank her life savings out of the bank and buy stock in a Telephone Answering Service in Afghanistan. 

Ten-year-olds don't have Bomb Power.  For them fly balls are outs.  Outs.  Outs.  And more Outs.

      SIX Groundballs for EIGHT runs.  Is that possible?

You want proof of the value of GB's?  I give you the St. Louis Cardinals.

When the Cards demolished Donaldson and the Braves 13-1 they hit exactly ZERO home runs.  ZERO, I say. 

But there were SIX groundballs that accounted for EIGHT runs.  Impossible, you say.  The King of the Candy Ass has told us groundballs are useless.  And he pockets $23 mill a year so he must be right.

Apparently not.  Donaldson and Justin Turner have already screwed up too many kids who emulate their useless knee raise.  They can take endless BP.  Kids cannot.  When you knee raise your timing is so Dazed and Confused it's like hitting with seawater up to your waist.

 

Image result for Free pictures of Nelson Cruz

Nelson Cruz crushed 41 jacks for the Twins with one Maple and NO knee raise.

Fortunately, knee raise hitting is fading out like invisible ink.  The Minnesota Twins drilled 307 jacks this year, an MLB record, and they knee raise as often as polar bears vacation in Hawaii. 

Maybe MLB hitters are actually acquiring some wisdom.  But not Donaldson.

Oh,yeh, the Bringer of Drizzle managed 3 hits in 19 trips against the Cards.  A .158 batting average.  Obviously, that's worth another $23 million.       

RIVERA AND FLIGHT 587

        Shades of the 1919 Black Sox

Not sure what to make of this.  So I’ll leave it up to you, Faithful Readers.  And I mean FAITHful.  As you’ll see. 

The seventh game of 2001 World Series was as legendary as Arnold posing in the Mr. Olympia showdown.  Phoenix.  Curt Schilling and Roger Clemens.  A pair of King Kong righthanders toeing the rubber like Ali and Frazier for 15.

The Bronx Bombers scrape ahead 2-1 in the eighth when Bob Brenly marches out to pull Schilling.  “You’re my hero, Big Man,” he says as he takes the ball and hands it over to 6-10 stringbean Randy Johnson, The Big Unit, who is taking a break from playing center with the Celtics.  Johnson threw 104 pitches the night before but, what the hell, this is WS time. 

Image result for free pictures of Randy Johnson

                              The Biggest Unit Ever

In the bottom half Joe Torre goes to Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer ever, who blithely strikes out everyone in sight. 

Jump ahead then to the bottom of the ninth.  Mark Grace slashes a line drive up the middle and Damian Miller drops a bunt to move him up.  Rivera has a blue chip shot at the force but he throws the ball into the runner and Derek Jeter gets clobbered.  First and second, nobody out.  So let’s bunt again.  This time it’s Jay Bell, who should insist on third baseman Scott Brosius making the play but, being inept at bunting like most major leaguers, he shoves it right to Rivera for the force at third.

Bell, of course, could tell you he was just setting it up for Tony Womack, who had a monster AB.  For years lefthand hitters had more trouble staying inside a Rivera cutter than Danny DeVito getting a hernia trying to dunk a basketball.

This cutter took a sharp left turn and swerved onto his fists like a heat seeking missile but Womack pulled his hands in like a pickpocket shyster on the subway and blistered a line shot into right to tie it 2-2.  The joint went bananas.

Mariano then hits Craig Counsel but no harm, no foul.

Image result for Free pictures of Luis Gonzalez

Except Luis Gonzalez, the D-Backs Money Man, their MVP, was now dug into the lefthand batter’s box.  With the sacks drunk Joe Torre had a monumental decision.  Infield in?  Or double play depth up the middle with corners in.  He chose Infield In.  Which gave the D-Backs the world championship.

Gonzalez fouled off a cutter.  And Tim McCarver, one of best analysts ever, cautioned that playing infield in with Rivera on the hill was like lighting a match with gas fumes swirling (I embellish) because he saws off bats like a wood chopper.  Which means more bloopers over the infield than Hershey’s has chocolate bars.

          McCarver Makes Like Tony Romo

If McCarver ever gives stock market advice take it.  He’s as prescient as Carnac.

Gonzalez fought off another cutter like a rock star protecting his Les Paul.  And blooped a limp, pathetic, feckless little pop fly that sputtered onto the grass about five feet into the outfield.  If Jeter had been playing back it would have fluttered into his chest.

Game over.  Verdict Arizona.

          "I'm Glad We Lost the World Series"

So what the hell am I getting at here?

Well, Mariano Rivera is a devout Christian.  He believes God has a reason for everything.  Everything, I say.  Including baseball games.

If the Yankees had beaten the D-Backs in game seven there would have been a monster parade in the City That Never Sleeps.  Elite Manhattan would swim in champagne, the rough South Bronx would be as loving as a mama, and Brooklyn would be singing Willie, Mickey and the Duke.

And infielder Enrique Wilson, one of Rivera’s closest friends, would have been front and center.  He’d stay in NYC to celebrate and leave the next day for his native Dominican Republic on American Airlines flight 587.

Flight 587 crashed shortly after taking off, killing 260 people.

But not Enrique Wilson, who left the day before.  Rivera told Wilson, "I am glad we lost the World Series, because it means I still have a friend."

Apparently Rivera thinks God fixed the World Series so the Yankees would lose.  Shades of the 1919 Black Sox.  Except God has as bit more kick than Arnold Rothstein.

One of the common denominators of pro athletes is how egocentric they think.  Rivera is sure God was so concerned about Wilson’s safety he sacrificed the Yankees so Enrique wouldn't set foot on that jet.  But not the other 260.  Why didn't He just keep the plane soaring through the Wild Blue Yonder so they'd all survive?  Ask Mariano.

Is Rivera Looney Tunes?  I dunno.  I’ll leave that up to you.

 

PROTECTING THE PITCHER’S ARM

We’ve talked about Warming Up, which is crucial to keeping your arm healthy.  The second step is THROWING WITH YOUR WHOLE BODY.  And no one has ever done that better than The Sandman.

 

BUT IS HE LOONEY TUNES?

         Mariano Rivera’s Perfect Delivery

When Mariano Rivera pitched it was…

Leonardo creating Mona Lisa
Pavarotti belting Nessun Dorma
Brando On The Waterfront
Dickey Betts shredding on Jessica
Seger’s Oldtime Rock ‘n Roll
Secretariat demolishing the Belmont track record
The Ramones bombarding I Wanna Be Sedated
Gene Kelly Singing in the Rain
MJ driving to the hole
The Splendid Splinter turning on a heater
Sinatra and New York, New York on New Year’s Eve
Jennifer Aniston being, well, Jennifer Aniston
Renaldo, the Acrobat
The Rock in the ring
Bruckheimer producing anything
Dangerfield on a roll
Train tasting Drops of Jupiter
Neil Diamond with his Sweet Caroline
And…Okay, okay, take a breather…

Image result for Free pictures of Mariano Rivera

Mariano’s delivery wasn’t just perfect.  It was ineffably perfect.  The best ever.  Faultless.  So good you knew you were watching something so special it would never come around again.  Not ever.  That kind of perfection is the Hand of God.  (More on that later.)

Let me give you this profound wisdom, if I say so myself.

You Don’t Throw a Baseball With Your Arm.  You Throw a Baseball With Your Whole Body.  As proof I give you The Sandman, Mariano Rivera.

I’m not going to dissect his mechanics.  Well, yes, I am.  But only briefly.  Take a quick look.

          RHYTHM AND TEMPO

This is where it all starts.  Rivera was as rhythmical as Neil Peart on the snare and kick.  His tempo was a lock, never frantic, but never, never slow.  He was infinitely balanced throughout his whole motion as he revved up momentum.  Rhythm, tempo and balance mean COMMAND and VELOCITY.

          LOAD

A beautifully controlled shoulder tilt to LOAD and then EXPLODE.  Translation: POWER.

         KNEE COIL

This was a work of art.  He coiled to the middle of his body to the letters.  It set-up his hip rotation.  I’ve never seen a better knee coil.  Nowhere.  No how.

          LEADING WITH THE HIP

The key for drive to the plate.  Rivera never lunged his upper body.  Never.  When you lunge you arm throw.  Your lower body has to go first, which means the front hip always leads the charge.  That's THROWING WITH YOUR WHOLE BODY.

          GETTING DOWN THE HILL

And this is more velocity.  For some strange reason there are coaches who stress balance point over the rubber, which is like drag racing with your foot on the brake.  It kills your momentum as fast as running into a brick wall.  There is no balance point in pitching.  Your whole delivery must be balanced.  Rivera never hung over the rubber.  He got down the hill as soon as his knee raise hit the top.  As long as you're LEADING WITH YOUR HIP and never lunging with your upper body this is DRIVE and VELOCITY.

          STRIDE

Aggressive, but always precise.  Direct to the plate, the Second COMMANDment.

         HIP ROTATION

Coil and uncoil.  Separation of hips and shoulders.  Power unleashed like a TORNADO.

          Image result for Free pictures of Mariano Rivera's follow thru

          FINISH

His follow through was smooth and long out front, never yanking the ball.  It protected the muscles at the back of his shoulder.

Add it all up and I give you the Mantra of all Power Pitchers.

          SEE HOW EASILY YOU CAN THROW HARD.

Rivera was the sheer essence of that Monster.  He WAS throwing hard.  But it all seemed so effortless.  And the ball simply exploded out of his hand like a rocket blast.

Why?  What gave him such blazing velocity without the slightest strain?  It was simple and complex at the same time.

A perfect delivery by a superb athlete.  Athleticism ignites rhythm and tempo and drive, all in synch, all coming together like a choreographed Broadway musical.  And that precise, perfect delivery protects your arm like a German Shepherd.  No strain, no damage to your UCL or rotator cuff.

          Throwing Hard at 115 Pounds

Here's a classic example of Athleticism.  I coached a kid this year with the bantam Delta Tigers.  His name was Ryan Heppner and he only weighed 115 pounds.  But the ball jumped out of his hand thanks to a dynamic Get Down The Hill delivery.  He was See How Easily You Can Throw Hard.

Rivera, of course, had a lethal weapon, a 95 mph cutter that broke more wood than a lumberjack.  (Before the Maple bats became closer to aluminum than wood.)

__________________________________________________

Justin Morneau once told me, “I know he’s throwing that cutter.  But it looks so much like a pure fastball.  So I swing, it breaks six inches on to my hands, and I’ve got a weak groundball or a pop-up.”
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Yes, the cutter was a killer.  But the reason Mariano Rivera survived for 19 MLB seasons, threw in 13 all star games, and nailed 652 saves wasn’t a cut fastball.

It was his perfect delivery.  It eliminated almost all the stress on his arm.  When you throw a baseball WITH YOUR WHOLE BODY your arm says thanks and buys you a Christmas presdent.

And you can’t do that any better than Mariano Rivera.

                         Rivera Trivia

"Enter Sandman"

The Yankees started playing Metallica's "Enter Sandman" as Rivera's entrance music after seeing how pumped San Diego fans were when closer Trevor Hoffman left the bull pen in the World Series with AC/DC's "Hells Bells" blasting through the PA system.  Rivera was indifferent but the song became his trademark almost as much as his cutter. 

"Chair of Broken Dreams"

When Mariano retired in 2013 the Minnesota Twins built a rocking chair from broken bats, courtesy the Rivera cutter.  They christened it the "Chair of Broken Dreams."  And Delta Air Lines dedicated a 757 with Mariano's signature and number 42 on the side of the plane. 

Ruth and Aaron and Cobb and Koufax

Rivera was the first player to be unanimously elected into the Hall of Fame.  He was named on all 425 ballots, a notch ahead of Ken Griffey, Jr., who was 99 per cent.  Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Mickey Mantle, Hank Aaron, Honus Wagner, Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson, among a nova of other stars, were not unanimous.  Which tells you something about the petty jackasses who didn't think they were worthy. 

Oh, yeh, Was The Sandman Looney Tunes?.  More on that in the near future.  Stay Looney tuned.

Image result for Free pictures of Mariano Rivera

“Rowan Wick is going to be a closer.  He’s got that kind of ability.  He’s got that kind of mentality.”

                     --Rick Sutcliffe, ESPN

THAT’S WHAT THE WRITERS SAY

      Rowan Wick, Cubs Rookie of the Year

Baseball beat writers are the soothsayers of the industry.  In the Windy City they scribe for papers like the Chicago Tribune and they are on duty 24/7.  They hear all the inside gossip, all the salacious stories they can’t print, all the ups and downs of every player, all the off the record accolades and attacks of the manager. 

In other words, they know what the hell is going on.

And they think Rowan Wick is the most valuable rookie for the Chicago Cubs.

That’s the story from the MLB beat writers.  Here’s their rundown on why. 

Rowan Wick, RP, age 26

"This was a season of turmoil and constant tweaking for the Cubs’ bullpen.  While Chicago mixed and matched in the later innings, Wick was the arm that emerged from the Triple-A shuttle as a stabilizing force for the Cubs relief corps.

"With a hard fastball and bristling curve, Rowan swiftly earned the trust of manager Joe Maddon and turned into the North Siders’ primary high-leverage arm down the stretch. Maddon called Wick -- acquired in the offseason from San Diego -- the “linchpin” of the Cubs’ second-half success in the bull pen."

________________________________________________________________

"Rowan has only pitched 32 innings this season but it feels like most of them have been high leverage." 
                                 --Len Kasper, Cubs play-by-play
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Image result for Free pictures of Rowan Wick

                           Another good one

________________________________________________

“Wick has attributes you like in a late inning reliever.  The ability to strike hitters out and a lot of groundball outs.

“Rowan opened up a lot of eyes in spring training.  Then in Iowa he got on a heckuva roll and forced his way on to the big league club.  And he’s just continued to do here what he was doing down there."

                                     --Jim DeShais, Cubs TV analyst
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Pitching in the Mariana Trench

Do you believe the human race is intelligent?  Yes, there is genius.  And, yes there is perception and rational thought.  A lot of it. 

But there is also a deep Mariana Trench of stupidity.  I see it every day in this game called baseball. 

Coaches who think strategy and the W are more important than Player Development.  Analysts who don't know the difference between a cutter and a running fastball.  Play-by-play illiterates who think you can get "within" one run. 

But here is the proof that the human race is as clueless as a rock.

$19.99

 

This righthander is the ace of the Mariana Trench Sharks pitching staff.  He's 16-8 with a 2.78 ERA, tops out in triple digits with a filthy slider, plus a split that dive bombs, and he scares the hell out of every hitter in the Trench League.  But he's also very smart.  He's never bought anything for $19.99 because he refuses to be treated like a fool.  Unlike human beings.

 

PROTECTING THE PITCHER’S ARM

 

Warming Up is the Gold Standard

Let me give you some wisdom to live by:

Never throw to warm-up
Always warm-up to throw

I keep repeating this because it’s as important to a pitcher as oil is for a Ferrari.  All the time I see kids come to the park, grab a baseball and begin playing catch.  Stupid. 

Young kids are flexible and for awhile they can get away with this.  But, as they grow muscle, it becomes a double edged sword.  Yes, they develop arm strength.  But, yes, those muscles begin to stress their ligaments and tendons.  And they have to learn how to reduce that stress or it becomes lethal to the elbow or shoulder.

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            Let's get him started right.  (Lisa Billingsley photo)

So let’s teach them how to take care of their arm when they’re young.  If they don’t it’s a blueprint for a sorearm--maybe not today, maybe not next month…but someday.  Especially in cold weather.

THROWING TO WARM-UP...

...means using the muscles and the joints when they are extremely vulnerable.  They're cold and tight with no blood pump.  They aren't stretched out yet and that leads to strains, pulls and even tears.  That demon you see is Tommy John surgery rearing its ugly head.

WARMING UP TO THROW...

...gets your arm, your shoulder, your back, your torso, your whole body, relaxed and loose, ready to fire on all eight-cylinders before you actually pick up a ball.  This may take 10 minutes or more--depending on the temperature and the individual.

The Texas Baseball Ranch Protocol 

NOTE: Ron Wolforth is the current guru of pitching instruction.  He’s developed more hard throwers at his Texas Baseball Ranch than IE has inane stories about Meghan and Harry.

I’ve seen a plethora of his videos and I like what he teaches very much—rhythm and tempo, getting down the hill, encouraging the pitcher to FEEL what he’s doing. These are all very cool.  Mostly because I've been teaching those same things for decades.

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                                             The Guru himself

Wolforth has a warm-up for young pitchers that goes on…and on…and on.  I won’t belabor the details.  His concept is to get the whole body super flexible and sparkplug revved up before you throw.  Which, in an ideal world, would be, well…ideal.

But, suffice it to say, it’s about as realistic for most coaches as winning the lottery.  You just don’t have time for a 30-minute session of running and jumping when you’re trying to get a kid ready to pitch in a game or throw a bull pen.  Especially if it’s a sudden decision to douse the fire in the fifth inning.  So I offer an abbreviated---but effective—alternative.

RUN…

I never recommend distance running.  In fact, running endless posts is a negative, as out of date as a telephone answering service.  Distance running magnifies SLOW TWITCH.  We are consumed by a FAST TWITCH sport.  Run SPRINTS to develop FAST TWITCH ENDURANCE, the foundation of baseball conditioning.

But…

When you are warming up start with some light jogging to increase your heart rate and get your legs woke.  Maybe to centerfield, maybe post to post and back, or even more if it’s cold.  We never want to stomp on the gas pedal if the engine isn’t warm.

And then…

SHUFFLE (Hips again)
RUNNING BACKWARDS (Basketball players seldom pull hamstrings because they run backwards so much.)
CARIOCA (Quick feet)
SPRINT (A strong finish)

          All about 30 yards, back and forth.

Image result for free pictures of lebron james

                   Did LeBron ever pull his hamstring?

…AND STRETCH

Quite frankly, the way most players stretch is a waste of time--usually a social occasion in center-field.  Current science contradicts conventional static stretches, which actually slow down muscle contraction.  Instead, stretching should be fluid, replicating the movements of the sport.  In fact, I think it was Whitey Herzog who pointed out that they didn't have as many injuries in baseball until the players started doing all this static stretching.

I prefer to see players doing knee raises, lunges, torso twists, squats, and my favorite, HIP SWINGS.  Just grab the fence and swing your leg side to side.  Baseball is a GAME OF HIPS and keeping them loose and flexible is crucial.

If you have time you can add POSTS, which are simply running or shuffling laterally from post to post on the fence, touching the ground with both hands (knees bent) to loosen the back muscles and legs.  Posts are productive for both warming up and conditioning.

Concentrate on the ones that work best for you and adjust to the time you have.  Just be fluid and get your muscles and joints loose and warm.

…JOBE'S AND TUBING

After running and stretching you’re ready to warm-up your shoulder, arm and upper back.  Jobe's are absolutely crucial for warming-up.  You don't need to do them with weights--you can just hold a ball in your hand or nothing at all.

You can buy tubing already sized with handles or pick-up some surgical tubing at a medical store and cut it into strips four feet long or six feet or whatever you prefer.  You can drill a hole in an old baseball and tie it to one end of the tubing and put a hook on the other end that attaches to a wire fence.  Or tie it through a wiffle ball.

(We’ll get into Jobe’s and Tubing exercises in the near future.)

Next, ARM CIRCLES, big sweeping swings to get your shoulder loose.
Then REVERSE CURLS for the UCL in your elbow.
And, finally, FIGURE EIGHTS, which is simply repeating the arm action of your delivery until you feel totally loose.
If you want you can finish by SHADOW BOXING your whole pitching motion.

Your goal is a warm, rich blood flow to your arm and shoulder.

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Ryan Dempster used Jobe's to keep his arm in shape for three seasons with me and the North Shore Twins and then 16 years in the big leagues.    

…THROWING

You run.  You stretch.  You do Jobe's.  You get fluid with tubing and Figure Eights.

Now you're warm and loose and ready to throw.  Start by playing easy catch, gradually lengthening it out.  Concentrate on arm action, follow through and focus.

If you LONG TOSS crow-hop as you stretch it out.  Long tossing is a great way to strengthen your arm but, if you're warming up to pitch, you shouldn't long toss too much and you may pass on it entirely.  Some pitchers like to long toss before a start and some don't.  Your call.

...ON THE MOUND

Start by CROW-HOPPING down the hill.  We want MOMENTUM.  We want TEMPO.  And we want ENERGY.  Maybe six to eight crow-hops and then the normal PRE-GAME routine.  (We’ll also go into that next time.)

…KEEP TO YOUR ROUTINE

This is where you need a coach who plans ahead and gets you started on time.  Let’s say it’s the top of the fourth and he suddenly announces you’re pitching the fifth.  Get out there and get it going right now.

When you're tight for time before a bull pen or in a game there's a temptation to cut your warm-up short.  Forget about it. Always warm-up properly.  Rushing to get ready can lead to injury and no game or practice is worth hurting your arm.  Once again:

Never throw to warm-up
Always warm-up to throw

That should be stapled to your forehead.  And posted in the dug-out.  It’s a Pitcher’s Commandment.

 

THE ESSENCE OF A PROFESSIONAL

      Rowan Wick’s Best Inning Ever

Rowan Wick took a roller coaster ride Thursday in San Diego.  And carved out the best inning of his young career. 

On paper it didn’t look that way.  On paper it looked mediocre.  But you don’t pitch on paper.  You pitch on the hill.

Let me take you through an inning that defines a professional pitcher as well as Marlon Brando defined acting.

                                Maddon hands Wick the ball.  No, really.

Bottom of the ninth, the Cubs holding a 4-0 hammerlock over the Padres.  With Craig Kimbrel shut down Mr. Wick has become the de facto Cubs closer.

As usual Rowan challenges everyone.  He starts Nick Martini with a swinging strike on 96 heat.  But then Martini, Stirred not Shaken, reaches out and pokes a limp, loopy pop up down the left field line.  Kyle Schwarber, never known for his sparkling range, lets it drop for a double as anemic as an iron deficient 102-year-old great great grandpa.

Harm, but no foul.

So, Wil Myers steps in.  He takes a pair of fastballs on the black.  They are both strikes but Wil, who desperately needs another l, disagrees violently.  In fact, he’s as pissed as a teenager who’s smartphone won’t transmit porn any more.  Myers erupts like a volcano and is ejected faster than acid eats through cellophane.

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                         Will Wil find his l?

Bye, bye, Wil, go find out where that other l is hiding.  Hello, Travis Jankowski.

Rowan rips a blitzkrieg curveball that is so bleeping nasty Babe Ruth couldn’t hit it with a stick three feet wide.  So bleeping filthy it needs to shower every 30 minutes.  So bleeping vicious it busts straight down like it’s hungry for dirt.  So bleeping unhittable…oh, to hell with it.

(Let me confess.  For two years I’ve been telling Rowan he should deep six his curveball and go with the cutter/slider.  But I was wrong.  I know, I know, I’m never wrong.  So this is a delusional confession.  Just ignore it.)

At any rate Jankowski has as much chance as a fly in a tornado.  First K.

Bring on Eric Hosmer, who emulates Martini, Stirred not Shaken, and also reaches out and pokes a single to left, this one at least somewhat of a line drive.  First and third with one out.  No foul, possible harm.

Josh Naylor strikes out swinging for K2.

_______________________________________________

         "I felt like I was in control of the entire inning."
_______________________________________________

Ty France steps in.  Here is where I umpire bash, my favourite pastime outside of drinking red wine.  After the passionate out-burst from Wil “Whatever Happened to That Second L” Myers the umpire is reluctant to call a borderline strike and he squeezes Rowan like your Unfriendly Neighbourhood Monty Python.  (That one takes some thought.)

Three 96 heaters either on Black or Belt.  The last one was clearly Zone and France even took a checked three-quarter hack that would have been a double if he’d made contact.  Ball four.

So now the sacks are as drunk as Harry Caray in the seventh.  And who steps in to pinch hit for the first time in his career?  None other than Manny “No One Has Ever Called Me Mr. Hustle” Machado, the most overrated $300 million charade since Aerosmith took the stage.

          Even Robert Redford Couldn't Hit This Stuff

It is a moment to rival Redford in The Natural.  Bring on the shattered floodlights spewing sparkling shards of movie magic.

Wick is no fool, of course, and he nibbles a bit, falling behind before drilling Machado on the shoulder with an errant deuce.  4-1, still loaded.

At which point Rowan slams the door shut like a nightclub bouncer in heat.  He strikes out Luis Urias twice, Once Not Called on 96 at the belt (when did the belt become high?) and then with another dive bomb breaking ball on the outside corner that freezes Urias but not the umpire for a change.  K3.

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                       Cue the shattering floodlights.   

So paper says two hits, a walk, an HBP.  And one earned run.

But Rowan’s best inning ever.

Neither hit was a howitzer.  One as limp as spaghetti.  And he was squeezed like a hug from a sumo wrestler.

But he still posted KKK.  And that has nothing to do with Grand Wizards.

What’s more, Rowan looked as composed as a Buckingham Palace guard.  He was in command, in charge, unshaken by bad fortune or an umpire who thought the strike zone was four inches wide and six inches deep.

“I felt like I was in control of the entire inning,” he told me later.

          One Pitch at a Time.  Persevere.  Battle. 

That’s what it’s all about.  One Pitch at a Time.  Don’t let anything derail you.  Persevere.  Compete.  Battle like The Mafiosa are at the door.

And here’s the clincher.  Joe Maddon stayed with him, trusted him, knew Rowan was as solid as Grand Coulee Dam.

Innings like that define you as a pitcher.  They define you as a winner.  They define you as a man.  Innings like that are all about character.

Anybody can dominate when it’s serendipity.  But, when it gets rough and tumble out there, when the ride has more speed bumps than a paranoid parking lot, that’s when you have to Make Your Bones.

Innings like that are the Essence of a Professional.              

             From the 2008 Olympics.  Maybe the best baseball pic ever.

 

PROTECTING THE PITCHER’S ARM

 

Most MLB Coaches Don’t Have a Clue

If I owned an MLB team I’d fire all the pitching coaches and trainers in the organization.  Immediately.    

Most of them are blatantly incompetent.  Is that arrogant enough?

I’m not going to dissect technique or analytics or grips or conditioning right now.  We’ll get to that later.  Today is about the one Omnipotent Priority of Pitching.  And the one thing  a lot of coaches know virtually nothing about. 

Protecting the Pitcher’s Arm. 

Two years ago the Seattle Mariners had four of their starting rotation on the DL, including James Paxton and King Felix.  That’s roughly $60 million worth of hurlers sitting on their butts instead of standing on the clay.  Hernandez alone was pulling down $27 mill.  To not pitch.

If you were the CEO of a billion dollar company selling SUV’s and they kept breaking down would you keep paying the same designers?  Or find somebody who could keep your machines on the road?

 

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                      Sit on your butt, King Felix.  No more K's for you.

Two of the best young flamethrowers in the game, Jordan Hicks, who pops 104 mph, and Michael Kopech, who also demolishes triple digits, are both out with Tommy John.  Baseball eats its young.

And one General Manager once said, “They should all have Tommy John right away to get it over with.”

On a Stupidity Scale of one to 10 that pounds a 25 and rising.

                  You can only throw 104?  Welcome to the knife.

In the next couple of weeks we’ll dissect the Tommy John dissection.  And we’ll examine why eight out of 11 of the top high school prospects drafted in the past two years crashed and burned.

Did you get that one?  MLB paid these kids about $70 million in bonus largesse.  And then (bleeped) their arms faster than a lightning streak.  That’s like using a suitcase of thousand dollar bills for toilet paper.

This young and vulnerable talent is at the mercy of clowns who think TJ is Trans Gender spelled wrong.

The dreaded Tommy John. Or is it? Some lunatic parents are actually having their teenager go under the knife because they think he’ll gain velo after the surgery.

          Slicing into your elbow...it's an epidemic

We’ll just slice into your elbow and replace the ligament with a tendon from elsewhere in your body.  No problem.  Of course, you’ll be sidelined for at least a year and you may never pitch again. 

Let’s go for it.

After all, you’re just another side of beef hanging from a hook in the meat locker.  And we have sides of beef lined up like sheep.  Bye, bye, have a good career as a bank clerk.

_____________________________________________________________

"They should all have TJ right away to get it over with."
                    --An MLB GM with an IQ in single digits

_________________________________________________

We’ll talk about Tommy John at length.  And much more.  Like avoiding elbow soreness and shoulder inflammation, warming up properly, solid mechanics so you’re throwing with your whole body, Jobe’s exercises, The Thrower’s Ten, wind sprints, the Mythology of Pitch Counts, abusive coaches, See How Easily You Can Throw Hard, and the most important safe guard of all…

Rest and Healing.

Hear ye, hear ye, Lo and Behold, we’ll unveil the secret of How To Keep Your Son’s Arm Healthy and Strong.  If you care.

Because most coaches, from here to the MLB, have no idea.

 

First a taste, a teaser to kick it off

 

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   Trent Thornton's Leg Kick, I Kid You Not

Buck Martinez tells us Pete Walker is a good pitching coach.  And I imagine he is.  But why hasn’t he made a simple correction?  Change Thornton’s moronic leg kick into a knee raise.

Thornton’s foot shoots out toward 3B like a heat seeking missile.  That’s jarring.  It pulls him off balance.  His center of gravity is somewhere in Winnipeg.  Leg kicks are as inefficient as drinking coffee with a fork.  They went out of style with disco.  Kicking your foot out makes as much sense as texting while walking on a tightrope.

          Bad mechanics are the Genesis of Arm Injuries

Pitchers have learned Leg Kicking is as stupid as falling down on a sidewalk because you love the taste of concrete.  Hardly anyone leg kicks any more.  Except Trent Thornton.

If Thornton keeps these mechanics his Command will always be as shaky as a drunk on skates.  And he’ll be back in AAA.  Or headed for TJ.

All he has to do is bend his knee and curl his foot under.  That’s a simple adjustment a 10-year-old could make in five minutes.

As long as he doesn’t pitch for the Toronto Blue Jays.

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And this is Mariano Rivera, who had the most perfect delivery ever.  This is a Knee Raise, which translates into words like Balance, Center of Gravity, Superb Rotation and...well, I'm sure you get it.

 

WHEN DOES HIP ROTATION SURRENDER TO FLAB?

          Vlady, The Junior versus The Panda

Vlady, The Junior takes a sharp breaking ball on the corner, on the knees.  Called strike.  Because it is.

And, true to the Jose Bautista Credo of Whining Every Chance You Get, he enlists the Hitter’s Code.  If it isn’t Down The Middle and Exactly Six Inches Below The Belt it must be called a ball.  If not, the Men in Black are Out To Get Me.  (Is that enough caps for one stupid rant?)

So Vlady, The Junior swirls a wild cut at a deuce a foot off the plate just to show his contempt.  Which brings a whole new meaning to Passive Aggressive. 

At which point Vlady, The Junior heads to the dugout, although not before spewing a few choice words in Spanish at pristine arbiter Mike Estabrook. 

But Vlady, The Junior doesn’t know the umpire speaks seven different languages, including Latin, the Cantonese Guangzhou dialect and Gibberish, and is so fluent in Latino cursing he’s a Dominican legend.  Bye, bye, Vlady.   

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Memo to Vlady, The Junior.  Instead of whining about borderline strikes why don’t you go a little easier on the La Bandera, cassava and sweet coconut cream.   

Vlady, The Junior is a Fat Slob.  His belly shades into the left-hand batter’s box.  Glutes give you power.  But Junior’s glutes are monster slabs of avoirdupois.  His rear end resembles an aircraft carrier.  His center of gravity is the center of gravity.  His waist is measured in feet, not inches.

Which, of course, is a source of pride for the Blue Jays.  They often lead the league in Fat Slobdem, everyone from Melky to Morales.

          Hammer Them With Your Butt

In fact, Kendrys is renowned for his mentoring young players, according to Super Sycophant Buck Martinez, and Vlady is one of his star pupils.  Morales undoubtedly taught Guerrero how to bump everyone into the Jacuzzi when the post game spread glistens.  You have to be aggressive, Vlady, just hammer them with your butt, get to the pizza and pork chops before those damn pitchers dig in.

And here’s what I don’t understand.  I saw Vlady, The Senior roam the outfield in the rookie Gulf Coast League.  Lean and ripped.

And I saw Vlady, The Senior in the High A Florida State League.  Lean and ripped.

And I watched Vlady, The Senior through his 16-year Hall of Fame career.  Still lean.  Still ripped.

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                              Like father, like...

So has Vlady, The Senior forgotten how to speak Spanish?  We hear Junior chows down on Grandma’s home cooking.  C’mon, Senior, talk to her.  Maybe try a salad every decade or so.

Because the Blue Jays aren’t going to be much help.  Apparently, there is no one in their organization who can spell N-U-T-R-I-T-I-O-N.  Just too many syllables.  Three of them.  Way too complicated

Vlady, The Junior has electric bat speed and he’s somewhat nimble at 3B.  Somewhat.

But here’s the First Commandment of crushing a Rawlings.  Bat speed is inexorably linked to hip rotation.  Each pound of blob circling your belly slams on the brakes to hip explosions.

If Vlady, The Junior continues his quest to match The Panda in Hall of Fat Slobdem, he will eat his way out of the league before he learns how to curse umpires in English.  And that would be a damn shame because the kid has so much talent.

Of course, there’s always sumo wrestling.

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   I'm on the All You Can Eat diet.  And it seems to be working fine.

 

This is an excerpt from a HUFFPOST Canada story.  The fear this wonderful dog endured for over two months makes me sick to my stomach.

WHAT WE DO TO ANIMALS

           The Nightmare of Odie, the Boxador

When Odie saw a mother bear close to his young humans on their Sault Ste. Marie farm, he did what any good boy would do. 

The three-year-old “Boxador” (Boxer-Labrador mix) chased the bear away.  But he strayed off the five-acre property and was picked up and brought to the local pound.

And that’s when his 65-day nightmare began. 

Odie, a three-year-old Boxador, was detained by an Ontario pound for 65 days because it thought he was...

                                                                        --Andrew Laconis photo

The Sault Ste. Marie Humane Society assumed Odie was a pit bull and  Jennifer Santana was breaking the law by owning him and allowing him to stray.

Santana couldn't provide documentation that Odie was a Boxador. She was charged and the pound kept Odie and wouldn’t allow any visits.

Santana said it was truly devastating for her family, including her 9 and 10-year-old children and their other dog, a black lab named Ebony.  What’s more, Odie is Santana’s gentle wingman, who helps her manage her severe social anxiety.

Jennifer Santana, her daughter Isabell and

                                                                        --Andrew Laconis photo

“The outside world isn’t easy for me to navigate. He keeps me at peace, wakes me up and keeps me going,” she said. “Even simple things like going to the grocery store, he stays in the truck and I’m OK because I know he’s there if anything bad happens.”

Last year when a barn cat had kittens, Odie carried them gently into his dog bed to cuddle. Every morning when he hears Santana or her kids  get out of bed, he slides down the hallway to wait at their doors, a move they call the “Odie slide.”

“For the last 65 days, I dreaded getting out of bed because I’d never get an Odie slide,” Santana said.

The humane society was legally allowed to detain him because Odie has characteristics similar to a pit bull but Santana’s lawyer Bobby Russon says the definition is “insanely broad.” If the court found Odie was a pit bull he would have been euthanized.

 Odie has no history of aggression and gets along well with her other pets, including kittens, and

                   He sure looks vicious, doesn't he?

 Odie has no history of aggression and gets along well with pets and children.  But the humane society said it’s required to follow regulations for pit bull type dogs.  Eventually the  Canadian Kennel Club determined Odie was, in fact, a Boxador, “an extremely popular cross-breed.”

Still, it took weeks before the charges were finally dropped and Odie came home.  Santana said Ebony “went berserk” greeting him. And, when she sat down, he curled up on her lap.

          Eight Broken Teeth and Facial Abrasions

 Odie is still on-edge and has eight broken teeth and abrasions on his face from “trying to claw out from his cell” Santana said.  “He couldn’t eat dog kibble this morning because his teeth hurt. It’s disgusting.”

She’s hoping with some love, he will soon be back to his old self.  But she wants the law changed.  “It doesn’t work. They discriminated against my dog and psychologically and physically harmed him. I will do whatever it takes.”

Russon took the case pro bono because he “believes in the cause.” His best friend GeorDee is a bull dog mix that could also be mistaken for a pit bull.

Lawyer Bobby Russon's dog GeorDee, a very good girl and bull dog

                                  And so does GeorDee

“She has a wide jaw, pronounced chest, and short hair. She could easily be caught up under ... the act. Knowing how that would make me feel — how could I not help out?” he said.

Russon says the act was to promote responsible dog ownership and clarity in civil liability cases of dog bites.  But he adds, “The breed-specific element was an amendment in 2005. It needs to go. There is zero evidence that pit bulls are inherently dangerous.”                                                                                 

 

THE BRINGER OF DRIZZLE STRIKES AGAIN

    $638,000 Just to Step on the Diamond

They are Toronto Blue Jays fans.  So I understand. 

Still, it’s hard to believe.

The Bringer of Drizzle, the Immortal Candy Ass Josh Donaldson, returned to Rogers Centre on Tuesday.  First there was a video tribute to The Bringer of Mist.  And then the sycophantic fans opened their hearts and gave him a roaring standing ovation as the Bringer of Overcast tipped his hat like The Saviour Himself returning to bless his flock.

Of course.  They are Blue Jays fans.

Last season The Bringer of Drips played in 36 games for the Jays.  And pocketed $23 million.  Five home runs.  Sixteen RBI’s.

Roughly, that’s $638,000 every time he took the field.  For 99 per cent of the people who stagger through life on this spinning globe that’s a fortune about as accessible as owning a yacht and a Lear jet.  For Donaldson it was one day at the office.

Or $4.6 million for every jack.

Or $1,437,500 for each time he drove in a run.

Nice work if you can get it.  So why only 36 games?

  See the source image

 Omigawd, don't land.  You might scrape your uniform. And sit out another 126.

Well, The Bringer of Sweat was injured.  Wow, you say, it must have been an extremely serious injury for him to miss 126 games.  Tommy John surgery?  A broken femur?  Two or three concussions?  A cracked rib?

Even a hockey player or J.J. Watt would have to sit those injuries out.  Maybe.

_____________________________________________________

               J.J. Wouldn't Even Know His Calf was Sore

J.J. Watt aced the 2015 season with the Houston Texans playing with more injuries than Sonny Corleone.  His groin muscle was ripped so far it was almost detached from the bone.  He had a fracture in his left hand.  And a herniated disc.

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“You fight through excruciating pain,” Watt said.  “You just grind through it.  If I can physically step on the field to play, I’m going to.  That’s just the way it is.”
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So what was the terrible injury that sidelined the Bringer of Steam?

Well, he had a sore calf muscle.  Yeh, it was really sore.  Very sore.  It was sore, see, Rico?

That’s right.  He collected $23 million but he couldn’t play because his calf was sore.  Poor baby.

It was sore.  He could hit and he could even run somewhat.  But his calf was sore.  It was.

Now you might say he could have taken his cuts and even trot to first base and he’d get down there faster than lard ass Kendrys Morales.  You might say that.  After all, I mentioned he was getting paid $23 million, didn’t I?  How Candy Ass Sore would you have to be to sit on your butt if you were making 23 plus six zeroes?

So the fans gave him a standing O.  Remember, they are Blue Jays fans.

Maybe they should invite him home, hand him the keys to their condo and  SUV, write him a cheque to clean out their bank account, borrow 500k to give him lunch money, and sign over their mother’s estate.

And then tell him to sit down and rest before his calf starts to ache.  What the hell, this is the Narcissist Bringer of Bull Shit we’re talking about.

_______________________________________

“If you're 10 years old and your coach says get on top of the ball, tell him no.  In the big leagues these things they call ground balls are outs. They don't pay you for ground balls, they pay you for doubles and home runs.”

                          --Josh Donaldson
__________________________________________________

 

OR DO YOU LISTEN TO GRIFFEY, JR.? 

       The Bringer of Drizzle Speaks Drivel

I chuckle when I read the endless Donaldson tributes that spew non-stop out of the bowels of Toronto’s sports columnists and pseudo gurus.  Somehow they equate The Bringer of Drizzle with Robin Hood, the Lone Ranger and Gordon Lightfoot.

Or is it Geddy Lee.

              Can Geddy also play third base?

Donaldson didn't play for over three months because he had a “sore” calf muscle.  A sore calf muscle.  A sore…calf muscle.  It was sore.  And, what the hell, if they’re only paying you $23 million to play a little boy’s game why would you suit up when your calf is sore.

Apparently, he now claims the calf was ruptured.  In which case why was he working out at all?

The quote?  It’s classic.  The guy is even more of a clown than I thought.

I can only imagine how many guys coaching kids from 8 to 18 went into a Spasm of Cringing over that one.  Maybe a few even had heart attacks.

I have never taught hitters to get on top of the ball.  That makes no sense at all.  So I agree with Josh there.  But I also don’t want them upper cutting.  That just leads to long, looping swings and they’re dead meat when a pitcher brings even medium heat.

_________________________________________________________________________________

"I never tried to hit home runs.  I just wanted to hit line drives.  If I got under it a bit it went into the seats."

           Hall of Famer Ken Griffey, Jr.
who only hit 630 jacks, so what the hell does he know?
____________________________________________________

I just want solid barrel contact.  Inside the ball, direct to the ball, through the ball.  That simple.  As Chipper Jones pointed out (when he took a swing at Donaldson’s asinine philosophy) he tried to hammer the ball off the outfield fence from pole to pole, which gave the Rawlings backspin and 747 lift off.

Backspin and Jacks speak the same language.  It’s called DiamondDustese.

I’m not much of a fan of some dude named Chipper, unless he’s still in diapers.  But in this case his advice is as good as Bitcoins.  And Chipper is also in the Hall of Fame.

                     What's that you see?  It's drizzle and drivel 

Where are the most base hits?  If you guessed groundballs up the middle or in the hole you win a million dollars, courtesy of John Donaldson who has a few to spare.  Even The Shift hasn’t Deep Sixed that trend.

Line drives and hard groundballs produce the most hits and the most runs.  Isn’t that the point?  And every youth coach knows fly balls are outs.  Outs.  Outs.

          Fly balls are outs.

Very few young hitters have the power to leave the yard.  Especially when you consider that amateur ball parks are quite often bigger than MLB fields, a fact that somehow seems out of whack.

Kids play on diamonds 330 down the line.  A lot of MLB band boxes aren't that deep.  Griffey loved hitting in the Kingdome because it was 312 down the right field line, which gave him a leg up on the Hall.  When they built Safeco he defected from Seattle to slug for the Reds.

      312 down the line?  Not much bigger than a bantam park.

So how many fly ball outs will a kid survive before he just quits in frustration and plays lacrosse?  And does Josh Jackass give a damn that he's screwing up a lot of kids?  Thanks, Josh.

Kids should just learn to hit.  Solid contact.  Don’t even think about home runs.  The power will come as you mature.  That makes a lot more sense than a 10-year-old upper cutting to loft hopeless fly ball outs as preached by the Bringer of Drizzle.

Who didn't play for over three months because he had a sore calf muscle.

Yes, his calf was sore.  For $23 million a lot of dudes would play with a broken leg.

                 Boog, Eduardo and Sutt

ESPN.  Jon "Boog" Sciambi, the most entertaining play-by-play honcho in the business.  Eduardo Perez.  And Rick Sutcliffe.

Eduardo has a Ted Lilly anecdote.  I like Ted Lilly.  I had dinner with Ryan Dempster, Mark DeRosa and Lilly in Phoenix in spring training many moons ago.  Ted Lilly is a good dude.  (This is blatant name-dropping...but I'm a blatant name-dropper.)

Sutcliffe is also a name-dropper.  He tells a story about Sandy Koufax giving Orel Hershiser a tip--hook your cleats on the rubber.

Eduardo grins humbly.  "I say Ted Lilly...and he says Koufax."

Sciambi counters with the time Koufax actually sat next to him in the booth.  It was like having God drop by your condo for lunch.

Eduardo and Sutcliffe laugh.  Game over.  Sutcliffe throws a no-hitter.

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     Notice the wrist hook, a Sutcliffe trademark, but not recommended.

Unless you're a dinosaur like me you never saw Sandy Koufax pitch.  I feel sorry for you.  Koufax wasn't just special.  He wasn't just Hall of Fame.  He wasn't just Unhittable or Lights Out or Dominating or The Terminator.

None of those words even come close.  Sandy Koufax was...

LEAD WITH YOUR HIP

          The Greatest Pitcher Who Ever Lived

There are certain things I know for sure.

I know that love is loyalty.  I know that animals are innocent and should be protected from vile trophy hunters.  I know that eating fish and fruit and vegetables will keep you strong and energized.    

And I know, without the slightest doubt, that Sandy Koufax is the greatest pitcher who ever lived.

Yes, Pedro and Verlander and Clemens and Sherzer and Rivera and Seaver and Maddux and DeGrom and Gibson and Nolan Ryan and Kershaw and Johnson and Feller and Aroldis are all awesome.

But Koufax was ineffable.  INEFFABLE.

I was never a Dodger fan.  I liked the Yankees.  But you didn't have to be a fan to truly appreciate Sanford Koufax.  He was the most overpowering pitcher ever--blistering fastball, a 12 to 6 curveball that broke nose to toes, and a cobra change-up. In his youth he had trouble throwing strikes--but when Sandy got command…fo-get about it…

September 9, 1965—Perfect Koufax

Let me take you back to the most memorable game of a career studded with great moments.

On Sept. 9, 1965 Koufax threw a perfect game at Dodger Stadium, handcuffing the Cubs 1-0.  "I would think the last two or three innings of that game are as well as I've ever pitched," he said, later.
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"I had to climb up closer to the hitters than usual because his breaking ball broke straight down and you almost had to reach up underneath to catch it."
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"There was nobody who was going to hit Sandy Koufax that day," said Cubs third baseman Ron Santo.  "He just kept throwing fastballs right by you.  You were just overmatched."

The Dodger catcher that night was Jeff Torborg, who later managed the Florida Marlins.  "Sandy didn't have his exceptional stuff early in that game," Torborg said.  "But he got it together in the sixth or seventh and he really started to let it fly.  He sniffed it.  You could see it in his eyes."

          "I'll be right back"

After striking out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, Joey Amalfitano walked passed Harvey Kuenn, who was on-deck.  "You'd better be ready," he warned Kuenn, "because he's getting it up there real good."

Kuenn replied, "Wait for me, Joey.  I'll be right back."

Koufax struck out 14 Cubs that night--including the last six hitters he faced.  Besides a fastball that was second to none, Sandy threw "the best curveball I've ever seen," says Torborg.  "I had to climb up closer to the hitters than usual because his breaking ball broke straight down and you had to reach up underneath to catch it."

Cubs receiver Chris Krug agreed.  "Frankly, he had the best fastball, the best curveball and the best change-up.  And he could get them over most any time he wanted.  He was unhittable."

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“Sandy Koufax was the most dominating pitcher I ever saw.  I was on his level in certain games.  But I wasn’t as consistent as Sandy Koufax.”

    --NOLAN RYAN,  who threw 7 no-hitters, 12 one-hitters, plus 5,714 K's                                                                 with a flamethrowing heater over 100 mph.      ___________________________________________________________________

Some incomparable Sandy Stats:

In his last five seasons Koufax was 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA.
In 1965 he struck out 382.
He threw no-hitters four years in a row.
He was 25-5 in 1963 with a 1.88 ERA.

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"I stopped pressing after I learned that, if you fail, life will still go on.  I changed my mechanics and learned to pitch.  I learned to control myself.  Instead of trying to do something 100%, I left a little--giving maybe 95 to 99%."
_____________________________________________________

         Throwing 90 at 50

Koufax had an arthritic elbow that forced him to retire far too early--at the age of 30.  Putting it all in perspective he said, "I've got a lot of years to live after baseball.  I’d like to live them with the complete use of my body."

Nonetheless, there's a story I heard a few years ago about Koufax heating it up in Dodgertown when he was in his 50's.  And throwing 90 mph.

I don't believe that story.  It must be apocryphal.  It has to be.  Nobody in his fifties can throw 90 mph.  Nobody.  But...this is Sandy Koufax we're talking about…

_____________________________________________________

"I can understand how he won 25 games.  But I don't understand how he lost five."

                 --Legendary Yankee catcher Yogi Berra
after facing Koufax in the World Series.
_____________________________________________________

And, so, you ask, what is the point of this endless tale?  Just wait, I'm getting there.

A few years ago I heard Bob Brenly doing analysis on a telecast and he was talking about Koufax.  He mentioned that Sandy stressed leading with your hip.  And that, friends, is the point.

When you start forward in your delivery LEAD WITH YOUR HIP.  That will keep you loaded and stop you from rushing your upper body.

There are three things I'll point out about this picture.  1) Sandy leading with his hip.  2) The TILT he gets as he loads.  And 3) Notice how his post foot is hooked on the rubber.  That was a Koufax trick to get extra leverage.  Of course, you can only do it on a pro mound with the proper clay and maintenance.

Watch just about any great pitcher and you'll see it.  They all lead with their hip.  I stress this with our pitchers.  Knee raise and then, as you drive toward the plate, your lower body always goes first.  Your upper body is along for the ride until you reach the Power Triangle and Explode. 

          LEAD WITH YOUR HIP.

How do I know?  Well, I may be stupid, but I'd have to be an utter moron to ignore anything Sandy Koufax says.  When Koufax talks, I listen.  He's the best ever.

And that I know for sure.

                 Koufax and the curveball

Sandy Koufax has exceptionally long fingers.   

CLINT HOSFORD shook hands with him in Dodgertown and came
away amazed at the size of Sandy’s hands.  That may explain why
Koufax had such a great nose to toes curveball.  Long fingers give
you tremendous snap on a breaking ball.  Of course, you have no
control over that and there are a whole lot of pitchers who throw
great hammers with smaller hands.

 Koufax was an extraordinary athlete.  Legend has it he was such a good basketball player he could have gone into the NBA right out of high school.

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 "Trying to hit Koufax is like drinking coffee with a fork.”

--Pittsburgh's WILLIE STARGELL, who crushed 475 home runs in 21 seasons. 

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       The Tragic Destruction of Young Players

 

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“The youth-sports industry is a $15 billion business.  And more and more that business pushes children to make decisions way too early about which sport to play and to pursue that sport to the exclusion of all others.  And their bodies are paying the price."

                        --The legendary Tommy John                                                                                            

 I ASK ARISTOTLE, PLATO AND EINSTEIN

           What the Hell is a Cutter/Slider?

I use this term all the time.

A cutter breaks a few inches sideways and slightly down.  It’s really a fastball with a sight cut.

If you ever watched Mariano Rivera on the hill you saw a Cutter as Pure as Arctic Ice.  When I asked Justin Morneau he said, ”I know he’s throwing the cutter but it looks like a fastball so I swing and suddenly it busts in on my hands and breaks the bat.”

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                              He had a perfect delivery and a perfect cutter.

A slider moves a lot more, often 10 to 12 inches both sideways and down.

So they’re easy to separate, right?

Think again.

You ace a cutter by holding the ball off-center and throwing the outside of the ball.  There’s very little turn of the hand.

The grip is the same for the slider but you make a half turn of your palm at release.  Presto, a much bigger break.  Which also places a lot more stress on the elbow.

So, what happens when you turn your hand just a little bit more than a pure cutter?  And then just a tad more?  And then just a shade more?  The break gradually gets bigger, like a hole in a dam leaking water.

Which brings us to the enigma that has tortured philosophers for decades:

          When does a Cutter become a Slider?

Don’t ask the TV guys.  They see Sliders and call them Cutters all the time.  One clown even called a running fastball a cutter.

So I asked Aristotle.  “In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous,” he said.  “There is no great genius without some touch of madness.”

Image result for Aristotle

Okay.  All right.  I think.

So now I went to Plato.  “We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark, the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light,” he said, enigmatically.  “Wise men talk because they have something to say, fools because they have to say something.”

Well.  That certainly clears it up.

But I needed more, so I went to Friedrich Nietzsche’s crib for some existential enlightenment.  “That which does not kill us makes us stronger,” he said.  So that’s where Hemingway got that quote.  “The individual always struggles to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe.  If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened.  But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

Hmm.  I agree.  But...

Finally, I turned to Einstein, who must have the answer.  “If you can’t explain it simply,” he said, “you don’t understand it well enough.”  All right, now we’re getting somewhere.

 Image result for Einstein

 “Two things are infinite,” he added, “the Universe and Human Stupidity.  And I’m not sure about the Universe.”  And then he winked.  “They weren’t throwing cutters or sliders when I played shortstop.”

So that’s why I call them Cutter/Sliders.  Because no one knows when a Cutter becomes a Slider.  It’s like asking How Many Angels Can Dance on the Head of a Pin.  Or something like that.

Zito, Mulder, Hudson, Koch, Tejada

          The Utter Bull Shit of Moneyball

I’m watching Brad Pitt in Moneyball on TSN.  And trying hard not to hurl chunks.  There's never been a movie more stuffed with the stench of horse manure.  

This mendacious flick created The Legend of Billy Beane and made him  the highest profile GM since Branch Rickey.  Billy, the story goes, is a diamond heretic who thinks so far outside the batter's box he's taking his cuts in a cage atop the Golden Gate Bridge.  In the Baseball Almanac  under the word Rebel you see his selfie.  Paul Anka was channeling Billy Beane when he wrote My Way for the Ineffable Righthander Sinatra.  

I like all that.

But Moneyball should be renamed Pure Unadulterated Unmitigated Garbage. 

                                                             Billy Beane, the Rebel

Michael Lewis wrote the book that spawned the movie.  Lewis is an exceptional writer and The Big Short is his masterpiece.  But if you really believe this farce Bernie Madoff has a drawer full of stock, bonds, and ghosts with your name tattooed top right.

Are you interested in reality?  I didn't think so.  Reality is so mundane compared to Brad Pitt.  But, what the hell, welcome to the Oakland Mundanes.

The A's won 103 games in 2002.  What’s more, they ticked off 20 victories in a row that August, which happens about as often as Clayton Kershaw gets bombed in the first inning.  But this rock and roll was not ignited by Scott Hatteberg or Chad Bradford.  Try these names:

Tejada
Hudson
Zito
Mulder
Koch
Liddle

Miguel Tejada put up astronomical numbers in 2002.  He ripped 204 hits for a .308 average.  He scorched 34 jacks and drove in 131 runs.  He also scored 108 times.  But then, of course, he was only a shortstop and that’s not a very important position, is it?  After all, middle infielders drive in 131 digits all the time.  Don't they?  Sure they do.

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                    Okay, so 34 jacks and 131 ribbies.  But who cares?

Tejada was Oakland's MVP by 50,000 miles.  But was he even mentioned in the movie?

Okay, Hatteberg did notch .280 with 68 RBI’s.  So, obviously, he deserves star billing because he fits the Billy Beane Protocol and the Sabermetrics of Bill James.  Right?  The truth be known, Beane dissed Tejada, calling him a wild free swinger, which didn’t fit the Moneyball Code of Honour.  So ignore a truckload of big flies and clutch runs by the most dominant shortstop the A's have ever seen.

Image result for Bernie Madoff

Well, look, I've got this team, see, called the A's and they do it all with Sabermetrics, to hell with home runs and RBI's and those asshole useless pitchers, these guys are all about on base percentage and .250 hitters and I can sell you a share for 50 grand, no questions asked, and please don't ask for a receipt.

        68 and 25 and the Southpaw Assassin who shot JFK

Which brings us to the real reason the A’s were Top Dogs.  Take a look a these numbers.

Barry Zito, 23-5 and 2.75.
Mark Mulder, 19-7 and 3.47
Tim Hudson 15-9 and 2.98
On top of that the closer, Billy Koch, went 11-4 and gunned 44 saves.

As a Quartet of Lethal Terminators those guys were 68 and 25.  That’s as good as it gets, like selling a script to Steven Spielberg.  All the Sabermetric Analytics from here to Tuscaloosa don't mean dung compared to pitching that powerful.

         Barry Zito.  Did he really assassinate JFK?  Or did he just win 23 games?

So, of course, you heard Brad Pitt piling on the praise for Zito and Mulder and Hudson and Koch over and over in the movie.  Over and over and over.  You heard that.  You did.  You didn’t?  Well, at one point I think he told Hudson to throw his slider more, or something like that.  Perfect recognition of a great pitching staff.

I guess 68 and 25 doesn’t compare to Bradford’s four wins.

Cory Liddle?  Well, he was only 8-10 but he won five straight in August with a 0.20 ERA and that included three victories when the A’s put up their ineffable 20-game streak.  By the way, Koch had either the win or the save in 12 of those games.

Moneyball is an interesting movie.  And Lewis is a brilliant writer.  But it’s all a farce, as far from reality as the fairy tale of the delusional conspiracy addicts who believe JFK was iced by the Soldiers from Saturn.  Or Jimmy Hoffa.  Or Babe Ruth.  That’s it.  Ruth pulled the trigger.

Hmm.  Or was it Barry Zito, the Southpaw Assassin?

 

1.72 ERA 19 K’s in 15.2 innings

          And the Beat Goes On

Manager Joe Maddon kept pushing the pause button, waiting for the right spot, the inning he needed Rowan Wick the most.  Waiting…waiting…three days, four days…wipe out games in either direction…and then, finally, after five days of rest, it was on the line.

With the Cubs clipping the Cincinnati Reds 6-3 in the seventh it was time for Rowan to command the hill.  And he did. 

Rowan struck out Josh Vanmeter with an elevated 96 at the letters and got Nick Senzel on a routine groundball with a slider.  Which brought fellow Canadian Joey Votto to the plate.

Votto is the epitome of a grinder and a pro.  Rowan worked him upstairs with heat, down with a sharp breaking curveball, then 97 on the outside corner.  Votto fouled off four pitches before taking a cutter at the belt for strike three.

Inning over.  But more to come.

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               Just How Good Is Joey Votto?

We took the Vancouver Cannons to Phoenix every March for spring training in the Arizona heat.  That included an MLB preseason game, of course, and one year it was the Reds.

I studied Votto’s first AB against a lefthander with a certain fascination.  It was, indeed, a work of art.

He took a fastball right down main street.  Hmm.  Then he did it again, as if he was mesmerized, just observing a batting practice heater as center cut as prime rib.  0-2.  Hmm.  Hmm.

And then I found out why.  The lefthander went to a solid curveball on the outside half, breaking out of the zone.

And Votto calmly, methodically, drove it into left field for a base hit.  Hmm.  Hmm.  Hmm.

Image result for joey votto free pictures

It was a classic move by one of the most professional hitters the game has ever seen.  Votto knew he owned those pair of fastballs, they were his Rawlings slaves.  He could pop them, hammer them, destroy them, seven days a week, 24 hours a day.

So he chose to get behind 0-2 and see what the lefty would bring to the table.

What he saw was exactly what he wanted, a breaking ball away.  Practice.  Homework.  Lefty on lefty and drive that deuce oppo.  Work on it.  Isn’t that what spring training is for?  Where so many hitters are fixated on jacks Votto is focussed on only one thing.  Getting better every at-bat.

Many moons later I was talking to Walt Burrows, the former head of the Canadian MLB Scouting Bureau and now with the Minnesota Twins.  I asked Walt if my conclusions were on the money.

“Absolutely,” said Walt, who had scouted Votto hundreds of AB’s when he was a teenager growing up in Toronto.  “I’m sure that’s exactly what he was doing.  That’s Votto.  He has the most professional approach to hitting of anyone I’ve ever scouted.”

One little AB in Phoenix in March.  And one more tiny step into the Hall of Fame.  It works that way.

For a pro.
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                      Bring on the Eighth

The Cubs had a day-off on Monday so Maddon kept playing the Wick card in the eighth inning against some formidable sluggers.

Eugenio Suarez had already drilled a jack but Rowan dive bombed a curveball for the K.

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                    From hot as a torch to Mojave ice

And now Aristides Aquino invaded the box.  The young bopper had parked three monster shots in a row into the seats the day before, which meant he was as hot as a torch in Hades.  But Rowan got ahead with a blistering 96 mph heater up and in that was as unhittable as a laser beam and then sent Aristides packing with another elevated fastball.

Aquino had less chance than ice in the Mojave.

_____________________________________________________

"Rowan has really stepped up."
                                     --Cubs play-by-play Len Kasper
____________________________________________________

Then came one of the few mistakes Rowan has made in the past month.  He got miles ahead 0-2 on Jose Perara but left a fastball in the middle and Jose hammered a stinging line drive Right Back At Ya.  Rowan ducked for cover and wound up on his butt.

But no harm, no foul.  Wick jammed Jesse Winker and broke his bat for a harmless drizzle of a comebacker.

Two more solid innings of spotless relief.  How many 1.72 ERA’s do you find hanging around these days?

                                                        

Mickey Mantle, the King of Jacks

With all the launch angle (bleep) and exit velo (bleep) we are in the Era of the Home Run Derby.  Some say the baseballs are harder these days or maybe it's just the bats have more kick.   

Nonetheless when a slugger drives a Rawlings 450 feet into the upper deck there are Multiple Orgasms in the broadcast booth.  But no one ever Jumped the Yard farther than the ineffable Mickey Mantle.   

Mantle makes the current boppers look like anemic Punch and Judy singles hitters.  The Mick never heard of launch angle.  But he was the ultimate Jack Hammer. 

 

POWER?  THERE’S MANTLE AND EVERYONE ELSE

           The Mick’s 600-Foot Rocket Shots

So you think Christian Yelich and Mike Trout and Cody Bellinger are blasting King Kong jacks?

Compared to Mickey Mantle they’re short about 200 feet.

Mantle is the greatest power hitter of all time.  No one even comes close to the soaring, long range rocket shots he hammered from either side of the plate.  Some of them still haven’t landed.  He makes today’s Home Run Derby icons look like they’re bunting for a base hit.

How far did Mantle muscle his eruptions to jump the yard?  Obviously, they didn't have the high tech of this age so sometimes we have to trust eye ball estimates.  But there were wrecking crew atomic blasts that could be easily measured.  By all accounts his top 10 were as impressive as Mr. Olympia.  The shortest is 530 feet.

And the longest was astronomical, estimated at 734 feet.

Impossible?  Maybe.  But...this is Mickey Mantle we're talking about.  The high school football player with forearms of steel that made the bat feel like swinging a toothpick.

        Roger Maris and Mantle.  Take a look at Mickey's forearms.  Sheer power.

No one ever hit a ball out of the Old Yankee Stadium in a game.  But Mantle crushed the façade at the top of the roof three times.

In 1956 he blitzed a Pedro Ramos fastball.  It left the field at the 370 mark and came within inches of exiting the stadium.  Now get this.  The façade was 117 feet high.  That sonic explosion was 39 yards above terra firma when it collided with wood.  You don't need to be an MIT grad to figure out it would have traveled well over 600 feet if it hadn't gotten into an argument with the facade.

For reference, take a look at the nearest high rise.  And I mean HIGH rise.  Count 12 storeys up.  That's where Mantle's towering blitzkrieg caromed off the top of the stadium roof after already soaring 370 feet.

The 734 shot off Bill Fischer in 1963?  It also rammed the sky high façade, again only a few inches from freedom.  And, for what it’s worth, there were multiple fans who swore it was still going UP when its flight was interrupted.  Some Neanderthal math wiz calculated it's trajectory would have carried it well over 700 feet into the wild blue yonder.

That sounds as apocryphal as Big Foot but somehow it seems plausible and Mantle called it, “The hardest ball I ever hit.”

And here are two of Mantle’s most memorable jacks that were actually measured for austerity.

In a 1951 spring training game at USC he ripped a massive drive that not only left the ball park it also cleared the adjacent football field.  It finally landed on the far sideline, 656 feet from the batter’s box, before hopping the fence bordering the field.  And Boy Wonder Mantle, the Yankees answer to Ruth and Dimaggio, was still only 19 years old.

            Mike Trout goes fishing.  (Boy, is that line lame)

That was one of six of The Mick's cannonades estimated at more than 600 feet, including a ballistic blast that rocketed out of Tiger Stadium and bombarded a lumberyard across the street, 643 feet from the plate.

There are also a horde of observers, including many players, who swore The Mick's missiles left Yankee Stadium at least three times during batting practice.

Yes, I know, they didn’t have the computer software we have today.  But if you’re a physics major punch in the numbers.

Over the wall at the 370 mark and still rising faster than a NASA space ship.
Jumping the yard 117 feet in the air.
Exit speed at least 120 mph
500 feet?  Easy.
600 feet?  Odds on.
700 feet?  We'll never know.  But for Mantle it even seems possible.

Eat your heart out Mike Trout.

 

       Wick Stakes His Claim in Wrigley Ivy

Rowan Wick has been bounced around more than a schizoid ping pong ball.  Chicago.  Iowa.  Chicago. Iowa.  Chicago.  Iowa.  Chicago.  Iowa.  Chicago…

He’s spent more time slicing the air between The Windy City and Des Moines than a travelling salesman with a private Learjet.

But this time. This time Rowan drilled a hole in the Wrigley Field ivy, implanted an oil well, staked his claim, and dug in deeper than the Mariana Trench or even the Mariano cutter.  (More on that later.)  This time he’s here to stay.  The joyride is gonzo.  We think. 

Rowan was pretty good each of the three other times he was recalled from AAA.  But this time he hasn’t been pretty or good, although his girlfriend may beg to differ.  He’s been damn well Black Hole Lights Out.  In fact, he’s staking out a claim as the Blue Chip Set-Up Man for closer Craig Kimbrel.

And, for a guy who has only been on the bump for four years, that’s the equivalent of acing Harvard Law School in a pair of semesters.

Take a good look:

Rowan’s latest incarnation began on July 23 with the Cubbies on the road in San Fran.  He threw the seventh and struck out Kevin Pillar and then Zach Green on a blistering 97 mph heater.  The next day he encored by notching  another K against Pillar, this time on a sharp curveball.

_____________________________________________________________

"He's been impressive.  And they're using him in higher leverage situations.  He's not a deer in the headlights.  I like the way he goes about it."
                      --Cubs TV analyst Jim Deshais
_________________________________________________

 In Milwaukee three days later Rowan aced Eric Thames with a 97 elevated laser beam and then demolished Lorenzo Cain on a deuce.  When the Cubs took a 3-2 lead in the top of the 10th he was first in line for the win but  Kimbrel gave it up and the Brewers survived 5-3.

In St. Louis he blitzed Matt Wieters with smoke and Tommy Edmon on a snakey Uncle Charley.

When Rowan was sent down earlier in July manager Joe Maddon told him, “I trust you now” and he proved that on August 2.  The Cubs led Milwaukee  6-1 at Wrigley in the seventh but the Brewers were brewing more trouble than a protest march in North Korea.

The Brew Crew had runners on first and third with nobody out and it was time for a fire fighter to extinguish the blaze.  A pivotal and crucial moment and, when Maddon went to his bull pen, it was Rowan Wick who sprinted across the Wrigley turf.
__________________________________________________________________

                "Wick doesn't seem to be amused."
                           "No, he's all business."
    --Milwaukee TV guys Matt LeMay and Bill Schroeder
____________________________________________________

And the young man from North Van was more than ready to douse the flame.  When he handcuffed Manny Pina on a slider on the outside corner (also more on that in a moment) Kris Bryant charged the limp dribbler and threw him out, thanks to a neat pick by Anthony Rizzo.  Orlando Arcia flew out and Thames popped to Rizzo.  Fire became charcoal.

Then, on Saturday, Rowan pocketed that illusive first win in The Show with a pair of K’s in a solid seventh inning as Kimbrel bounced back to ice it against the Brewers.

And, finally, tonight he made it 2-0 and dropped his ERA to 1.98 with a 7th inning 643 double homicide to lock out the A's.  He hasn't just been on a roll--he's been lead man on a roller coaster.
____________________________________________________

                               "Wick does the job."
                                         --Len Kasper, Cubs play-by-play
_____________________________________________________

                                     Kimbrel needs a wing man

          WICK--2-0 13.2 innings 15 strikeouts 1.98 ERA

What’s more, Rowan Wick has become a three-pitch pitcher.

Time for a little self promotion because, if I don’t, who in the hell will.  Three years ago I worked with Rowan on a cutter/slider when he was throwing at Coquitlam Centre.  It sizzled and snarled like a ballistic missile.

This, I thought, was his entrance exam into the big leagues.  His heater was money but his curveball seemed a bit soft and loopy.  The transition was a natural to me, the same as 20 years earlier when I introduced Ryan Dempster to a cutter/slider.  With Wick it was so vicious and filthy it would need a car wash to get clean.

But Rowan was in love with his curveball and, to his credit, it’s become a beauty.  Obviously his call but I still wanted him to add the slider to his tool kit.  So he put it in his back pocket, his ace in the hole.

          A slider as sharp as a machete

On July 27 this image jumped off my computer screen.

Yasmani Grandal at the plate for the Brewers.  Fastball, called strike.  And then…and then…

This sharp as a machete, tight as a python, off the rails breaking ball as vicious as a cobra.  Was that a slider I just saw?  That had to be a (bleeping) slider.  Had to be.

Text.  Yes it was.  He’d been working on it in the bull pen and talking to Yu Darvish about his grip.  The Cubs said “Let us know when you’re ready to throw it in a game.”

He was.  And he did.  A razor blade breaking ball at 90 mph.

Maddon desperately needs that Set-Up Man for Kimbrel.  For me it’s odds on he’s found The Guy.  Number 50.   

_________________________________________________________________

"What Rowan's doing right now causes us to rethink a lot of stuff.  You saw him in a really pertinent moment and he rose to the occasion again.  His fastball's been explosive, he's got the good curveball, his confidence is there.  He just needs more opportunity.  But, yes, he is playing into the decision making right now."

                                      --Joe Maddon
courtesy Tony Andracki, NBC Sports Chicago
___________________________________________________

 

AND A TRUCKLOAD OF MANURE

          The Saga of Nathan Patterson

There is so much bull shit swarming around on the Internet it resembles a Manure Farm in Nebraska.

I give you the fantasy of Nathan Patterson.

I got a message from Jim Diamond, aka The Parksville Professor, about Nathan's extraordinary feat in Nashville, Tennessee.  Had to take a look.

Now I’m sure Nathan Patterson is a fine young man.  An exemplary young man.  A young man with integrity and compassion.  But…

There’s a viral video getting more views than porn with Patterson blitzing 96 mph at a speed cage.  96.  Which got him signed by Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s.  I won’t delve into the gory details but you can Google it and see for yourself if you haven’t already.

Suffice it to say if you believe this bull shit I have an acre of swampland I’d like to sell you for a very reasonable price because I don’t own it.

Nathan Patterson

                       Good luck, kid.  Live that dream. 

Take a look at this story.  Please.

Yes, the sign says 96.  But who knows if the gun is any more accurate than a water pistol.  If you were running a cage wouldn’t you jack up the velo to please the marks?

But that matters not.  Because Nathan Patterson is crowhopping.  Which adds at least 7 mph to your heat and probably as much as 12 clicks.  (Check out Michael Kopech in the following epic.)

And some of the off-the-wall stories claim Patterson signed a major league contract, which is so ludicrous even the Social Media fools won’t fall for it.

(Bleep), who am I kidding, these naïve clowns believe everything they read.  They suffer from SM Compulsive Obsessive Woke The Internet of Everything Truth Syndrome.  Charley Ponzi is spinning in his grave at 5,000 rpm, muttering, Why was I born 100 years too soon, these dupes bring a new meaning to gullible.

So I checked and, yes, Nathan signed a contract.  He’s on the A’s roster in the Arizona Rookie League, the bottom rung of pro baseball.  And, yes, he has a shot, which he truly deserves.  But his chances of getting to The Show are Slim and None and Slim Pickens has been deceased for 36 years.

___________________________________________________
Only 7 per cent of pro players ever get to the Big Leagues.  And almost all of them were drafted in the first 10 rounds.  There are exceptions but they are as rare as albino tigers.
_____________________________________________________

To be sure, I truly wish Nathan Patterson well.  He's not remotely responsible for all the Hype and a dude living his dream is fine by me.  Not enough people ever dream.

But the Viral Internet Bull Shit I can do without.

 

                       How Baseball Eats Its Young

See the source image

         The 10th Wonder of the World, who can catapult a Rawlings 104 mph. 

Jordan Hicks throws 104 mph.  Michael Kopech 100.  Both are gone until 2020 with Tommy John surgery.   

Baseball eats its young because coaches and trainers understand so little about how to protect a pitcher's arm.  Which seems strange because that's their numero uno priority, the reason they collect a pay check. 

Much more on the incompetence of MLB coaches and trainers in a few days.
____________________________________________________

I wrote this epic about Kopech last season.  It's followed with a story on his early Claim to Fame, THROWING 110 MPH.  

Crowhopping three or four times.  And throwing into a screen maybe 30 feet away.  

Which is my convoluted way of morphing it into The Saga of Nathan Patterson.
_____________________________________________________

 

MICHAEL KOPECH IS IN THE BUILDING

       The Rock Star on Chicago’s South Side

It was The Beatles at Shea.  Elvis on Ed Sullivan.  The Miracle on Ice.  The Cubs win the World Series.  The Wright Brothers fly.  Alexander Graham Bell answers the phone.  Bill Gates creates the Cyberworld.  Belushi, Ackroyd and Chevy ignite SNL.

Michael Kopech starts for the White Sox.

Chicago buzzed like a gonzo smartphone.  The Hype had arrived.  The Sox were 30 games under but the Saviour was on the hill and it’s all good. We are healed.

The Sox fans have dreamed about this all season long.  They drooled at the thought.  Their blood rushed through their veins like a waterfall of plasma.  It was Christmas in August.  Finally, a cure for the South Side’s Erectile Dysfunction.

They genuflected as Kopech warmed up and they were on their feet with a standing O as soon as he took to the hill.  The young man must have felt like a rock star, a gaming ace, a Super Bowl QB, and the Academy Award winner, all wrapped up in one reverent bundle.

Kopech only threw two innings because the Baseball Gods felt dissed, overshadowed, and splashed rain on the party.

But it was an impressive pair of frames, indeed.  And five days later he tossed six against the Tigers, giving up only one run with four K's.  What's more, he walked absolutely no one, which means he's come a long way since the start of the year in AAA when his command was as shaky as a palm tree in a hurricane.

Kopech is a classic example of Rhythm On The Mound.  He has a beautiful delivery, balanced and fluid and so smooth it's like watching Gene Kelly dance.  That kind of rhythm is as valuable as a truckload of gold bullion.  When you're in synch, when your whole body is playing the same tune, the ball seems to ignite out of your hand.  It's See How Easily You Can Throw Hard 101.

_____________________________________________________

                            The Kopech Blueprint 

Rocker step.  Knee raise to the letters as you coil to the middle of your body.  Load then lead with your hip.  Tilt by dropping your back shoulder about 10 inches.  Drive and stride directly to the plate with your front shoulder closed.  The body deliveries the loose, electric arm.  Explode your hips.  Chest to the plate.  Finish with a flat back and total commitment.


_____________________________________________________

At times his command is slightly erratic (he hit a pair of Tigers), which works as a weapon.  You are not going to feel comfortable digging in against Michael “The Dominator” Kopech.

Like all Power Pitchers who love the letter K, he’ll fire a load of heaters every game but against the Tigers he mixed in a solid slider and even several change-ups with sneaky movement.  By the way, Kopech's change is 87 to 91 mph.  And gradually his command will lock in and he’ll pile up extended innings.  That’s where he has the most head room to improve.

_____________________________________________________

“When I got into high school I had a growth spurt and my arm got really good.  I was 15 and already throwing 90 mph and I thought, well, this could take me places.”
_____________________________________________________

In his debut the rain delay lasted almost an hour and I kept thinking, Do not let this kid step on the mound again tonight.  His arm has tightened a bit and there’s absolutely no point in him throwing another pitch.

Steve Stone, the White Sox analyst, said they should leave it up to Kopech.  Stone is one of the best in the business but, in this case, he was as wrong as a stoned (pardon the pun) drug dealer wandering into Gresham’s 6th District police station to sell three pounds of H to the desk sergeant.

I would never leave it up to the pitcher, especially a young man making his first MLB start.  He’s out of the game.  Automatically.  Unequivocally.  Emphatically.   No discussion, no debate, you can’t shake off the manager.

The kid throws triple digits.  Protect his golden arm like it’s the Holy Grail.

It reminds me of the times we’d be in tournaments and Ryan Dempster would pitch on Saturday when all the scouts were on hand.  No matter who we were playing.  After his seven shutout innings other coaches would ask me if I would bring him back Monday to close in the final.

Oh, sure, I’ve got a guy who isn’t just a pro prospect, he has a big league arm and big league make-up.  And I’m going to pitch him again with one day rest so I can win a tournament in Penticton.  I’m sure that will be the highlight of his career.  No way, no how, no sir.

          "I'd read everything about pitching."

Apparently, Kopech is a beast when it comes to working out.  He also has an actress girlfriend and a father who absorbed every sliver of information on pitching when Michael was a tadpole.  “I’d read everything about pitching.  Then I’d discard what I didn’t like and keep the good stuff.” And they both watched all of Nolan Ryan's seven no-hitters, one of the reasons Michael wears 34, the number etched into history by the Ryan Express.

That is so cool.  Having the judgment to pick and choose instruction is as crucial to development as eating protein.  Too many parents believe every dish of horse bleep they’re fed by incompetent gurus, who think a four-seamer is a sewing machine.

At any rate, I gave you the following story last season (I’m sure you remember) so I’m running it again just to show you how prescient I am.  Nostradamus.  Carnac.  The Soothsayer.  Just don’t ask me to reveal the numbers from my HPI horseracing account.

 

DID HE BREAK THE SOUND BARRIER?

    Flamethrower Michael Kopech nails 110

…and I have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge you can buy for a very cheap price.  Or maybe you’d prefer some swampland in the Florida Everglades.  

Unless you’re a baseball aficionado you’ve never heard of Michael Kopech.  But you will in the near future.

Kopech is a 21-year-old White Sox righthander who has been gunned at a blistering 105 mph.  And even 110…if you’re ready for some online double talk.

Now I don’t much trust radar readings.  A lot of them are on steroids, pumped up to impress the fans in the ball park.  Walt Burrows, one of the best scouts in the business, told me he’d get reports about a kid breaking the bank on the gun.  But, when Walt got to the park, the phenom’s velocity would top out five to eight mph slower than the hype.  And that happened quite often.

So does Kopech throw 105?  I saw a video of him striking out three hitters on nine pitches, apparently hitting 100 on the last pitch, and he looked good.  But not 105 good.  His stride is four to six inches against his body but it works for him and his mechanics are solid, his arm is loose and strong, and he's definitely a blue chip prospect.

____________________________________________________

“My dad always had great confidence in me, probably more than he should have.  There were years when I was probably not very good.  But he convinced me that I was one of the best players on the field and that confidence kept me working hard.”
____________________________________________________

But here’s the Contradiction That Wins the Gold Medal.  My good friend Gary Bowden heard a Kopech interview on  Chicago radio and the young man claimed he couldn’t find the plate if you handed it to him.

Yes, he was piling up the K’s like a log jam but he was also walking two or three hitters every inning.  And throwing about 100 pitches to get through three frames.  For a pitcher that’s a torture chamber.

So what are we to believe?  The pristine video showing Kopech striking out three helpless hitters on only nine overpowering pitches?  Or his own words telling us he couldn’t throw a ball into the Pacific Ocean if he was standing knee deep in English Bay seawater?  Was he just being extremely humble?

His numbers are promising and somewhere in between.  In 134.2 innings in rookie and A ball Kopech has notched an impressive 172 strikeouts but a not so impressive 69 walks.  That’s one of the most important stats in the game and a young pitcher should be shooting for at least three K’s to every BB.  He’s really not that far away.

If you want to see this potential superstar in action Google him and take a look at the video for “Michael Kopech: 5 facts you need to know.”  This is the “immaculate inning” he tossed as if he was Koufax mowing down Long John Silver impersonators.  Nine pitches.  All strikes.  Bye, bye.

And you’ll also find a Vid of the Kid throwing 110 mph bullets.  Sure you will.  Did I mention the swampland I have for sale?

This one is both funny and productive.  Kopech is launching his fastball into a net maybe 30 feet away.  And he’s taking a four step run at it, catapulting himself like a javelin thrower.  The shot is on a loop and repeats four times with a guy yelling “110" as he reads the velocity on what appears to be a Pocket Radar gun.  These devices look like a smartphone and they actually get good reviews for accuracy.

I had a similar drill for pitchers when I coached the Twins.  Throwing into a net from about 15 or 20 feet.  We used it to develop arm speed.  Not sure how much good it did but we tried.  And this is crucial.  NEVER TRY THIS UNLESS YOUR ARM IS IN MID SEASON SHAPE AND YOU HAVE A COACH WHO KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING.  NEVER.  Protect your arm.  Always.
____________________________________________________

“Baseball’s not number one in Mount Pleasant.  It’s a football town just like most towns in Texas.  So I was always kind of in the background.  The football stars were the highlight of the city.”
_____________________________________________________

The Kid Is Back in Town

AND UPDATE AGAIN--Now it's another 180.  The Cubs sent for Rowan on Saturday so he's back in the Bigs.  Didn't pitch on the weekend but he's primed and ready, armed with a 95-96 heater and a piercing breaking ball.  He says his arm feels great and he threw a light bull pen  Sunday night in LA.  

 

UPDATE--Whoops!  After pitching one inning the Cubs sent Rowan back to Iowa and AAA.  This seems strange.  Yes, he gave up a run, but his stuff was blue chip and he looked very much at home.  I'm sure he'll be back soon..but it sure gets frustrating.

 

ROWAN’S BACK WHERE HE BELONGS

        “Dave, I’m going to The Show today”

As a coach those words echo and resonate through your brain like a hurricane.

I talked to Rowan Wick on Tuesday and he definitely was not a Happy Young Man.  To say he was frustrated pitching in Triple A would be like calling the Second World War a downer.

But then there was Wednesday.  And the text.  “Dave, I’m going to The Show today.”

Rowan is back where he belongs.  In the big leagues.

                                  Rowan with the Padres last September.

On Thursday he mounted up at Wrigley and took the hill for the Cubs.  On paper it does not look like an auspicious return to the majors—but Paper Doesn’t Play.

In fact, it was very impressive.

When Jon Lester got shelled by the Phillies it was time for Rowan to take over in the fifth.

Unfortunately, he missed Bryce Harper but he opened with Rhys Hoskins, the dude who has Harper’s back and is one of the toughest outs in the National League.

Rowan was wide with a pair of fastballs but Hoskins swung through 95 and 96 heat to even the count.  And then he drilled a shot down the line that was knocked down by third baseman David Bote for an infield hit.  The only ball hit hard in the inning.

Rowan then got J.T. Realmuto, quite possibly the best catcher in the game, to fly out to Jason Heyward in right on another 96 mph Missile Heatseeker.  He was on his way.

                                 J.T. succumbed to the 96 heat.

Wick started Scott Kingery with a pair of swinging strikes on two more 96 rockets but lost him on a limp pop up that skimmed the foul line halfway to right field, spun and bounced into the stands for a ground rule double.  It was hit as hard as a wiffle ball.

Rowan worked Odubel Herrerra with hard stuff until he scuffed a fastball and dribbled it down the first baseline.  Rowan flipped underhand to Anthony Rizzo for the out but Hoskins scored.  It was like being mugged by a 7-year-old with a squirt gun.

Finally, Wick threw four knifing, slicing breaking balls in a row to strike out Sean Rodriguez on a curve that shook loose like a skydiver.  Two dimensions?  Like holding a pair of Aces.

Yes, he gave up a run.  But it was as cheap as oldtime Ripple rotgut.  His fastball had 96 velo with life and the breaking ball was tight, hard, vicious, and as lights out as a Black Hole.

What’s more, Cubs play-by-play guy Len Kasper has even been to North Vancouver, where Rowan was born.  He mentioned the Grouse Grind and the world class view when you take the chairlift up the mountain.

A great start for Rowan.  And an advert for Vancouver tourism. What’s not to like.

To paraphrase my favourite Thin Lizzy song  “The Kid is Definitely Back in Town.”

Go get ‘em, Rowan. 

"I'm sure if there's something out there looking
down on us from somewhere else in the Universe
they're wise enough to stay away from us."
--
William Petersen, Grissom, CSI

                  

Pro golf?  The playground of white elitists

I have no idea why anyone pays the slightest attention to pro golfers.  These are prima donna, third rate, spoiled brat, country club, white elitists who couldn't play any other sport at even an amateur level.

Please don't talk to me about Tiger.  He's the whitest of them all.  And, if you don't understand that, please go back to Twitter and Instagram and Facebook where you belong. 

Can you imagine Michael Jordan or LeBron James or Kevin Durant or Zion Williamson or Mike Trout or Aaron Judge or Mookie Betts or Saquon Barkley or Todd Gurley or Antonio Brown or Patrick Mahomes  on the golf course? 

If they'd grown up rich country club pampered brats they'd be crushing par before reaching pubescence.    

Augusta would be reduced to a pitch and putt.  Eagles would soar.  If you didn't break 60 at least twice you'd miss the cut.  Reincarnate Mickey Mantle and he'd tee off swinging a five iron so he wouldn't overshoot the 500 yard par 5's.

But none of them would ever enter the Hallowed Halls of the PGA.  Especially if they're black.  Country club?  Where do I find one in downtown Tulsa?  For free. 

The crown jewel of golf is The Masters at Augusta, the epitome of sports racism and sexism.  Did Hogan or Palmer or Player or Nicklaus or Woods ever stand up and denounce this bull shit?  Of course not.  They've been idolized, immortalized, suckholed, and Anointed Legends.  Who can blame them for endorsing racism simply by keeping their mouth shut.  I think most of us would be just as seduced by fame and millions of greenbacks.

So much for morality.  But why do you give a damn about these elitist white boys who roam the greens knowing they will never have to compete against real athletes? 

I give you this gem I wrote last year about the Masters.

   ________________________________________________

          "The Masters, a tradition unlike any other."
               --CBS announcer Jim Nance

             Unless, of course, you're black or a woman __________________________________________

IMAGINE LeBRON AT AUGUSTA

      The Masters...or The Master Race?

There are more than half a million blacks living in Greater St. Louis.  But you would have needed a magnifying glass to find one in the gallery for the PGA last year.  You had more chance of seeing Al Jolson at Bellerive.

PGA stalwarts and their fans, who line the rough in silent admiration, are etched in white.  Hmm.  Wait a second.  Isn’t there a word for that?  A word that starts with the letter R and ends in ism?  Sort of White Lives Play Golf. 

Yes, I know, there’s Eldrick Woods but he’s really the whitest dude out there.  And that, by the way, is his name.  Not Tiger.  Eldrick.  Obviously, Tiger is monumentally more intimidating than Eldrick.  Did you see that shot Eldrick just made?  Eldrick is one under after 16 holes.  Doesn’t really have the same resonance as Tiger is making his charge on the back nine.

So I’d advise the rest of the crew to insert WWE nicknames into their scorecards and insist on that listing on the leader board.

Killer Koepke.  Dynamite Spieth.  Hit Man Fowler.  Panther McIlroy.  Justin “The Hulk” Thomas.  Hammer Rahm.  Double Bubba Watson.  Slasher Scott.  Dustin “The Assassin” Johnson.  Unfortunately, even changing their name to Michael Corleone isn’t going to make Ian Poulter, Charley Hoffman or Patrick Reed look threatening.

                            Eldrick surveying his plethora of fans.

Golf fans are always winners.  Whoever’s ahead on the final hole is their guy.   They live vicariously through the wonder of his magnificence.  He’s so precious.  He waves to them as he approaches the 18th green and they applaud madly, tears welling up in their eyes.  He’s my hero, my Knight in Shining Nike's.  Isn't he wonderful?  And he's so white,  just like us.  What's his name again? 

I often chuckle when I see this.

Imagine what it would be like if golf and tennis weren’t just country club sports for the rich and privileged.  Not just reserved for pampered prima donnas from the right families, who scowl like Tony Soprano when some uncouth clown breathes or coughs while they’re on the tee or serving.

What if these elitist sports were wide open to inner city kids and backwoods phenoms.

Imagine 6-8 LeBron James or 6-6 Aaron Judge with a driver in their hands.  A pair of extraordinary athletes, as strong as bodybuilders, and dedicated to working their butts off to get better every day.  By the time they’re 18 they’d be driving a Titleist 400 yards.

                    And what if this was a three wood?

Imagine 6-6 Michael Jordan, the greatest athlete who ever lived, or 6-2 power pack Mike Trout pounding a TaylorMade iron shot.  They’d make a par five look like a Pitch and Putt.  Eagles would fly.

Imagine Seth Curry on the green.  With his touch and hand-eye a 15-footer would be a gimme.

Imagine 6-11 Kevin Durant or 6-11 Tim Duncan or 6-11 Giannis Antetokounmpo (the 6-11 club) serving at Wimbledon.  That blur at 150 mph was the poor tennis ball crying for mercy.  And, if you can pronounce the last name of Giannis, you must be double jointed.

Imagine Jerry Rice or Terrell Owens or Mookie Betts or James Harden dancing at the French Open.  They’d cover more clay than the White Cliffs of Dover.

Imagine.

You would never have heard of Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler or Phil Mickelson.  Maybe Eldrick and Killer Koepke and The Assassin would be athletic and strong enough to make the top 100.  Federer and Nadal would be finalists in the Sheboygan Invitational.     

After winning the U.S. Open Gary Woodland said he gave up college basketball after playing against the U of Kansas and realizing he was out of his element.  In other words he was doing battle with real athletes.  Now his competition is guys who pretend they're athletes.

I’m not saying these golf and tennis stars don't have any talent at all.  I’m just saying their sheltered sports are closed off to most of the greatest athletes this world has ever known.  Which seems to suit a lot of white folks.  Jeez, Dave let us keep something. 

          Ah, yes, the Augusta Jewel

Then there’s golf’s shining jewel, The Masters, the most prestigious tournament of them all.  Augusta, where men are white and women are in the kitchen where they belong, dammit.  Back to the Future and three cheers for 1895.

Here are a few of the highlights from Augusta.

*** Until 1983 blacks were only used as caddies for the white men in the Masters.  That was a rule within the club.

 ________________________________________________

“As long as I’m alive, the golfers will be white and the caddies will be black.”

          --Long time Augusta chairman Clifford Roberts
_____________________________________________________

***Charlie Sifford, the first black man to play the PGA tour, won a pair of tournaments in 1969 and qualified for the U.S. Open but was never invited to the Masters.

***When Lee Elder played at Augusta in 1975 he received hate mail and death threats.  Fearing for his life, Elder rented two apartments and traveled back and forth.  And this was almost 30 years after the legacy of Jackie Robinson.  (Elder shot 74 and 78 and missed the cut.  Did he take a dive to get the hell out of Dodge?  Wouldn't blame him.) 

_____________________________________________________

"What no CBS commentator has ever alluded to, even in passing, is Augusta's history of racism and sexism.  Even when people were protesting just outside the grounds they never acknowledged it. So not only will I never work the Masters because I'm not at CBS, but I'd have to say something and then be ejected."

                   --The incomparable NBC analyst Bob Costas
_____________________________________________________

 ***You don’t apply to join Augusta National, it’s invitation only.  Finally, in 1990, the enlightened Augusta directors saw the light (or the dark) and invited their first “black gentleman” to join the club along with eight white men.  Apparently, he’s a solo act and, as is their policy, his name has never been revealed but he must be as loaded as the Rockefellers and a pillar of society.

***It took considerably longer for women to get hitched to Augusta.  It wasn’t until 2012 when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore were anointed.  That was a doubleheader for Rice, who was not only feminine but black.  Holy emancipation, Batman, a black woman in our midst. 

 ______________________________________________________________

“This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome these accomplished women who share our passion for golf.  Both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets”

        --Current former Augusta chairman Billy Payne
 _______________________________________________________________

 ***Warren Buffet and Bill Gates both belong to Augusta National.  It would be mighty interesting, indeed, to ask them why.  But I haven’t talked to Warren or Bill since I never met them in 2003.  

 ***Fuzzy Zoeller called Tiger Woods a “little boy” and said if Tiger won the Masters they should tell him to not order “fried chicken or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve” for the Champions Dinner.

 _______________________________________________________________

"I think someone should have the guts.  Broadcaster, executive, somebody should say, This is not Nightline or Meet the Press, we understand that. But this is an issue. And it's the elephant in the room. We're going to address it as concisely as we can so our heads are not in the collective sand trap."

                   --Bob Costas
________________________________________________________________

I don’t give a damn if Augusta is racist and sexist when it comes to membership.  It’s their private club and they can do whatever they damn well please.  It’s CBS and the Golf Channel and the hypocrisy that makes me cringe.         

NOTE: I don’t use the term African American because I have no idea what it means.  African and American are nationalities, not races.

If a white professor born in Pretoria moves to Toledo is he an African American?

If an albino born in Ghana moves to Des Moines is she an African American?

In fact, I’d prefer not to use any of these terms.  Most blacks aren’t black, they’re brown.  So I guess they should be called Browns, unless that’s reserved for UPS.  And I’ve never seen a white who is white.  Caucasians (and there’s another beauty) are somewhat tanned but I’m not sure what shade of beige you’d call it.  Caramel is the best I can come up with.  Yes, Caramel.

Quite frankly, I don’t give a flying (bleep) about the (bleeping) color of your skin.  All I care about is whether you have compassion and integrity and enough intelligence to keep your mind as open as the Grand Canyon.

Which isn't located in Augusta, Georgia.

           Giannis dunks from the free throw line.   Imagine him swinging a driver.

6
Aug 18

   

Watching Urban Meyer and Ohio State clip the Washington Huskies in the 2019 Rose Bowl reminded me of this classic hoax from 58 years ago.  All hail Cal Tech.

WHEN CAL TECH WON THE ROSE BOWL

       The Grand Daddy of all Sports Hoaxes

We’ve covered All American running back Johnny Chung and Sidd Finch’s 168 mph heater.  But they disappear into the mist compared to the Great Rose Bowl Hoax.

This one was part CIA, part Cat Burglar, part Tony Soprano, part Nerd Supreme, part Gonad Testosterone, part Buddy Flick Heist Caper, part Lock Picker 101, part Ferdinand “The Great Imposter” Demara, and part Bizarro Genius.  Is that enough parts?  Because my cerebral cortex is fully depleted of analogies. 

At any rate these scattered parts coalesced into the Prince of Pranks, the all time king of sports hoaxes.   

New Years.  1961.  The Rose Bowl is salivating for the Huskies of Washington to grapple with the Golden Gophers of Minnesota.  The dogs will snarl, the gophers will dig holes.

And Cal Tech will sulk.  As usual, Tech was nowhere to be found, having only a smattering of 1,000 students and a football team that would struggle to score against a junior high eleven.

But a small group of Cal Tech rabble rousers, who later became known as the Fiendish Fourteen, were convinced their hallowed halls were being royally snubbed and dissed by the distinguished Rose Bowl honchos.

After all, the CT campus was barely a swing pass down stream from the Pasadena stadium and they often competed on that turf, although I’m not sure why.  The cathedral seats 100 grand and even if the whole Tech alumni and their mommies and daddies and aunts and uncles and nephews and nieces and every dude and dudess they’ve ever talked to since birth burst through the turnstiles the joint would still be as empty as a Jewish stomach on Yom Kippur.

          "Get that Sumo dude off my tail"

So once again NBC and the Rose Bowl was devoid of Cal Tech and the FF was as teed off as a rattlesnake who has just realized a sumo wrestler is stepping on his shaker.

A 19-year-old engineering iconoclast named Lyn Hardy was determined to toss a hand grenade of humour into the mix.

Which would eventually garner nary a chuckle from the U of Washington cheer squad, who had created a massive halftime flip card routine that would mesmerize NBC and the 30 million football fans watching.  This was their moment of glory.

Lyn Hardy, still grinning 58 years later

Hardy went to work two days before game time.  Posing as a reporter from a local high school, he visited three Husky cheerleaders where they were staying in the Long Beach State dorms.  “They were very nice guys,” he says.  “They talked me through the whole thing and showed me where they kept all the cards.”

Now the Cal Tech subterfuge was in high gear.

***When the cheerleaders left for dinner, Hardy and two Tech buds broke into their room by picking the lock.  They quickly confiscated an instruction card and headed back to Pasadena.

***They hired a printer for $30 to duplicate 2,232 cards.

***Then, early on New Year’s Eve, while the cheerleaders were visiting Disneyland, the Cal Tech desperadoes broke into the dorm again and lifted the master instructions.  That’s all they needed to roll.  These were, after all, engineering students at a high tech college and it didn’t take long for them to break the code.

***Recruiting as many CT students as possible, they altered the 2,232 cards by hand so the seat numbers and instructions would synch perfectly.

***And now the last piece of the jigsaw puzzle.  The Hardy Boys trekked to Long Beach for the third time, picked the lock again, replaced the master plan, scooped up the original instruction cards, and left the fakes in their place.

 Bob Schloredt, the Huskies main man

Now the fun began.

At halftime in Pasadena the Huskies, led by QB Bob Schloredt, had a 17-0 edge and their cheerleaders and marching band were riding an adrenaline high.  The colored cards and instruction sheets had been deposited on the seats in the section reserved for the Washington faithful.  When the cheerleaders gave the signal the students held the cards over their head and the images appeared like magic.

There would be 15 in total and the first 11 received roars from the 100,000 in the bowl and instant focus from the 30 mill NBC viewers.  So far so good.

But number 12.

This flash card image was supposed to look like a Husky, obviously the Washington mascot.  But it had…buck teeth…and round ears.  More of a beaver than a husky.  More like the mascot of…well, Cal Tech.

Must be a glitch.  Carry on, dudes.

Then number 13.

This one would get them back on track.  It would spell out HUSKIES.  And it did.  But backwards.  SEIKSUH.  What the hell is going on?

Now the cheer squad and the marching band were getting bubbles in their gut.  This was not good.  No, sir, no way, no how.  Just not good.  But it had to be some strange mix up because the first 11 were aces.  Which is a classic example of the Cal Tech genius.

Okay, fire away.  The cheerleaders persevered, giving the signal for number 14.  The cards went up, following the explicit instructions right their on their sheets.

And they spelled out CAL TECH.  In big, bold black letters on a white background.

The silence was deafening.  The band was stunned, the music froze in the air, the cheerleaders stared, unable to comprehend.

And then the laughter rolled through the stadium like a tsunami.

The perplexed band marched off the field and the cheerleaders Deep Sixed the final image, probably wondering if it was a word starting with F.  Too bad because it was the American flag and Cal Tech, being good citizens, left it pristine.

“There was never any intent to make the world’s greatest prank,” says Lyndon Hardy, who is 77 now and a respected physicist.  "There's a fine line but I think we stayed on the right side of it. It could have been obscenities or something in very poor taste, but we didn't do that. So I'm proud of that — we acted responsibly and nobody got hurt."

Then he reflects, “There was a lot of luck.  What were the chances of pulling that off?  I'd say zip.  But you don't know that when you're young.”

Hardy, who has written three sci-fi books, adds, "As you mature you get more conservative.  Life starts hitting you with brick walls. If I was approached tomorrow and someone asked if I’d do this I’d say it was crazy.  But here we were, 19, and committing felonies.”

Then he laughs.  "I hope the statute of limitations has run out."

And, oh, yeh, the Huskies took the 1961 Rose Bowl crown 17-7.  Urban Meyer wasn't there.

 

WHO IN THE HELL CAN SPELL "KRZYZEWSKI"?

          My Buddy, Duke’s Coach K

Watching Duke hammer Princeton I’m reminded of a story I wrote 17 years ago when most of you weren’t even born.  Yes, that’s sort of a joke but I can’t spell LOL.

This is very self serving, which isn’t exactly unusual, but it makes a point—not just for basketball, my favorite sport, but also for baseball.  If it bores you, then move on.  I'm sure there's a precious and infinitely inane epic on Meghan and Harry just waiting for you.  Everywhere.  

But if you have the perseverance, the gonads (or the feminine equivalent), the vicious tenacity, the endurance to hang in until the end, there is definitely a punch line.

And words of wisdom from Coach K.  Well, I think it’s wisdom.

Here’s the original story I wrote in “Developing Pitchers.”

DUKE’S LEGENDARY COACH K

It was the Final Four in March, 2001 and Duke was behind by 11 at halftime and looking as vulnerable as a Republican in SoCal.  But in the second half the Blue Devils ignited to KO Maryland 95-84 and advance to the final.

When they asked Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski what he said to his players at the break, he showed once again why he's one of the greatest mentors in the history of any sport, not just basketball.  "I told them we wouldn't be calling any more plays," Coach K said.  "I told them to just go out and play tough defense and let their instincts take over on offence."

In other words, See ball, Hit ball.

What a great piece of coaching.  Play defense.  And, when we have the ball, get your mind out of the way.  Let your instincts surge and control the game.  It's just another Battle of the Playground, the hoops you loved and thrived on when you were a kid playing for the sheer fun of it, the supreme joy of being an athlete set free.

I prefer "reflexes" to "instinct" because that's what it is.  Guys who have played two-on-two and three-on-three all their lives react out of reflex.  Shove a hand in their face as they drive to the hole and they'll double pump like a wizard and slip the lay-up under your arm.

But there is absolutely no way even a great athlete can do this unless he's been there as often as birds fly or the sun rises.  It requires relentless, endless hours on the court.  Only then will your reflexes be so fine tuned you can just relax and let your body work like a Ferrari.

Let Your Body Play

Coach K, in his wisdom, understood the Blue Devils were thinking too much.  Getting tight instead of loose.  Their minds were a blockade, a thick cement wall inhibiting their bodies and screwing up their reflexes.

So, instead of tightening his grip and taking even more control, which would have been a disaster, he stepped back and said, "Play.  Stop thinking and just play."

What an absolutely brilliant understanding of human psychology.  How secure is Mike Krzyzewski?  Secure enough to tell the world his team got hot because he stopped coaching.  And that is the greatest coaching of all--just knowing when to get out of the way and let them "Play."

What I'm really talking about is the Duke players themselves.  When they stopped over-thinking and set their bodies free they turned the game around.  And only a player who is as  fundamentally strong as the base of a pyramid can do that.

Five players from Duke's 2015 national champions went on to the NBA.  Can you name them?  There is no prize and don't wait for my answer.  I have no idea and I'm too lazy to do the research.  I just needed a picture here to brighten up the page.

          Did I mention "Let Your Body Play"?

Your body can only take over when you've done the endless repetitions that make your actions reflexive.  Without those reps the body has no chance to react instantly.  A split second of doubt and the moment is lost.  Coach K knew his players had done their work in practice, knew they were as sound as an aircraft carrier.

How does this apply to baseball?  Mostly to hitters, who often think too much at the plate.  Get your mind out of the way of your body.  See ball.  Hit ball.  

But it also applies to pitchers.  Groove your mechanics when you're throwing your bullpens.  Think ahead in a game, planning your attack on the hitter.  But, then, when it's time to cut it loose, get your mind out of the way.  Focus on the catcher's glove, relax, let your body work, set it free.

That's when you'll be In Synch, that's when you'll See How Easily You Can Throw Hard.  That's when you'll understand the wisdom of a great mentor called Coach K.

When I did my latest rewrite of the book I contacted Krzyzewski to see if my perceptions were right. Obviously I expected him to hire me on the spot as an assistant coach or at least insist the AD recruit me as the new Duke baseball mentor. Hell, maybe I'd even replace the AD. 

Alas, it was not to be. But I did get this lucid and memorable quote.  Genuflect.    

“Your perceptions are correct.  Good luck with your book.”
                             —Coach K

WHEN THE WEST COAST WAS KING

     The Golden Age of Morneau and Dempster

Back when dinosaurs roamed the Earth in the 1990's the west coast was a fertile breeding ground of dynamic baseball talent.  Top draft picks popped up fasterv than video game icons.  It was a veritable deluge of major leaguers.  

For openers there was Larry Walker, a raw slugger from Maple Ridge who went on to sit on the edge of the Hall of Fame.  He was followed by American League MVP Justin Morneau and all star Ryan Dempster, who threw for 16 MLB seasons. 

Then there were hard-throwing righthanders Rich Harden and Aaron Myette.  Plus a pair of blue chip blazers, Adam Loewen and Jeff Francis, who were both drafted in the first round in 2002.  Francis posted a very solid career with six MLB teams and Loewen would have been the best of them all if he hadn’t wound up with a steel plate in his arm courtesy of some misguided coaching.

                    Adam Loewen, the greatest Canadian talent ever

It was a Golden Age, a time when flamethrowing arms and crushing swings blossomed like hothouse flowers.  The B.C. Selects dominated the Canada Cup and the Junior National Team might as well have been stationed in Vancouver so the players wouldn’t need to travel.

The Parksville tournament every May was a magnet for scouts and you looked forward to it like Christmas.  When 17-year-old Loewen took his 6-6 frame and 96 mph fastball to the hill the crosscheckers and area scouts were three deep, flashing an army of radar guns and licking their lips.

The Premier League coaches were guys like Bill Green and Ari Mellios and Dennis Springenatic and Dave Wallace and Mike Chewpoy and dudes named Dave Empey and Paul Gemino and we were either working for expenses or $5 an hour if we were lucky.  But no one seemed to care.  We were developing pro ball players hand over fist and they were even making it into the Big Time.  Hallelujah.

We had some obvious advantages over the rest of the country.  The weather here is downright balmy compared to Winnipeg and Orillia.  In fact, it’s much milder than most of the US of A.  Try taking outdoors BP or infield practice in January in Nebraska or Oklahoma or West Virginia.
_________________________________________________________________

"We mercy almost everybody.  Our kids keep asking when we're playing that Canadian team because you always give us a battle."
____________________________________________________

What’s more, in the early days, before the PBL, our schedules often included two weekend trips every month south of the border.  Our kids played the best American teams we could find in Washington State and thrived on the competition.  All told we played about 120 games every year and practiced three times a week.

When I started with the North Shore Twins I was told not to schedule U.S. Bank because the Bankers were a powerhouse, almost the Washington State all-star team and they even imported players from as far away as Chicago.  So they were one of the first teams we scheduled and we played them five years in a row.  We never beat them but their coach told me, “We mercy almost everybody.  Our kids keep asking when we’re playing that Canadian team because you always give us a battle.”

With the Twins we often had two or three players drafted every season and, at one point, Walt Burrows, the head of the Major League Scouting Bureau, had the Twins play the rest of the province for his annual scout day. “The scouts say you have the best prospects,” he told me.

              Theo Millas, who went from the Reds to the Blaze to the JNT

So what the hell’s been going on for the past 16 years?  There have been some sparse shining lights, most notably James Paxton, but B.C. no longer dominates the Canada Cup and only two west coast players, Theo Millas and Tate Dearing, made the current Junior Nats.

It’s like the Gobi Desert has relocated to B.C.  The Major League Bureau stopped scouting this area several years ago because there wasn’t anybody to scout.  Eventually the Bureau was even disbanded.

I talked to half a dozen scouts about this scourge. One told me, “The PBL is awful now.  I don’t go to the games any more.  There are very few good players.  And nobody in B.C. gets drafted.  The proof is in the pudding.”

_____________________________________________________

Why?  Burrows, who is now scouting for the Minnesota Twins, has a few perceptive reasons.  “The kids don’t put in the time,” he reflects.  “They think they’ve got it made.  They think they’re going to the Promised Land.”
_____________________________________________________

Walt says he sees a lot of pitchers who lack arm strength because they don’t throw enough.  “A lot of the guys here used to throw 85-86 and now it’s 78.”

Burrows, who is one of the best in the business, is always looking for that kid with a pro body who has developed his mechanics well enough to blitz the zone with velocity.  He doesn’t see it here very often. “Anybody throwing 85 now is throwing hard compared to the rest,” he says.  “But the major league average is up to 93 miles an hour.”

Burrows is not a big fan of showcases.  “The umpires speed up the game by expanding the strike zone,” he points out.  “And they start with a count of one and one.  Scouts flock but a showcase isn’t what really matters.  Just watching BP isn’t good enough.  You have to see them play in games.”

Still, a lot of parents don’t understand.  “They buy in,” Burrows says.  “But look at the results, look at the reality of who gets signed.”

                          Walt Burrows, one of the best

He uses Dempster as a classic example.  Ryan used to throw over 100 pitches in bull pens twice a week when I had him with the Twins.  He was solid, his mechanics were perfect, he used Jobe’s and tubing to take care of his arm and he ran thousands of sprints to build fast twitch endurance.  There was virtually no chance of him injuring his arm.

And, if you think a 100 pitch side session is excessive for a pitcher who is in mid-season shape, I beg to differ.  When you throw 100 in a game it’s actually more like 180, including your warm-up and the eight before each inning.  What’s more, you’re bearing down on every pitch.  Plus you sit down after each frame and your arm tightens just a shade.  A bull pen is straight through and you’re working on command and fine tuning.  It has far less stress.  But it certainly develops arm strength.

           "These kids pitch two innings and they're done."

“Ryan didn’t care about all the radar guns,” Burrows says.  “He cared about winning.  I watched him throw in at least 40 games and I don’t remember him ever not throwing seven innings.  Now these kids will pitch two innings, 40 pitches, and they’re done.  They don’t have any endurance.”

Walt pretty well nailed the problems.  But, wait.  There’s hope for the West Coast after all.  There are stirrings, little bubbles of hope.  Are things about to turn around?  Is a U-turn on the horizon?

Maybe so.  In our next story let’s take a look at some of the B.C. prospects who competed in the T12 tournament this fall in Toronto.

 

NINE FOR THE MONEY

            The Pendulum Swings West

There were nine West Coasters who gave notice at the T12.  It comes as no surprise that five of them are on the roster of Doug Mathieson’s Langley Blaze. 

RHP Theo Millas (Blaze)

Theo threw a pair of good ones against Venezuela and Panama in the Pan Am U18’s.  He’s only 16 so he has a lot of head room and he’s the trailblazer.  He was also a standout at the T12.

“He was the best pitcher there with a lot of upside,” said former Blue Jays ace Duane Ward.  “He went out and pitched. One of the few guys who hit 90 MPH.”

And from assorted scouts:

“He worked five plus innings and was smooth and effortless with a fastball up to 89 MPH with a good slider.”

“He attacked the strike zone and showed excellent composure.”

“Threw hard for strikes. I can see him being a guy to watch.”

 RHP Eli Saul (UBC Thunder)

I love his build, his arm strength, and he displayed great mechanics.”

“He has good size (6-5, 205) and the older he gets the better he’ll get.”

“He attacked hitters and ran his fastball up to 90 MPH. He threw some good sliders and a few change ups.”

“Touched 89 MPH and there is more in that arm. He has a nice easy delivery.”

“Everyone I spoke to liked him. First player to watch from UBC’s entry into the Premier League.”

LHP Justin Thorsteinson (Blaze)

First time I saw him throw he was 13 and he looked like a blue chip prospect already.  He keeps getting better and he's had a scholarship at Oregon State since grade 10, which speaks volumes.

“He has size (6-4, 205), a good body and a great arm,” says former MLB home run king Jesse Barfield.

Another scout added, “He attacked hitters, filling up the strike zone.  He has an imposing frame and his fastball was 88 MPH. He looks the part.”

INF Joshua Walker (Victoria Mariners)

“I really like the kid,” says former Blue Jays slugger Lloyd Moseby.  “He has incredible hands. He can get to the next level.”

Another scout: “He handled the bat well and I liked his glove.”

“Had a good batting practice and played well at third.”

“He’s a great hitter.  He crushed the ball. And he showed well in the field.”

“Could the pendulum be swinging back to the west coast?  He’s a good one to watch.”

RHP Carter Morris (Okanagan Athletics)

“He’s young, but he hit 90 MPH and he used all his pitches,” Ward said.

“His fastball was close to major-league average," added a veteran scout.

OF Brandon Nicoll (Blaze)

“He’s a spark plug,” Barfield said.  “I like him a lot.”

OF Alejandro Cazorla (Surrey)

“He showed good instinct.” says Ward.  “Played the outfield well and puts the ball in play.”

OF Daniel Martin (Blaze)

“He showed a good approach at the plate and hit a ball to the second deck flashing his power. He also showed the best arm from the outfield.”

             Loreto dominated at the Little League World Series two years ago.

RHP Loreto Siniscalchi (Blaze)

This might just be saving the best for the last.  He’s only 14 but he’s already 6-2 and Mathieson projects him as a possible first rounder in 2022.  “He’s a special kid,” says Mathieson.  “He has a clean delivery and arm action with a 12 to 6 breaking ball.  And he’s easy to work with.”

In Florida for the Perfect Games tournament Loreto sat on 84-86 and he routinely posted 14 K’s in games with the Langley juniors.

One T12 scout said, “He was up to 86 MPH with a live arm with natural cut on his fastball and a sharp curve ball.”

Burrows will wait and see.  “He’s 14 and pitching against 18-year-olds.  There’s a lot to work with but his delivery is not real good.  We’ll see what happens three years from now.”

That, of course, is the crux of the matter.  A lot can happen in two or three years.  And a scout can only project so much.  Still, these kids are the New Wave surfing the West Coast.  Like the man said, the pendulum keeps swinging.

 

WHO CARES ABOUT HIS ARM?

           Jupiter's "Win at Any Cost" Jackasses

You want to know how crazy baseball coaches can get?  Let me tell you.

The Jupiter Perfect Games tournament includes 88 of the top travel teams in the US of A.  It’s a magnet the size of an asteroid for every scout and college recruiter from Stanford to Stetson.  There are 1,500 of the best draft class players on the planet performing on 13 fields for five days in late October.

But this Florida monster ain’t like most showcases.  No, sir.  The kids aren’t just trotted out to pitch a few innings or take some cuts.  Jupiter is as cut throat competitive as a knife fight in the Octagon.

“It’s dog eat dog,” says Perfect Games founder Jerry Ford.  “They want to win.”

              341 golf carts at $500 a pop and over a quarter of a million in fees.

And how much do the coaches want to win?  Well, Ford remembers one playoff game.

“There was this kid, who ended up being a first-rounder, and they were just riding him. He threw a complete game in the quarterfinal and won.  That put them into the semi, which was the very next game.

“In the fifth inning I saw this same kid warming up again.  I walked over and said, ‘Hey, you’re not going to pitch, are you?’ He says, ‘I think so.’ I say, ‘Hey, listen, you shouldn’t pitch.’ I can’t control the teams, but I thought maybe I could get through to the player."

______________________________________________________________________________________

“I don’t think the kid knew who I was—he probably thought I was a scout.  But he went into the dugout after he warmed up and I think he told the coach, who I know very well, that the guy over there told me I shouldn’t pitch. He never got back up. But they were going to throw him. That just shows you how competitive this stuff gets.”

______________________________________________________________________________________

Now think about that.  This kid is in Florida to showcase for a swirling throng of elite MLB scouts and college coaches.  He’s talented enough to be a first round pick, which means millions of dollars in bonus bread and a jump start into the major leagues.  He's just thrown seven innings and his ligaments and tendons and muscles are tightening up and screaming for rest.  He needs to heal.  If he steps on the mound two hours later he's playing Russian Roulette with his arm.  With a fully loaded gun. 

And these vile jackasses were so blood hungry, so bleeping polluted by their ego need to win, they were willing to gamble his arm, his career, his future, his lifelong dream, to win a bleeping baseball game.

Since then Perfect Game has adopted the USA Baseball regs, meant to help prevent overuse injuries.  But why in hell would you ever need that for any game, especially in a showcase?

                  Mike Trout was a surprise package.

Jupiter is the Super Bowl of all showcases.  It’s billed as a wood bat world championship on those 13 fields at the Roger Dean complex, the spring training facility for the Cardinals and the Marlins.  Games kick off at the unholy time of 8 in the morning, which means getting your kids up by 6 a.m. to prep.  And the wrap is 10 at night.

It’s so frantic for the scouts and recruiters they rent golf carts to scurry willy-nilly from one side of the complex to the other, 600 yards away.  When a blue chip prospect is on the hill the carts stack up deeper than a Los Angeles freeway in the heart of rush hour.     

The throng includes former big leaguers watching their sons, MLB general managers, cross-checkers, a myriad of scouts, prowling agents, and top college recruiters with their pockets crammed with full rides.

This year they rented 341 golf carts at $500 for the weekend.

And get this.  The entry fee is $3,000.  Even with my rudimentary math I figure that comes to 264 large.  Holy, Batman, Mabel, a quarter of a million plus for one baseball tournament.  Where do I get a piece of that action outside of Vegas?

Wisely, a lot of the top arms are bypassing Jupiter.  High school pitchers often hibernate for a couple of months before prepping for their season, which starts very early in the New Year.  "But, even though the top guys aren’t going,” says Twins scout Jack Powell, “there’s still good pitchers there. They show up, perform and elevate themselves.”

                      Scott Kazmir lit it up.

And the hills of Jupiter have seen a flurry of flamethrowers.

“Several years ago, I watched the Indians Scout Team,” says Ford.  “They had a stacked team with eight or nine future big leaguers.  But Jose Fernandez was pitching against them and nobody in the majors could have hit him that night.  That’s how good his stuff was.  Mike Trout was here and he was kind of a big surprise to us just how good he was at pretty much everything. But I would never in my wildest dreams have predicted that Mike Trout would be this Mike Trout.”

And Powell remembers the night Scott Kazmir lit up the late night sky.  “The place was packed. He dominated and took himself to a higher level. We all knew he was good but it was even better. It  was so impressive everyone stuck around.”

Which is how it should be.  Just as long as the vultures don’t have you warming up to

PAXTON AND WICK

            A Tale of Two Trades

James Paxton traded to the Yankees on November 19.

Rowan Wick traded to the Cubs on November 20.

If I was into Astrology or UFOlogy or Tarot Cards or Ouija Boards or Big Foot Sightings or JFK Conspiracies or Fate or Everything Happens For a Reason Horsebleep I would know this is a heavenly lightning streak from Zeus Himself.  The World is Coming to an End!  Save Yourselves!  Sell your Stocks and Bonds!  Leave Your Homes!  Gather Bread and Water!  Dig a Trench!  Build a Barricade!  The End is Near! 

But I’m an Existentialist so I just accept it as a Bleeping Coincidence.  No message.  Zeus is having a beer. 

Still, how often do a pair of big league guys you’ve worked with get traded not just in the same week, but only hours apart?  And to two of the best baseball cities ever.  C'mon you Analytics, WAR, FIP, OPS gurus, give me the odds on that one.

          What a Long, Strange Trip it's Been

Paxton’s road to the Yankees has been a roller coaster ride peppered with speed bumps that would have ejected the weak at heart.

Twelve years ago Ari Mellios and Mike Kelly hired me to be the pitching coach with the North Delta Blue Jays.  We had a blue chip crew on a team that went 39 and three at one point and James was the gun, the ace, the Chief of Staff.  He had some residual elbow soreness from the previous season so we went easy in the spring and he started slowly.  No problem.  By mid-summer James was as unhittable as a hurricane.

I spent a lot of time with him in the bull pen, talking pitching.  To me he had a big league arm.  He was smart.  He was creative. He invented grips.  He listened.  He competed hard.  He worked and he was dedicated.

I was sure he’d go in the top 10 rounds of the draft, maybe the top five.  I told every scout I saw that James was the real deal, a certified MLB pitcher.  No question.

But James wasn’t top 10.  Or 20.  Or 30.  In fact, he wasn’t drafted at all.

And I was amazed.  They could have waited until the 40th round and then offered him seventh round money.  It would have been the biggest steal since Dillinger.

There’d been talk that Paxton wasn’t very athletic, which made no sense at all.  Compared to David Wells he was Five Tools.  Maybe that brief arm problem skewered the mix or maybe it was the full ride at the U of Kentucky that scared them off.  I dunno.  But it was an enigma as big as the Milky Way.

After his freshman year James returned to Mackie Park for a session. The Wildcat coaches were paranoid about stolen bases, something a lot of college guys obsess over as compared to Greg Maddux, who never shortened his delivery and somehow wound up in the Hall of Fame.  If they steal a bag, they steal a bag, was his mantra.

At any rate for some reason James has never been able to develop a good pick-off move and the Kentucky coaches wanted him to slide step.   I’ve tried to get James to emulate Andy Pettitte’s devastating move but he seems to have a block, similar to Jon Lester of the Cubs, who can’t even throw over.  At any rate, I just told James to go back to where he was with North Delta and he looked good.

       Pettitte had the best move ever

When you enroll at a four-year school you aren’t eligible to be drafted until after your junior season so James waited until 2009 when Toronto scooped him in the first round.  To celebrate, his parents threw a party and I spent an hour with him dissecting pro baseball in the minor leagues--the prep, the bus travel, the fast food, the boredom, the homesick days, all that good bleep.  He was ready.  He was on his way.

But it was really No Way.

James hooked up with notorious agent Scott Boras, on board as his “adviser.”  To say MLB owners and GM’s hate Boras would be like pointing out that left wing liberals aren’t fond of some guy named Trump.  Mention Boras the Virus and GM’s break out with a body rash that never stops itching.  Boras is the Vito Corleone of Baseball.

The Blue Jays offered Paxton a million big ones or so but there were rumours they reneged on a pre-draft offer they made to Boras for even more.    Whatever the reason, Team Paxton and Boras turned down the Toronto offer and James headed back to Kentucky for his senior year.

Except he didn’t.  NCAA rules are pretty strict about college players hiring reps and, as far as they’re concerned, “adviser” is spelled “A.G.E.N.T.”  James was as welcome in Kentucky as a serial killer.

Muscling up his grit and determination Paxton survived the traumas of doubt and independent baseball before signing with the Mariners.  This time he really was on his way.  Yes, really.

But, sticking to the script, the speed bumps kept jumping up disguised as nagging injuries.  Paxton has been on the DL as often as Meghan Markle appears on the IE home page.  He’s been sore in so many places the Mariners had to send out for another MRI machine.

        The Maple Grove will become the Weeping Willows

But he perseveres.

Two years ago James started the season in AAA in Tacoma.  When I asked him why he said he was fine tuning his arm slot, which had gotten too much over the top.  When that correction locked in he became one of the most feared hurlers in the game.  When he no-hit the Blue Jays it was both a modicum of revenge and an exclamation point.

The Mariner fans will miss The Big Maple.  His cheering section will be morose as they retire their EH signs.  Do Canadians really say that?

If James stays healthy he’ll go shoulder to shoulder with Luis Severino as the Duo Aces of the Bronx Bombers.  And the Yankees will balance on the edge of being the best team in baseball.

New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town.  And James will undoubtedly hear a lot of Sinatra spreading the news.

          The Windy City with the Big Shoulders

It came as a bit of a surprise when San Diego traded Wick to the Cubs because they seemed to like him a lot.  But it shouldn’t have been.  The Padres have a massive logjam on their 40-man and they seem to think their minor league system is stacked, which is a bit optimistic from what I've seen.  Rowan would certainly have been corralled if they'd put him on waivers.  So they traded him.  Good move.

The Chicago blogs are more or less neutral on Wick’s arrival but not impressed by the 6.48 ERA he posted over 10 MLB games in September.  They expect him to be demoted to AAA in Iowa.

And that’s where they’re wrong.

As usual these gurus are Obsessed with Stats.  Yes, Rowan gave up six runs in 8 and a third.  But five of those markers came in one suspicious inning against the Reds when he was brushed by two groundball singles and two bunt singles.  One of those was a bunt and run and the coaches told him the second baseman blew it, which makes no sense at all and truly makes me wonder about the Padres.  (See “One Bad Pitch” and “The Lethal Weapon No One Uses.”)

Otherwise Wick was virtually lights out, including a brilliant debut where he blew away the Rockies with a sparkling heater and a razor blade slider.

I think Rowan has a great shot at starting the season on the Cubs roster.  He should make a couple of mechanical adjustments—more load and more knee coil—but his velocity is solid, that slider is as filthy as a toddler in a mudhole, and his command keeps locking in.

The Cubs coaching staff is in the Bermuda Triangle right now with abdications left, right, center and off the grid, which makes you wonder about manager Joe Maddon.  The latest resignation came from pitching mentor Jim Hickey so they’re scrambling to find a replacement.  Hopefully, the new guy has heard of the bunt and run.

Meanwhile, Rowan can dream about “Cubs Win!  Cubs Win!”  Chicago, Chicago, That Toddlin’ Town…                                

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HUSTLE? 

            Bring On the Sloth Triplets

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“I’m not the type of player who’s going to be Johnny Hustle.”
                              --Manny Machado
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You got that right.

I watched Machado loaf down the line with the Orioles as if he was strolling in the sand at Malibu. And Buck Showalter did nothing.

And I watched him trot to first base with the Dodgers when he drilled a shot off the left field wall. And turned an automatic double into an anemic single that was more embarrassing than a 16-year-old passing wind on his first date with the hottest girl in the whole damn school.

And Dave Roberts did nothing.

Is it any wonder Machado has less professional discipline than a crack addict who hasn’t slept since Labour Day? If the manager doesn’t seem to care why should Machado be a naïve idiot called Johnny Hustle? After all, Pete Rose only had 4,256 hits.


                  "Well, at least this is better than running to first."

Too bad the Blue Jays don’t have 300 mill to sign free agent Manny. He’d fit right in with the Sloth Twins, Morales and Solarte. That would make it the Sloth Triplets and Toronto fans could make bets on how many groundballs they’d turn into pre-game fungo practice.

Whoops, forgot, there’s a new sheriff in town, a dude named Charlie Montoyo. Maybe, just maybe, he’s professional enough to demand accountability from the slack ass spoiled millionaires.

At least some of the Dodgers were less forgiving than their manager. Well, almost.  “You’re getting a superstar player as a rental for half a season to help us win a championship,” one of them said. “You can’t really tell him he needs to change the way he plays.”

Why not? Money makes you a professional but only in dollars. A professional plays like a professional. With pride. With respect.  With integrity.

                       Montoyo won't have to hold up Morales or Solarte.

The Dodgers are a Cody Bellinger/Joc Pederson crew. Home Run Derby or strikeout. Maybe they learned how to play baseball from the Red Sox. But I doubt it.

Can you imagine the cement mixer churning in Dustin Pedroia’s gut as he watched a clown like Machado waltz down the line, kicking horsebleep all over the game Dustin loves? And knowing some dull minded GM will fork over hundreds of millions to lock up Manny for the next decade?

Whatever happened to this game we call baseball?

 

PITCHING TIPS

        Get Into His Kitchen and Break Some Dishes

"Don’t let the hitter own both sides of the plate. If he’s leaning over the plate to claim it as his territory you have to jam him with hard stuff inside.

"You want to get into the hitter’s kitchen and break some dishes."

                              --Brilliant Hall of Fame righthander Tom Seaver

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

“Walker Buehler had Tommy John surgery and came back throwing harder than he ever could imagine.  He was 91, 92 and now he’s 97, 98.”

               --Fox broadcaster Joe Buck
_____________________________________________________

 IT’S AN “EPIDEMIC”

The Insanity of Tommy John for 15-year-olds

Way to go, Joe Buck. You have increased the lineup for Tommy John by a few thousand insane parents, who actually think the surgery will give their 15-year-old a burst of velocity.  Which, of course, will light up the radar guns from here to Aklavik and the kid will be an MLB multi-millionaire by the time he’s 28. 

No (bleeping) way.

Tommy John surgery does not increase a pitcher’s velocity.  That’s virtually impossible.  When the surgeon wields the scalpel he’s replacing a torn ligament with a tendon.  Unless that strip of bacon has been sliced out of The Hulk’s hamstring and injected with Dianabol and HGH it will have the same strength as the original.

So tell me, Carnac, if you know so much, how does Walker Buehler jump the shark from 91 to 98?  Did he buy a Bionic Arm from Walmart?

Pretty simple, really.  Walker was undoubtedly doing the Jobe’s rehab exercises every pitcher hacks into when they’re recovering from the surgery.  Jobe's strengthen the elbow, the shoulder, the forearm, the back and the rotator cuff.  That’s a Pentagon of Power.

_____________________________________________________________________________________

These are the same Jobe’s exercises I’ve been teaching pitchers for 25 years so they can strengthen their arm BEFORE they get hurt.  Combine them with The Thrower’s Ten and you’ve got Secret Service protection for your arm.
____________________________________________________ 

What’s more, just before a pitcher goes under the knife his velocity is at low ebb because it hurts to throw with a torn elbow ligament that’s begging for mercy or a bucket of Tylenol.  When he returns to the bump his velo usually reverts to where it was when he was healthy before his UCL started to fray.

See the source image

                             Walker Buehler after TJ

But, when Joe Buck announces that Buehler’s mph has jumped like a jack rabbit after TJ he simply encourages a flotilla of deranged parents who are sure their kid should hit the operating table pronto.  Not today.  Yesterday.

"We need that extra seven notches on the gun, sunshine, so get your elbow prepped.  Mommy and daddy are running low on cash and we’re holding out for one of those million dollar bonuses we see every June in Baseball America.  Surgery is the answer to all our prayers, even though we don’t pray."

And even though there is absolutely nothing wrong with the kid’s arm.
_________________________________________________________________

"Some kids will come in with their parents in uniform because they’re playing that night.  The parents want a consultation to be considered for a Tommy John operation.  I ask them, when did he get hurt?  And they tell me he isn't hurt but he's not developing as quickly as the other kids."
  --Dr. Christopher Ahmad, the Yankees team physician.
___________________________________________________

Dr. Ahmed is convinced this moronic stupidity starts with media gurus like Joe Buck, who either doesn’t know why pitchers throw harder after TJ or doesn’t think it’s important enough to explain.  “It’s the perception these  kids get watching TV and online,” Ahmed says.  “We’re trying to get parents to understand it’s a tough operation with a very difficult recovery and you should avoid it."

Dr. James Andrews has performed more Tommy John than Donny and Marie have bounced on stage in Vegas.  He says it's a “myth” that the operation enables pitchers to throw harder. A very dangerous myth because he sees a flood of parents who want surgery for sons as young as 14.  Who don’t have an elbow injury.

“The problem is parents who think the procedure will give the kid a bionic arm,” Andrews says.  “If a pro throws harder it’s not because of the surgery.  It’s because of the maturity and all the rehab and conditioning they do for a year or more.”

See, told you so.

                     Doctor Tommy John

“If you’re operated on in the eighth or ninth grade for Tommy John,”  Andrews adds, “your chances of reaching the collegiate level go down about threefold.”

Andrews has seen a meteoric rise in TJ operations that have become a virtual "epidemic."  He went from performing surgery on one or two high school players in 1997 to 80 or 90 a year.  And where did all this madness start?  Well, in the beginning it was all good, a career saver.

          "He looked me in the eye and said, 'Let's do it.'"

Back in 1974 Los Angeles lefthander Tommy John came to Dr. Frank Jobe, the Dodgers surgeon, for advice.  Tommy had blown his UCL, the ligament that connects the ulnar bone (the forearm) to the humerus (the upper arm).  Obviously, this is kind of important.

At the time there was nada anyone could do to repair that damage.  You were gonzo.  But Dr. Jobe told John there was an experimental operation he could pull out of a hat and try some magic.  Call it the Before Tommy John surgery.  Maybe one chance in a 100 it would work.  About the same odds as a Sumo wrestler riding the Kentucky Derby winner.

John had nothing to lose.  “He looked me in the eye,” Dr. Jobe remembered, “and said, ‘Let’s do it.’”

                                               The great Dr. Frank Jobe

So the good doctor took a tendon out of Tommy John’s right arm and sewed it into his left elbow.  I won’t go into the gory details.  Suffice it to say Jose Rios, who managed to top the charts with three TJ operations, actually watched Dr. Jobe slice into another pitcher and almost threw up.

Tommy John had his surgery when he was 31.  And pitched for 13 more years, collecting 164 wins with a new UCL.  One in a 100, you say?  What the hell is that Sumo wrestler doing in the winner’s circle at Churchill Downs?

This story is also news to a lot of the kids.  "They don’t even know I pitched," John says. “The kids say ‘Tommy John, the doctor.’ I hear that often. My name is in all the medical journals and I’m proud to be associated with Tommy John Surgery and the late Dr. Frank Jobe."

          "They think they know more than Dr. Jobe"

About 60 percent of all TJ surgeries now invade the tender arms of kids 15 to 19, which deeply disturbs John. "The injury is from overuse," he says. "Most of the guys who get hurt pitch 12 months a year from age 8 to 17.  You need three, four months of rest to let nature heal what's been injured from pitching. I think that's the root cause.”

He’s also convinced modern science facilitates TJ.  “It has a lot to do with MRIs.  We only had X-Rays back in '74 and a doctor might see an abnormality and tell a guy to keep pitching or take off for a while.  Now, the doctors see it's partially torn and they do the surgery."

John adds, “Only 20 percent ever make it back to their previous level.  Worse yet, between 25 and 30 percent of athletes who undergo Tommy John aren’t able to play baseball two years later.”

He doesn’t blame the kids.  “The moms and dads are the ones who need talking to,” Tommy says.  “They go on-line and read about the surgery and think they know more than Dr. Jobe and Dr. Andrews. The surgery doesn't make a kid throw harder or make him a major league pitcher."

And he endorses the concerns of a growing number of sports trainers like Eric Cressey, who’s as good as it gets.  “There’s more stress in sports now than celebration,” John says.  “It should be fun. These are kids, not pros.”

Image result for Free pictures of Sumo wrestlers

              Can you imagine how the poor horse felt?

"There’s an irrational push by parents for children to play sports for such long hours and long durations with so much repetition we’re seeing an increase in injuries from 20 years ago,” says Dr. Randolph Cohen, who practices U18 Sports Medicine in Florida.

A Loyola University study nailed this.  Athletes who specialize are 70 to 93 percent more likely to be injured than those who play multiple sports.  All the pounding from doing the same actions over and over is too much stress on bones, joints and ligaments.  By the way, 29 of the 32 first-round picks in the recent NFL draft were multisport athletes in high school.

When John Smoltz was inducted into the Hall of Fame he echoed Tommy John’s concern.  “It’s not normal to have a surgery at 14 and 15 years old,” he said.  “Baseball is not a year-round sport.  Be athletic and play other sports.”

Amen to that.

Here I go with “When we were kids.”  But it’s true.  We played everything.  Three-on-three basketball, touch football, road hockey, yards, American ping pong (it’s baseball), pick-up soccer.  Every day, all day.  We loved it.  And it made us far better baseball players.

Trainers like Cressey stress this.    Develop endurance, agility, flexibility, leg strength, core, coordination.  Be an athlete.

And you won’t be on the operating table at 17 waiting for a surgeon to cut your elbow open.

 

ASK A PHYSIO GUY

          Is Icing Good for a Pitcher's Arm?

                               By Graeme Lehman

Using ice on a pitcher’s arm is a polarizing question, pun intended.  In my opinion the answer lies somewhere in the middle but I do lean more to the No Ice side if I had to choose.

Inflammation following a trauma is actually a good thing.  And, yes, your body considers throwing a baseball as hard as you can over and over to be traumatic.  Inflammation is part of the healing process.  It brings a fresh supply of blood and nutrients to the area.

When we first apply ice our body actually INCREASES the blood supply to the affected area in order to regulate the temperature.  But, if we leave the ice on too long, we constrict blood vessels.  Nothing can come in and nothing can leave.

                  No, it's not broken.  But it sure needs a massage.

We want the old blood and its waste products to leave the healing area.  That’s the responsibility of our lymphatic system and it’s hindered by the constricted blood vessels.

Instead of icing I recommend a series of light exercises aimed at increasing blood flow.  If possible, have a professional trainer massage the shoulder, back and elbow or use a tool to massage yourself.

And there are two more huge pieces of the puzzle to aid recovery.

Sleep.  Nutrition.  

Unless you optimize this Dynamic Duo there’s no point in arguing about the pro's and con's of icing.

But, if you must ice, you should use contrast therapy where you alternate hot and cold in order to dilate and then constrict the blood vessels.  This creates a natural pumping action to increase crucial blood circulation.

 

______________________________________________________________________________________

                     From $30 mill to Peanut Butter and Jam

“Why do teams spend from $484,000 to $30 million per year on a single player, yet save money by feeding their minor leaguers pizza, fried chicken, and peanut butter and jam and salami sandwiches on white bread?”
--Trainer Eric Cressey, the best in the business
____________________________________________________________________

 

        What has Hockey got to do with this?

I used to watch a lot of hockey. I was an etched in stone Montreal Canadiens fan. Of course, that was when I was very young and didn’t realize pro sports teams are simply commercial enterprises that con people into living vicariously.

I loved the 80’s when the Oilers squared off with the Flames in bare knuckle brawls that were as wide open as an H-bomb crater. Gretzky, Messier, Coffey, Kurri, Fuhr and the Frank Nitti Enforcers, Marty McSorley and Dave Semenko, who shadowed The Great One like a momma pit bull protecting her pup.

But lately I only imbibe occasionally. The game has just become as (bleeping) boring as an Oscar speech. Migawd, I know that’s blasphemy and Grapes and Ron will be irate. Sorry, can’t help it.

                         When you're Semenko, the Enforcer, who needs a helmet?

The ice is as crowded as an ant hill. NHL players get bigger and stronger by the minute.  But bigger and stronger doesn’t always mean better. Try an experiment. Count how many times you see three completed passes in an NHL game, excluding a power play. You just might strike out for a whole period.

Obviously, and I truly mean obviously, which excludes it from the minds of the dudes who run the NHL, they should go to 4-on-4. (See “The Six foot Basketball League” somewhere down below in this flood of posts). That would open the ice and let brilliant athletes like Connor McDavid and Elias Pettersson (who's parents stuttered) and Rasmus Dahlin and superb blueliner Victor Hedman skate circles in the wind.

Hell, the National Hype League has already gone to 3-on-3 in overtime because they hate shoot outs and pretty soon it will undoubtedly be 1-on-1 with the goalies in handcuffs.

Of course, 4-on-4 will never happen because the GM’s would reduce their bench and the Players Association will blow up Madison Square before they’ll give up one salary, particularly when it belongs to North Van’s Colton Sissons.

         Is Hockey Really Mindless? 

As you watch the replay of a goal listen to the analyst.  "Smith steals the puck at centre ice, stick handles past Jones, and carries across the blueline. Watch this great pass to the Swede Andreychukhuusengesundheit in the slot. And the Swede blasts a one-timer on the glove side into the back of the net."

He’s telling you exactly what you’re seeing. You could replace every NHL analyst with a Google robot and get just as much expertise. Don’t tell us WHAT happened. Tell us WHY. But how naïve am I? No one can tell you why because no one knows.

Not so long ago the pundits mocked Roger Neilson and called him Captain Video because he had the audacity to videotape his players and show them where they were out of position or out to lunch. Neilson, yeh, he’s that nut case who thinks you can teach hockey. LOL.

I keep hearing about new players who have to adapt to a team’s “system.” So I decided to do some research. I Googled the Canucks and their “system.” Over and over, rewording it every which way but loose to find the password to unlock the Secrets of the System.

And all I ever came up with was nothing. System? What the (bleep) is the matter with you, idiot, there is no “system” because the Canucks don’t have one. No one in the NHL has a “system.” They just skate around until the puck comes to them.

Consider, for instance, Joel Quenneville, who just got fired by the Black Hawks.  In the past decade Joel was in charge as the Hawks lifted the Stanley Cup three times.  He's won more games than Mars has bars.  But he's expendable.

And guys who were Coach of the Year are Dummy of the Decade the next go round.  Going from "The Penthouse to the Outhouse" is the next big hit for Garth Brooks when he performs at the December meeting of the Fired, Discarded and  Stomped On NHL coaches.  Which tells you something about their value.

Where in the hell is Captain Video when we need him?

          And then you have Collinsworth, Aikman and Romo

Why do hockey play-by-play guys think they’re the reincarnation of Foster Hewitt and it’s still CBC radio in 1952? When Bob Cole can remember the names of the skaters he’ll point out exactly what they’re doing while you watch exactly what they’re doing.

By contrast you have football analysts like Cris Collinsworth and Troy Aikman and Tony Romo who lock in exactly why an off-tackle burst was so effective. And MLB dudes like Jim Palmer and Paul O’Neill, who ace it, who reveal inside stories and tactical insights and you actually learn something.

I was absorbing the Patriots and the Packers and the magnificent Rodney Harrison was on board. Rodney is a rare jewel analyst, a Churchill amongst drivel, a gold nugget amongst pebbles, a Ben Franklin amongst nickels and dimes. When Rodney speaks it’s The Hammer of Thor at the podium.

                            Rodney (37): "I never listened to it." 

You’ve all seen those ludicrous pep talks some clown spews out before the kick-off. He knows the camera is grinding and he’s showing us all what a great leader he is. Ray Lewis was the King of Pre-game Horse Bleep.

When they asked Harrison how he responded to this nonsense he said, “I never listened to it” and he was my hero right there, right then. Rodney is well aware anyone playing in the NFL has absolutely no need to get pumped. In fact, some of them throw up before they leave the room. Better to relax and focus and maybe you’d see fewer fumbles or interceptions.

And then there was the Super Bowl when Harrison broke his arm with only a few minutes left, stayed in for one more play, went to the dressing room for an X-Ray, snuck out when the medics were setting up, and returned to watch the end and share in the Patriots victory.

And Josh Donaldson missed three months with a sore calf muscle.

Wouldn’t it be cool if Harrison and Aikman and Romo and Collinsworth were MLB analysts? They could dissect the off-tackle groundball through the hole and the slant pass pop up and the cut-off interception.

You wouldn’t learn very much about baseball but it sure would be a lot more fun.

PLEASE PASS THE BUCK

               Koufax versus Kershaw

____________________________________________________

"Clayton Kershaw is arguably the best pitcher in Los Angeles franchise history.”
                      --Buck Martinez
_____________________________________________________

Yes, Buck Martinez actually said that.  He did.  I swear he did. 

I’m well aware Buck makes more mistakes than a knife juggler swilling slugs from a fifth of Jim Beam while balancing on one leg on a block of ice.

He thinks James Paxton was drafted out of high school by the Blue Jays even though James wasn’t drafted out of high school by anybody or anything unless it was a typhoon of fresh air.

When a groundball clipped the shortstop’s glove and was scooped by the left fielder he called it an infield single.  And he still doesn’t know the difference between a cut-off and a relay.

But let’s not nit-pick over minor things like facts.  Buck spews out clichés like a machine gun gone ballistic (that’s a nice play on words) and, when it comes to opinion, Buck is even saltier.

That quote came during the World Series and I was lucky I wasn’t eating at the time.  For openers, I have great respect for Clayton Kershaw.  He’s a command pitcher with a U-turn cuvrveball and a razor sharp slider.  He’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer.

            Better than Koufax?  Whatever you're smoking...   (Tim Bradbury photo)

But his delivery is terrible.  He stops and starts and hangs over the rubber and has less momentum than a sleeping snail, which slams on the emergency brake and reduces his velocity by about 5 mph.  Still, he overcomes that by hitting spots like a sniper.

But Kershaw is the best in Dodgers history?  Better than Sandy Koufax?  That’s like saying a Big Mac is yummier than Thomas Keller’s Per Se tasting menu.  (If you’ve done that please let me know.)

I won’t rehash Sandy’s Lights Out credentials.  You can drift through those in “The Greatest Pitcher Who Ever Lived” just below.  Suffice it to say, when Koufax was digging into the mound and the Dodgers scored a run early they figured the game was over.  He was that dominant.

                I hear this guy Keller knows how to cook a great mac and cheese.  

What’s more, I can make a pretty good runner-up case for Big D, Don Drysdale, the 6-5 rigthhanded terrorist who threw blistering high 90’s sidearm heat and was prone to pitching inside.  Very inside.

“You hit one of my guys and I’ll hit two of your’s,” he threatened opposing pitchers.  “Hit two of mine and I’ll nail four of your’s.”  Keep in mind this was before umpires issue bench warnings any time a pitcher comes six inches inside.

                        Big D, who would knock down his mother-in-law.  

In 1968 Drysdale threw six shutouts in a row and 58 and 2/3 innings without giving up a run.  No, I didn’t make that up.  No, I don’t do drugs.  No, you’re not hallucinating.  Those are real numbers and the chances of them ever being matched are about the same as Earth buying lunch for Jupiter.

But, still, I like Buck.  He’s sort of comic relief.  Even when he’s not trying to be funny.

 

 BASEBALL PUZZLE

What's the difference between a CUTTER and a SLIDER?

 

Watching the World Series I love the shots of Sandy Koufax at Dodger Stadium.  If you never saw Koufax pitch you missed something very special. Analysts talk about a pitcher being “unhittable.”  Sandy owned that word.    

SANDY KOUFAX

          The Greatest Pitcher Who Ever Lived

There are certain things I know for sure.

I know that love is loyalty.  I know that animals are innocent and should be protected from vile trophy hunters.  I know that eating fish and fruit and vegetables will keep you strong and energized.    

And I know, without the slightest doubt, that Sandy Koufax is the greatest pitcher who ever lived.

Yes, Pedro and Verlander and Clemens and Hader and Mariano and Maddux and Gibson and Sale and Nolan Ryan and  Kershaw and Feller and Aroldis are all awesome.

But Koufax was ineffable.  INEFFABLE.

I was never a Dodger fan.  I liked the Yankees.  But you didn't have to be a fan to truly appreciate Sanford Koufax.  He was the most overpowering pitcher ever--blistering fastball, a 12 to 6 curveball that broke nose to toes, and a cobra change-up. In his youth he had trouble throwing strikes--but when Sandy got command…fo-get about it…

September 9, 1965—Perfect Koufax

Let me take you back to the most memorable game of a career studded with great moments.

On Sept. 9, 1965 Koufax threw a perfect game at Dodger Stadium, handcuffing the Cubs 1-0.  "I would think the last two or three innings of that game are as well as I've ever pitched," he said, later.
________________________________________________________________

"I had to climb up closer to the hitters than usual because his breaking ball broke straight down and you almost had to reach up underneath to catch it."
___________________________________________________

"There was nobody who was going to hit Sandy Koufax that day," said Cubs third baseman Ron Santo.  "He just kept throwing fastballs right by you.  You were just overmatched."

The Dodger catcher that night was Jeff Torborg, who later managed the Florida Marlins.  "Sandy didn't have his exceptional stuff early in that game," Torborg said.  "But he got it together in the sixth or seventh and he really started to let it fly.  He sniffed it.  You could see it in his eyes."

          "I'll be right back"

After striking out as a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, Joey Amalfitano walked passed Harvey Kuenn, who was on-deck.  "You'd better be ready," he warned Kuenn, "because he's getting it up there real good."

Kuenn replied, "Wait for me, Joey.  I'll be right back."

Koufax struck out 14 Cubs that night--including the last six hitters he faced.  Besides a fastball that was second to none, Sandy threw "the best curveball I've ever seen," says catcher Torborg.  "I had to climb up closer to the hitters than usual because his breaking ball broke straight down and you almost had to reach up underneath to catch it."

Cubs receiver Chris Krug agreed.  "Frankly, he had the best fastball in the league, the best curveball and the best change-up.  And he could get them over most any time he wanted.  He just overmatched you."

______________________________________________________________________________________

“Sandy Koufax was the most dominating pitcher I ever saw.  I was on his level in certain games.  But I wasn’t as consistent as Sandy Koufax.”

--NOLAN RYAN, who threw seven no-hitters plus 12 one-hitters and notched
5,714 strikeouts with a flamethrowing fastball over 100 mph.    
___________________________________________________________________

Some stats:

In his last five seasons Koufax was 111-34 with a 1.95 ERA.
In 1965 he struck out 382.
He was 25-5 in 1963 with a 1.88 ERA.
Sandy threw no-hitters in four straight seasons.

"I stopped pressing after I learned that, if you fail, life will still go on." Koufax said, later.  "I changed my mechanics and learned to pitch.  I learned to control myself.  Instead of trying to do something 100%, I left a little--giving maybe 95 to 99%."

          Throwing 90 at 50

Koufax had an arthritic elbow that forced him to retire far too early--at the age of 30.  Putting it all in perspective he said, "I've got a lot of years to live after baseball.  I’d like to live them with the complete use of my body."

Nonetheless, there's a story I heard a few years ago about Koufax heating it up in Dodgertown when he was in his 50's.  And throwing 90 mph.

I don't believe that story.  It must be apocryphal.  But, then again, this is Sandy Koufax we're talking about…

_____________________________________________________

"I can understand how he won 25 games.  But I don't understand how he lost five."

--Yankees legend Yogi Berra after facing Koufax in the World Series.
_____________________________________________________

And, so, you ask, what is the point of this endless tale?  Just wait, I'm getting there.

A few years ago I heard Bob Brenly doing analysis on a telecast and he was talking about Koufax.  He mentioned that Sandy stressed leading with your hip.  And that, friends, is the point.

When you start forward in your delivery LEAD WITH YOUR HIP.  That will keep you loaded and stop you from rushing your upper body.

There are three things I'll point out about this picture.  1) Sandy leading with his hip.  2) The TILT he gets as he loads.  And 3) Notice how his post foot is hooked on the rubber.  That was a Koufax trademark to get extra leverage.  Of course, you can only do it on a pro mound with the proper clay and maintenance.    

Watch just about any great pitcher and you'll see it.  They all lead with their hip.  I stress this with our pitchers.  Knee raise and then, as you drive toward the plate, your lower body always goes first.  Your upper body is along for the ride until you reach the Power Triangle and Explode. 

          LEAD WITH YOUR HIP.

How do I know?  Well, I may be stupid, but I'd have to be an utter moron to ignore anything Sandy Koufax says.  When Koufax talks, I listen.  He's the best ever.

And that I know for sure.

                 Koufax and the curveball

Sandy Koufax has exceptionally long fingers.   

CLINT HOSFORD shook hands with him in Dodgertown and came
away amazed at the size of Sandy’s hands.  That may explain why
Koufax had such a great nose to toes curveball.  Long fingers give
you tremendous snap on a breaking ball.  Of course, you have no
control over that and there are a whole lot of pitchers who throw
great hammers with smaller hands.

 Koufax was an extraordinary athlete.  Legend has it he was such a good basketball player he could have gone into the NBA right out of high school.

__________________________________________________________________________________

 "Trying to hit Koufax is like trying to drink coffee with a fork.”

--Pittsburgh's WILLIE STARGELL, who crushed 475 home runs in 21 seasons. 

___________________________________________________________________________________

                                   

THE ULTIMATE STUPIDITY OF THE CYCLE

            “Just Play the Game”

Bud Abbott and Lou Costello are running ideas for their vaudeville act.

BUD: I’ve got one.  Baseball.  We’ll do a skit called “Lou’s on First.”
LOU: “Lou’s on First?”
BUD: Right.
LOU: I’ve never been on first.
BUD: True.  So how about “Who’s on First?”
LOU: “Who’s on First?”
BUD: That’s right.
LOU: So who is the guy on first? 
BUD: Yes, Who.

LOU: Who is on first?
BUD: He sure is.
LOU: Who is he?
BUD: Who.
LOU: What the hell.
BUD: What is on second.
LOU: What?
BUD: Yes, What is playing second base.
LOU: I don’t know what you’re talking about.
BUD: I Don’t Know is on third.
LOU: But who’s on first?
BUD: Yes.
LOU: Who?
BUD: Uhuh.
LOU: I give up.
BUD: Okay.  So try this one.  A dude hits a single, a double, a triple and a home run.  How about that?
LOU: Well, this is 1935 and “dude” isn’t cool yet.  But he hits a single, double, triple and a jack?
BUD: Jack is in right field.
LOU: Okay, it’s four hits.
BUD: It’s one of each.
LOU: So what?
BUD: What is on second.
LOU: Here we go again.
BUD: One of each.  That makes it very important.
LOU: Who cares?
BUD: Of course he does.
LOU: Why?
BUD: Why is in left field.
LOU: I should have known.  But aren’t two doubles, a triple and a home run better than one of each?
BUD: Yes, of course they are.
LOU: And isn’t a double, two triples and a home run even better?
BUD: But they’re not one of each.  Get it?
LOU: I don’t know.
BUD: I told you, I Don’t Know is on third.
LOU: What are you going to call this?
BUD: How about a Foursome?
LOU: That sounds very pornographic.  This is 1935 not 2018 when anything goes.  We’ll be banned from the 42nd Street stage.
BUD: Then we’ll take Porn out of the lineup.
LOU: What position does he play?
BUD: Wherever he wants.
LOU: So it’s not a Foursome.
BUD: How about a Cycle?
LOU: What’s a Cycle?
BUD: I Have No Idea.
LOU: I’ll bet he’s the catcher.
BUD: Sure, we’ll call it a Cycle.
LOU: But it’s not as good as two doubles and two jacks.  Yes, I know, Jack is in centerfield.
BUD: Right.  The Cycle means nothing.  But baseball is crammed full of pointless statistics.  The writers and Social Media thrive on it.  They love meaningless things.
LOU: Social Media?
BUD: He’s the closer.
LOU: They love it because it’s meaningless?
BUD: Absolutely.  One of each.  That must mean something even if no one knows why.
LOU: Of course.  It’s baseball.
BUD: And I have a prediction.
LOU: I knew you would.
BUD: A Boston second baseman named Buck Holtz will hit for the Cycle in the 2014 World Series.
LOU: No way.  You’re six years off.  He’ll do it in 2008 but his name is Barack Obama and the Red Sox will never win the World Series.  Because they traded Babe Ruth.
BUD: Babe Who?
LOU: Who’s on First.  Babe Ruth is the shortstop.

        When Jeff Frye stopped at first

After Brock Holt hit for The Cycle against the Yankees he whooped it up like a kid who has just won at Fortnite, whatever that means, like a woman who has been invited to the Royal wedding, like a dude who cashed a $100 ticket on a 60-1 shot.

You’d think he’d actually done something important.  Well, come to think of it, Ron Darling was sure he had.
________________________________________________________________

"The Red Sox took the lead.  But, more importantly, Brock Holt hit for the cycle."     --Fox analyst Ron Darling __________________________________________________

It didn’t matter that Holt completed his Masterpiece by hitting a jack against  Yankees catcher, Austin Romine, who was throwing chocolate ice cream BP.

I’ve never understood why The Cycle is so orgasmic it serves as an instant aphrodisiac for a lady who loves the diamond.  Try it, dudes.  Just remember this is from a Red Sox small sample.

The Cycle.  As Bud and Lou point out, two doubles, a triple and a home run are better than One of Each.  So Who cares about a Cycle?  I'm sure he does.

          The Farce of 2001

The ultimate Cycle farce came 17 years ago when Jeff Frye did the deed for the Blue Jays.  I saw that game.  And it was like a Monty Python Silly Walk routine gone awry.

Frye’s double and triple were gifts from Rangers right fielder Ricky Ledee, who underestimated the bounce in the Rogers Centre turf and let a pair of Rawlings spheres bounce over his head into no man’s land.  Then Frye drilled an honest line drive jack into the left field corner.

Now all he needed was a measly single.

                     Jeff Frye and his Silly Walk slide

Before his last AB Frye went to hitting coach Cito Gaston for advice.  “I asked Cito what I should do if I hit one to the wall and he said I should stop at first and tell everyone he told me to do it.”

Lo and behold, Frye got a fastball up and middle and drove it into the left field gap.  To the fence.  A gimme for a stand up double.

“I’m like, ‘Oh crap,’” Frye said later.  “I’m taking a turn and I’m screaming at Garth Iorg, the first base coach, ‘What do I do? What do I do?’ He’s yelling at the top of his lungs, ‘Stay here! Stay here!’ So I went back to first.”

Yes, he went back to first.  On a line shot in the gap.  I couldn’t believe it.

The next day Frye talked to Rangers manager Jerry Narron and apologized.  And Narron, who knew Frye played hard and never showed anyone up, stared at him coldly.  “Just play the game,” Narron said. “Just play the game.”

Frye finished the season with the Jays and then dropped off the map, later to become a player’s agent.

I have a feeling if George Steinbrenner owned the Blue Jays or Whitey Herzog was the manager, all three, Gaston, Org and Frye, would have been on their way to Dunedin on the next Westjet.

Just like Spinal Tap, two doubles, a triple and jumping the yard are better than a Cycle.  Louder by one.  Just Play the Game.

So let’s invent our own Cycle.  How about 0-for-5 on five groundballs to the second baseman?  With the Dreaded Shift that’s certainly doable.  Think about the excitement, the tension, the pressure when Kendrys Morales is in the box poised for Numero Five.  He drives a groundball deep in the hole, trots down the line, and gets thrown out by 40 feet.  The place would go bonkers.  History, Kendrys, history.

I’m sure you can come up with something better.  But right now let’s just call it The Groundhog.  And it will be just as stupid as The Cycle.

(If you get a chance please Google "Abbott and Costello Who's on First?"  This classic routine is just as funny now as it was decades ago.)

THROWING 102 MPH

           The Spirit of Billy The Kid

The 7-year-old was in his element, basking in the fun of pick-up football with his buds.  He was a righthanded QB, tossing Tom Brady bullets long before Brady married Belichick. 

They laughed and they tumbled and they got up and laughed some more.  Until the game drifted out of control and the righthanded 7-year-old was sacked and went down.  No harm, no foul.  But his best friend fell on top of him and he heard the crack and felt the searing pain blitz through his forearm like a bolt from a taser.    

His right arm was fractured.  Did I tell you he was righthanded?  Yeh, I think I did.

The cast stayed on for six frustrating weeks as the 7-year-old, who was righthanded, longed to throw something, anything, a football, a baseball, a frisbee, a can of Coke.

And, then, finally, the doc scraped the plaster off and the kid was free again.  Free to throw righthanded.  Did I mention that before?

At which point he broke his arm again.  His right arm.  Not sure how that happened. But I am sure I told you he was righthanded.

So this righthanded 7-year-old was grounded again.  Grounded from throwing a football or a baseball, which was even worse.

But there was something inside this 7-year-old, who threw with his right hand, something you can’t measure, something special, something you can’t coach or teach or develop or motivate or even pray for.

Something.

Because this 7-year-old, who was righthanded (did I mention that?), started throwing with his left hand.  Yes, his left hand.  His LEFT hand.  

He turned his glove inside out and pounded balls against the wall of his grandparents house so hard the aluminum siding crumbled and fell off.

And somewhere down the line, in a magic place he only dreamed of, the 7-year-old would eventually crush the MLB radar guns.

At 102 miles per hour.

Throwing lefthanded.

And I think I told you he was a natural righthander.  Didn’t I?

 

His name was Billy Wagner, aka Billy The Kid, and he became one of the most dominant closers in the history of baseball.  Throwing left handed.  And I’m absolutely positive I told you he was conceived as a natural righthander.

Of the multitude of pitchers I’ve seen throwing a Rawlings, Billy Wagner is the most fascinating of them all.  He was listed at 5-10 and 180 but the measuring tape must have been on steroids.  Even stretched out on a medieval rack Wagner would barely be 5-9. 

But I have video of Billy The Kid, back in the dinosaur days of VCR’s, topping 100 miles per hour at least 200 times.  I collected those vids every time I saw him on the hill.  This Midget on the Mound was as electric as a lightning rod, as dynamic as a rocket. 

Throwing lefthanded.

          "Crackers with Peanut Butter and a Glass of Water"

Billy Wagner was created in 1971 in the state of Virginia and spent his early days moving.  Around.  With his sister and his mom and dad, who divorced and remarried and divorced again, or his grandparents.  He wasn’t born with a silver spoon in his mouth, in fact, he seldom had a spoon at all.  His youth was highlighted by poverty and food stamps and "crackers with peanut butter and a glass of water."  Luxury.  The instability of his trek through the wilds of Virginia left him a year behind in school.

So why didn’t Billy The Kid turn to drugs or shoplifting or B and E or depression or a gang or a crescendo of self pity?  I do not know.

Maybe a 7-year-old who breaks his right arm and teaches himself to throw lefthanded has something inside of him that just doesn’t understand defeat.  Something that doesn’t know the damn odds were so stacked against him he was facing an avalanche of failure and might as well give up right now.  Something inside Billy Wagner that just refused to quit.

The middle school admin, fearing his fastball might kill someone, wisely moved him up a grade at Tazewell High.  He was only 5-foot-5 and 135 pounds but he was already throwing 86 mph with his left arm (did I tell you he was a natural righthander?) and patrolling centerfield as well.

In his senior season Wagner struck out 116 in only 46 innings with a 1.52 ERA but that was only half of the story.  Just to show he was a gifted athlete he also hit .451 and stole 23 bags.

But he had as much attention from scouts as a walrus playing shortstop.  Hell, the kid should be a jockey.

                   Hold on.  Is that Billy The Kid on number 8?

But there was Something Inside Billy Wagner.

So he enrolled at Ferrum College, only a D3 school, with the intention of playing football, undoubtedly prepping to break his left arm this time so he could start throwing with his right leg.  But when the baseball coach saw him tossing a football he switched back to the diamond.

Wagner had grown to 5-9 and added 40 pounds of muscle and his velo jumped to 93 mph.  A grown up now he simply set two NCAA records.  Digest this, if you can.  Billy The Kid struck out 19.5 hopeless hitters and only allowed 1.88 hits for every nine innings on the hill.  The positional players kept telling him, “C’mon, Billy, we wanna play too.”

And here was the clincher.  The best college prospects in the country are invited to showcase in the summer Cape Cod League where Wagner struck out the side in their All-star game without allowing a sniff.

Yes, he was pitching in D3 and he was a relative Shrimpkin.  But the Astros time travelled and saw him as the pre-reincarnation of Jose Altuve.  Houston drafted him in the first round (12th pick) in 1993.

So Billy the Kid was on his way.  But wait.  One more giant roadblock just to challenge that Something Inside Him, whatever the hell it was.  Wagner was married now and his father-in-law had gradually become his mentor, his foundation, the man he looked up to for guidance.  But just a few days after Billy was added to Houston’s 40-man this Rock of Gibraltar he admired so much was brutally murdered.

Just testing that Something Inside of You, Billy.  Don’t ever get comfortable, bud.

           Power from the Ground Up

Billy The Kid is a classic example of how crucial lower body and core strength are to a pitcher.  He drove off the hill with legs like oak trees and he popped his hips like a blow torch.  Put that together with monster coordination and range of motion and you had an extraordinary athlete.  Then add slicing movement on his fastball and a filthy slider he learned from Brad Lidge and you had a one-two combination that matched Joe Louis, the inimitable Brown Bomber.

In 2003 alone he was gunned at 100 mph plus at least 159 times.

Wagner reincarnated into Altuve by magic.  (Chattanooga Times Free Press photo)  

          Billy The Mouth

Wagner’s career was blotched with controversy, an obvious corollary to his combative personality.

In 2002 he took a hack at Astros owner Drayton McLane for not bolstering their pitching staff.  “We’re not going out there and getting any marquee starters,” he announced.

Three years later he attacked the intensity of his Phillies teammates when they got behind and said they had no chance of making the playoffs.  He got the silent treatment for the rest of the season and outfielder Pat Burell called him a “rat.”

When he joined the Mets he exploded a tirade of profanity against the players and coaches after a 1-0 loss to the Nationals and criticized Carlos Beltran and Carlos Delgado, not for both being named Carlos, but for avoiding the post-game press interviews.

"I learned a lot about criticism and how not to be a leader when I was traded,” he admitted later.  “I began to turn into someone I didn't want to be."

          Hall of Fame?  It Should Be a Slam Dunk

Should Billy Wagner be in the Hall of Fame?  That enigma has been juggled back and forth for several years and apparently he’s only a longshot.  Which seems ludicrous to me.

I won’t bore you with a lot of stats.  Just these.

Billy Wagner was an all-star seven times.

His strikeout rate for pitchers who have thrown at least 800 innings is 11.9 per nine or 33.2 per cent of everyone he faced.  That’s the best in MLB history by a furlong.

Hitters managed a .187 BA against Billy The Kid.

And he notched 422 saves, fifth all-time.

All of which is impressive but it’s just black letters on white paper.  And it couldn’t possibly tell you what was inside a 7-year-old when he did the impossible.

I love science but you can shove all the WARs and WHIPs and Analytics in the world deeply (and I mean deeply) where the sun don’t shine when it comes to Billy Wagner.  There was Something Inside Him, something so intangible and so strong it can’t be measured by any statistic.  And it is the greatest quality known to man, woman or beast.

Spirit.

ROWAN WICK’S BRILLIANT SEPTEMBER

                 One Bad Pitch

There are times when a relief pitcher feels like Sisyphus, although he has no idea who that is.  That’s Sisy with one S.  I won’t meander into the mythology of Sisyphus.  If you’re too uneducated to understand then it’s best you stick to Twitter.  (Migawd, that’s so condescending.  Try Google.)

Suffice it to say Sisyphus was condemned by The Gods to push a huge boulder up a mountain until it reached the apex.  At which point it rudely tumbled all the way to the bottom again.  So Sisy, baby, headed downstairs and got the rock rolling again, all the (bleeping) way to the top.  Where it said “Goodbye, sucker” and blithely spun its way to the bottom of the hill once more.

And this has been going on now for Eternity.  Push it to the top.  Watch it roll to the bottom.  Day in, day out.  No coffee breaks.  No Fortnite breaks.  Eternity, I say, and that, folks, is one helluva long time.  Even longer than Trump’s presidency or critiques on Meghan Markle’s choice of clothes or browsing through the Punch This Number options when you phone any company in the world.

Now it’s a bit of a stretch equating throwing in relief for an MLB team with an eternal struggle with a compulsive, obsessive rock.  Well, actually a stretch as long as the Mars Shuttle.  But I’m pulling the bubble gum apart to make my point.

When you pitch in relief things sort of roll along.  Until.  You run head on into One Bad Inning.  And your ERA balloons as fast as that lump on your forearm when you get whacked by a 95-mph heater.  As fast as divorce when she finds you in bed with a koala bear.   “But, baby, the koala just needed company.”

One Bad Inning.  And your ERA jumps from 1.95 to 6.78 in a blur.  Of course, you’re only on the hill for three or four innings a week so you have to stare at that gross, infected, puffed up, helium balloon of an ERA for the next month and a half before it gradually subsides like a plugged toilet.  Unless the Rock attacks Sisyphus again and it bumps up to 11.40.  It just ain’t fair.

          Wick's Summer of 2018

Rowan Wick had a great summer, climaxing in a strong finish when he was called up by the San Diego Padres for the last month of the MLB season.  But on September 7 he must have felt like Sisyphus pushing that damn rock up the mountain.

All because of a pair of groundballs, a bunt and run, and a spinner in the middle of the zone.  When the carnage had settled it added up to One Bad Inning.

Which was really created by One Bad Pitch, the only real clunker he threw over his whole 10 games on a big league mound.  Otherwise he was nothing short of brilliant in his first rodeo.

Wick, the 25-year-old righthander from Lynn Valley, has only been a pitcher for three years after the Cardinals converted him from pounding jacks to throwing bullets.  With the Padres he dominated in AA and AAA before they called him up on August 31.

Rowan’s first taste of major league clay was a total conquest.  He threw eight pitches, sizzling fastballs and biting sliders, and retired the side as fast as Hurricane Michael.

Then came the Ides of September.  The 7th to be exact.

The Padres were in Cincinnati and manager Andy Green brought Wick in for the 5th inning, which was as successful as Justify winning the Triple Crown.  Rowan locked it down, including a called third strike on Joey Votto, one of the premier hitters in the game, when he was frozen by a perfect 95 mph heater on the outside corner at the knees.  So far, so brilliant.

                      A perfect pitch to KO Joey Votto

Green sent him out again for the sixth and Rowan was rolling that rock up the hill faster than a tractor on speed.  He opened with another I-95 called third strike.  At which point the Baseball Gods huddled up and said, “Let’s give this young man a taste of DDD, Diamond Demolition Derby.”

An infield single, then another groundball, this time drilled through the hole into right field.  Runners on first and third.

And then the Reds did something as obscure and out-dated as a telephone answering  service.

The Bunt and Run Suicide Squeeze.  (See The Lethal Weapon No One Uses)

The runner on first broke, as if he was stealing, and, of course, Padres second baseman Luis Urias hustled to cover second on the steal with a righthand hitter at the plate.

Which wasn’t a steal.  Phillip Ervin pushed a bunt to the right side.  First baseman Eric Hosmer pounced, scooped, and then ate the Rawlings like it was a ham sandwich.  Because there ain't nobody covering first.  On a bunt and run even if you had Usain Bolt at 2B with a jetpack strapped to his butt there’d be nada, zero, zilch chance of making a play at first.  Unless Urias was schizoid and time travelling.

Meanwhile, the runner on third also broke and scooted home on the blue chip suicide squeeze, as well executed as an MIT engineering robot.

         Where is Ty Cobb When You Need Him?

A Classic Bunt and Run Suicide Squeeze, which the Padres had no idea how to defend, since it hasn’t seen the light of day since Ty Cobb pulled on a jock strap and sharpened his spikes.

And the sneaky, insidious Reds were far from through.  Another bunt single (yes, they bunted twice in a row, which violates the MLB Players Association’s most sacred shibboleths) and the bases were jammed.

But not for long.  “We feel for you Sisyphus,” the Baseball Gods said.  “But, whoops, there’s goes that damn rock again.”  Rowan tossed a 90 mph spinner, belt and middle, which Scott Schebler thought was apple pie and ice cream, his favorite desert.  It took a frequent flier trip and wound up in the right field bleachers for a Grand Slam.

One Bad Pitch.  For the whole of September.  And Rowan Wick’s ERA lurched and leaped from 0.00 to 10.78.  Just like that.

To his credit Rowan persevered.  And finished his first month in the bigs with a 6.48 over 10 games.  What’s more he struck out seven in 8 and 1/3 and only allowed one walk, a tremendous improvement in his command.

All of which augers well for Wick’s MLB future.  Sisyphus can keep rolling that rock but Rowan has his sights zeroed in on other mountains to climb.  Just ask Joey Votto.

____________________________________________________

“I'm not their buddy.  If they need a buddy,

let them buy a dog."

           --Whitey Herzog
_______________________________________  

THE MOTHER OF ALL RED FLAGS

          “The Players All Love Him”

I’m sure John Gibbons is a wonderful man.  He has a bright sense of humour, enormous perspective, and tons of class.  I’m sure he adores his wife Julie and three kids, loves his dog, and tips the postman at Christmas.  Just a God Fearin’ Texas Good Old Boy. 

Going for a beer with Gibbons would be as much fun as an evening with the Marx Brothers at the Playboy Mansion.  I’m sure the dude has a truckload of juicy stories that would flow even faster than the Bud.  You could write a book and clean up like a Goldman Sachs broker.  Call it Gibby and the Duke.   

And…

“The players all love him.”

Whoa.  Hold on, Knute, she’s heading for the rhubarb.  According to Bob Dylan there’s a very large Red Flag blowing in the wind.

When I hear about a manager who is beloved I know there’s Trouble, my friend, Trouble, I say, with a capital T and that stands for Trouble, right here in River City.

Whitey Herzog, who has a World Series ring, is a legendary skipper who never got too close to his players.  “I’m not their buddy,” Herzog said.  “If they need a buddy, let them buy a dog.”

Whitey led the Cards into 3 World Series in 5 years without being their buddy.

Do Bill Belichick’s players “love” him?  That’s Tom Brady gagging.  Do you think Belichick cares?  As a football coach he’s paid to do only one thing.

Win the Super Bowl.  Which he’s done five times.

Do you think Joe Maddon’s players “love” him?  Maybe.  But it matters not.    Maddon is paid to do only one thing.

Win the World Series.  Which he did in 2016.

          Lombardi, the Epitome of Excellence

In his book "Instant Replay" Hall of Fame Green Bay guard Jerry Kramer talked about The Pack’s crushing training camp regimen under Vince Lombardi, who often said, “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.”

Lombardi was not about to allow Demon Fatigue to infect his Packers in the fourth quarter.  When The Pack were surviving a torrent of up-downs and hit the century mark, a new player gasped to Kramer, “I’ve never done this many before.  Are we through now?”

“Hell, no,” Kramer responded, “we’re only half way.”  The newbie turned pale and almost blew chunks.

Do you really think Vince Lombardi, the greatest coach in any sport, any time, any where, spent sleepless nights wondering if the players “loved” him?  Lombardi’s mantra for success was summed up by one word.

Excellence.

He demanded it.   Prescribed it.  Cherished it.  He “loved” it.

In the days before the player’s association and agents ruled the sports world, a running back sent his rep in to negotiate his contract with Lombardi.  Vince said hold on, I’ll be right back, and left his office.  When he returned he told the agent to take his negotiations to the Bears because the back wasn’t playing for the Packers any more.

                             It's all about excellence.

Lombardi was tough but fair, as straight forward as a ramrod, as honest as red wine, as loyal as a German Shepherd.  When Vince died, defensive end Willie Davis said, “My dad passed and I think about him quite often.  But I think of Vince every day.”

Is that love?  Sure.  But it’s much more.  And there is only one word to describe it.

Respect.

Love is almost easy.  Just be a nice guy who cares.  But respect is much harder.  You earn respect.

What does a manager do to collect that respect?  He’s honest, he tells them where they stand, he has their back, he takes responsibility, he never attacks them publically, he works hard, he leads by example.

And he demands excellence.

It’s blatantly unkind to rip on Gibbons.  He’s surely one of the most likeable dudes in the game and undoubtedly qualifies on just about all those criteria.  Except the most important one of all.  His Achilles Heel.

____________________________________________________

                  The Skinny on Gibby

Astros manager A.J. Hinch: “He loves baseball and he loves people.  He’s comfortable in his own skin and he’s really genuine.”

 Yankees manager Aaron Boone: “He’s one of the real good guys in the game with a good-natured, light-hearted way about him.  But he also has intensity and toughness.” 

Former Toronto GM Alex Anthopoulos:  “He never loses the clubhouse.  No drama because he doesn’t do anything for show.  When he didn’t have success it was probably on me because we didn’t give him a good enough team.  Overall, he’s as good as anyone I’ve ever been around.”

 Tampa Bay manager Kevin Cash: “We all kid him about his laid back persona during a game, but he doesn’t miss a beat, he’s very well prepared.”

 Russell Martin: “He’s like a second dad.”

Pat Tabler: “He’s loyal and fair and that’s why the players love him.”
_____________________________________________________

But his strength is also his weakness.  When a manager gets too close to his players his decisions are clouded by friendship.  Obviously, a skipper should care about his guys but, as Whitey Herzog knows best, it's hard to bench a player when he's your buddy.

I’ve been through all of this before and now I feel like I’m piling on.  But I just can’t understand how a manager can allow lard asses like Kendrys Morales and Yangervis Solarte trot to first on a groundball or saunter around the bag on a single that should be a double or just succumb and refuse to run when the catcher blocks a third strike in the dirt.

                             "Oh, hell, now I have to run."

Ty Cobb would have left multiple cleat marks on their fat butts.  And I’ve mentioned before how Dustin Pedroia reamed out David Ortiz when Big Papi didn’t run out a groundball.  Ortiz took it to heart and never shirked again.

But Gibbons did nothing.  Or at least nothing that made a dent in their sloth because they were the same from game one to 162.

It’s been said the Jays love Gibby so much they’ll run through a wall for him.  With the Lard Ass Twins it’s more likely they’d trot lethargically into the wall and then call for the SWAT team.

By contrast, Maddon immediately erased Javier Baez, a budding super star, from the lineup the instant he dogged it.  And Baez thanked him later, knowing that his manager respected the game.  And you Better Damn Well Respect It Too Or You Will Get Splinters In Your Glutes.

          A Player's Manager

Apparently, Gibbons thinks Excellence is a term for royalty.

But his players love him.

You will not hear any negatives from the Blue Jays Sycophantic broadcast crew and their gullible fans. “Gibby the Best” the signs read.  The best what?  The best gatherer of sloth?  The best at ignoring the lethargy of slugs pulling down $20 million who think hustle is an American Greed con game?

Gibbons is a player’s manager.  Of course, they love him.  Wouldn’t you if  you were gulping down millions of dinero and the manager did nothing when you loafed like whole wheat bread?  (Wasn’t that clever?)

_____________________________________________________

“Canadians are a lot like Texans.  They appreciate good hard work, they’re honest people, that’s who they are."       ____________________________________________________

Now that’s a winner.  A wonderful tribute to all those wonderful Canadians who wonderfully supported him and wonderfully beloved him.  As we all know you’d never find a Canadian watching porn on his office computer or doing as little work as possible or cheating on both his income tax and his wife, resembling a lurid cross between Pinocchio and a politician.  There is no mendacity in Canada.

And Texans?  Well, you know.

But we’ll toss Gibby a pass on that one because it was a perfect way to say goodbye to Big TO.

And, to paraphrase the inimitable Leo “The Lip” Durocher, one of the most demanding managers ever, “Nice guys finish ahead of the Orioles.”

 

NOTE: With all that launch angle (bleep) and exit velo it's a Home Run Derby era.  But there's no need to uppercut to jump the yard. 

Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris never heard of launch angle.  But they were Jack Hammers.  I get tired of the nonsense spewed out by current stars and analytic nerds.  So I decided to do a rewrite on my original Mantle story.

POWER?  THERE’S MANTLE AND EVERYONE ELSE

           The Mick’s 600-Foot Rocket Shots

So you think Aaron Judge and Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are blasting King Kong jacks?

Compared to Mickey Mantle they’re short about 200 feet.

Mantle is the greatest power hitter of all time.  No one even comes close to the soaring, long range rocket shots he hammered from either side of the plate.  Some of them still haven’t landed.  He makes today’s Home Run Derby icons look like they’re bunting for a base hit.

How far did Mantle muscle his eruptions to jump the yard?  Obviously, they didn't have the high tech of this age so sometimes we have to trust eye ball estimates.  But there were wrecking crew atomic blasts that could be easily measured.  By all accounts his top 10 were as impressive as Mr. Olympia.  The shortest is 530 feet.

And the longest was astronomical, measured at 734 feet.

Impossible?  Maybe.  But...

Roger Maris and Mantle.  Take a look at Mickey's forearms.  Sheer power.

No one ever hit a ball out of the Old Yankee Stadium.  But Mantle crushed the façade at the top of the roof three times.

In 1956 he blitzed a Pedro Ramos fastball.  It left the field at the 370 mark and came within inches of exiting the stadium.  Now get this.  The façade was 117 feet high.  That sonic explosion was 39 yards above terra firma when it collided with wood.  You don't need to be an MIT grad to figure out it would have travelled well over 600 feet if it hadn't gotten into an argument with the facade.

For reference, take a look at the nearest high rise.  And I mean HIGH rise.  Count 12 storeys up.  That's where Mantle's towering blitzkrieg caromed off the top of the stadium roof after already soaring 370 feet.

The 734 shot off Bill Fischer in 1963?  It also rammed the sky high façade, again only a few inches from freedom.  And, for what it’s worth, there were multiple fans who swore it was still going UP when its flight was interrupted.  Some Neanderthal math wiz calculated it's trajectory would have carried it well over 700 feet into the wild blue yonder.

That sounds as apocryphal as Big Foot but the story somehow makes it seem plausible and Mantle called it, “The hardest ball I ever hit.”

And here are two of Mantle’s most memorable jacks that were measured for austerity.

In a 1951 spring training game at USC he ripped a massive drive that not only left the ball park it also cleared the adjacent football field.  It finally landed on the far sideline, 656 feet from the batter’s box, before hopping the fence bordering the field.  And Boy Wonder Mantle, the Yankees answer to Ruth and Dimaggio, was still only 19 years old.

            Mike Trout goes fishing.  (Boy, is that line lame)

That was one of six of The Mick's cannonades estimated at more than 600 feet, including a ballistic blast that rocketed out of Tiger Stadium and bombarded a lumberyard across the street, 643 feet from the plate.

There are also a horde of observers, including many players, who swore The Mick's missiles left Yankee Stadium at least three times during batting practice.

Yes, I know, they didn’t have the computer software we have today.  But if you’re a physics major punch in the numbers.

Over the wall at the 370 mark and still rising faster than a NASA space ship.
Jumping the yard 117 feet in the air.
Exit speed at least 120 mph
500 feet?  Easy.
600 feet?  Odds on.
700 feet?  We'll never know.  But for Mantle it even seems possible.

Eat your heart out Mike Trout.

 

    NOTE:  I wrote this story before the charges were dropped against Roberto Asuna.  At the time it seemed there was a strong case for domestic abuse.   

Still, I'm a great believer in Due Process and I felt Osuna was being convicted before he had his day in court.  The Blue Jays, MLB, and the clowns who booed Roberto should consider what it means to be Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

I've up-dated the post to include the current information.        

 

CHARGES DROPPED AGAINST OSUNA

          Innocent Until Proven Guilty

I’m going to get in a lot of trouble for this one.  I know that.  But, what the hell. 

When Roberto Osuna returned to Rogers Centre he was roundly booed by a lynch mob of IQ deficient Blue Jays fans who undoubtedly impressed their wives or girlfriends.  So be it. 

“You heard a lot of people booing and reacting angrily,” said Jamie Campbell, the Jays resident Sycophant Supreme.  “Which frankly seems justified because of the accusations…I guess.  It’s not for me to say.   Ross Atkins feels they have a debt to their fans and that’s why they traded him." 

We'll leave Jamie spinning in 360's, trying to find an all points opinion that keeps his job intact.  They seem justified...I guess...But it's not for me to say.  At least we know unequivocally, positively, for sure, without doubt that GM Atkins cares more about Toronto's PR image than bull dung like Justice, Loyalty and Integrity.    

Now the charges of domestic violence have been dropped like an anchor on condition that Osuna stay away from the mother of his 3-year-old son for one year.

I have always been a bit bemused by Osuna.  The guy has lightning stuff, a sizzling heater in the mid-90’s and a slider that slices up the zone like a skilled swordsman.  He could well be a brilliant closer for another decade.

But, when he leaves the bull pen or mounts the mound (I like that one) he genuflects, stares at the sky, and crosses himself.

Apparently, Roberto’s God is more aware of baseball than the tragedies of this world.  Six-year-olds dying of leukemia, terrorists beheading journalists, famines, hurricanes, tsunami floods, genocide, serial killers, mass shootings in schools, rapes, assassinations, and magnificent innocent rhinos and elephants slaughtered by evil prick poachers for the ivory in their tusks.  If I had the money I’d hire a lethal hit squad to erase those filthy swine once and for all.

But these are obviously minor problems.  Osuna is convinced God Is On His Side.  He, She, It is focused on Roberto when he steps on the hill.  Or He, She, It is a true blue Blue Jays fan.  Whoops, Astros fan. Maybe The Good Lord has a bet down with Jesus and he’s taking Houston.

Is Roberto's life of playing a little boy’s game more important than a kid in a Children’s Hospital or a massacre in Syria?  Why would God be paying the slightest bit of attention to a guy throwing a baseball?

            "I Wanna Hold Your Hand"

Then there’s the Feeding Frenzy of the MeToo Movement.

A young friend of mine who I coached several years ago is pitching for a college in the States now and he tells me the players are virtually terrified of having consensual sex with a girl on campus.  Because tomorrow she may reconsider and claim it wasn’t consensual after all.  And the dude’s life is ruined.

Hold her hand and its groping.  Compliment her on how great her hair looks and it’s harassment.  Kiss her?  Are you (bleeping) kidding me?  That’s open and shut sexual abuse on the edge of rape.  The gendarmes will be knocking on your dorm door tomorrow morning.

Paranoid?  Of course. But can you blame them?  When your life can be torn apart in one night, when you thought you were in love or in consensual lust,  you’re either paranoid or you’re crazy.  You give up on sex and turn to Monday Night Football.

Or you traipse to Tibet, enroll in a monastery and become a celibate monk.  Or try your hand at this Gay Thing.  Hmm, maybe not, that could also create a consensual problem.

Please, please don’t claim I’m condoning rape.  That’s asinine.  But accusations should not be a loaded weapon ready to fire at will.

Remember when I played shortstop?  That was before I held her hand.

          But I digress.  Back to Osuna.

Roberto was suspended 75 games by MLB on the strength of an accusation of domestic abuse.  Accused.  Not convicted.  Accused.  Not proven guilty.  (Bleeping) accused.  Which means he was deprived of a truckload of income for four months.  Ironically, half of that lost $2.5 million would have gone to the estranged mother of his child.  Thanks MLB.  He (and she) should sue both baseball and the Blue Jays.

Accused.

Consider this.  A Gangland bunch of ruthless hoods are betting against the Red Sox in the playoffs so they can get sizeable odds.  So they threaten the wife of a Sox star, forcing her to accuse him of domestic violence just before the season ends.  Or they’ll kill her children.

Bizarre?  Ridiculous?  Of course.  But.  What if.  No proof.  Nothing but an accusation.  What does the self righteous MLB do then?

And please, please don’t claim I’m condoning domestic assault.  That is also asinine.  I despise domestic abuse whether it’s against a woman or a man.  Any 200-pounder who beats up his 120-pound wife is scum.

“I still don’t quite understand how a league can suspend him for 75 games and yet the matter has not been settled in a court of law,” Joe Siddall said, showing a sudden wild surge of intelligence.  “But, when I heard the suspension was 75 games, that spoke volumes about the evidence they had.”  Sorry, the surge sputtered out.  Because MLB always covers its ass like a nudist sleeping in a tornado. 

Yes, there seemed to be a pretty good case against Roberto.  Apparently, the concierge at the front desk of Osuna's residence called the police, who saw "significant injuries" on the alleged victim.  Not good.  

Still, he insisted he was not guilty.  "No one knows what happened but me," he said.  "Everybody is quick to judge me and say all kinds of things.  What the media says is not true.  People are judging me for things they don't know.  I don't like that."

If you get a chance check out a brilliant piece by Toronto Star columnist Rosie DiManno back in August when Osuna was traded to the Astros.  She writes it a helluva lot better than I can.

       What kind of filthy swine could shoot these magnificent animals?

So now the assault charge has been dropped.  Partly because the alleged victim intends to stay in Mexico rather than testify.  Of course, that leaves a large ? still hanging over Osuna's head but at least he can take to the hill, crossing himself left, right and center, and get on with his life.   

Which brings me back to what I am condoning.   It's the basic foundation of a society of law and not hysteria.

   Innocent Until Proven Guilty.

Ever heard those words?  I’m sure you have.  Unless you inhabit Rogers Centre.

   How about  Due Process.  Does that one ring a bell?

It means a trial by a jury of his peers, which would have been quite hard to find.  Unless they throw 95.

Apparently a tribe of sanctimonious clowns in Big TO have never heard of Due Process or Innocent Until Proven Guilty.  Unfortunately, they are not alone.

 

WELL, ALMOST NO ONE

    The Lethal Weapon No One Uses

The Bunt and Run.

Used about as often as it snows in Phoenix.  Creates absolute havoc.  The second baseman sends out for a psychiatrist.  Not to get cured.  To get schizoid so he can go in two directions at once.

Runner on first.  Righthand hitter at the plate.

When the pitcher starts his delivery the runner breaks.  Looks like a straight steal.  Unless the shortstop is a suspicious and devious young man (more on that later), the second baseman will cover the bag on the steal.  He shuffles toward second.

And then the hitter screws him up royally with a HARD PUSH BUNT to the right side.  He drives the bunt deep, past the pitcher, forcing the first baseman to come in to field the rolling Rawlings.

So we have the 2B heading toward second on what looks like a steal.  And the pitcher and the 1B scrambling to get to the bunt.

Unless the right fielder is Usain Bolt with a rocket on his back there ain’t no one covering first.

             Usain, Usain!  You forgot your glove!

Both the hurler and the 1B are focused on the bunt.  Until they realize first base is as lonely as a hermit.  At which point full throttle panic invades their psyche and one of them has to get to the bag before the bunter.  Even if one guy figures it out fast enough he’ll have to brake to a halt and then turn around awkwardly to receive the throw.

If the bunter has any speed at all the chances of throwing him out are slim and none and the remarkable Slim Pickens has been deceased for 35 years.

What’s more, with all the confusion, the baserunner has a shot at circling second and winding up at third.

           Bunt and Run Plus Squeeze   

Now it gets even more interesting.

Runners on first and third.  Bunt and run as above.  But now the runner on third scores on what has also become a squeeze bunt.

This can be a suicide squeeze or a safety squeeze.  Which we’ll explain later when we decipher our current BASEBALL PUZZLE.

If you execute successfully you wind up with a number on the board and runners straddling first and second or even first and third.  In which case, you can do it all over again.

The Bunt and Run Plus Squeeze.  The most under-used weapon since Davy  Crockett fired his .40-calibre flintlock.  But, of course, the Alamo second sacker was well coached on the B and R.  They run it a lot in Mexico.

 

               The Ineffable Ernest Hemingway

“If people bring so much courage to this world the world has to kill them to break them, so of course it kills them. The world breaks every one and afterward many are strong at the broken places.

"But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.”

                   --Farewell to Arms, Ernest Hemingway

                           The incomparable Hemingway

I offer this gift to you because Hemingway is the greatest writer who ever lived.  He could say more in one page than other writers could say in a book, more in a paragraph than other writers could say in a chapter, more in a sentence than other writers could say in a page. 

He was ineffable.

                    

THROW THROUGH THE CATCHER

       The Incompetence of MLB Coaches 

September, 2002.  Friday night.  The Cincinnati Reds playing at home against the Cubs.  Shortly after the game I dial Ryan Dempster’s cell phone to leave a message.  He answers.  I’m surprised.  He lives in an apartment near the park but he should still be in the clubhouse.

“What’s happening?” I ask.

Ryan sounds unhappy.  He says he doesn’t feel right about the way he’s been throwing.  Then he asks what I see.  “You’re throwing the ball to the catcher.  Not through the catcher.”

Ryan contemplates this observation.  Then he says, “You’re right.”

We talk for a few more minutes.  Nothing profound, I must admit.  He’s pitching the next day.  “Just watch me tomorrow,” he says.

The next day Ryan is brilliant, his best start of the year.  He finishes everything.  His velocity is up two or three mph.  His fastball is down, his slider is tight and nasty.  He has late life.  He wins big, striking out 10 and giving up only three hits as the Reds top the Cubs 3-1.

             This is ULTIMATE FINISH.

Ryan makes two more starts in September—both as strong as this one.  And he's throwing through the catcher.

We teach this.  It's the same as a martial artist breaking wood.  Those dudes aren't focused on the piece of lumber.  They're aiming six inches below the target so they'll drive through the wood with all their power.  When you apply that theory to finishing pitches it jumps your velocity like a bolt of lightning.

The Cincinnati pitching coach takes the credit, telling the media Dempster got the ball down like they wanted.  Which is true...but it had nothing to do with the Reds coaching staff.  I know, I know, I'm puffing my chest out and bragging.  But that's not the point.  I wasn't throwing the ball.  Ryan Dempster was.  He did it.  Not me.  I just helped him focus.

And here is the point.  Please don't listen to the drivel spewed out by pseudo analysts like Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler who will smooch the collective Blue Jays butts to make sure they keep their job.

They'll insist Kendrys Morales is a mentor to the young Jays.   And they will ignore the inexcusable sloth of Morales and Yangervis Solarte, who set a great example by refusing to run out groundballs, as if hustle is a six letter word called I'm Going to Be Out So Why Should I Run Hard and Use Up All That Energy When the Clubhouse Spread is Waiting?  If Morales is your mentor, your leader, you are stepping out of a Cessna Skyhawk at 10,000 feet without a parachute.

So I haven't got to the point yet.  But here it comes.  Morales and Solarte only get away with this because John Gibbons won't deposit their lard asses on wood.  Jog to first on a groundball?  Nothing happens.  You think the other players don't notice?  What's the point of hustling when the slugs dog it and stay in the lineup?

And now the real point.  A lot of major league coaches don't have a (bleeping) clue.  When Dempster was with the Marlins the pitching coach would come out to dispense some wisdom and Ryan was thinking, Stay away from me, don't come out here, you don't know anything.

  

         Scott overcame injuries and a jerk to become an ace in Japan.

Scott Mathieson pinned his Phillies pitching coach up against the wall and threatened to punch him out.  The coach insisted he throw too much when Scott's arm was healing from an injury.  Mathieson knew better as he's proven over and over again pitching in Japan.

Adam Loewen is the most talented Canadian to ever play baseball.  As a 17-year-old the 6-6 lefthander threw 96 mph with an easy, explosive delivery.  He was the best bet for the Hall of Fame since the ineffable Sandy Koufax.  Adam was so good he could have been a first rounder as a pitcher or a hitter.

             The greatest Canadian athlete to ever play baseball.

The Orioles paid over $4 million dollars for his signature and then somehow managed to flush his immense talent down the drain.  He wound up throwing 18 inches against his body, a super recipe for destroying your arm, his velocity plummeted to 88, his best pitch was his slider, and he wound up with a steel plate in his elbow.

Dellin Betances throws 100 mph but he's off balance and off line and can't throw consistent strikes.  Any good coach could straighten that out in a few bull pen sessions.

I give you this wonderful revelation because I hate the (bleeping) manure shoveled out by countless sycophants.  Take it or leave it.  You've been warned.

 

BUT THERE’S ALWAYS TOTAL DIVAS AND DISC GOLF

        Alabama and Ole Miss Never to be Found

I have an incessant, obsessive need to watch Alabama Crimson Tide football.  For my money Nick Saban is the best since Vince Lombardi, the Messiah of Block and Tackle.  Nick is even better than Bellichick.

But on Saturday I can’t find Alabama beating the ole miss out of Ole Miss.  The game ain’t nowhere to be found.  I search the Sports channels.  There are a couple of dozen teams in the spotlight, including Ohio State, Auburn, LSU, Texas, USC, Wisconsin and even Florida International, whoever they are.

But number one ranked Alabama and Mississippi are lost in the shuffle.

I can watch the Blue Jays and the Yankees twice plus the Blue Jays in 30 minutes, which is more of an overkill than seven hours of the B.C. Legislature.

There’s Fantasy Football and Asian Tour Golf and Out of My League, whatever the hell that is, and Glory 58 and the Best of Pride, which sounds like the Gay Triathlon but turns out to be martial arts, and Total Divas and Drag Racing (more gay sports?) and the Lucas Oil Speedway and World Poker (is that really a sport?) and Disc Golf and the 2018 Evian Championship (don’t ask) and Live With Lucia (?) and ARCA Racing and women’s curling, which is always fascinating, especially when they’re yelling “Hard! Hard!” and Bundesliga Soccer and the 2014 NBA Finals.

But no Alabama and Ole Miss.

                                                And he has his shirt on.

Now this undoubtedly seems trivial to you and I understand.  But it’s not.

When you consider the age of their young athletes college football and basketball are the best played and best coached sports on the planet.

I once used Saban’s Crimson Tide as an example when I was coaching the Vancouver Cannons.  I told them Alabama epitomized commitment and perfection.  And, as I watched their reaction, I soon realized none of them had ever watched Alabama play.  And they were not alone.  Teenagers seldom pay attention to anything that will advance their knowledge or their careers or their understanding of what it takes to succeed at the next level.

That’s too bad.  Because a dose of the Alabama Crimson Tide is like a shot of Wisdom.  As Doctor Empey I recommend it to all of you.

If you can find it.

                     Nick Saban with some unknown Alabama fan.

          McConaughey and the Surfboard

Fun to see Mathew McConaughey on hand when Texas locked Longhorns with USC.

McConaughey is a Texas grad and proud of it.  He is also a remarkable actor with almost unlimited range, everything from Dazed and Confused (“All right, all right”) to The Lincoln Lawyer to Two For The Money to Dallas Buyers, True Detectives and White Boy Rick.

McConaughey is also famous for wanting to take his shirt off in every movie to show of his muscles.

But I have a better story.  I think.

Ryan Dempster was visiting one of his buddies, former Chicago Black Hawks star Chris Chelios, who retired at 48 years of age and was staying in an ocean front mansion in Malibu.  Beautiful sunny day in SoCal.

         Who in the hell plays hockey until they're 48.  Unless it's Gordie Howe.

Doorbell.  And, when Chelios answered, he saw Mathew McConaughhey and Robert “Ironman” Downey on his doorstep.

“Can we borrow a couple of surfboards?” they asked.

Chelios, of course, handed over the boards.  Unfortunately, Dempster is not a surfer.  But it did give Mathew another chance to take his shirt off.

 

               Go Ask Alice, when she’s ten feet tall

“If you can locate your fastball in all three quadrants of the strike zone you can pitch."
                       --Buck Martinez
Three quadrants?  Enough said.

 “David Price’s wind-up is almost pitching from the stretch.”
                      --Dan Shulman
Well…hmm…maybe that’s because he is throwing from the stretch.

                 _______________________________________

“If you're 10 years old and your coach says get on top of the ball, tell him no.  In the big leagues these things they call ground balls are outs. They don't pay you for ground balls, they pay you for doubles and home runs.”

                          --Josh Donaldson
__________________________________________________

 

$630,000 EVERY GAME

          The Bringer of Drizzle

At the moment Josh Donaldson is being paid $630,000 for every game he’s played this season.  There are billions of hard working Great Unwashed on this planet who won’t make that much in their lifetime. 

I chuckle when I read the endless Donaldson tributes that spew non-stop out of the bowels of Toronto’s sports columnists and pseudo gurus.  Somehow they equate The Bringer of Drizzle with Robin Hood, the Lone Ranger and Gordon Lightfoot.

Or is it Geddy Lee.

              Can Geddy also play third base?

Donaldson didn't play for over three months because he had a “sore” calf muscle.  A sore calf muscle.  A sore…calf muscle.  It was sore.  And, what the hell, if they’re only paying you $23 million to play a little boy’s game why would you suit up when your calf is sore.  Poor baby.

Apparently, he now claims the calf was ruptured.  In which case why was he working out at all?

The quote?  It’s classic.  The guy is even more of a clown than I thought.

I can only imagine how many guys coaching kids from 8 to 18 went into a Spasm of Cringing over that one.  Maybe a few even had heart attacks.

I have never taught hitters to get on top of the ball.  That makes no sense at all.  So I agree with Josh there.  But I also don’t want them upper cutting.  That just leads to long, looping swings and they’re dead meat when a pitcher brings even medium heat.

I just want solid barrel contact.  Inside the ball, direct to the ball, through the ball.  That simple.  As Chipper Jones pointed out (when he took a swing at Donaldson’s asinine philosophy) he tried to hammer the ball off the outfield fence from pole to pole, which gave the Rawlings backspin and 747 lift off.

Backspin and Jacks speak the same language.  It’s called DiamondDustese.

I’m not much of a fan of some dude named Chipper, unless he’s still in diapers.  But in this case his advice is as good as Bitcoins.  And Chipper is in the Hall of Fame.

                     The Bringer of Drizzle

Where are the most base hits?  If you guessed groundballs up the middle you win a million dollars, courtesy of John Donaldson who has a few to spare.  Even The Shift hasn’t Deep Sixed that trend.

Line drives and hard groundballs produce the most hits and the most runs.  Isn’t that the point?  And every youth coach knows fly balls are outs.  Outs.  Outs.

          Fly balls are outs.

Very few young hitters have the power to leave the yard.  Especially when you consider that amateur ball parks are quite often bigger than MLB fields, a fact that somehow seems out of whack.

Kids play on diamonds 330 down the line.  A lot of MLB band boxes aren't that deep.  Ken Griffey loved hitting in the Kingdome because it was 312 down the right field line, which gave him a leg up on the Hall.  When they built Safeco he defected from Seattle to slug for the Reds.

      312 down the line?  Not much bigger than a Little League park.

So how many fly ball outs will a kid survive before he just quits in frustration and plays lacrosse?  And does Josh Jackass give a damn that he's screwing up a lot of kids?  Thanks, Josh.

Kids should just learn to hit.  Solid contact.  Don’t even think about home runs.  The power will come as you mature.  That makes a lot more sense than a 10-year-old upper cutting to loft hopeless fly ball outs as preached by the Bringer of Drizzle.  Who didn't play for over three months because he had a sore calf muscle.

Yes, his calf was sore.  For $23 million a lot of dudes would play with a broken leg.

UP-DATE

Bloop and a Dribbler…but Wick Locks the Door

Padres manager Andy Green must have liked what he saw in Rowan’s debut because he hustled him back onto the mound faster than a speed reader.

And Wick was even better.

If you’re a slave to stats that sounds as irrational as skydiving without a parachute.  In his second go round Rowan was on the hill for another frame and this time he threw a load of 25 pitches, giving up two hits and a walk.

Yes, the Rockies didn’t score.  But how could that be better than his first rodeo?
_________________________________________________________

"Green’s not wasting any time.  He’s putting Wick to the test.”
   --Mark Sweeney, Padres TV analyst
_____________________________________________________

For openers, Rowan faced the meat of the Colorado order.

And the two hits were misfires.

Nolan Arenado, one of the premier belter's in the game, fell behind 0-2 and then reached across the plate to poke at a 96 mph heater…and bloop it down the line, where it settled softly three feet fair.  “That was probably one of the worst swings he’s taken all year,” Sweeney said, “and he dumps it into right field for a double.”

Veteran Matt Holliday battled for nine pitches, fouling off everything he could handle, until he worked the walk.  And Ian Desmond loaded the bags when he dribbled a groundball for a weak infield hit.

But in the middle of all this Rowan handcuffed Trevor Story with elevated fastballs and sliders away for the K and served a jar full of jam for a pair of infield pop ups.

Not one hitter got a good swing on Wick's heater or slider.  Not one.  In fact, they were universally late on virtually everything, chopping a flotilla of oppo foul balls.

But here’s the clincher.  The bloop and the dribbler did absolutely nothing to shake Rowan’s resolve.  He took it all in stride.  And passed Andy Green’s test like a Harvard grad.

AND HE OPENS WITH A BANG

          Rowan Wick Called up to the Padres

                                         43   K   63

Rowan Wick joined the San Diego Padres last night.  And he just didn't walk through the door.  He kicked it open. 

The 6-3, 230-pound righthander from North Van threw blanks in the ninth inning as the Padres shutout the Colorado Rockies 7-0.

In his first taste of the major leagues Rowan threw exactly eight pitches to retire the side before the very enthusiastic San Diego fans.

Wick blitzed a 95 mph heater to get David Dahl to groundout to second base on the first pitch he saw.

Then Ryan McMahon fouled off one fastball, took a slider that clipped the outside corner for strike two, and fanned on an elevated blazer at 96.  Catcher Austin Hedges tossed the Rawlings into the Padres dugout and Rowan had a souvenir of his first big league K.

That set-up the final zap with Chris Iannetta in the box.  Rowan started him with a 95 mph heater on the outside corner that had a wrinkle of cut and Iannetta took a hack and came up empty.  Then he swung and missed on a laser up and away at 96 before fouling off another fastball.

At which point Wick threw a perfect pitch, a 90 mph slider that broke sharply off the outside corner and Iannetta slapped a groundball to short to end the game.

Rowan was called up after posting a brilliant 1.99 ERA with nine saves for the AAA El Paso Chihuahuas.   He was in Fresno with El Paso when he got the word at 4 in the morning.  Two flights later he was in San Diego, thriving on adrenaline.

Rowan arrived just before game time, riding a whirlwind.  "It still hasn't settled in for me," he said after the game.

Wick was signed by St. Louis as a power hitting outfielder.  Even though he hammered a barrage of home runs the Cardinals liked his arm even more than his swing and converted him into a pitcher.  The Padres added him to their system earlier this year.   

This is only Rowan's third full season on the hill, where his repertoire includes a high 90's fastball, tight slider and curveball.              

            

       What is wrong with human beings?

I’m watching Pawn Stars, something I do every once in awhile when I want to see fat dudes (I refuse to call them “fat pigs” because pigs are noble animals) negotiate with other obese diabetes candidates.

Yes, I know, reality shows are all rehearsed and staged.  That’s the irony of Reality TV.

At any rate, a guy ambled in to the pawn shop and tried to convince Rick he had the legendary piece of wood that was in the hands of Babe Ruth when he ripped the famous “Call the Shot” home run.  (Look it up.)

And he was asking for $2,000,000.

Yes, $2 million.  Two million dinero.  Yes, he was.  And Rick was intrigued.  Thinking about paying that much.

Until he found out it was a fake.

             Are these incredible beings not more sacred than a baseball bat?

Now I ask you.  Why would anyone pay $2 million for a (bleeping) baseball bat?  No matter who’s sweaty palms it rubbed against (did the Babe wear batting gloves?) and no matter which Rawlings left the yard.

History?  Icons?  Tradition?  For $2 million?  Does insanity run in your family?  Or do you buy Picasso paintings?

       Was this the bat?  Or is this really Kendrys Morales?

There are innocent, wonderful animals being slaughtered for a few bucks by ruthless, savage mercenaries.  Every (bleeping) day.

There are innocent, wonderful children being discarded and emotionally abused by soulless parents.  Every (bleeping) day.

And a baseball bat is worth $2 million?

What the (bleep) is wrong with human beings?

2
Aug 18

FINISH IT, FINISH IT, FINISH IT

                  The Dempster Slider

In 2000 Ryan’s slider was rated the third best in the National League by Baseball America. 

They polled the NL managers and only Randy Johnson and Kevin Brown were notched ahead of Dempster.  That is elite company, to say the very least--and a tribute to just how hard Ryan has worked to develop his slider.

When he was 15 Ryan was a fastball, curveball pitcher but his breaking ball was too soft to survive in pro baseball.  So I showed him how to hold the ball off center and throw a cutter, which I knew would soon become a slider. 

It did.  But a lot sooner than I thought.  In fact, he threw the cutter exactly twice.  Then the third one broke sideways six inches and straight down another eight inches.  With velocity.  It was so filthy it needed a shower, a shampoo, and a bath with bleach.  

I call these “Cut Sliders” because they break as much as you turn your hand.  More on that later. 

Here is Ryan talking about his slider early in his MLB career.

          Dempster in his own words

"I start with a four-seam fastball grip and then I just move my fingers over the way I was taught when I threw for Dave and the Twins.  Now I'm holding the ball off-center and I've got a cutter.

“I throw it exactly the same as a four-seam fastball except my fingers are off-center so the ball will cut.  It actually broke a bit at first like that.  My thumb is under the ball.  I just started moving my fingers over more and more until they felt comfortable.

          Stay on Top

"Now the biggest thing with this is you have to stay on top.  If you get on the side of the ball, it just spins up there and Ellis Burks hits it into the upper deck.

“Also, I throw the hell out of it.  I don't try to drop it in there for a strike--I throw every one as hard as I can.  I throw it just like a fastball--with late finish.  I've thrown sliders 88 mph that broke late just because I throw the hell out of it.

"I just think fastball, fastball and I keep coming through the same as a fastball with my fingers on top and my palm still facing forward.

"And then I pull down and my hand turns in.  I almost try to bring it down in toward my body because I'm trying to make sure I stay on top.  If I come across my body too much it will spin out."

___________________________________________________

                              The Hard Curveball

Many moons ago I saw a pair of young pitchers, Tony Wilson from West Van and another dude who's name escapes me, who aced breaking balls so vicious they should have been outlawed by the United Nations.

They used this same technique, thinking fastball, fastball, fastball, and then a late half turn of their hand just before release.  It dive bombed about five feet in front of the plate and  disappeared like a heat mirage on the highway.

We called it a Hard Curve but it was actually a Slider and as unhittable as a darting swallow.  Sometimes there's magic even without Penn and Teller.
_____________________________________________________

"If I’m just trying to get a strike I'll take a little off and throw it a little slower.  I'm a little more relaxed with it then and I don't finish it as hard.  But 95 per cent of the time I throw the slider as hard as I can.  You just think fastball with it and throw it real late.

          The Key to the Slider

"When I was at AAA Calgary in the high altitude and thinner air you really had to finish your slider or the ball would just spin up there and not break much.  I didn't realize this at first and, when I threw my slider, it didn't do anything.  It just spun with no action at all.  I went like, 'Whoa, what's this?'

"So I just kept finishing it…finishing it…finishing it.  And, when I got called up to the Marlins that year, we were playing in San Diego and it's still dry air--but it's sea level and the ball goes phewt and that's just from finishing.

“Always finish your pitches.  That was the key for me.

          Even Bounce it 

"Who cares if you bounce it.  That's what a good catcher is for.  Only Vladimir Guerrero hits a pitch that bounces up there.  Nobody else hits it.  So, if you feel like you don't have a good slider or curveball that day--it's just kinda spinning up there—throw it in the dirt.  Bounce it.

"You'll see guys throw their curveball and they'll miss up and in to a right-hand hitter.  It'll stay up high.  Try bouncing it in the dirt.  And then all you've got to do it just bring it up a bit.  It's always easier to come up.

"That's why you have to work on finishing.  Just get the spin and who cares if it bounces.  Hitters won't miss the breaking ball up too often but they'll swing and miss at one in the dirt.  So finish it late and keep it down.

"Using the off-center grip you can even throw it just like a fastball and it will at least cut at the end.  You don't even have to worry about turning your wrist--you can throw it as a cut fastball.  Just grip it off-center and put your thumb underneath a little bit more and then throw it hard.

“A lot of guys try to make it do too much.  Just throw it like a fastball and you've got a cutter."

                    EXTREME CAUTION

The slider can be very hard on your elbow and shoulder.  Please don't throw this pitch without proper supervision and until your arm is in great shape.  In fact, young pitchers should stay away from the slider until they've matured physically.  Throw a full curveball first. 

Please protect and take care of your arm. 

                            DEMPSTER--Slider Up-Date

"For awhile I thought my slider was becoming more of a cutter.  I was over throwing it a bit too hard and the break was smaller.  I experimented with my grip and got more break when I held the ball a bit deeper in my hand, sort of choking it off a little.  Don’t be afraid to experiment with grips and find the best one for each pitch you throw.”

 

NOTE: Five years ago I sent this message to all the players on my Vancouver Cannons rosters.  At the time I thought it was brilliant (he said humbly) and so did a lot of the parents.  The other day I found it again so I'm reprinting it here.

 

                             "I Gotta Go"         

“I gotta go.” 

Try that on a college coach.  And then get on the next plane home.

There are teams that keep all their players to the end of every practice.  Even when a kid has finished his work an hour earlier.  Even when his mother or father is in a hurry.  You stay until the practice is 100 per cent complete—and that often means listening to the coach give some boring pep talk for 15 minutes at the end of the session.  You stay or you are benched. 

I’ve never done that.  I think it’s stupid.  I’ve always given players and parents leeway.  If the player has done ALL his work he can leave.  But I hear this all too often: 

“I gotta go.”  Before the work is done.

Please understand why we coach.  We’re trying to get players drafted by major league teams.  Or a college scholarship. 

Bill Green, the MLB Scouting Bureau rep for this area is an old friend of mine.  Bill tells me there are teams that send players south to American schools.  And they are quickly sent back home.  They survive two weeks, maybe a month, even two months, but they aren’t prepared to handle the demanding regimen of college baseball. 

We expect the Cannons to be prepared for college.  Prepared to work.  Prepared to produce.  Prepared to KEEP their  scholarships and flourish.

“I gotta go” is not preparation.

 I receive phone calls and emails from college coaches all the time.  They are interested in three things:

***Ability
***Grades
***Attitude

Ability without attitude is useless.  Attitude means commitment and perseverance.  “I gotta go” is not commitment.  “I gotta go” is not perseverance.

Lucas Soper slides in safely in the 2010 Little League World Series.  When he played for the Cannons he was the epitome of commitment and work ethic.  A pro attitude to the max. 

I never lie to a college recruiter.  If I tell him a player has a great attitude and I’m stretching the truth the coach will spot this mendacity very quickly and send him home.  

Which means I lose credibility. Which means the next player I recommend will not be considered. 

So I’m thinking about starting an “I gotta go” file.  And, when a coach calls and asks me about a player’s attitude I can check the computer.  A player leading the team in “I gotta go” won’t be getting that scholarship.                 

Do you want your son to get his education paid for because he has the commitment and dedication to impress coach Whittemore at Western Nevada or coach Wente at Central Arizona or coach Marquess at Stanford?  (Playing for Stanford, by the way, would mean wearing the same Cardinal red jersey as the Cannons.) 

Or do you want “I gotta go.” 

I won't force players and parents to wait until every practice is 100 per cent complete if there's a legitimate reason to leave a bit early and the athlete has done his training with integrity.  What’s the point of having a pitcher throw a bull pen, do his Jobe’s and talk to Frank Soper about his conditioning, and then make him sit around for an hour while the other guys hit? 

When Ryan Dempster pitched for me he would come in from Gibson’s three times a week, a three hour round trip.  He threw two bull pens a week (anywhere from 60 to 120 pitches, which I will explain if you ask) and pitched in one game.  If he was starting on Sunday he wasn’t there on Saturday.  

Some parents didn’t like that.  “Why isn’t Ryan here supporting his teammates?” they’d ask.  (But they didn’t ask me.)  The other Twins would laugh at that.  They thought it was hilarious.  “This isn’t Little League,” they’d say.  “We don’t need a cheerleader.” 

Because they all knew the guy was lights out for seven innings on Sunday, he threw voracious bull pens twice a week under strict supervision, and did every exercise of the conditioning program I gave him for the other four days at home, including running more sprints than McDonald’s has Big Macs.  

So why should he ferry in from Sechelt on Saturday to sit on the bench when he could have been at home working out?  I know he does a good Harry Caray impersonation but we weren’t interested in his comedic talent.  He did the work SEVEN DAYS A WEEK.  THAT IS “SUPPORTING” HIS TEAMMATES.  And that’s ALL the other players cared about.  Train.  Do your job.  Commit.   

                Dempster with the Rangers

That, of course, is an extreme example.  None of our players have a three hour round trip to the park.  But the premise is the same.  Get to the practice.  Do your work.  And then go home to your family, your friends, your homework, your Instagram or Snapchat.
_________________________________________________________________

STORYTIME

One of the pro players I coached started in the Gulf Coast rookie league in Florida.  The players all stayed at a hotel in West Palm Beach and the team vans left for the park at 9:00 a.m. every day.

On this particular morning this rookie got off the elevator and into the lobby at precisely 9:00.  As he walked out the front door of the hotel he could see the van at the curb.  The driver waved, stepped on the accelerator…and drove off.

The player ran five miles to the park, fearing that his pro career was finished.  When he got there the coach who was driving the van told him, “The vans leave at 9:00, not 9:01.”

Suffice it to say, he was never late again.  Not one minute late, not 30 seconds late. NEVER LATE.  He became an exemplary professional baseball player.
____________________________________________________________________

This isn’t military school and we don’t end practices with inane 20 minute dissertations.  That would make me regurgitate. 

But… 

“I gotta go” from a player who hasn’t completed his training and has no urgent reason for leaving just doesn’t hack it. 

Discipline creates values.  Commitment creates integrity.  Values and integrity create success. 

“I gotta go” creates nothing.  

            

           Stealing Signs with a Refrigerator Bulb

These days teams have been accused of using high tech to steal signs--relaying through iPads, smartphones, Instagram, Facebook and Pony Express.   

But 35 years ago the Chicago White Sox had their own ingenious and devious method. 

At Comiskey Park the Sox installed a 25-watt refrigerator bulb in the centerfield scoreboard.  One of their sleuths was imbedded in the clubhouse watching the telecast with a toggle switch in his hand.  When the catcher put down his fingers the spy would flip the switch if it was a fastball and the bulb would light up.  The hitters would tee off.  

That's the story, although I doubt if this lasted very long.  As soon as a player got traded it would be game over.   

 

From April, 2017

DID HE BREAK THE SOUND BARRIER?

    Flamethrower Michael Kopech nails 110

…and I have the deed to the Brooklyn Bridge you can buy for a very cheap price.  Or maybe you’d prefer some swampland in the Florida Everglades.  

Unless you’re a baseball aficionado you’ve never heard of Michael Kopech.  But you will in the near future.

Kopech is a 21-year-old White Sox righthander who has been gunned at a blistering 105 mph.  And even 110…if you’re ready for some online double talk.

Now I don’t much trust radar readings.  A lot of them are on steroids, pumped up to impress the fans in the ball park.  Walt Burrows, one of the best scouts in the business, told me he’d get reports about a kid breaking the bank on the gun.  But, when Walt got to the park, the phenom’s velocity would top out five to eight mph slower than the hype.  And that happened quite often.

So does Kopech throw 105?  I saw a video of him striking out three hitters on nine pitches, apparently hitting 100 on the last pitch, and he looked good.  But not 105 good.  His stride is four to six inches against his body but it works for him and his mechanics are solid, his arm is loose and strong, and he's definitely a blue chip prospect.

____________________________________________________

“My dad always had great confidence in me, probably more than he should have.  There were years when I was probably not very good.  But he convinced me that I was one of the best players on the field and that confidence kept me working hard.”
____________________________________________________

But here’s the Contradiction That Wins the Gold Medal.  My good friend Gary Bowden heard a Kopech interview on  Chicago radio and the young man claimed he couldn’t find the plate if you handed it to him.

Yes, he was piling up the K’s like a log jam but he was also walking two or three hitters every inning.  And throwing about 100 pitches to get through three frames.  For a pitcher that’s a torture chamber.

So what are we to believe?  The pristine video showing Kopech striking out three helpless hitters on only nine overpowering pitches?  Or his own words telling us he couldn’t throw a ball into the Pacific Ocean if he was standing knee deep in English Bay seawater?  Was he just being extremely humble?

His numbers are promising and somewhere in between.  In 134.2 innings in rookie and A ball Kopech has notched an impressive 172 strikeouts but a not so impressive 69 walks.  That’s one of the most important stats in the game and a young pitcher should be shooting for at least three K’s to every BB.  He’s really not that far away.

If you want to see this potential superstar in action Google him and take a look at the video for “Michael Kopech: 5 facts you need to know.”  This is the “immaculate inning” he tossed as if he was Koufax mowing down Long John Silver impersonators.  Nine pitches.  All strikes.  Bye, bye.

And you’ll also find a Vid of the Kid throwing 110 mph bullets.  Sure you will.  Did I mention the swampland I have for sale?

This one is both funny and productive.  Kopech is launching his fastball into a net maybe 30 feet away.  And he’s taking a four step run at it, catapulting himself like a javelin thrower.  The shot is on a loop and repeats four times with a guy yelling “110" as he reads the velocity on what appears to be a Pocket Radar gun.  These devices look like a smartphone and they actually get good reviews for accuracy.

I had a similar drill for pitchers when I coached the Twins.  Throwing into a net from about 15 or 20 feet.  We used it to develop arm speed.  Not sure how much good it did but we tried.  And this is crucial.  NEVER TRY THIS UNLESS YOUR ARM IS IN MID SEASON SHAPE AND YOU HAVE A COACH WHO KNOWS WHAT HE’S DOING.  NEVER.  Protect your arm.  Always.

____________________________________________________

“Baseball’s not number one in Mount Pleasant.  It’s a football town just like most towns in Texas.  So I was always kind of in the background.  The football stars were the highlight of the city.”
_____________________________________________________

THE EYES OF TEXAS—Kopech came to the White Sox in the trade that sent lefty Chris "The Condor" Sale to the Red Sox...Boston drafted Kopech in the first round in 2014, the 33rd player selected overall.  He played high school baseball in Mount Pleasant, Texas…He also seems to have a feisty side to him, which can be a very good thing.  Kopech fractured his hand in 2016 spring training in a fight with a teammate.  The Red Sox hushed it up, protecting the kid, which is fine, and I would guess it was his glove hand.  Either that or it was a hairline fracture and he heals very quickly…He was also suspended for 50 games when he tested positive for Oxilofrine.  But Kopech insists he never took the stimulant…The flamethrower was reportedly gunned at 105 mph twice, including a High A game in Salem, Virginia…Baseball America rated Michael as the second best prospect in the Arizona Fall League where the teams send many of their best young players.

 

                      A Failure to Communicate

When Jim Leyland was managing in the minor leagues Kirby Farrell was one of his favorite players.  He once gave Farrell the bunt sign three times in a row and Kirby missed the signal every time. 

Finally, Leyland just cupped his hands and yelled, "Bunt!"

Farrell turned to Leyland and hollered, "Bunt what?"

 PRICE STRIKES A BLOW FOR COMPETENCE

              The Inane Babble of the Media

 “I’m not going to do your job.  Look at the tape.”
                       --David Price, responding to the media

I love this quote.  I love it.  I mean I love it.  Did I make that clear?  I absolutely love it.

I just wish more pro athletes would treat the Media Morons with this disdain.

 Would you hire a carpenter who doesn't know how to use a hammer?  An accountant who thinks a ledger is someone renting a room?  Would you believe a doctor who diagnosed by astrology?  A geography teacher who figures Manhattan is a cocktail?  Would you buy a house designed by an architect who thinks a blueprint is an MRI?

That’s the sports media.

It’s bad enough when you have to stomach the inane babble of Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler, who spew out clichés faster than a machine gun and make more mistakes than a 3-year-old filling out his dad’s income tax return.

          "I'm not going to do your job.  Look at the tape."

But post game is even worse.  Anywhere.  Any sport.  It’s “How did you strike out 15 hitters?” or, “Take us through that winning goal” or “Why did you score 47 points tonight?”  LeBron James, who is the Designated Interview, must wake up, soaked in sweat at 3 a.m., screaming, “Ask me an intelligent question you stupid clown.”

You’re getting paid to observe and report on a pro sport.  So learn something, anything, about what's going on out there.  Enough to ask a penetrating question that indicates you might have been awake at some point and your IQ actually staggers into double digits.

I know, I know, most of them are fed the questions by the producers.  But, apparently, they are also Sports Illustrated Illiterates.

                          "I had a burger and a protein shake."

Wouldn’t it be interesting to hear just one original question.

***You were bouncing around tonight like a colt in the Kentucky Derby.  What did you eat for your pre-game meal?

***How often do you lift weights and what are your favourite exercises?

***Do you have a special restaurant you go to after games?

***How often do you throw bull pens and how many pitches?

***You have a sore back.  What did you take to relieve the pain?

***Do you absorb any special vitamins or nutrients?  Are they legal?

***How many concussions have you had this year?  Do you have headaches?  Do you hear voices?  Can you remember the plays?

***Why do NHL teams have a morning skate on game day?  Isn’t that counter productive?

                         "Morning skate?  What morning skate?"

***Here’s a Rawlings.  Show me your grip for that great slider.

***Do you really hate your coach?  And the middle linebacker?

***What did you say to the referee after that bad call for your fifth foul?  

You get the picture.  Hell, we might even discover an interesting answer or some useful information.  Wouldn’t that be a gift.  Which we’ll never receive.

 

A TALE OF TWO GIGABYTES

           Rocky and The Nerds

“I’d pin Ali on the ropes.  When he covered up I’d keep pounding on his arms.  By the seventh or eighth round his arms would be so numb he wouldn’t be able to lift them.  And then I’d knock him out.”
        --Rocky Marciano, undefeated heavyweight champ

 

"They've got all these Super Nerds who know nothing about baseball but they like to project numbers.  It's killing the game.  Just put computers out there and let them play. It's a joke."
                   --Former MLB outfielder Jayson Werth

 

If you’re wondering how I can tie those quotes together you have to understand my IQ is well above 160 (he said without offering one iota of proof) so it’s pretty easy.

It all comes back to computers.

I interviewed Marciano in 1969 when he came to Vancouver to promote the Golden Gloves and boxing was one of my many beats.

I asked Rocky, who was 45 and long retired, how he would fight Muhammad Ali.  His face lit up, his eyes sparkled like diamonds, and he grinned, as if he’d been transported back into the ring.  You could see the visions sliding through his mind, Ali leaning on the ropes in his Rope-a-Dope, and Marciano, the epitome of a non-stop brawler, hammering away like a piston.  And I love the quote so much I’m doubling up.

“I’d pin Ali on the ropes,” The Rock said.  “When he covered up I’d keep pounding on his arms.  By the seventh or eighth round his arms would be so numb he wouldn’t be able to lift them.  And then I’d knock him out.”

         

       Marciano lands a right cross on the jaw of Jersey Joe Walcott

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“These guys from MIT or Stanford or Harvard, they've never played baseball in their life.  We're creating something that's not fun to watch. It's boring. You're turning players into robots. They've taken the human element out of the game."
                                       --Jayson Werth

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Not too long after I interviewed Marciano a dude named Murray Woroner promoted the Super Fights.  He matched 16 of the greatest heavyweight champs of alltime, squaring off in the cyber world of an ancient computer with far less than one per cent of the power kids take for granted in this world of smartphones.  You know, about the same amount of 1’s and 0’s that put Neil Armstrong on the moon.

After a series of eliminations the computer declared Marciano the ultimate champ, stopping Jack Dempsey in the final.  How could it be otherwise?  Marciano was 49-0 with 43 knockouts.  Feed that into your laptop and he can’t be defeated.  Zero losses?  Okay, boss, zero it is.

But Ali threatened to sue for defamation.  So Woroner had an idea.  Marciano lost 50 pounds, got in great shape, and stepped into the ring with Muhammad for 70 one-minute rounds of sparring, all of it on film.  Both of them faked being knocked out.

                                         Ali at his best.

Eventually it was released as a movie and tens of thousands of fans watched Marciano stop Ali in the 13th round.  In the U.S. and Canada.  In Europe it was Rocky who got KO’d.

Ali became friends with Marciano, a man he admired, and they even planned to tour inner city ghettos like Watts to do admirable good deeds.  But three weeks later Marciano died in a small plane crash one day before his 46th birthday.

All of which brings us back to Werth and the Nerds.

Understand, I love science.  I much prefer it to anecdotal mythology.  Spray charts and tendencies and pitch counts all make sense.  But how does a computer measure a man’s heart, his competitive spirit, his perseverance?

I heard this from a play by play guy the other day, “The analytics say there was a 47 per cent chance the centerfielder would make that catch.”  Whoa.   With all the infinite intangibles—the wind, the sun, the lights, the grass, what he ate for breakfast, his sore toe, the affair his wife is having with his best friend, the shortstop—who in the hell came up with that algorithm?

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"The game is a freaking joke because of the nerds.  These guys played rotisserie baseball at Harvard or wherever the (bleep), and they thought they figured the (bleeping) game out. They don't know (bleep).”
                 --Unhittable Yankees closer Goose Gossage

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            The Goose, one of the toughest closers of alltime.

As Mark Twain once said, “There are lies, damn lies, and statistics.”  If you live by exit velo and analytics, and WAR, whatever the hell that means, and OPS, and every useless stat that clogs up the broadcast booth, you live with a damn lie.

Statistics often tell the opposite of the truth and every hitter or pitcher knows this all too well.

A crushed line drive right at the shortstop.  A blistering groundout.  A cannon shot the outfielder catches diving into the wall.  Three outs.  And the TV guru says, “He got the job done.”  No he didn’t.  He got annihilated.

Or there’s a blooper, a dribbler, and a routine groundball with eyes.  Three straight “hits.”  And this time, “He didn’t get the job done.”  Sure he did.  He jammed up three hitters like the Grand Coulee Dam.

I used to have a stat I called HH for Hard Hits.  Every time you hammered the ball you got a point.  After awhile the hitters were looking more at their HH totals than their batting average.

Werth talked about beating The Shift and the advice from the Analytic Nerds.  “Should I just bunt?  They're like, 'No, don't do that. We want you to hit a homer.' It's just not baseball to me.”

By the way, Jayson is far from alone.  Gossage, who seared the zone with blazers and a violent slider when he closed for the Yankees, summed it up for a plethora of players with that quote above.

Bleeping cool, Goose.

 A lot of this nonsense started with Billy Beane and the Oakland A’s, as recorded in Moneyball.  So let’s take a look at that post again.

 

Zito, Mulder, Hudson, Koch, Tejada

              Moneyball, the Farce

 I’m watching Brad Pitt in Moneyball a few weeks ago.  When you talk about Alternative Truths this flick qualifies like Dubbya and The Donald.

Now I concede that Billy Beane is a brilliant baseball mind and the highest profile GM since Branch Rickey.  He thinks so far outside the box he isn’t even in the cereal.  Beane is a diamond heretic.  In the Baseball Almanac you look under the word Rebel and you see his selfie.  Billy Beane doesn’t wait for a consensus.  He acts on his own perceptions.  He’s the epitome of Sinatra’s My Way.

I like all that.

                                                             Billy Beane, the Rebel

And I think he had some very interesting ideas as summed up by the Michael Lewis book and the movie of Moneyball.  Lewis is an exceptional writer and The Big Short is his masterpiece.

But Moneyball is all garbage.

It’s really pretty simple.  The Oakland Athletics won 103 games in 2002.  What’s more, they ticked off 20 victories in a row that August, which happens about as often as housing prices drop in Vancouver.  But not because of Scott Hatteberg or Chad Bradford.  Try these names:

Tejada
Hudson
Zito
Mulder
Koch
Liddle

Miguel Tejada put up astronomical numbers in 2002.  He ripped 204 hits for a .308 average.  He scorched 34 jacks and drove in 131 runs.  He also scored 108 times.  But then, of course, he was only a shortstop and that’s not a very important position, is it?  After all, middle infielders pop 131 ribbies all the time.  Don’t they?

Was Tejada even mentioned in the movie?  I don’t remember.

Okay, Hatteberg did notch .280 with 68 RBI’s.  So, obviously, he deserves star billing over Tejada because he fits the protocol of Billy Beane and the Sabermetrics of Bill James.  Right?  The truth be known, Beane dissed Tejada, calling him a wild free swinger, which didn’t fit the Moneyball Code of Honour.  So ignore 34 big flies and 131 clutch runs.

Which brings us to the real reason the A’s were Top Dogs.  Take a look a these numbers.

Barry Zito, 23-5 and 2.75.
Mark Mulder, 19-7 and 3.47
Tim Hudson 15-9 and 2.98
On top of that the closer, Billy Koch, went 11-4 and gunned 44 saves.

Barry Zito.  Did he really assassinate JFK?  Or did he just win 23 games?

As a Quartet of Lethal Terminators those guys were 68 and 25.  That’s as good as it gets, like selling a script to Steven Spielberg.  All the Sabermetrics in the heavens don’t mean dung compared to pitching that dominant.

So, of course, you heard Brad Pitt piling on the praise for Zito and Mulder and Hudson and Koch over and over in the movie.  Over and over and over.  You heard that.  You did.  You didn’t?  Well, at one point I think he told Hudson to throw his slider more, or something like that.  Perfect recognition of a great pitching staff.

I guess 68 and 25 doesn’t compare to Bradford’s four wins.

Cory Liddle?  Well, he was only 8-10 but he won five straight in August with a 0.20 ERA and that included three victories when the A’s put up their ineffable 20-game streak.  By the way, Koch had either the win or the save in 12 of those games.

Moneyball is an interesting movie.  And Lewis is a brilliant writer.  But it’s all a farce, as far from reality as the fairy tale of the delusional conspiracy addicts who believe JFK was assassinated by Martians.  Or Jimmy Hoffa.  Or Babe Ruth.  That’s it.  Ruth did it.  Or was it Barry Zito?

_____________________________________________________

          "The Masters, a tradition unlike any other."
               --CBS announcer Jim Nance __________________________________________________

IMAGINE LeBRON AT AUGUSTA

        Killer Koepke and The Assassin

There are more than half a million blacks living in Greater St. Louis.  But you’d need a magnifying glass to find one in the gallery for the PGA.  You had more chance of seeing Al Jolson at Bellerive.

PGA stalwarts and their fans, who line the rough in silent admiration, are etched in white.  Hmm.  Wait a second.  Isn’t there a word for that?  A word that starts with the letter R and ends in ism?  Sort of White Lives Play Golf. 

Yes, I know, there’s Eldrick Woods but he’s really the whitest dude out there.  And that, by the way, is his name.  Not Tiger.  Eldrick.  Obviously, Tiger is monumentally more intimidating than Eldrick.  Did you see that shot Eldrick just made?  Eldrick is one under after 16 holes.  Doesn’t really have the same resonance as Tiger is making his charge on the back nine.

So I’d advise the rest of the crew to insert WWE nicknames into their scorecards and insist on that listing on the leader board.

Killer Koepke.  Dynamite Spieth.  Hit Man Fowler.  Panther McIlroy.  Justin “The Hulk” Thomas.  Hammer Rahm.  Double Bubba Watson.  Slasher Scott.  Dustin “The Assassin” Johnson.  Unfortunately, even changing their name to Michael Corleone isn’t going to make Ian Poulter, Charley Hoffman or Patrick Reed look threatening.

                                        Eldrick surveying his plethora of fans.  

Golf fans are always winners.  Whoever’s ahead on the final hole is their guy.   They live vicariously through the wonder of his magnificence.  He’s their knight in shining Nike’s.  He’s so precious.  He waves to them as he approaches the 18th green and they applaud madly, tears welling up in their eyes.  He’s my guy, my hero, I own him.  What’s his name again? 

I often chuckle when I see this.

Imagine what it would be like if golf and tennis weren’t just country club sports for the rich and privileged.  Not just reserved for pampered prima donnas from the right families, who scowl like Tony Soprano when some uncouth clown breathes or coughs while they’re on the tee or serving.

What if these elitist sports were wide open to inner city kids and backwoods phenoms.

Imagine 6-8 LeBron James or 6-6 Aaron Judge with a driver in their hands.  A pair of extraordinary athletes, as strong as bodybuilders, and dedicated to working their butts off to get better every day.  By the time they’re 18 they’d be driving a Titleist 400 yards.

       

                       And what if this was a three wood?

Imagine 6-6 Michael Jordan, the greatest athlete who ever lived, or 6-2 power pack Mike Trout pounding a TaylorMade iron shot.  They’d make a par five look like a Pitch and Putt.  Eagles would fly.

Imagine Seth Curry on the green.  With his touch and hand-eye a 15-footer would be a gimme.

Imagine 6-11 Kevin Durant or 6-11 Dwight Howard or 6-11 Tim Duncan (the 6-11 club) serving at Wimbledon.  That blur at 150 mph was the poor tennis ball crying for mercy.

Imagine Jerry Rice or Terrell Owens or Mookie Betts or James Harden dancing at the French Open.  They’d cover more clay than the White Cliffs of Dover.

Imagine.

You would never have heard of Jordan Spieth or Rickie Fowler or Phil Mickelson.  Maybe Eldrick and Killer Koepke and The Assassin would be athletic and strong enough to make the top 100.

Federer and Nadal would be finalists in the Sheboygan Invitational.                             

                                                      "The Assassin" 

I’m not saying these golf and tennis stars aren’t talented.  I’m just saying their sheltered sports are closed off to most of the greatest athletes this world has ever known.  Which seems to suit a lot of white folks.  Jeez, Dave let us keep something. 

          Ah, yes, the Augusta Jewel

Then there’s golf’s shining jewel, The Masters, the most prestigious tournament of them all.  Augusta, where men are white and women are in the kitchen where they belong, dammit.  Back to the Future and three cheers for 1895.

Here are a few of the highlights from Augusta.

*** Until 1983 blacks were only used as caddies for the white men in the Masters.  That was a rule within the club.

 ________________________________________________

“As long as I’m alive, the golfers will be white and the caddies will be black.”

          --Long time Augusta chairman Clifford Roberts
__________________________________________________

***Charlie Sifford, the first black man to play the PGA tour, won a pair of tournaments in 1969 and qualified for the U.S. Open but was never invited to the Masters.

***When Lee Elder played at Augusta in 1975 he received hate mail and death threats.  Fearing for his life, Elder rented two apartments and traveled back and forth.  And this was almost 30 years after the legacy of Jackie Robinson.  (Elder shot 74 and 78 and missed the cut.  Did he take a dive to get the hell out of Dodge?  Wouldn't blame him.) 

_____________________________________________________

"What no CBS commentator has ever alluded to, even in passing, is Augusta's history of racism and sexism.  Even when people were protesting just outside the grounds they never acknowledged it. So not only will I never work the Masters because I'm not at CBS, but I'd have to say something and then be ejected."

                   --The incomparable NBC analyst Bob Costas
_____________________________________________________

                          

     Does Costas have the Fountain of Youth in his backyard?

***You don’t apply to join Augusta National, it’s invitation only.  Finally, in 1990, the enlightened Augusta directors saw the light (or the dark) and invited their first “black gentleman” to join the club along with eight white men.  Apparently, he’s a solo act and, as is their policy, his name has never been revealed but he must be as loaded as the Rockefellers and a pillar of society.

***It took considerably longer for women to get hitched to Augusta.  It wasn’t until 2012 when former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Darla Moore were anointed.  That was a doubleheader for Rice, who was not only feminine but black.  Holy emancipation, Batman, a black women in our midst. 

 ____________________________________________________

“This is a joyous occasion as we enthusiastically welcome these accomplished women who share our passion for golf.  Both are well known and respected by our membership. It will be a proud moment when we present Condoleezza and Darla their Green Jackets.”

        --Current former Augusta chairman Billy Payne
 ____________________________________________________

 ***Warren Buffet and Bill Gates both belong to Augusta National.  It would be mighty interesting, indeed, to ask them why.  But I haven’t talked to Warren or Bill since I never met them in 2003.  

 ***Fuzzy Zoeller called Tiger Woods a “little boy” and said if Tiger won the Masters they should tell him to not order “fried chicken or collard greens or whatever the hell they serve” for the Champions Dinner.

 ____________________________________________________

"I think someone should have the guts.  Broadcaster, executive, somebody should say, This is not Nightline or Meet the Press, we understand that. But this is an issue. And it's the elephant in the room. We're going to address it as concisely as we can so our heads are not in the collective sand trap."

                   --Bob Costas
_____________________________________________________

I don’t give a damn if Augusta is racist and sexist when it comes to membership.  It’s their private club and they can do whatever they damn well please.  It’s CBS and the Golf Channel and the hypocrisy that makes me itch.       

NOTE: I don’t use the term African American because I have no idea what it means.  African and American are nationalities, not races.

If a white professor born in Pretoria moves to Toledo is he an African American?

If an albino born in Ghana moves to Des Moines is she an African American?

In fact, I’d prefer not to use any of these terms.  Most blacks aren’t black, they’re brown.  So I guess they should be called Browns, unless that’s reserved for UPS.  And I’ve never seen a white who is white.  Caucasians (and there’s another beauty) are somewhat tanned but I’m not sure what shade of beige you’d call it.

Quite frankly, I don’t give a flying (bleep) about the (bleeping) color of your skin.  All I care about is whether you have compassion and integrity and enough intelligence to keep your mind as open as the Grand Canyon.

 

                     THE PITCHING PACKAGE (2)

 

            Simplify, Simplify, Simplify

One of the most dominant trends in pitching is a simplified delivery.

Starters like Shohei Ohtani, David Price and Carlos Carrasco all throw from the set.  No wind-up.

And closers like Andrew Miller and Fernando Rodney have no knee raise.   

Why?

A high, exaggerated knee raise often creates a balance problem.  You can't throw strikes if you're wobbly at the top of your delivery.  It's like walking on a tightrope across the Grand Canyon in a hurricane.      

Luis Severino, Noah Syndergaard and Price only knee raise to their belt.  No higher.  And they all throw bullets.  Clay Buchholz changed from a knee raise to a simple inward coil and slide step.  This gave him solid command with no loss of velocity.

Okay, so that takes care of Knee Raise.  But why are so many starting pitchers discarding their wind-up? 

It's easier to repeat your mechanics throwing from the set.  No wasted motion.  Nothing to throw you off balance.  And that's even more important for a high school pitcher who doesn't have the luxury of a pro mound, which is manicured to perfection using beam clay.  On an amateur hill you battle uneven ground that's a distraction at best and a land mine at worst.

 

                 Luis Severino's simplified knee raise.

          Why don't closers wind-up?

Some TV analysts will tell you the wind-up increases velocity.  Uhuh.  So why do virtually all closers--the hardest throwers in the game--start from the set?  Why don’t they use a wind-up if they can bump from 96 mph to 100?  Are they just really nice guys who don’t want to embarrass the hitters?  Or do they understand throwing from the set gives them stability,  command, and more velo?  The answer seems obvious.

If you feel comfortable using a wind-up, that’s fine.  No problem.  Just make sure you’re solid and balanced.  Otherwise, there is no advantage.  The wind-up adds nothing.

                  LEARN FROM ANDREW MILLER

Miller throws from the set, of course.  And he has NO KNEE RAISE at all.  He simply coils a bit and slide steps.  The result?  Andrew has an explosive 94 to 98 mph fastball and a slider so filthy the ball needs to shower between pitches.

 

              Developing COMMAND


Without Command a pitcher is a Ferrari minus a steering wheel.

For openers, Command means throwing strikes.  And then throwing to spots.  But never get ahead of yourself.  Just pounding the zone like a piledriver works.  At any level.  If you try to paint all the time and you’re giving up too many walks then simplify and concentrate on crashing the strike zone.  Walks are lethal.

 Command is generated from two omnipotent words.

          Balance    Direction

When an MLB pitching staff walks eight or 10 hitters it isn't always because they're being too fine.  Often they lack stability.  You see it all the time.  Major league pitchers throwing off balance and off line. 

Leg and core strength are the rock solid foundations of BALANCE.  You MUST control your body from start to finish of your WHOLE DELIVERY.  There’s no magic balance point. 

As we talked about in Simplify, Simplify, Simplify, almost all Balance problems start with your knee raise.   

Knee raise can be good.  It establishes your rhythm and timing and may even add deception.  You don't want to be frantic or disjointed.  But you also don't want to be slow and languid.  Get into a solid rhythm that gives you momentum.

When your knee reaches the top GET DOWN THE HILL.  Don't hang there--GO.  You’re not doing a high wire balancing act.  Drive to the plate LEADING WITH YOUR HIP.  

JACOB THOMPSON's knee raise.  He's balanced and leading with his hip.  His foot is under his knee, head level, hands close to his body to stabilize his center of gravity.  His post leg has a bit of flex and his foot is solid in front of the rubber.  (Photo by Erin Nikitchyuk)

Despite what you hear from TV analysts this is NOT a "leg kick."  Kicking your leg stiffly out from your body knocks you out of kilter and rocks your weight back toward first base.  Keep your foot comfortably under your knee.   Some pitchers bring their knee up to their letters, some to their waist or lower.  

  • ROTATION AND COIL--How far back do you rotate?   My personal preference is to coil to the middle of your body to store energy, help your hips explode, and add deception.  Keep it simple.  COIL and then UNCOIL.

  • Here's a good shadow boxing drill.  Stand in front of a mirror.  LIFT your front knee DIAGONALLY toward your back shoulder, coiling it to the middle of your body, no farther.  Do reps to find out how high you can knee raise and still keep perfect balance.

  • When Knee Raise works against Command

So far, so good.  But now the flip side of the coin.  Knee raise can also be bad.  If you're unstable when you lift, you’ll be fighting to survive like a skier catapulting down Mt. Everest.  Knee raise can  be the Bad Boy of Pitching and does little to increase velocity.    

If it rocks you off balance, then knee raise is a negative.  Wobbling at the top of your delivery is like pitching in a tornado.  That's why a lot of pitchers CUT DOWN knee raise for better command and velocity.

______________________________________________________________________________________

NOTE:  I often see young pitchers jerking their foot up in the air as high as they can and rocking themselves totally off balance.  They'd be far better off bringing their knee up to their waist, and then driving and finishing with power.  Control your body.
___________________________________________________________________

POST FOOT--Keeping your post foot stable is crucial for balance.  Coaches should tamp clay in the front of the rubber to eliminate holes.  

DIRECTION--Pure physics.  You are delivering energy to the plate.  So stride directly at the catcher.  Opening up or Throwing Against Your Body create more problems than a fart in a crowded elevator.  

REPETITION, REPETITION, REPETITION--Repeat your mechanics, concentrating on Balance and Direction, over and over throwing bull pens, or playing catch, or shadow boxing.  Reps are the workhorses of Command.  

          And now...time for something completely different

This is JOHN LOLLAR on the hill for Murray State in a great shot from photog Jeff Drummond.  He must have amazing balance.  But I certainly wouldn't recommend it. 

               Power Pitching

You throw a baseball with your WHOLE BODY       

1) Weight shift—Leading with your hip keeps you loaded while you stride.  You drive down the hill and then shift your weight from back leg to front leg.  

2) Rotation—When your stride foot lands you’re in a Power Triangle.  Then you rotate your hips and shoulders and crack the whip for arm speed.  Rotation is the key to Explosion.

 3) Finish—Commit.  Throw the ball through the catcher.

4) Arm Speed—You still need genetic fast twitch muscles to explode your arm but it’s much easier now because you’re using rhythm, timing and your whole body to throw the baseball.

 

THE SECRET OF VELOCITY

  SEE HOW EASILY YOU CAN THROW HARD

You hunger for flamethrowing velocity.  Okay…

             SEE HOW EASILY YOU CAN THROW HARD

Watch Michael Kopech or Jordan Hicks snap off a four-seam blazer that crunches an exclamation point to the end of that crucial Commandment.  Two of the best young pitchers in the game and they both ignite high 90’s bullets with hump and run and more rambunctious life than a four-year-old crushing a handful of Mars bars. 

The Rawlings bursts out of their paw like a nuclear missile.  But it seems almost effortless.  How can that be?  

I could get erudite here like the YouTube aficionados who sound like the pitching coach at MIT.  All those big words.  I’ve developed four major league pitchers and I still have no idea what these gurus are talking about.  (Well, actually, I do.  But I'd rather listen to Curly, Moe and Larry.) 

As you may have noticed by now, my basic coaching philosophy is to Simplify.

             SEE HOW EASILY YOU CAN THROW HARD

Kopech and Hicks never strain.  Or muscle up.  Or struggle to throw harder.  That doesn’t mean they aren’t throwing hard.  They are.  But the ball ignites out of their hand as if it has a life of its own.

Again…Why?

It starts with athleticism.  The Big Three.  Timing.  Balance.  Rhythm.  And that old standby coordination.  Athletes make complex movements look far easier than they really are.  They are like magicians pulling fastballs out of a hat.

And athletic pitchers mobilize their whole body.  

                    THE FOUNDATION

Develop your leg strength for POWER and STABILITY.  It all starts from the ground up.  This is as crucial as oxygen.  If you want to be a power pitcher (or hitter) concentrate on squats, lunges, and running stairs, which is my favorite.    

                    ROTATION

The core.  Strong abs, obliques, lower back and glutes explode the hips.  Without hip rotation you are throwing 75 mph batting practice.

 Syndergaard uses his body like a master.  Perfect finish.

                 THE PAY-OFF

Can you rap?  Add this one to your gig.  It doesn’t rhyme, of course, but it sends a searing message called "Using your Whole Body to See How Easily You can Throw Hard."  A bit long for a title but I think I'll send this one to Drake.  Billboard here we come.

The Legs deliver the hips.
The Hips propel the shoulders.
The Shoulders whip the arm.
The Arm unleashes the ball. 

It’s a perfect kinetic chain.  The actions are pure biology.  And the energy is pure physics.  Courtesy of Albert Einstein, the Manhattan Project All Nuclear pitching coach.

Think about this simple, basic truth.  The faster your shoulders rotate the faster you throw the ball.  That whipping action is VELOCITY.

Record Kopech or Hicks and put them on stop action or slow-mo.  You will see an epiphany.  As their stride foot lands their shoulders hold the fort, staying closed, but their hips begin to pop.  This creates a separation, like cocking a pistol or loading a sling shot.  It’s as if there’s a rubber band being stretched in both directions, creating a lethal nugget of latent energy hungering to be released.  And then...and then...

They EXPLODE their hips and shoulders.

This is the knockout punch, a Mike Tyson right cross to the jaw.  Their shoulder rotation is a blur.  Their arm is suddenly engulfed by a hurricane, breathless, along for the roller coaster ride.  

And then they finish with a flourish, driving their right shoulder into the catcher’s glove as their back foot reaches for the sky.  Yes, it is violent.  And aggressive.  And as powerful as a rocket launch.  But it is also wonderfully smooth, somehow relaxed, as if all their being has gathered for an oldtime revival in the Cathedral of the Heater.

No strain.  No Tommy John surgery.  No MRI’s, no tenderness, no elbow pain, no two weeks on the DL.  It seems effortless.  It’s all about combining every muscle in your entire body to make it look easy.

That full throttle blitz of shoulder rotation is the difference between 88 and 98.  I can't emphasize this enough.  

Is this rotation locked into your genes or can it be developed?  Both. Unless you're Marvel's Doctor Strange, the Superhero, or Merlin the Magician, you can't yank out your DNA strands and make a sudden apocalyptic change. But you certainly can work on drills to develop quicker, more aggressive, more dynamic rotation. 

           

             SEE HOW EASILY YOU CAN THROW HARD

ROTATION starts with the engine, the LEGS.  It transfers to the transmission, the HIPS.  It ignites the drive shaft, the TORSO.  And all that immense energy forms a fist and explodes into the wheels, the SHOULDERS.  I love that analogy.  Of course, I’m biased.

Once again.

The faster your shoulders rotate the faster you throw the baseball.

Mariano Rivera had the most perfect mechanics I’ve ever seen.  Google him and zero in on a video.  Study it.  His delivery was as ineffable as Brando in The Godfather and Mariano repeated it over and over, unleashing biting 95 mph cutters that broke more wood than a logger.  Justin Morneau told me even though you knew it was coming Rivera’s cutter still busted in on your hands.

Don't get this wrong.  Rivera made it look easy but he was throwing hard, his arm speed broke the sound barrier, and he did it with zero strain, without muscling up.  The ball leaped out of his hand like a blast from a light saber.  Power is Strength plus Speed.  It's the offspring of rhythm and timing.

Here’s another analogy.  Or is it a metaphor?  Who knows?

The arm is the All-American running back who gets five crushing blocks, runs to daylight, notches the game winning TD, and leaves with the most beautiful cheerleader.  The arm is the star.

But, without those killer blocks from his linemen, the RB is a dirt stain on the turf.  And, without the legs, the core, and the shoulders, the arm is about as useless as a director without a script.

It’s not much fun building the foundation—but the pay-off is well worth the effort.  When the legs and core are dominant they  throw a dozen earth-shaking blocks and the lucky arm gets the touchdown and the glory.  A live arm starts from the bottom up.

                    ROTATIONAL DRILLS

There are dozens of drills on YouTube and, if you’re a serious player, I’m sure you’ve seen a bundle.  Medicine ball rotations are as productive as protein.  So are bands and lunges with a twist and crunches.  Hold a bar or a bat on your shoulders and rotate back and forth, nice and easy, to strengthen your core.

Do whatever you can to increase your rotational power.  Each exercise adds a touch more velocity, a tenth of an mph today, another tenth tomorrow.  After a few months those tenths start to add up and you are throwing two, three, four, five miles an hour harder.  Rome was built in tenths of a second.

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                    Be the Best You Can Be

There are no short cuts to greatness.  And very few players ever pay the price.

Think about this.  Would you like to look back in 10 years and wonder how good you could have been?  Or would you like to be the Best You Can Be starting right now?

It’s always your call.  No coach can motivate you.  No one can.  It’s always inside of you.  And that’s the way it should be.
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JOBE’S AND TUBING

                   Protecting Your Arm

In his book The Arm author Jeff Passan dissects the reasons for the scourge of rampant injuries and Tommy John surgeries.  

Passan says nearly 60 per cent of Tommy John surgeries are done on teenagers, a staggering truth.  He singles out showcases and the incessant desire for velocity.

“I found a wasteland of ignorance, greed, and scars on the elbows of children,” Passan told Eric Cressey, one of the best baseball trainers on the planet.  “Showcases 11 months of the year. Radar guns trained on infielders throwing across the diamond. Out-of-control pitch counts for arms simply too young to handle the workload.”

American and Canadian pitchers were not alone,  Passan went to Japan to gain perspective.  “Japanese pitchers have a reputation of clean mechanics and hard work, and while that may be true, the results are devastating.” 

As many as 40 percent of 9- to 12-year-old Japanese kids had UCL damage.  Passan saw boys diagnosed with arm injuries who were so young their adult teeth still weren't fully grown.  “Avulsion fractures. Frayed ligaments. OCD lesions. You name it, these kids had it. And it made me wonder how the Japanese baseball culture can live with itself choosing blind tradition over something as fundamental as the health of children.”
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"I found a wasteland of ignorance, greed, and scars
on the elbows of children"
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His answer?  Pitch limits to stop overuse.  And emphasize command rather than maximum velocity.

He's undoubtedly right but pitch counts are common place.  And the radar gun rules.  I never allowed a Jugs or Stalker at practices because there's no way I wanted pitchers ever thinking about their velocity.  Develop.  Get better.  Let it happen gradually and never struggle to overthrow.

Quite frankly, there is only one way to protect arms.  Better coaching.  By better I mean coaches who care more about their players than winning a baseball game.  Coaches with compassion.

   A lot of big league pitching coaches don't have a clue

Let's move on to the major leagues where the pitching coaches obviously have it all figured out.  They pocket lucrative salaries to keep their guys healthy and they've absorbed more expertise on The Arm than Michael Phelps knows about the breaststroke.  They are aficionados.  Gurus.  We know they spend days, weeks, months, studying the rotator cuff and the ulnar collateral ligament.  They have a Ph.D on stress, recovery and healing.  I'm sure they do.  Don’t they?

If you believe that give me a call.  I've got a Ponzi Scheme with your name on it.  

So here’s the harsh reality.

A lot of  big league coaches don't have a clue how to protect the arms of their pitchers.  The supraspinatus?  Is that a dinosaur or the brand name of a new Honda?

Tell me why there are so many Tommy John surgeries and so many pitchers hurt so often their middle initials are DL.  If you were an engineer for Ford and the new models kept stalling every 30 seconds do you think the CEO would pat you on the back and say, "No problem.  Just keep designing them exactly the same.  I'm sure they'll run fine some day."  The defence rests.

But not until we take a look at the Mariners rotation in 2017.

James Paxton, DL, forearm strain
Felix "The King" Hernandez, DL, shoulder
Drew Smyly, DL, flexor strain
Hisashi Iwakuma, DL, shoulder

                            King Felix 

Four starters off the grid--all at the same time.  Together they were being paid $49 million to sit and watch.  There has to be a better way.

And, yes, there are answers to this hellacious epidemic of elbow and shoulder misery.  There really are.  But, as Jeff Passan so passionately points out, baseball doesn't seem to give a damn.

                  Throw.  Rest.  Recover.  Heal

When Paul Gemino and I coached the Twins back in the 90’s Ryan Dempster threw for us for three full seasons.  Never sore.  Never tight.  Never the slightest discomfort.  He never missed a start and he never left a game because his arm wasn’t right.  Three years.  Not a trace of an arm problem. 

It took the Florida Marlins to send him to surgery when they pitched Ryan 638 innings in his first three and a half years in the big leagues.  What the hell, he was a strong 21-year-old who loved to pitch.  Saddle up and ride him.  Into the ground.

By contrast, we took care of our guys.  We never, and I mean never, had a pitcher get sore.  In fact, we had kids come to us with elbow damage and we healed them.  Sometimes it took a week, sometimes a couple of months, but we got it right.  How?  Apparently, we must have known what we were doing.

          Never throw two days in a row

With the Twins our pitchers tossed two bull pens a week, 40, 60, 80 pitches.  Dempster often threw a century and it made him stronger with supreme command.  Throwing bull pens is a superb way to protect the arm.

But they never.  Never.  Never threw two days in a row.

Throw.  Rest.  Throw.  Rest.  Throw.  Rest.  Tendons and ligaments and muscles all need at least 48 hours to recover.  Would you bench press for your chest two days in a row?  Of course not.  Rest is crucial because your muscles and joints need to repair so they can grow and heal.  Throwing a baseball with intensity is weight training.

             Throw.  Recover.  Heal.

So what do MLB teams do?  They throw every day.  I have no idea why.  It's like NHL teams who go for a morning skate when they're playing that night.  If you can figure out why you're a genius.

After you pitch or throw a bull pen let your arm HEAL.  If you throw with any intensity when the joints and muscles are still crying out for rest and recovery you will do damage.  Micro tears and frayed UCL's that may not show up right away but you can bet your Rawlings they will accumulate.  And then say hello to Tommy John surgery.

This is Tommy John, who is famous because he tore the UCL in his elbow.

This is not to say you shouldn't throw.  Throwing is good.  It develops endurance and strength.  Throw a lot.   But the day after you pitch or throw a bull pen is the time to RECUPERATE.  It's a day off.  A day to HEAL.                                

                                     Jobe's 

These are the exercises developed by Doctor Frank Jobe, the guy who invented TJ surgery.  He used them to rehab the elbow.  But it's far better to keep your arm strong so you won't need surgery.  Use Jobe's at home and every day as a warm-up before throwing.  Not just for pitchers.  For everyone.

And get this.  We had pro players teaching teammates how to do Jobe's.  They’d never heard of them.  This even happened with the Good Doctor's own team, the Dodgers.

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                  The "Thrower’s Ten”

This is a crucial web-site.  It has great exercises to keep your arm healthy.  Recommended by Dr. James Andrews, the dude who does Tommy John surgery for MLB pitchers.  Google it.  Use it.  PROTECT YOUR ARM.  These exercises are an ABSOLUTE MUST for every player, not just pitchers.  Smart pro and college players use them all the time.
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                                   Tubing

Tubing strengthens your arm without having to throw.  Just go through your arm action with the exact amount of tension that feels good.  And always use tubing to warm up.

With the Twins we raked.  We scored more runs than the Boston Marathon.  Pro hitters like Simon Pond, Ryan Kenning, Matt Huntingford, Nom Siriveau, Dom Laurin.  College hammers like Kyle Chalmers, Dustin Schroer, Sean Anderson, Andrew Clements.  And our pitchers spent a lot of time watching from the dugout.

Which meant their arms began to seize up.  Not good.  A tight arm is an injury waiting to happen.

So we hooked tubing on the fence next to the dugout.  Any time our guys were at the plate for more than five or six minutes our pitcher would get up and use the tubing to keep his arm loose.  Tubing became their saviour.

When have you ever seen a big league pitcher do that?  Maybe they go into the clubhouse to have the trainer give them an arm rubdown.  That’s possible.  But mostly I see them in the dugout.  Watching.  And getting tight.

 This is tubing you can buy on Amazon.  Fitness stores have all kinds.
Do your arm a favour and check out Throwers Ten for a full slate of exercises.

Never Throw to Warm-up.  Always Warm-up to Throw

Before you start playing catch to warm-up you should protect your arm by using Tubing and Jobe's exercises to get loose.  This is as important as strapping on your backpack.

Do a series of tubing drills, including internal and external rotation and arm action.  Add several Jobe's exercises like front and side laterals, supraspinatus and reverse elbow curls.  Don't pick up a baseball until you feel loose and warm.

        Old School versus New School versus No School

Baseball is rampant with out of date theories.  Some teams still have their pitchers running Old School endless poles when they should be concentrating on 40 and 50 yard sprints to increase their Fast Twitch muscle response.  Distance running develops slow twitch, just the opposite of what we want.

Fergie Jenkins threw 30 complete games in 1971.  In those days guys like Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax and Tom Seaver hated to come out in the seventh.  The game was their’s, they owned it.  And they developed the arm strength to fire 120 times without a problem.   

In these New School days if you mentioned Complete Game to a pitcher he’d think you were talking about a video game he can play on his smartphone.

Developing arm strength with solid bull pens followed by rest is crucial.  Throw.  Rest.  Heal.  

Old School thinking.  New School thinking.  Or no thinking at all.  Take your pick.

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                     And this is INSANE

There are parents asking for Tommy John surgery for their son—even though his arm is NOT injured.  They hear about pitchers coming back from TJ and throwing harder than they did before the operation.  And they believe the surgery increased velocity.

That’s ridiculous.  When pitchers rehab from surgery they use Jobe’s to regain arm strength.  These are the exercises they should have been doing BEFORE they were injured.  Tommy John surgery does not make you throw harder.  The REHAB exercises do.
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So there's your choice.  Surgery on your arm, which means more than a year off the mound while you rehab.  Or doing Jobe's and tubing right now to strengthen your arm and keep it healthy.

Doesn't seem like a tough call to me.

 

                      Stride   

This is just basic physics--you want to deliver as much energy to the plate as possible.

**There is no balance point at the top of your knee raise.  You balance throughout your whole delivery.  Keep your rhythm and momentum.  

**Don’t hang over the rubber.  You’re delivering energy to the plate—not into the ground—so keep your forward momentum and Get Down the Hill.  At the top of your knee raise your foot immediately descends and you begin to move forward.

**Your knee punches virtually straight down and your foot glides to landing.  Essentially, your leg moves up and down like a piston.

**NEVER LEAD with your knee.  If you reach forward with your knee you’ll lunge with your upper body.  Lunging is not good.

**STRIDE AND GLIDE--As your back leg flexes, your stride foot is in a controlled glide, only a few inches off the ground. Extend your stride fully, without straining.  It gives you momentum down the hill and a wide base that eliminates lunging.

**ALWAYS LEAD WITH YOUR HIP—Stay loaded as you stride.  Get down the hill with your lower body leading the charge.  The upper body is just along for the ride.  Your front hip is the point man, the trailblazer.  When the hip leads, the gun stays loaded until you pull the trigger and explode.

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            Lunging eliminates Power

When you lunge with your upper body you’ve unloaded the gun before you throw.  Your weight shift is gone.  And it’s hard to rotate when you’re out on your front leg.  All you’ve got left is your arm.  And arm throwing is the fast lane to arm trouble.
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Joel Zumaya, who threw 104 and lunged himself into a sore arm.  I have no idea why the Tigers didn't correct this obvious problem.

**LENGTH OF STRIDE—Too many young pitchers short stride, which  causes them to lunge like a drunk on skis.  The mantra for a lot of pitching coaches is striding 90 per cent of your height.  But I’ve never taught that.  Drive.  Aggressively.  The stride foot glides forward as far as you can without straining.  If you’re too much on your heel, you’re out too far. If you land full foot, you’re fine.

**DANGER ZONE: Keep your Stride Consistent.
I've also heard coaches tell pitchers to shorten their stride when they throw a curveball so they can get on top better.  Forget about it.  You can't be tentative about where your foot is landing--three inches further here, six inches shorter there.  Stride the same on every pitch.  Consistency is the mother of control.


Tim Lincecum, who's stride was about a foot longer than his height.

**STRIDE DIRECTION--As direct to the plate as possible.  When you're throwing a bullpen draw a line from your post foot straight toward the plate.  Throw a pitch and then check where your front foot lands.  If it's right down the middle, then great.  If it's slightly closed (an inch or two) or slightly open, that's fine.  

But, if you're six inches or more closed you've got a serious problem.  That's THROWING AGAINST YOUR BODY and it means your hips will be locked--reducing velocity and adding stress to your arm.

Jake Arrieta gets a great load and tilt but he's also eight inches against his body and that has made him erratic this season.

On the flip side is the RHP who falls off toward first base and opens up way too soon.  Dellin Betances is a classic example.  His stride is six to eight inches off-line and he’s playing Russian Roulette with arm trouble.  Dellin fights an endless battle with control.

**Drive your energy toward the plate like a laser beam.    Pure Physics 101.  Stride straight to your target.  100 per cent.  Poor direction is like driving on the wrong side of the street.   

 

                The Road to VELOCITY                

We've already talked about Rhythm and Timing to See How Easily You Can Throw Hard.  Those are a given.  Now I offer three words to give birth to VELOCITY.

              LOAD      EXPLODE       FINISH

            Max Scherzer with lots of TILT and a load of LOAD.

                 LOAD--Lead with your Hip 

Hitters load by rocking onto their back foot.  Pitchers also load but it's a bit more complicated.

You Load as you stride.  Your energy is moving forward but you're making sure you don’t lunge with your upper body.  

Here's the Etched in Stone Golden Rule.  LEAD WITH YOUR HIP. 

If you lunge with your head and shoulders your weight shift is long gone and your explosion is a misfire.  All you’ve got left is your arm.  And arm throwing is a blueprint for Tommy John surgery. 

                                   Rivera's Perfect Delivery

Mariano Rivera gets down the hill with his lower body showing the way.  Leading with your hip is the key to staying loaded.  Rivera’s delivery was perfection, the classic example of See How Easily You Can Throw Hard.

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                                           Tilt

Some coaches want their pitchers to keep their shoulders level as they stride.  I have no problem with that.  

But I prefer some TILT.  When you load with your front shoulder raised a bit and your back shoulder down six to eight inches I think it adds velocity.  Most power pitchers tilt.  Enough said.
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Power starts with RHYTHM and TIMING.  All of pitching involves precise movements either in synch or out of synch.  At this crucial moment you must stay loaded until you pull the trigger and explode.  It’s all part of a fluid, continuous delivery—there’s no magic road sign to guide you.  But, when a pitcher can feel that elusive moment—in synch, loaded, ready to explode—he can understand power.

Staying LOADED is NOT STAYING BACK.
Get DOWN THE HILL.

To LOAD in your stride you keep your weight at about a 60-40 ratio over the inside of your back knee as it flexes forward.  This stops you from rushing.  Your base gets wider, you lead with your hip and maintain that 60-40, your hips and shoulders are CLOSED.  You’re storing energy for the Big Bang.  Jim Parsons and Kaley Cuoco will understand. 

**POWER TRIANGLE--When your front foot plants you have a power triangle.  Your feet are the base and your head is at the top.  Now your weight is balanced 50-50.  

**EXPLODE--Pop your hips to ignite your shoulders into full, dynamic rotation. 

**DRIVE with a FULL WEIGHT SHIFT--Your weight shift becomes 100 per cent as you follow through and  unleash all your energy.

There is no hesitation in any of this.  Keep your rhythm and FLOW.      The pitcher has to feel this.  He can't rush but he also can't hesitate.

His weight shifts from back to front in rhythm, in synch, in time.  He stays loaded, maintaining balance as he glides forward, holding his center of gravity back slightly, and then, a moment before his stride is complete, he triggers his hips and shoulders and drives to the plate.  You don't really think about this--you feel it.

       Rhythm.  Timing.  EXPLOSION.

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                     LOAD DRILL         

From the power triangle position stand with your feet almost as wide as your full stride.  Start with your arm in throwing position--elbow up and bent at 90 degrees, fingers on top.

Rock forward toward the plate and then back to LOAD on your post leg.  As you rock back pick up your front foot just a few inches.  Then complete your stride, pop your hips and shoulders, and throw about 30 or 40 feet.

We're not throwing hard here, just getting the feeling of loading and exploding with rotation and weight shift.  

You can also shadow box this without throwing.  And you can rock back and forth two or three times to augment the feeling of being LOADED. 

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James Paxton gets a great load.  He LEADS WITH HIS HIP and lower body.  His head and shoulders stay loaded as his stride foot lands.  Paxton’s shoulders have tremendous TILT and his  glove hand is out front, giving him direction.  

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                             Paxton—Getting loaded

"I stress getting a good load before moving forward," James says.  "You need to have strength in your legs before throwing the ball.  I stay closed as long as possible so I can get on top."

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                            Explode

Your legs and core deliver your torso.   

Pedro Martinez, Billy Wagner were both about 5-10.  So how did shrimps like that get so much velocity?  They used an explosive body in synch with an explosive arm.  Your legs generate power, your core transmits the message, and your shoulders e-mail your arm.  All power starts from the bottom up.

POP YOUR HIPS--This is easier said than done.  It's hard to think about it when you're actually pitching.  So you do conditioning drills like medicine ball exercises to make it reflexive.

BACK KNEE AND GLOVE HAND—Ignite the explosion by pivoting on your back foot (just like a hitter), pulling your back knee forward, and your glove hand in to your side.  These aggressive acts trigger your hip rotation.

ROTATE YOUR SHOULDERS—This is a smooth, fluid and forceful rotation, using the coil and uncoil of your torso to propel your arm like a whip.  Drill it.  Put a bar on your shoulders and rotate.

TURN YOUR LACES OVER—When your back foot pivots in front of the rubber and rolls over it’s called "Turning Your Laces Over."  Again, you have to drill this to make it automatic.

EXPLODE YOUR ARM—To some extent arm speed is genetic.  You’re born with it, just like you're born with sprint speed and quick hands.  But most people never come close to reaching their full potential.

Billy Wagner was amazing.  He was only 5-10 but I have him on video throwing 100 mph and more at least 200 times.  He used his tremendous leg and core strength to pop his hips.  

If you put a pitcher like Mariano Rivera on slow-mo you’ll see that his arm speed is violent like all pitchers who throw in the 90's.  Yes, his motion is perfect.  Yes, there is little strain in his delivery.  No, he doesn't over-throw.  But his arm is swift and aggressive--there's no other way to throw hard.

As Rivera demonstrates so well, the genesis of arm speed is the rhythm and timing of a delivery that is in synch and using the whole body to throw the ball.  Mariano’s fluid motion is the TNT that ignites the Explosion.

                    BACK KNEE FORWARD

Pitching is chock full of important little keys.  “Back Knee Forward” is a tiny nugget worth its weight in scoreboard K’s.

You pop your hips to increase velocity.   Which means you need a TRIGGER and that's where the back knee comes in.  Trigger your hip rotation by pulling your back knee FORWARD and then Turning Your Laces Over.  Shadow box it.         

                    ROTATION DRILL

Hold a bar on your shoulders and take a short stride, staying closed.  Then rotate the bar to simulate your shoulders opening.  You can gradually lengthen your stride but be conservative. (For younger players use a bat on your shoulders.)

 

                             Finish

When you finish, do it with the total commitment of a German Shepherd chewing on a sirloin steak.      

THROW THROUGH THE CATCHER, NOT TO THE CATCHER--This is simply martial arts.  When a black belt blasts through a board with a karate chop he drives his hand to an imaginary spot six inches below the wood. 

Throw the ball through the catcher, through the umpire, through the backstop.  Put that image in your mind and you'll commit 100 per cent of your energy into your fastball.

                                  The keys 

***Finish long out front.  Don't be short with your follow through.
***Bury your back shoulder to the plate.  Drive it through and point it at the catcher.
***Finish with a flat back.  Parallel to the ground.
***Drive off the rubber aggressively.  Don’t drag your back foot.  Most big league pitchers follow through with their back foot head high.
***Your head finishes over your front knee.  Put your nose in the catcher's glove. 
***Follow-through with your throwing hand to the outside of your front knee.  Pedro Martinez would wrap his hand around the knee.  Is it any wonder Pedro was so effective?
***No recoil.  Don't yank your arm back after you finish.  Recoil often means a sore back or shoulder.  Let your arm decelerate smoothly, without recoil.     

           

                     Dempster throwing through the catcher.

A Classic Example

THROW THROUGH THE CATCHER

September, 2002.  Friday night.  The Cincinnati Reds playing at home against the Cubs.  Shortly after the game I dial in Ryan Dempster’s cell phone to leave a message.  He answers.  I’m surprised.  He lives in an apartment near the park but he should still be in the clubhouse.

       “What’s happening?” I ask.  Ryan sounds unhappy.

       We talk for a few minutes.  Nothing profound.  He says he doesn’t feel right about the way he’s been throwing.  Then he asks what I see.

       “You’re throwing the ball to the catcher.  Not through the catcher.”

       He contemplates this observation.  Then he says, “You’re right.”

         We talk for a few more minutes.  Also nothing profound.  He’s pitching the next day.  When we finish I ask him how he feels.  “Just watch me tomorrow,” he says.

       The next day Ryan is brilliant, his best start of the year.  He finishes everything.  His velocity is up two or three mph.  His fastball is down, his slider is tight and nasty.  He has late life.  He wins big, striking out 10 and giving up only three hits in seven innings as the Reds top the Cubs 3-1.

        Ryan makes two more starts in September—both as strong as this one.  And throwing through the catcher.

       THROW THROUGH THE CATCHER.  NOT TO THE CATCHER.

THE HAMMER, UNCLE CHARLEY, THE DEUCE

                          The Curveball

For a long time now the slider and the cutter have been the primary breaking pitches.  They’re easier to control than the curveball and far more likely to get a called strike.

So for awhile the Uncle Charley curveball was in danger of becoming Uncle Dinosaur.  But it’s still a great equalizer.  Clayton Kershaw throws a nose to toes breaking ball that's not just his bread and butter--it's a gourmet meal of steak and lobster.  And there have been some great curveball pitchers over the years, including Sandy Koufax, Dennis Martinez, and Bert Blyleven, who had a Hammer of Thor with the Twins and the Angels.

                      The mystery of the Curveball

I've had pitchers tell me they can't throw a curveball but I don't believe it.  It's not some mystical enigma wrapped in a conundrum.  It's really pretty simple to learn.

When kids start throwing curves they think you spin it with the index finger--but it's the middle finger that applies the action.  The knuckle-curve, for instance, is really an effort to get the index finger out of the way.

Place your middle finger parallel with the seam in the horseshoe.  You can angle the ball a bit to hook your finger.  Experiment--what feels right is right.

           The classic curveball grip with the middle finger pulling on the seam.

The curveball is thrown with the palm facing in as your hand comes past your head.  The ball comes out over the index finger as the wrist pulls down.  The middle finger applies the spin. 

CAUTION: Don't come around the ball and twist your wrist.  This is elbow agony.  Simply get on top, pull down out front, and follow through.  

You want the four seams to catch the air.  But this is not the only grip you can try.  I'm told Blyleven gripped the ball across the narrow seams and Barry Zito, who had nasty stuff and a rebellious streak, threw his hammer off his index finger.   

Make sure you keep your elbow up.  When you get on top and pull down you avoid hanging your breaking ball in the eyes of the hitter. Hanging a curveball is like giving a hitter a free pass to his own Home Run Derby.   

When you’re first learning to throw a curve, you can point your index finger at the target as you let your middle finger impart the spin.  In fact, some pitchers throw their curveball by lifting their index finger off the ball.

You want your curveball to break down--not just sideways.  FLAT and FAT are brothers and you want a 12-to-6 break that handcuffs the hitter.  The wrist pulls forward without twisting.  That protects the elbow and shoulder. 

DO YOU COCK YOUR WRIST?—Usually not--but you might try cocking it in to see what happens. It reduces velocity but it can also induce a bigger break.

                               CRUCIAL

Don’t be afraid to bounce the curveball.  You want your hammer to “drop” and finish under the knees.  Big league hitters often swing at pitches in the dirt.  Of course, your catcher has to do his blocking drills to keep the ball in front of him…but that’s another story.  

         Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven in his early days withe the Pirates.

____________________________________________________

Blyleven's curveball warm-up

Many moons ago I saw Blyleven pitch in Seattle.  Warming up he threw 20 fastballs and then shortened the distance and his catcher stood up.  Bert just played catch for a couple of minutes, spinning the ball nice and easy, feeling the rotation and getting his elbow loose.  He then stepped back on the mound and threw a set of curveballs.  

I loved this because Paul Gemino and I had been doing that exact same routine with our pitchers for several years with the Twins.  Of course, Blyleven must have learned it from us.
____________________________________________________________________

         Should young pitchers throw curveballs?

There are many age old controversies in baseball.  Should Pete Rose be in the Hall of Fame?  How many hot dogs could Babe Ruth eat in one sitting?  Was Ted Williams really a better hitter than Joe Pepitone?  And, of course, the classic enigma.  Should a 12-year-old throw curveballs?

There have been endless studies on this and most of them are negative.  And they're right.  Curveballs ARE hard on the arm.

But so are fastballs.

In fact, if you really want to protect your son's arm don't let him throw curves.  But also don't let him throw fastballs.  In fact, don't let him throw at all.  Maybe you should just keep him in a bubble with John Travolta.

I don't mean to be cavalier about this.  I'm paranoid about a pitcher's arm no matter what his age.  I think it should be taken care of at all times but I'm not convinced that curveballs are the main culprit.   Still, if you are a coach or a parent and you're not sure, then concentrate on change-ups as a second pitch.  A good change-up is invaluable.

_____________________________________________________

          Five ways to hurt your arm

         Not warming-up thoroughly.
         Weight-training without knowing what you're doing.
         Poor mechanics.
         Throwing too many pitches. 
         Pitching two days in a row when your arm is totally vulnerable.

Any one of these can do more damage to your arm than throwing curveballs.  They're like lighting a match in a hydrogen factory.  Sooner or later you’re going down in flames.
_____________________________________________________

                         STRESS ON THE ELBOW

 I've seen a lot of kids throwing curves that are dangerous because they twist their elbow.  They learned this on their own or from an older pitcher.  You can stop them from throwing curves in games but, if they're going to fool around with them on their own, it's much better to teach them proper technique to protect their arm.  

Pitchers want to have a full arsenal of pitches, including curveballs.  They are obviously very effective at any level--and I've seen 12-year-olds with some beauties.  Just make sure the kid is throwing them right and don't let him overdo it.

    Kershaw loads his breaking ball.  Note his middle finger on the seam.           

          It's a calculated risk and it's your choice

I don't have any problem with young pitchers throwing breaking pitches.  But only if they're throwing them PROPERLY.  I've taught kids 11 and 12 to throw curves and none of them had sorearms.  And how do I know there wasn't damage that showed up later in their life?  I don't.  And therein lies the heart of the problem.  We can never be absolutely sure about these things--and anyone who says he's sure is a fool.

But life is full of calculated gambles.  And, as a coach or a parent, how much risk the pitcher takes is up to you.  If you want to eliminate curves from his diet--then feel free.  You may be absolutely right.  But…

Good mechanics, intelligent warm-up and proper rest will eliminate most of the problems in throwing breaking balls.  

Bad mechanics are the grand daddy of all arm damage.  Bad mechanics are like General George Custer riding full bore to Little Big Horn--a disaster waiting to happen.  Nothing will lead to shoulder or elbow damage faster than throwing off balance or off line.  There are definite risks in throwing curveballs--but good mechanics reduce them considerably.

                  Teaching the Curveball

Baseballs curve because they spin.  That's obvious, of course, but understanding spin is what it's all about.  To solve this mystery the pitcher just holds the ball up alongside his head, palm facing in, elbow as high as the shoulder and fingers on top.  Take a step, pull down with the middle finger, and spin the ball out over the index finger.   Spin it to a receiver 20 to 30 feet away--or into a fence or a sofa in the living room.  Feel the spin.  

                  Spin with Proper Arm Action

Gradually lengthen this out and spin it with full arm action, just taking a step.  No knee raise.  Make sure those mechanics are right--elbow up, fingers on top--and spin the ball 30 to 40 feet, maybe 10 to 15 times.  Check and make sure there's no elbow soreness.

                 Flat Ground Curveballs

Next step.  Throw curveballs on flat ground, nice and easy from your full delivery.  Same arm action, pulling down with the middle finger.  Emphasize a smooth follow through, pouring your shoulder to the plate.

                 Take it to the Mound

Throwing off the mound adds stress to the arm for two reasons: 1) There's a six inch drop for the stride foot and 2) The pitcher automatically gets pumped.  Now he's a pitcher and he's competing.  You need to throw from the mound but make sure you keep your discipline and don’t over-throw the breaking ball.    

                  PULL DOWN.  NEVER TWIST.  

I can't emphasize this enough.  Young pitchers think they have to “twist” their arm to throw a curve.  This puts tremendous strain on the elbow and leads to damage.

Don’t twist at the elbow.  Keep your fingers on top, palm turned in, elbow up, and pull the ball down out front.  It spins out over your index finger like a karate chop or pulling down a window shade.

DON'T TWIST.  DON'T TWIST.  DON'T TWIST. 

29
Mar 18

Rowan Wick Joins the Padres

 

STEVE DALKOWSKI, THE HARDEST THROWER EVER

          "White Lightning" at 110 mph

Believe it or not, there are some things I don’t understand.  Quantum Physics.  Why I love eating licorice so much.  Why men wear ties.  What WAR means.  Why Bryce Harper was an all-star.

 And why there’s nada, zip, zero, no way, no how, nothing, not one second of video of Steve Dalkowski pitching.   

It was film back in those days, which made it as expensive as gargling with Dom Perignon. (If you’ve got the bucks to do that let me know how it feels.)  But still…

The guy defines certain words.  Phenom.  Icon.  Freak. Of. Nature.  In the World of Baseball Legends Steve Dalkowski rates right up there with Babe Ruth Calling His Shot.  And maybe you’ve never heard of him.

They called him “White Lightning” for good reason.  He’s the hardest thrower ever.  Ever.  Ever.

You’ve undoubtedly seen the video of Aroldis Chapman stunning the radar gun at 105.  Well, Dalkowski was 5 mph faster than that.  Or 10 mph faster.  Or 15 mph faster.  Depends on who you listen to because there ain’t no radar guns in the 1960’s.

White Lightning was only 5-11, a lefthander who spent nine seasons in the minor leagues terrorizing hitters with a heater that exploded out of his hand like an atomic bomb.  Unfortunately, he never pitched in the big leagues because he was as wild as a crocodile in heat.

          How Fast Was Dalkowski?

Who knows?  Cal Ripken, Sr., his catcher for several years, figured White Lightning threw sonic bullets that broke the sound barrier at 115 mph.  Most observers agreed he routinely hit 110 and better.  Some even claimed 120, which is ridiculous (isn't it?) but radar guns have only been omnipotent for about three decades so there's no way to tell for sure.

Doug Harvey, who umpired for 30 years and saw a truckload of great ones, including Sandy Koufax, Bob Gibson and Tom Seaver, was convinced Dalkowski was by far the fastest of them all.  “Nobody could bring it like he could.”

In fact, Harvey met one of Dalko’s heaters head on.  In 1960 a White Lightning fastball broke his mask in three pieces, drove him back 18 feet, and sent him to the hospital for three days with a major concussion.

Nolan Ryan dented the radar gun at 100 plus as often as birds fly.  His fastball was like a shock wave that left hitters as helpless as if they were wearing handcuffs.  Earl Weaver, who saw them both pitch many times, said, "Dalkowski threw a lot faster than Nolan Ryan."

          And how much did Dalko's Fastball Move?

It wasn't just the velocity that was so impressive.  It was also the soaring movement that resembled an elevator on speed.

“His fastball would rise a foot to two feet between the mound and the plate,” says former teammate Ron Hansen.  “It looked like an airplane taking off.  Most of the time it never came close to the plate.”

Another one of his catchers, Andy Etchebarren, was even more impressed.  “His fastball looked like it was coming in at knee level,” he said, “only to sail past the batter's eyes."

You throw 105 plus and you have that kind of action?  Throw it for a strike and the Hall of Fame would need an auxiliary building to contain all your records.

And this is as strange as a Norwegian speaking Spanish in Paris.  Both Ripken and Etchebarren had no problems catching Dalkowski.  His fastball was “light” due to the backspin and Ripken said, "Dalko was the easiest pitcher I ever caught. He was only wild high and low, rarely inside or out--but the batters didn't know that."

Ergo, even though he made the hitters feel like they were locked into a guillotine, he rarely nailed anyone.  In fact, Steve, a very humble and kind man, told friends he almost killed a hitter and was afraid to come inside.

This was undoubtedly imbedded in his psyche after a pitch tore off a batter’s earlobe and another heater drilled a kid in the head and he never played again.  Hard to deal with that swirling around in your memory.

          How Wild Was He?

 * In his rookie season Dalkowski was on the hill for 62 innings.  He struck out almost everyone, 121 K’s.  Only 22 hits.  That sounds as dominating as The Hulk wrestling your great grandmother, who is on crutches.  But he went 1-8 with an 8.33 ERA. 

 Impossible?  A typo?  No, it’s straight goods.  Because White Lightning also walked 129 and scattered 39 wild pitches.  His catchers got in shape chasing the ball to the backstop.

 * He struck out 24 in one game but issued 18 walks, hit four unlucky hitters and threw six wild pitches.  He lost 8-4.

* He threw a no-hitter with 20 K's but walked another 18 and picked up the loss again.

* In the California League in 1960 he struck out 262 and matched it by walking 262.  A dead heat.

All in all Dalkowski’s lifetime record was 46-80.  He fanned 1,396 and walked 1,354.  A photo finish.

But get this.  Over his nine years and 995 innings he gave up only 37 home runs.  I doubt if there’s a pro pitcher anywhere who can come even close to that astounding stat.

"I hit my elbow on my knee so often, they made a pad for me to wear."

          The Dalkowski Legend 

Steve Dalkowski stories are as abundant as bananas and as entertaining as Don Rickles and Rodney Dangerfield doing stand-up for St. Peter and the angels.  Here are a few beauties.

**Dalkowski threw a pitch that hit a man in the back—while he was standing in line to buy a hot dog.  (The fan asked him to autograph the ball.)

**A teammate bet him $5 he couldn’t throw a baseball through the outfield wall.  Steve warmed up, moved 15 feet away, and cut it loose.  Right through the wooden fence.

**On another bet, Dalkowski threw from the plate and the ball disappeared over the centerfield fence, 440 feet away.

** A heater caromed so fiercely off one hitter’s helmet the ball soared toward second base like a line drive.

** Three of his howitzers crashed through the backstop  and sent the fans scrambling for their lives.

** Another pitch glanced off the catcher’s glove, hit the umpire in the mask and knocked him out cold.

** One scout said, “He’s wild enough to miss everything and fast enough to drill holes in concrete.”

** Rick Monday was one of the first bonus babies, signing for a record 104K.  Dalkowski fanned him four times in a row and each time he muttered,  "$104,000, my ass."

** Joe  Altobelli roomed with Dalko at AAA Rochester where his challenge was to "help mature the kid."  Joe said he loved Steve but never saw him, except at the park--he was out drinking all night all the time.  Still,  Dalkowski always showed up to pitch.

** At one point his buddy was lefthander Bo Belinsky, best known for dating Playboy bunnies and partying.

** Remember Nuke Laloosh, the pitcher in Bull Durham?  Screenwriter  Ron Shelton, who played in the minor leagues, based the part on Dalkowski.

                        Aw, yes, the less than legendary Nuke Laloosh.

          Ted Williams: “I never saw the ball.”

Williams, the most iconic hitter who ever set foot in a batter’s box, faced Dalkowski for one pitch during spring training.  He watched Dalko wind-up…and then he heard the ball pop into the catcher’s glove.

“I never saw the ball,”  Williams told reporters.  He said Dalkowski was the fastest pitcher he'd ever faced and added, "I never want to face him again."

          Blowing away big league hitters

White Lightning didn’t just handcuff minor leaguers.  He also blew his fastball past MLB stars in spring training.

That includes Don Hoak, Dee Fondy and Alex Grammas of the Reds, who all went down the tubes on just 12 pitches.  Fondy fouled off a bunt attempt that scorched into the backstop so fast he called it one of the hardest balls he ever hit.

Reds manager Birdie Tebbetts told Grammas to stay off the plate as far as possible.  “I’ve been playing for 10 years,” Grammas said, “and nobody can throw a baseball harder than that.”

Dalko also smoked nine Dodgers in a row, including stars like Tommy Davis and Maury Wills.

          Paralysis by analysis

The Orioles tried everything they could to tame Dalkowski’s command.  It was like testing lab rats to see how many stupid experiments they could survive.

*** He tossed bull pens with hitters on both sides of the plate.  And threw strikes.  Too bad they didn’t send them up two at a time in games.

*** They had him pitch for three hours, hoping he’d get so tired he’d get the ball over.  I have no idea why.  Dalkowski proved he had super human stamina.  And he still couldn’t throw strikes.

*** Pitching coach Harry Brecheen, a World Series winner, would stand behind him in the bull pen and massage his brain with positive words, which improved Dalko’s confidence and his command.  But that therapy only worked when Brecheen was on hand, which would have been rather difficult during a game unless he was astral travelling.

*** They adjusted where Dalko stood on the mound, they changed his stride length and his arm slot.  All to no avail.

*** They gave him glasses.  They had him throw BP for two weeks.

*** They set up a wood target.  And it was splintered in the time it takes to say, “Steve just made sawdust.”

It was paralysis by analysis and it accomplished about as much as running on ice.

          Weaver to the Rescue

 Finally, Dalkowski got a break and hooked up with Earl Weaver, who was his manager in 1962 at AA Elmira.  Weaver administered an IQ test for his players and discovered Steve was a few bricks short.

Weaver realized Dalkowski was suffering from a download of information that numbed his brain.

“We were going about it all wrong,” Weaver said.  “We were telling him to hold runners close, teaching him a changeup, how to throw out of the stretch, and he couldn’t process it.  We were overloading him. Those tests showed if you had something to teach 100 people, Steve would be the last to learn.”

So Weaver went to Plan B.  Call it Simplify.  “There wasn’t anything I could tell him he hadn’t heard 100 times before.  So I decided to just be quiet.”  Weaver had Dalkowski run constantly and gave him this advice, “Forget what everybody told you.  Just throw the ball down the middle.”  If he missed, which was more than likely, at least he had a shot at clipping a corner.

              Earl Weaver ejecting the umpires.

But Weaver also had an ace in the hole.  He told Dalko to take something off his fastball, just relax and be nice and easy.  Until.  He heard the signal.

When White Lightning was ahead in the count Weaver would whistle from the dugout and Dalkowski grinned and cut it loose.  “He loved to hear that whistle,” Weaver said.

Dalkowski had his best season that year, walking less than a batter an inning for the first time.

And this one is amazing.  In an extra-inning game he struck out 27 and threw 283 pitches.  Do that today and the Players Union would have a platoon of lawyers waiting in the clubhouse to file a lawsuit.

When he tossed a five-hit shutout without walking a man, a reporter asked him why and Dalkowski shrugged, “I wish I knew.  But I sure hope it continues.”

It lingered like perfume.  He was on the hill for three shutouts in four starts, collecting complete games like they were baseball cards and his command bordered on surgical.  “It’s unbelievable,” Weaver grinned.

When that season drifted to a close Dalkowski posted a 3.04 ERA.  Over one 52 inning stretch he fanned 104, walked only 11 and gave up just one earned run.

He still partied and drank way too much.  But he was on his way to the big leagues.

          He Felt his Elbow Pop

There are several versions of the tragedy that ended Steve Dalkowski’s career.  But we know for sure it happened in spring training in 1963.

It started well.  Over eight innings of relief he gave up nothing.  Not one hit.  Struck out 11.  Then it all fell apart.  He came to the park hungover, as usual, but there was very good news.  The Orioles had him measured for his first major league uniform.

Dalko took the hill that afternoon against the Yankees and blitzed a pair of Bronx Bomber legends, Roger Maris and Elston Howard.  So far, so great.

Then Phil Linz stepped into the box.  Some say he threw a slider to Linz and felt his left elbow pop.  Some say Linz bunted and Dalkowski injured his arm throwing to first.  Either way this was well before Tommy John surgery and the elbow was gonzo.  If only Dr. Frank Jobe had been around in those days.

Dalkowski had the courage to keep going for a couple more seasons but his arm was never the same.  The hardest thrower in baseball history was done.

          Before…

White Lightning must have been a brilliant athlete.  In high school he tripled in football, playing quarterback, halfback and defensive back for a team that won a pair of Connecticut state titles.  He was an honorable mention All-American and he’d have stayed on the gridiron if his dad didn’t love baseball so much.

As early as grade nine Dalko threw aspirin tablets.  His coach said his fastball made a loud buzzing sound and eventually it notched him two high school no-hitters, striking out as many as 24 in one game, which tells you something about wild pitches.  His heater was so intimidating the terrorized hitters tried desperately to stand outside the batter’s box.

Dalkowski signed with the Orioles for $4,000, the maximum bonus allowed in 1957, but the scout, who was reportedly named Beauty McGowan, added $12,000 under the table, par for the course those days, and topped it off by buying him a new car.

          …and After

Steve Dalkowski is 79 now and living in a long term care facility in his hometown of New Britain, Connecticut.

Which is a minor miracle in itself because excessive alcohol and brain cells don’t mix very well.  He has dementia and says he’s unable to remember anything from 1964 to 1994.

In 1970 Sports Illustrated ran a profile on Dalko.  "His failure was not one of deficiency, but rather of excess,” it said.  “He was too fast. His ball moved too much. His talent was too superhuman.  But once, just once, Steve Dalkowski threw a fastball so hard that Ted Williams never saw it.”

What would it have been like to see him pitch in the big leagues?  That question lingers in the air, waiting for the Time Machine to take us back and erase that one moment when an Arm For The Ages was shelved forever.

Here’s to you, Steve Dalkowski, the hardest thrower who ever lived.

            BASEBALL PUZZLE

How can ONE team get SIX HITS in ONE inning
and NOT score a run?

This is for new readers who haven't seen the answer yet.  ANSWER later this week.               

 

THE ALL AMERICAN WHO NEVER WAS

          Johnny Chung, the Celestial Comet

Ever heard of the great running back Johnny Chung?  Heisman candidate.  As dominant as Nolan Ryan slashing 102 mph aspirin tablets at high school sophomores. 

The Plainfield Teachers College went undefeated way back in 1941 because no one could stop Chung from devouring the end zone.  He was a force of nature, right up there with Bronko Nagurski, Jim Thorpe and Sally Fields.  (These things just come out, a stream of consciousness.  I have no idea why.)

How good was Johnny Chung?  Well, his nickname was the Celestial Comet.  That good.  And more than a few football journalists were tabbing him as a sure thing All American halfback.

Only one minor problem.  He was never born.  Never took a breath.  Never ate a sliver of food.  Johnny Chung was an apparition.  He never existed.

Johnny burst from the fertile imagination of a man who loved having fun with the media.  And he was ingenious enough to even fool the New York Times, the Bible of Print.

This time it really was Fake News.

 

Jim Thorpe, one of the greatest athletes ever.  He starred in the NFL and MLB.
But he certainly could have used a better glove.    

Morris Newburger was a Wall Street stock broker who grew up with the Marx Brothers and Laurel and Hardy coursing through his veins like a tumbler or two of high octane vodka.  Which undoubtedly explains his insouciant, irreverent outlook on life.  A little bit of irreverence goes a long way.

At any rate, Newburger and a couple of his pals on The Street invented a football team with a legend to see if the newspapers would run with it.  On a Saturday afternoon in September Newburger called The Times and the Herald Tribune, among others, to give them the news--Plainfield had just clipped Ingersoll University 13-6 with Chung rushing for 125 yards and scoring both TD's.

Nobody had ever heard of either of those stalwarts of higher learning but, at that time, small college football teams shuffled in and out of the picture faster than Trump’s cabinet.  Newspapers printed several editions in those days so Newburger hustled out at 2 a.m. to buy copies of a dozen publications.  “They bought it,” he exulted.

There it was, in all its pristine beauty, the Plainfield score on the first page of The Times sports section, right next to heavyweights like Fordham, Army, Notre Dame and Penn State.  It was as if a high school rock band shared top billing with The Rolling Stones.

Johnny Chung was quickly doused with Star Power.  He was 6-3 and 212 pounds of ripped muscle and he sliced through the hapless defenses like King Arthur’s Sword of Excalibur attacking a snowflake.  He was half Chinese, half Hawaiian and Newburger claimed he  wolfed down bowls of wild rice at halftime for a boost of energy, which smells very much like a racist comment.  One story said Johnny even ran in barefeet, but that seems too far fetched for anyone to believe.

                              Johnny Chung, who did not exist

But Johnny Chung was also taking his first lunge toward the Heisman Trophy as college player of the year.  Which would have been an interesting presentation ceremony, I must say.

The Celestial Comet was a phenom from the get-go.  After Plainfield hammered Randolph Tech 35-0 the New York Post reporter wrote, “John Chung, Plainfield’s Chinese sophomore halfback, has accounted for 57 of the 98 points scored by his unbeaten and untied team in four starts.”

Newburger baptized himself as sports information director Jerry Croyden and sent out news releases with a Plainfield letterhead.  He dubbed his stalwarts “The Lions” and named their coach Ralph “Hurry Up” Hoblitzel.  It was Hurry Up who invented the W-formation where both ends faced the backfield so they could follow Chung's path, the better to block for him, a fascinating concept, indeed.  One of them was 6-3 receiver Al “Boarding House” Smithers.

To help the papers embellish their stories Newburger designated the Wall Street dudes as linemen and backs, including himself.  He was at left tackle in one game, quarterback in another.  Apparently, the brokers Newburger didn’t like were on the losing teams.

So Frank Leahy was about to leave the Fighting Irish to coach Johnny Chung

With only two games left Plainfield was heading straight into the famous Blackboard Bowl in Atlantic City.  And there were rumors roaming around that legendary Notre Dame coach Frank Leahy was about to jump on board with the Lions.

          "Will the Celestial Comet make All-American?"

At which point it all blew apart.  Apparently, World Telegram sports reporter Joe Williams visited the city of Plainfield, New Jersey and couldn't find a trace of a football team.  When this info came to the attention of Time Magazine the story said, “The sports pages of the New York Times and other papers have dutifully recorded their football victories.  The only error was that Plainfield and its opponents never existed.”

Undaunted, Newburger persevered.  “It’s too bad about Chung,” he said.  “He was stalwart, shifty, All-American material.”

So Jerry Croyden sent out his final news release: “Due to flunkings in the midterm examinations, Plainfield has been forced to call off its last two scheduled games.”

The Philadelphia Record, which had bought into the hoax, was sympathetic.  “We don’t see why exposure of the gag should have to end the team’s career. It should keep playing the rest of the season. And we want to know if the Celestial Comet could make All-American.”

That’s the spirit.

You might think you couldn’t get away with such a blatant hoax in these days of instant Social Media.  But there is so much garbage swirling through the Net every day I think it would actually be easier.  It would just mingle with the UFO sightings, the JFK conspiracies, the Loch Ness Monster, Sasquatch, and Meghan Markle is either a robot or a secret agent planning to hand America back to the British.

So how about it?  Use your imagination.  It doesn’t even have to be a great idea because people will believe almost anything these days.  Maybe it’s time to bring Johnny Chung back to life.  Even if he never had a life.

 

THE PITCHING PACKAGE

ROWAN WICK EDGES CLOSER TO THE BIGS

       The Catch 22 of a Relief Pitcher

Craig Kimbrel and Aroldis Chapman both closed on the weekend and they were as sharp as whipped cream.  They struggled to find any rhythm at all and their release point was somewhere in New Zealand.

These two guys have lightning stuff, as overpowering as a bulldozer attacking sand.  But they got engulfed by the Catch 22 that stalks every relief pitcher.

Kimbrel hadn’t thrown for six days.  Chapman hadn't thrown for five days.  Which means their command went down the tubes as fast as a locked door closes when you left your keys inside.

 

             Kimbrel, who may need glasses.

There is no easy way around this problem.  Relief pitchers can seldom throw on the side because they never know when they’ll be on the hill.

So there’s this delicate balance.  Pitch too often and you could strain your elbow or shoulder.  Don’t throw enough and your command is on the ropes.  It’s the Yin.  And the Yang.

Take a look at Yankee stalwarts Dellin Betances and Chapman.  Their stuff isn’t just lights out.  It’s a Black Hole.  Betances has always been an adventure, partly due to his balance problem, and Chapman’s delivery is too much drop and drive to always be consistent.  Nevertheless, they'd both prosper even more if they could throw bull pens.

Rowan Wick understands this enigma and deals with it remarkably well.  The young man from North Van closed three games in a row for the AAA El Paso Chihuahuas, which tells me something very significant.  The Padres are sending an indelible message.  Get this kid ready for the big leagues.  Or, Showcase Wick because teams are looking to make a trade.

 Very cool.  If Rowan isn’t called up this month it looks pretty good he’ll join the Padres in September when the rosters expand.  He’s getting restless, impatient, itching to hit the Bigs.  He’s mentally ready.  All he has to do is maintain his focus and concentration and stay in the Now.

Then it’s goodbye, El Paso, hello, San Diego.

          Next is a solution for command when you can’t throw a bull pen.

          Shadow Boxing Your Delivery

I had sushi lunch with one of my favorite players, Thomas Espig, who pitches for Yale University.  Thomas is smart, articulate, perceptive, he has a great sense of humor and a wonderful outlook on life.  When you talk to Thomas you come away feeling good.

We covered the spectrum, everything from life at Yale to the gourmet food in Tokyo, where Thomas was born.  And even some baseball.

When Thomas travelled east two years ago to showcase for Ivy League schools his velocity jumped up the ladder like a kangaroo.  I asked him why.

“I kept going through my delivery over and over,” he said.  In other words, he was Shadow Boxing, which I love.

                               Thomas with a great finish.

What is Shadow Boxing? you ask.

It’s simply repeating your delivery without throwing a baseball.  You can do it in your room, on the field, in the gym, or in a restaurant if you don’t mind being stared at.

You focus on mechanics.  You lock in your rhythm.  You lock in balance.  You lock in arm slot.  You lock in load.  You lock in drive to the plate.  You lock in rotation.  You lock in finish.

And you repeat your delivery over.  And over.  And over.  And over.

For Thomas it added a jump in MPH and command.  For a relief pitcher it takes the place of throwing a bull pen.  It’s the answer to the Catch 22.

 

PITCHING FUNDAMENTALS

              Balance Like a Gymnast

 You wanna throw strikes?  I give you two gifts.  Balance.  And Direction.

There is nothing more important to a pitcher’s command than Balance.  If you are wobbly, if you can’t control your body, if you’re walking down stairs in the dark wondering if there’s one more step, if your central nervous system is in Toledo and you’re pitching in Nashville, then you have as much chance of throwing a strike as a drunk on skis.

I often think baseball players should train like gymnasts.  Surely, they are the best trained athletes on this planet.  They have it all.  Strength.  Agility.  Flexibility.  Balance.  Take the best gymnasts, coach them for about six months, hand them a uni, and get out of their way.  No matter what sport they’re playing they’d rise to the top like oil on water.

Gymnasts have more Balance than a Gyro or an Equation.  And that’s the ultimate key to Command.

Yes, he's balanced.  But left-hand hitters are wondering where he's aiming.  

I wrote a story awhile back (which is reprinted below) about Dellin Betances and his control problems.  His stuff isn’t just Lights Out.  It’s a Black Hole.  How do you contact heat at 100 mph at the top of the zone followed by a slider that breaks like a shattered piece of glass?  Betances is Darth Vader.  The Shadow.  The Black Panther.

Earlier this season he was all over place.  But lately he’s been locating like a GPS.  Well, a GPS that’s a little wonky.  But it’s been better.  For one reason.  Dellin is much more balanced now from knee raise to stride to finish.  Apparently, he's figured it out.

But…

His direction is still offline.  He opens up at least eight inches, which must cause left-handed hitters to urinate.  Because that’s where he’s aiming.

I have no idea why Larry Rothchild can’t correct this anomaly.  But, then, I have no idea why most MLB pitching coaches aren’t fired.  If you don’t understand, take a look at the legion of $20 million talent on the DL.  It's disgusting and it's totally preventable if you know what you're doing.

So Betances has better Balance.  One down.  One to go.  Direction.  Dellin, are you listening?

 

PITCHING FUNDAMENTALS

 The Importance of a Controlled Knee Raise

I’ve been reluctant to discuss knee raise because it’s like Good Cop, Bad Cop.  It seems simple but it has tricks and nuances and hidden traps that lurk like a stalker.  Your knee raise initiates your delivery and it can screw you up faster than a bullet.

Good cop.  On the one hand a solid, controlled knee raise gives you rhythm and momentum.  Make sure it’s not frantic or disjointed.  But also not too slow or languid.  The right tempo, the right feel, and you’re driving a Ferrari.

Bad cop.  On the other hand a wobbly, off balance knee raise is like Long John Silver dancing the Watusi on a trampoline.  You’ll either walk the ball park or throw lollipops.  And you’re driving an Edsel.

I can’t emphasize enough the importance of balance.  It’s the foundation of your delivery.  If you're unstable when you knee raise, you’ll be fighting to survive throughout the whole motion.  Balance and command are joined at the hip.  I see big league dudes all the time who look like they’re pitching in a hurricane and they throw a strike as often as it snows in Libya.

Balanced, controlled, leading with his hip, getting down the hill...perfect

But here’s the problem.  There are two very antagonistic camps when it comes to your knee raise.  The Hatfields and the McCoys.  Coke and Pepsi.  The Packers and the Bears.

For decades now, ever since the Sheriff of Nottingham threw his torturous knuckleball against Robin Hood and his Merry Men in the Sherwood Forest Medieval League, pitching coaches like Friar Tuck have preached Balance Point to pitchers.  You bring your knee up and then you Gather at the top of your delivery, balancing directly over the rubber.  You hold there, waiting for the Earth to rotate.

That has been The Eleventh Commandment, right up there with Buy Low, Sell High and Don’t Go Swimming After Eating a Large Pepperoni Pizza.

But many of the current gurus and aficionados barf every time they hear those diabolical and evil words “Balance Point.”  To them that means Serial Killer.

And they’re right.  There is no magic balance point.  You balance throughout the whole delivery.  So that settles that.

But…

You need to get Down the Hill.  That’s a given.  Getting Down the Hill creates drive, power, velocity, aggression.  All good things.

But it is absolutely crucial that you Get Down the Hill leading with your hip.  Your lower body MUST spearhead your drive.  It has to go first.  You stay Loaded as your lower body leads the charge.  Your upper body is simply along for the ride, waiting to explode when you front foot lands.

Why is this so important?  Here is the Mantra of Pitching.

You throw a baseball with your whole body.  The legs deliver the hips.  The hips deliver the torso.  The torso delivers the arm.  That’s the essence of See How Easily You Can Throw Hard and it’s the best way to keep Tommy John surgery in the parking lot.

All of this depends on sequence and rhythm.  And your knee raise is the trigger.

When your knee hits the top DO NOT hang over the rubber at the mythical Balance Point.  You’re not in Cirque du Soleil doing a high wire balancing act.  You’re creating explosive momentum.  So GET UP and GO.  Get Down the Hill.

But make sure you’re Leading with Your Hip and Lower Body.

 If your UPPER BODY goes first you’re rushing and lunging.  You’ve lost your Weight Shift and your Load.  Your Power disappears like a ghost and it’s hard to rotate when you’re out on your front leg too early.  You have nothing left except your arm, which feels like an orphan.  It struggles to catch up but it’s left in the dust.

Rushing is even worse than hanging over the rubber waiting for a bus.

So we have a delicate, precise moment in your mechanics.  You have to get down the hill but you have to do it with your LOWER BODY leading.

This is Joel Zumaya, who was gunned at 104.8  mph for the Tigers.  Unfortunately, he injured his arm several times.  Joel had a tendency to lunge on to his front side too soon and here he's also coming down on his heel, which a lot of pitchers do, but this is far too much.  What a career he should have had.

You need an experienced coach to monitor your delivery.  To make sure you Get Up and Go.  But to also make sure you lead with your hip and stay loaded as you stride.

Take some video.  Put it on slow mo or stop action.  Examine the parts.  You need rhythm.  You need to be in synch.  And you absolutely must Load and get down the hill in the right sequence.

When you know it’s right, when it feels right, when it looks right, lock it in.  Repeat that delivery over and over.  Repeat it throwing bull pens or shadow boxing in a mirror.  Repeat it over and over until it’s as natural as breathing and you never have to think about it in a game.  You can’t pitch if you’re still trying to groove your mechanics.  All that has to happen before you step on the hill for combat.

It won’t always be perfect.  But if it’s right and you do the reps it will be consistent and as good as it gets.  You’ll throw strikes with power.  And you’ll feel the ball explode out of your hand.

          It’s a Knee Raise not a Leg Kick        

Despite what you hear from TV analysts this is NOT a "leg kick."  Kicking your leg stiff and straight out from your body knocks you off balance and rocks your weight (RHP) toward first base.  Bend your leg and keep your foot under your knee.

          Rotation and Coil

For me the perfect delivery means you rotate your knee to the middle of your body.  That keeps you loaded and adds coil to store energy and allow your hips to explode.

There have been pitchers like Roy Halladay and Tim Lincecum who rotated  all the way back to second base but that’s counter-productive.  Keep it simple.  Bring your knee back to the middle of your body for balance and torque.   COIL and then UNCOIL.

LIFT and ROTATE at the same time.  You’re lifting your front knee diagonally toward your back shoulder. 

 And this is John Lollar of Murray State.  Don't ask me how he does it.  Jeff Drummond snapped this incredible shot of a guy who must be as flexible as spaghetti.  Don't try this at home.     

      How high?

 Some pitchers love to bring their knee up as high as possible but that only amplifies the chances of wavering.  Halfway between your belt and your shoulders is as high as you should go.  If you're wobbly at the top of your motion, lower your knee raise and find your OPTIMUM height.  It should feel comfortable.

This gives you better control of your body.  The biggest obstacle to command is an exaggerated knee raise that keeps you struggling to maintain balance.  It’s like watching a tightrope walker throwing a change-up.

David Price and Noah Syndergaard and Luis Severino only knee raise to their belt.  No higher.  And they all throw bullets with solid command.

NOTE: I often see young pitchers throwing their foot up in the air as high as possible, pushing themselves totally off balance.  They’re like a drunk on skis and they have no idea where the ball is going.  They'd be far better off to just bring their knee up to their waist, stay compact, and then drive, rotate and finish with power.  If you don’t have control of your body, an extreme knee raise will do far more harm than good.

           Your Post foot

It's crucial to keep your post foot stable in front of the rubber.  Your weight must be anchored solidly and firmly with your whole foot planted.  Too many young pitchers wobble on their post foot, rocking heel to toe or side to side.  From the get-go they’re unstable and off-balance.

          Stay Tall

Don’t scrunch or hunch as you lift.  Stay tall.  Which means keep your shoulders relaxed—but UP.   You don’t have to load your shoulders, it will happen “naturally” if you stay tall at the top of your delivery.

 

SOLVING CONTROL PROBLEMS

              The Gold of Coil and Go

How important is knee raise?  Do you really need it?  Does it add to your power?  Or does it cause balance problems?

Nolan Ryan felt the higher he lifted his knee the harder he threw. I doubt that very much because I’ve seen so many guys blitz the gun without a high knee raise.

But Ryan was not your average pitcher—or only your superstar, for that matter.  Not by 5,714 strikeouts, seven no-hitters, 12 one-hitters and 18 two-hitters.  Think about that for a moment.  Nolan was two pitches away from throwing 37 no-hittersThat isn’t just dominance.  It’s slavery.

                                      The ineffable Nolan Ryan

But I digress.  If you’re having trouble throwing strikes there’s a simple cure.  CUT DOWN ON YOUR KNEE RAISE.   Way down.  Coil and Go.  Not only does this improve Command exponentially but it often adds Velocity because you throw harder when you have balance.

Coil and Go is simply a halfway point between a full knee raise and a slide step.  As such it’s a great compromise that solves a lot of control problems.

Coil your front knee back to your post knee.  The stride foot barely leaves the ground.  Just coil, stride, and throw.  No balance problem.  The Coil and Go gives you ultimate control of your delivery.  Keep It Simple and Direct.  Coil.  Go.  And throw strikes.  This is power.

If a righthander has a high knee raise he’ll usually Coil and Go to stifle the running game.  It’s not a slide step but it’s quicker to the plate and it also increases your balance, which means superior command.  Often you’ll see a pitcher walk a hitter, then shorten his delivery with a runner on first, and suddenly he’s throwing strikes.

Simplify when you’re having trouble getting the ball over.  Start from the set like Price and  Stephen Strasburg.  Cut down your knee raise.  Or even emulate Andrew Miller and slide step.  You’ll be surprised how much your command increases.  And your velocity.

When you’re off balance it’s not only a struggle to throw strikes.  It also reduces power because you’re battling to control your body when you should be focused on driving to the plate.

This is not to say everyone should eliminate the knee raise or throw from the set.  But if you’re having control problems you should think about it.

Velocity comes from drive, rotation, finish and arm speed.  It has little to do with knee raise.

 

AS SIMPLE AS 1, 2, 3

          Left-hander's pickoff move

Andy Pettitte had the best LHP pickoff I’ve ever seen.  It was like watching a King Cobra toy with a mouse.  Like a magician sawing a woman in half and then unsawing her.  Like a politician talking out of all six sides of his mouth at once.  Like a shrewd homicide detective trapping a perp into confessing to murdering the whole south side of Chicago. 

How good was Pettitte?  Does the Pope live in the Vatican?  Does Hershey make a few chocolate bars?  Does Trump tweet?  Does Usain Bolt run pretty quickly?

There was this great moment in the 1999 World Series with Andruw Jones of the Braves running on first and Pettitte on the bump.  Jones called time and asked for a barrel of Valium (just kidding) to corral his anxiety.  Instead Andruw made an executive decision and stood just one step off first and a short step it was.  That was the absolute full extent of his lead.  One step.  Okay, Pettitte, see if you can pick me now.  And Andy had the good grace not to double up with laughter.

Okay, if you were the runner would you know which way Pettitte is going?  His head tells you it's to the plate but that's what he wants you to think.  Oh, by the way, that's his son Josh on the left.

The pick for a left-hander has three Code Reds.

*** The rulebook says there’s an imaginary line between the rubber and first base.  When you knee raise, if your foot breaks the plane of this line you must go to the plate.  Break the plane?  Your foot cannot go back toward second base.  So you point your foot directly toward first.

But…

You CAN break the plane with your KNEE.  Curl only your knee toward second while your foot remains perfectly legal, like a con man with a slick lawyer.  This is the beginning of your deception.  It is quietly subliminal and it’s the genesis of a three-pronged assault on the reflexes of the baserunner.

*** You are allowed to step halfway to the plate and still throw to first.  Don’t ask me why.  Just accept it as the gift of a Ferrari from Cy Young.

So there it is.  45 degrees.  This is crucial.  Don’t stride directly to first unless you’re showing the runner a decoy.  Stride halfway to the plate.  I’ve even seen guys land 7/8’s toward the catcher and then pick.  The umpires were comatose.  And the first base coach lit up like a Fourth of July burst of fireworks.

*** And now we come to the Key to Picking.  This is the one that holds it all together, the cement foundation Pettitte used so effectively.

Your HEAD.

As you begin your knee raise you stare directly at the baserunner, as if you’re measuring him, trying to anticipate what he’ll do.  You may have to take thespian lessons for this.  Sort of Marlon Brando and Method Acting.

And then…

As your knee raise hits the top YOU TURN YOUR HEAD TOWARD THE PLATE.

Nothing influences the runner more than your head.  When he sees your head swivel toward the hitter he automatically FEELS like you’re going to the plate.  This is not a rational thought process.  It is much stronger because it’s reflexive and subliminal, like breathing.  His head is going home.  His body will follow. 

So the runner impulsively starts to shuffle, beginning his secondary lead.  At which point you stride halfway and throw over.

Presto.  Pick.

Your knee breaks the plane.  Your head goes to the plate.  You step halfway.  Add them up and you have a perfect combination of lethal deceptions.

          So You Throw Over…and He Still Steals the Bag    

Every experienced LHP has endured this frustration.  You have a solid pick.  But sometimes, because you’re using a high knee raise, the runner breaks on first move and you take too long to get the ball to the first baseman.  The dude beats the throw to second and slides in safely.

If you anticipate he’s running there is an anecdote.  Just cut your knee raise in half.  Not so short he’ll abort, just low enough so you can give the first baseman more time.  Adam Loewen was a master at shortening his knee raise when he thought the runner was on the move.

NOTE: It’s important that your 1B comes to the ball on a pick with the runner stealing.  He receives the ball a bit sooner, he can turn his body earlier, and he has a much better throwing angle to the shortstop.

     DodgerJulio Urias, who's pick is so good the enemy is sure it's a balk move.        

         Never Get Caught Betwixt and Between

When Jimmy Key was on the hill for the Blue Jays he’d scrutinize the runner as he lifted his leg.  Then he’d decide if he was going over or to the plate.  A few pitchers can do this.

But it is a terrible mistake for everyone else.

For Key it was fine because his whole game was FINESSE.  He didn’t throw hard and he relied totally on surgical command and snaky movement.  He could hang over the rubber and still make good pitches.  Essentially, he was a freak.

But you are merely human and you also want to be a Power Pitcher not a Thumber.  Which means…

When you come set your mind MUST be on ONE TRACK.  Etched in stone, 100 per cent imbedded in concrete, as much as Jimmy Hoffa.  You CANNOT be in limbo, betwixt and between.  That’s a recipe for throwing a wild pitch or a cherry down the middle with nothing on it.

You need absolute COMMITMENT to the plate to throw heaters or razor sharp sliders.

Know exactly what you’re going to do before you come set.  You’re either going over or you’re going to the plate.  Never half and half.  One or the other.  With 100 per cent, total, all consuming, ineffable, infinite, universal, every cell in your body and mind COMMITMENT.

Did I make that clear enough?  I thought so.

 

           Stealing Against a Lefthander

Everyone knows if you’re stealing against a lefthander with a high knee raise you go on first move.  Even the TV analysts have that one locked in.

But there’s a lot more nuance if you dig below the surface.  Let’s dissect the strategy. 

          Plan A

Find out if he has a good move.

Take your normal lead and maybe even a step further.  You’re trying to get him to come over.

But this is a ONE WAY LEAD.  Your weight is on your LEFT FOOT.  When he starts his knee raise you actually do a crossover step back toward the bag to make absolutely sure you don’t get picked.

If he comes over, fine.  You’ve seen his move.  If he goes to the plate it indicates he has no confidence in a pick-off.  Either way it doesn’t matter.

When a left-hander comes set he gauges what he’s going to do by your lead.  That’s what tells him to go over or go to the plate.

So now you SHORTEN your lead BY AT LEAST TWO STEPS.  Don’t look aggressive.  Look intimidated.  He’ll assume you aren’t running.  And the chances of him throwing over are the same as winning the lottery.

But you are.  Shortening your lead is not a problem because he has a high knee raise.  As soon as his foot leaves the ground your gonzo and you could stop for a lunch break halfway to second and still steal the bag.

                 On a ONE WAY LEAD your weight is on your left foot.

          Plan B

Go basic.  Just shorten your lead by a couple of steps and go on first move.  There's a good chance you'll catch him off guard.

          One stolen base can change a game 

Now, obviously, this will only work once in a game, unless the lefthander has a low IQ or a very short memory.  But once is enough to win a game.

NOTE:  If you go on first move just keep running.  It takes time for a lefthander to get the ball over there and it’s a difficult throw for a first baseman.  Chances are you’ll steal the base anyway.

 

 

 

          Throwing a Rawlings Spud

Here's one for the books. 

It's 1987 and the AA Williamsport Bills and the Reading Phillies are squaring off.  Bills Catcher Dave Bresnahan corrals a fastball and fires to third, trying to  pick off Rick Lundblade.  But the throw sails into the outfield and Rick breaks for home.  Where he's tagged out by Bresnahan, who still has the ball.

A magic act?  David Copperfield masquerading as a catcher? 

Not quite.  Bresnahan threw a peeled potato into the outfield.  No one was sure where he hid the spud.  And, the Bills, lacking a sense of humor, reportedly fired the receiver, which seems a bit harsh. 

 

 

And his 168 mph fastball

        The Amazing Saga of Sidd Finch

I was having lunch at the Queens Cross with Paul Gemino when he mentioned art forgers so talented they can make perfect copies of any painter from Van Gogh to Picasso.  Even the most educated aficionados can’t tell the difference.  One guy was so good he was nailed only because he got careless and used a white paint that was too modern.

Which always makes me wonder.  If you love these paintings and you can’t tell the fake from the original, what difference does it make?  Just enjoy their beauty or wonder or magnificence.  But, of course, I’m being blatantly naïve.  It isn’t about the aesthetic value of the painting at all.  It’s about greenbacks.  It’s an investment, a cash withdrawal.  So much for art lovers.

At any rate, it reminded me of the legendary Sidd Finch.

Who threw a baseball 168 miles per hour.  I kid you not.  Not even a chuckle.  One.  Six.  Eight.  On the radar gun in 1985 with the New York Mets.

If you don’t believe me just Google the wonderful story George Plimpton penned for Sports Illustrated called “The Curious Case of Sidd Finch.”

Curious, indeed.

Here are just a few of the incredible, surreal epiphanies revealed by Plimpton.

Sidd was an orphan adopted by an English archaeologist who died in a plane crash in Nepal.

He attended Harvard.

Finch caressed the French horn so lovingly he could have performed with the New York Philharmonic.

He aspired to be a monk and studied yoga and the mastery of mind and body.  Hence the name Hayden Siddhartha Finch.  I won’t go into the Zen Esoterics because it would take a novel to unravel the Mystique.  That’s between you and Buddha.  Suffice it to say Sidd Finch strengthened his arm catapulting rocks and meditating on the Rotator Cuff in the austere mountains of Tibet.

                   How to vaporize a soda bottle

He was discovered by a Mets minor league manager who actually saw him throw a baseball with so much velocity it vaporized soda bottles.  Yes, vaporized.  Finch said he’d learned the Art of the Pitch and that was as obvious as sunrise.  Now the Mets are not stupid.  Melting glass with solar heat is an automatic invitation to spring training.  Even if you developed in the Tibetan Independent League.

They brought him to Florida and it didn’t take long, just one click of the JUGS gun, to see that Mr. Finch not only threw 168 mph but also with surgical command.  And he did all this without even warming up.  Just to escalate the Surreal Strangeness, he wore a hiker’s boot on his right foot and no shoe at all on his left.

Scouting reports go from 2 for abysmal to 8, which is Hall of Fame.  The Mets rated Sidd’s velocity and command at 9.  Not just off the charts but off the Grid of Gravity.  Another dimension.

                         Lenny "Nails" Dykstra--Trying to hit a blur

Sidd was unsigned, of course, so the Mets kept him as secret as the formula for Coca Cola.  He threw to a few hitters in a hidden batting cage constructed just for his clandestine bull pens.  But somehow the workouts leaked to Plimpton and he wrote a brilliant 14 page epic for SI, complete with pics of  pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, outfielder Lenny Dykstra, Finch and his French horn and landlady, his locker in the clubhouse, his roommate at Harvard, Nelson Doubleday, the owner of the Mets, and Siddhartha riding a camel in Egypt.  Yes, a camel in Egypt.

          "You can barely see the blur as it goes by"

Mets outfielder John Christensen was one of the helpless hitters who felt like a human sacrifice when he faced Finch in the cage.  As he stepped into the box the catcher, Ronn Reynolds, who liked the letter “n” and also had a left palm crying out in agony, whispered, “Kid, you won’t believe what you’re about to see.”

See is decidedly the wrong word.  “Before you can blink the ball is in the catcher’s mitt,” Christensen said, later.  “You hear it crack and then there’s this little bleat from Reynolds.  You can barely see the blur as it goes by.  I don’t think it’s humanly possible to hit it.”

When SI published the story it was as if an 8.5 quake had turned Shea Stadium into a World War II bomb site.  Ecstatic Mets fans hungered for more info on this Hammer of Thor.  The media bit in to a feeding frenzy, one New York sports editor castigated PR man Jay Horwitz for giving SI the scoop, and a radio talk show host got in front of the story by proclaiming he’d seen Finch on the hill.

What’s more, two agitated MLB general managers confronted commissioner Peter Ueberroth.  The hitters will be risking their lives standing in against a 168 mph fastball they can’t see.

 The Mets were obviously undeterred.  They gave Finch a uniform, number 21, free rein to explore the St. Petersburg spring training complex, and a locker between George Foster and Darryl Strawberry.

        Except Sidd Finch never existed.

Well, his imposter existed.  Call him a Baseball Forged Painting.

The whole thing was an April Fool’s prank engineered by SI Managing Editor Mark Mulvoy and Plimpton, best known for his book Paper Lion where he actually scrimmaged as a back-up quarterback with the NFL Detroit Lions.

Plimpton’s story was a masterpiece.  Immaculate research combined with perceptive, lyrical prose by the Fred Astaire of the English language.  If it was a forgery it would be a Rembrandt.  Fourteen pages so convincing you knew it had to be the straight goods because this is Sports Illustrated for God’s sake, and, sure, 168 seems like a wispy apparition blowing in the wind.  But Why Not?

After all, the guy is a Buddhist, studying to be a monk, a bona fide, genuine mystic, he’s an ascetic, his only possessions are a rug and a food bowl, and maybe, just maybe, he’s discovered the secret of Fast Twitch Muscle Transcendence, or Time Warp, or Koufax Perfection, or Yoga Levitation, or Yanni at the Taj Mahal, or Vodka.  Hell, maybe he’s Captain Kirk.  Who knew.

So fans wanted to believe even when they knew it was a stretch about as far as Manhattan to the Dalai Lama’s winter home in Lhasa.

In reality the embodiment of Sidd Finch was Oak Park, Illinois school teacher Joe Berton.  He just happened to be a friend of SI photog Lane Stewart, the dude clicking shots as Berton, a gangly 6-4 who fit Plimpton’s image of Sidd like a clone, conversed with Stottlemyre and Dykstra.

And the Mets went along with the gag like Laurel and Hardy.

                 "Sidd Finch Lives!"

SI did not pursue the joke for long.  Sidd Finch announced his retirement and got a standing ovation when he pontificated, "The perfect pitch, once a thing of harmony, is now an instrument of chaos and cruelty."

A week later SI owned up to the hoax by pointing out the first letter of each word in the secondary headline spelled out Happy April Fools.  I have no idea if anyone noticed that obscurity.

But you don’t K the Field of Dreams without a tenacious battle.  It will hang in and foul off borderline pitches until you throw something down the middle.    T-shirts and "Sidd Finch Lives!" bumper stickers popped up like weeds for a decade or more.

As for Joe Berton he was captivated by the hoax.

A New York Times story told it best.  When Joe/Sidd retired his fans wouldn’t let go.  "People started handing me baseballs to sign, and the first ball had Dwight Gooden and Gary Carter on it.  I just looked up and said: 'You don't want me to sign this. You've got Gooden and Carter on here.' They said: 'No, Sidd, sign it! Please?' So I put 'Sidd Finch' on it, and kept walking down the line signing autographs."

His wife Gloria says, "He absolutely loves it. Even now, at parties, people will go by and say, 'Hey, you're Sidd Finch!'

People want to believe, no matter how much proof they have to the opposite.  That may be good.  Maybe we have to hold on to our dreams.  But sometimes it can also be dysfunctional.  I’ll have to work on that one.

So Sidd Finch doesn't really exist.  Or does he?  Maybe he's just as real as anyone I write about.  Or just as unreal.  Maybe they're all in my imagination.  Or your's.  Take your pick.

Is that existential enough for you?

LISTEN TO SATCHMO AND PEDROIA

         What Utter (bleeping) Nonsense

This one is classic.

For openers, it was no great surprise when Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez royally screwed up.  He’s a clang behind the plate and he blocks like a telephone pole.  So a curveball caromed off his shin guard and he wandered after it like he was searching for a hot dog—as the runner scored from second base.  Then, with the Yankees down by a run, he loafed to first on a groundball to end the game.    

Sanchez immediately went on the DL with a strained groin, so you have to give him a break.

But the Sportsnet crew got their money’s worth, pointing out you can’t turn hustle off and on like a fawcett.  And then Jamie Campbell tuned in.  “We’ve seen it on this field with the Blue Jays on occasion but it’s different when you’re a contender.”

Really?  If you’re a contender you hustle.  But, if you’re an also ran like the Blue Jays, it’s not so bad.  After all, these games don’t count.

What utter (bleeping) nonsense.

Let’s define Hustle.  It’s commitment.  Total effort.  BEING THE BEST YOU CAN BE.  Every pitch, every play, every moment.  Not just when you feel like it.  All the time.

And, when John Gibbons watches Kendrys Morales trot down the line on a routine groundball and he does nothing about it, he sends a strong, indelible, subliminal message to his team.  We are not about commitment, not about effort, not about being the best we can be.  We are about Lard Ass.

          You are Either a Professional or you are not

Which infects the whole team with a Baseball Virus.  I’ve even seen Justin Smoak, who knows better, loaf on a groundout.  So how many of the young Jays are learning from Morales every day?

Hustle isn’t a choice, it’s not a prerogative.  You are either a professional or you are not.  You are scooping up millions of dollars every year to play a little boy’s game.  If you don’t have enough pride to hustle maybe you should toil for a week in a West Virginia coal mine or on a General Motors assembly line.  Maybe then you’ll get it.

Yeh, I used to play third base for the Jays.  But I like this better.

Hustle is an Attitude.  It permeates a ball club like oxygen.  It creates energy.  Hustle is not negotiable.  It’s 100 per cent or it’s zero

I know, I know, this is a different era and the prima donnas have to be treated like they’re as special as a princess.  You can’t chew them out, they’ll pout.  You can’t demand accountability, that’s cruel and unusual punishment and it might send them weeping to a shrink.  They are the Chosen Ones and they will only work hard when they damn well feel like it.  So there.

But, when players don’t hustle, it’s like an avalanche gaining speed.  A runner is out by half a step, a catcher waves at a curveball he should have blocked, a shortstop is a blink slow on a groundball in the hole, a hitter takes a third strike with the bases loaded, a pitcher loses focus.

How many games does hustle win?  That’s so intangible we’ll never know but I’ll bet it’s more than the guy hitting fourth who crushes 40 jacks.

          Brain Dead Baserunning

Now the second act.  Morales gets doubled off second in the first inning and then, for some inexplicable reason, he wanders aimlessly off first in the ninth and gets doubled off again on a line drive.  With the winning run on third base.

“His run meant nothing,” says Joe Siddall.  And then he points out Morales is a veteran player, which makes his lapses inexcusable.  But if he was a young player you might understand.

Once again.  Really?  I don’t know of a PBL or College Prep coach who would accept brain dead baserunning.  If a 16-year-old got doubled off first with the winning run on third he’d get blasted.  And he’d never do that again.

Kendrys Morales will make $11 million this year.  He’s hitting .257 with 12 home runs and 34 RBIs.  I’m sure there are a truckload of AAA hitters who could match those abysmal stats and save the Blue Jays over 10 million dinero.  And they’d even have enough professional pride to run a full 90 to first base.

                                "Satchmo"  If only he could play the outfield.

Let me give you a few examples of professionals.

          Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong

Armstrong was one of the greatest musicians to ever set foot on a stage.  But, when he was just beginning his career, his band was booked into a small club when exactly one customer showed up.  The manager told Louis he could cut the set short.

No way, Satchmo replied.  This dude paid to see us and we’ll give him his money’s worth.  So Louis pulled out his trumpet and the Armstrong band played the set like the joint was packed to the rafters.  That’s a pro.

          Roger Clemens

When Clemens toed the rubber it was total commitment.  His mantra was very simple.  There are fans in the park who may only see me pitch once.  And I will give them something to remember.

          Running out a pop-up

Many years ago I saw a AAA hitter, a guy who was 35 years old, lift a pop-up about as high as a 10 storey building.  Eventually it dropped into the second baseman’s glove—and the veteran minor leaguer was halfway to second base and still running hard.  What a great role model for any minor league player.

          Roberto Alomar

I have this old VCR video of the Jays marvelous second baseman.  Groundball to the shortstop, who throws out the hitter.  And, just as the ball arrives, there is Robbie, sprinting like Usain Bolt, already deep behind the first baseman, covering the throw.  Alomar, a winner.

     

                          You wanna pro?  Then here's Pedroia.

          Dustin Pedroia and Big Papi

And now the piece de resistance, the big finish.

Pedroia is the ground zero epitome of a professional athlete.  A few years ago his friend, David Ortiz, loafed on a groundball.  When Ortiz returned to the dugout Pedroia was all over him.

There are kids here watching you.  They idolize Big Papi and they follow your lead.  When you don’t run out a groundball you’re setting a terrible example.

 Ortiz got the picture without needing Instagram.

You hustle or you don’t.  You are accountable or you’re not.  You’re a winner or you’re not.  There is no middle ground.  Professionals are always professionals.

 

ON THE ROAD TO MONCTON

         Selects Rev Up for the Canada Cup

Had a long talk with Cavanagh Whitely, the head coach of the B.C. Selects.  He gave me an abundance of good stuff, moré angles than The Pentagon.  We’ll get to all of them but let’s open with the ones that count the most.    The players. 

          ON THE HILL

When you’re on the diamond for as many as nine games in six days you need a battalion of hurlers or you’re climbing Everest in shorts and a tee shirt with thongs on your feet.

Carter Morris, the kid from Vernon, is the ace.  He tossed a pair of good ones last year as a grade 10 and he’s front and center with the Junior Nationals.  He sits on 88, touches 90, and mixes in a blue chip breaking ball and a change-up that Whitely thinks is actually his best pitch.  In other words, Carter is as solid as Arctic ice.

    Carter Morris with the Junior Nationals.  A great load, perfect coil, nice tilt.

Madjik Mackenzie has command and an ERA that is almost invisible.  He makes hitters swing the bat and his weapons include a snakey two-seam fastball and a slider with tight late break.  He's been gunned as high as 87.

Joseph Sinclair is an oak tree, 6-5, with branches that throw in the mid-80’s, which isn’t exactly overpowering until you add another ingredient into the recipe.  “His fastball has a ton of movement,” Cavanagh says.  Which makes 85 look more like 92.  He fills up the strike zone, he’s tough to square up, and he didn’t allow a hit over the four days of the Selects camp.

Then there’s Lukas Frers, a crafty lefthander with a slick change-up and breaking ball that slotted him in the top five for PBL strikeouts.

There's a truckload of depth.

Adam Maier, one of their best all around players, is on the mound when he’s not patrolling second base.  He's mentally tough and throws hard, the high 80’s.

Kevin Kim is a strike thrower with an ERA that resembles a submarine.  And Gavin Pringle is a power arm in the bull pen who pitches at 88, has a beard, and can be intimidating.

Reid Dawson eats innings as a starter or reliever and notches a basket of K's.  Jackson Flemons from the UBC Thunder is in the mid-80's with an outstanding curveball.  Jack Seward's sinker is nasty.  And Noah Takacs was dominant in the Junior PBL and has a great opportunity to develop from this adventure.

          BEHIND THE PLATE

The receivers are as solid as concrete.  Connor concrete.

Connor Dykstra is a brick, 6-2 and 230, and one of the stars of the College Prep loop.  He has a pop time a shade under two seconds, he blocks and receives well, and his swing is compact and quick.

With all those games you need a pair of outstanding receivers and Connor Caskenette is also strong defensively and he was the top hitter in the camp. 

          THE GLOVES

Cav is enthused about his positional players, including a troop of young infielders.

Ty Hall, who will be at short or third, has a great glove, he’s smart, he hits in the clutch, and he’s not afraid to get dirty. 

                                      Johnny Vulcano

Johnny Vulcano, another middle infielder, not only has a great name, he’s also back from Vauxhall Academy in Alberta.  “He put on about 30 pounds over the off season,” says Whitely, which adds to his pop at the plate. 

Josh Walker from Victoria gives the Selects depth at shortstop and Whitely expects him to be one of their “table setters” on offence.

          FLYING LIKE THE WIND

Speed is one of the most potent tools in baseball, both on the bases and defensively.  “We don’t have a lot of power,” Whitely admits.  “But we have a ton of speed, especially in the outfield.”

That includes Dawson Clark, a natural lead off hitter who led the PBL in stolen bases.

Jude Hall, the younger brother of Ty, is only in grade 10 but he can fly like the wind and he can swing it. 

Carlin Dick will patrol left field and fill the six or seven hole at the plate.  “He just hits and hits and hits,” Cavanagh says.

          DOING IT ALL

Having a guy who can play almost everywhere is a huge bonus for any coach and Cav thinks Brad Cox of Victoria is the man.  You can expect him to see action on the mound or first base or the outfield or wherever he’s needed. 

          THE OUTLOOK

This team may not steamroll anybody but Whitely likes their chances in the Canada Cup next week in Moncton, New Brunswick.  There are six grade 10's on board, which makes them fairly young.  "But we've got a lot of tough kids," Cav says.  "They’re grinders.”

The PBL is in the midst of playoffs so the Selects are limited to one or two practice sessions before they leave on Monday.

But the coaching staff wasn’t just evaluating at the camp in White Rock.  They also did a lot of instructional work and talked about the mental game.  “Even if a player didn’t make the team,” Whitely says, “it was a good learning experience.”

          THE LOST BOYS

B.C. lost four blue chip pitchers when they were selected for the Area Code Games in Los Angeles next week.

 That includes Justin Thorsteinson, one of the top prospects in the country, Theo Millas, Matt Wilkinson and Eli Saul.  They’ll be showcasing for a horde of pro and college scouts with some of the best talent in North America. 

That hurts the Selects, of course, but Cav is philosophical about it.  “It’s a good experience for those guys,” he says.  “And it’s good to see Canadian kids competing on those teams.”

          THE COACHES

Whitely is the head man but his assistants are loaded with academic credentials and pro experience.

Ex-pro Brooks McNiven is the pitching coach.  Cav's right hand man at Douglas College, Jordan Broatch, stays on board.

Then there's Anthony Pluta, who is working on his Ph.D for measuring alpha brain waves.  Apparently, it's all about predicting what tune a hitter's neurons are dancing to when he's at the plate.  Very cool.

LINE DRIVES--For the first time in recent memory there are no Selects from the Langley Blaze.  Not that they weren't good enough.  But because the Blaze were playing in a tournament in Oregon the same time as the evaluation camp, which eliminated at least half a dozen prospects.  "Not sure what that was about," Whitely says...Ontario used to be a power in the Canada Cup but that's long gone after internal politics got in the way.  Now it's the Prairie teams that offer the stiffest competition to B.C....Cav is now in his 10th year with the Selects and fourth as head coach.  "I enjoy it," he says.  "The kids are enthusiastic and I don't have any administrative tasks.  The staff is fantastic.  They're all development type guys.  We aren't just throwing the balls out on the diamond and letting them play."

 

 LEVERAGE GENERATES POWER

            Hands as Deep as an Oil Well

I coached a dude who travelled south to a JC and returned home as frustrated as a German Shepherd on a short leash trying to reach a juicy T-bone.  He asked me to take a look at his swing. 

Which wasn’t a swing any more.    

When he left us he was driving the ball like a nuclear reactor, spraying laser beam line drives and always a threat to go yard.  Now, as he took BP, it was pathetic.  For some strange reason his college coaches had restricted his swing as if he was wrapped in duct tape. He started with his hands almost in front of his body, never brought them back, and punched at the ball like a toddler.  He could barely grind a groundball out of the infield.

The reason was as obvious as bacon and eggs.  With us he was taking a full swing.  Hands deep.  As much leverage as a catapult.  Now he was just slapping anemically at the ball with no power at all.

I told him to resurrect his old style and get his hands back.  And he raked like a cyclone.

George Brett, one of the most complete hitters ever.  Loaded, hands deep.

This all comes down to the term “Short to the Ball.”  Apparently, his college coaches thought this means keeping your hands as shallow as a wading pool.  I see this a lot.  Kids who never get back and punch weakly at the ball.

It’s the reason I don’t use the word “Short.”  To some young hitters that translates to a chopped off, half swing.  They confuse “Short” with “Constricted.”  They set-up with their hands in front of their body and stay there so they can get to the ball quicker.

And just the opposite is true.

When you start with your hands shallow and never get them back it stunts  your swing as if you’re throwing a left hook with your arms glued to your chest.  No one can hit for power unless he gets his hands deep.

That’s why I much prefer the term “Direct to the Ball.”  No loop.  No hook.  Just take the bat head to the hitting zone as quickly and directly as possible.  Obviously, we don’t want to get long.  But we DO want to get deep.

One of my favorite pics.  Whoever coached this kid is an ace.  Beautiful set-up.  Hands deep.  Wide base.  Loaded and ready to fire.  We need more of this.

When your hands go back you don’t get long.  You actually get the barrel to the ball much faster.  Yes, you do.

That’s because getting deep generates a ton of leverage, which means sheer power.  Even though your hands are travelling a bit farther they’re also accelerating much faster than an abbreviated punch at a fastball.  Leverage speeds up the bat head like a blood rush.  And bat speed is like an injection of high octane kick ass.

          Blasting 1,000 feet in 3.64 seconds

Think about a Top Fuel drag racer.  They ignite to more than 300 mph, blasting 1,000 feet in 3 seconds and change.  And the first 50 yards or so are sheer acceleration.  Then comes the explosion.  That’s a metaphor for a 450 foot jack.

Take a look at MLB hitters.  They have approaches as different as car designs but getting their hands deep is as universal as sand on a beach.

Don’t start with the bat in front of your body.  Keep it off your shoulder so you only have a short takeaway.  And, then, as you stride, bring your hands even farther toward the catcher.  As deep as an oil well.

One caution.  This is not bar armed like George Bell.  Keep a bit of flex in your front arm so you don’t get stiff.  But get back there.  This gives you leverage, the Godfather of Bat Speed, and the Power to drive the ball.

Leverage.  Bat Speed.  Power.  Is there anything about those words you don’t like?  Didn’t think so.

Get your hands Deep.

 

FIVE WAYS FOR A HITTER TO STRIDE

          Forget the Useless Knee Raise

When I worked on "What Are Scouts Looking For?" Bill Green and I started talking about hitters and some of the strange mechanics we've seen lately.  Well, not just strange.  More like stupid, pathetic, asinine, words like that. 

And the worst of these is the Knee Raise Stride.

You see it all the time.  And not just with the pros.  Kids pick up on what they see and what they see is as nonsensical as hitting in bare feet.

"I'll do these camp evaluations," Green says, "and you'll see these guys knee raising and not getting their foot down in time.  I'll ask the coaches, 'Who's teaching this stuff?' and they tell me it comes from watching John Donaldson."

Donaldson and Jose Bautista are two classic examples, of course, but there are a legion of MLB Knee Raisers.  It's no wonder .300 hitters these days are as rare as a triple play.  You can even peruse a truckload of lineups and find two or three dudes below the Mendoza Line.

Yes, I know, these guys are making millions--but that doesn't make them intelligent.  In a lot of cases they're just extraordinary athletes who overcome their own stupidity.  Maybe they gobble up so much BP they can compensate.  But I can almost guarantee you they’d actually be better hitters if they abandoned the knee raise.

The Modus Operandi for lifting your knee to your waist is Crushing.  That's the rationale the hitters offer.  They claim the Knee Raise somehow equals Jack Power.  Somehow.  Not sure how.  But somehow.

Let me give you some names and their home run numbers.

Barry Bonds 762
Hank Aaron 755
Babe Ruth 714
Willie Mays 660
Ken Griffey 630
Jim Thome 612
Sammy Sosa 609
Frank Robinson 586
Mark McGwire 583
Harmon Killebrew 573
Reggie Jackson 563
Mike Schmidt 548
Mickey Mantle 536
Ted Williams 521

These are the greatest Hall of Fame hitters (except for Bonds, of course)  who ever stepped into a batter's box.

And not one of them ever used a Knee Raise.

I'm too lazy to add that up but I figure it's closing in on 9,000 home run trots.  And the chances of anyone who belongs to the current Cult of the Knee Raise Stride joining these dudes is slim and none with the exception of the occasional Mike Trout, who uses a modified lift.

                           762.  Who needs a knee raise?  

So please don't tell me a Knee Raise gives you more power.  Bonds and Aaron and Ruth would laugh uproariously if you suggested they do something that ridiculous.

At any rate Greenie and I are both adamantly opposed to young hitters emulating Donaldson.  There just isn’t any point to it and it has too many negatives.

You can’t hit a baseball until your stride foot lands solidly.  It doesn’t matter how you get there.  One way or the other your front foot has to be down before you explode your hands and hips.  So what does knee raise accomplish?  Nothing.

But I can definitely see the negatives.  Timing problems.  Balance problems.  Excess motion problems.  When I watch Donaldson hit I wonder why pitchers don’t throw him more change-ups.  If he depends on the knee raise to give him rhythm and momentum the circle change or split will screw that up real good.

So what are the alternatives?

NO STRIDE AT ALL—Albert Pujols is the classic example.  For years he's just coiled his front knee a bit and let it rip.  No stride.  Mechanics at a bare minimum and as efficient as a computer.  And Pujols blasts home runs into the stratosphere.

The key to No Stride hitting is loading.  You coil your front knee inward to shift your weight onto your back foot.  It’s so simple, no wasted motion at all, and there is virtually nothing that can go wrong.  A gift for your timing.

SLIDE STEP—This is the time honored stride used by the majority of hitters.  Load.  Then take a short slide step, maybe six to eight inches.  Pop your hips.  The length of the stride is optional.  This is Evan Longoria's approach.  Paul Molitor and Ryne Sandberg were two of the toughest outs since Ty Cobb, using a stride so short it was almost imperceptible.

Mike Piazza, one of the most prolific catchers of all time, popped 427 jacks and was .308 lifetime using a simple slide.   By contrast, Pete Rose's slide step was about three feet.  Of course, Pete only collected 4,256 hits in his illustrious  career, so what does he know.  (Think about that.  Rose averaged 177 hits for 24 years.  How consistent is that?)

                   Ohtani switched from knee raise to knee coil.

KNEE COIL AND SLIDE STEP—When Shohei Ohtani came to spring training he was using a knee raise and battling timing problems.  Angels hitting coach Eric Hinske asked him to switch to a coil and slide step.  Okay, Ohtani said, I'll give it a try as long as it doesn't reduce my power.  It didn't and Shohei has happily adopted the coil and slide.  Justin Smoak is the most consistent of the Blue Jays hitters because he's the epitome of this style.

You simply coil the front knee toward the back knee and take a slide step.  This really helps the hitter get loaded and it’s far more efficient than a knee raise.

TOE TAP—I like this one a lot.  Sammy Sosa used it and so does Edwin Encarnacion.  You start with your front foot extended basically to where you finish your stride.  As the pitcher begins his delivery, you load by pulling the foot back about six inches.  Then you simply slide step.  So, you ask, why toe tap, why not just slide?  Well, the toe tap is important because it brings your weight onto your back foot, a classic load, one of the keys to hitting.

So there you have it.  Try them all, even the useless knee raise.  Experiment.  Find out what works for you, where you seem the most comfortable with the best balance.  Where you have the ineffable feeling of power by loading to explode.  It’s your call.

 

Your 12-year-old ambles home from school and quickly gives you the news.  He has failed all of his grade six subjects.

 You contain yourself and ask why.

 “Well,” he says, “Math is all about numbers, English is all about words, and History is all about the past.  I have no interest in any of those.  So I don’t listen to the teacher, I don’t read the text books, and I don’t do any homework.  It’s not my fault.”

 This, of course, makes sense.  “You’re absolutely right,” you offer.  “We’ll either get them to change the courses to something you like or we’ll find another school.”

 And your 12-year-old is on his way to becoming a left-hand hitter in the big leagues.

 

MOMMY, MAKE THEM STOP

          The Terror of The Dreaded Shift

Here’s what the MLB gurus are mulling over in their comatose brains:

Make it illegal to shift.  Only two infielders can set-up on the right side of the diamond.  Or….

They can shift but all the infielders have to be standing on the dirt. 

Can you imagine the amount of Challenges we’ll have when second basemen start on dirt and then bolt onto grass at pitch release?  Or when shortstops toe the bag and then dart to the other side?

There is, of course, a third alternative, although, from what I see of hitters these days, it seems as likely as topping off your Honey Nut Cheerios with a dab of manure.

It would involve hitters adjusting.  Acting like professionals and going the other way.    Tapping groundballs down the third base line for a double.  And, migawd, dropping a timid little bunt for a base hit.

But, the Hitters say, we cannot give in because we are Macho Men and we must crush jacks into those benches out there called the Right Field Stands.  Base hits are for sissies.  Do you want us to become Eunuchs?

So they keep trying to drive the ball through The Shift or over it.  Don’t ask them to be intelligent or skillful or develop bat control.  They are truly Macho, Macho, Men.

          The Village People--"Macho, Macho Man, I wanna be a Macho Man"

So the MLB honchos are thinking about rewriting the Math text book.  Take out all those irritating numbers and equations that make it so difficult.  One plus one equals…two…I think.  Isn’t that complicated enough?

All of which makes sense when you consider some of the other clueless changes they’ve made:

***Let’s give the extra home date in the World Series to the league that wins the All-Star Game.  Think about that one.  By the time the Mid-Summer Classic is in the books a lot of players are already on a 747 headed home.  That’s how much the score means.  (At some point MLB ejected from its brain dead stupor and Deep Sixed this asinine decision.)

***We must speed up the game.  So let’s just wave the hitter to first base on an intentional walk.  This will cut the time down at least 20 seconds once or twice a decade.

***We’ll only allow six visits to the mound.  Another 30 seconds saved about as often as Mars bumps into Venus.

With these earth shattering moves the Younger Generation will undoubtedly toss aside smartphones, Instagram, video games and texting and flock to the ball park.  Flock, I say.

   Remember Lou Boudreau and the Ted Williams Shift?

The Shift is actually yesterday’s news, 77 years old.

Come with me now in the TARDIS Time Machine with Doctor Who at the controls.  Whoosh, there you go.  It’s July 23, 1941 and Ted Williams, considered by everyone but Doofus Dumbbell to be the greatest hitter ever, steps into the box against the Chicago White Sox.  (This was the season the Splendid Splinter hit .406)

When he looks up, Teddy Ballgame notices there are three infielders stacked on the right side of the diamond.  He turns to Sox manager Jimmy Dykes and roars with laughter.  “Dykes, you crazy SOB!” Williams yells.  “What the hell are you doing?”

Williams, a dead pull hitter, did the only logical thing.  He drilled a double down the left field line.  And, when the Sox stuck to their strategy, The Thumper bunted for a base hit.  So much for The Shift.  Dykes wisely tossed it in the recycling bin.

But, like Jason in Halloween, The Shift refused to be buried.  Five years later Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau regurgitated it and Williams had another chuckle.  “If all the teams do that, I’ll just have to start hitting right-handed.”  Williams more or less ignored The Shift by this point and took his normal swings.  He'd already shown the world how to attack it.

So the greatest hitter ever could beat The Shift by slipping his ego into his back pocket but the current roster of left-handed sluggers are bound and determined to slash it with machete strokes.

           You wanna be a hitter?  Read this guy's book, The Science of Hitting

Isn’t it about time we found out if these guys are really baseball players?  Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn pounded slashing line shots and blistering groundballs to the left side as often as rabbits give birth.  Joe Mauer, a professional hitter, is the epitome of a lefty raking to all fields.  And I saw Rafael Devers, the rookie Red Sox 3B, rip an oppo single and a jack a few weeks back.  So what’s the problem?

Forget about Home Run Derby AB’s.  Go 4-for-5 seven games in a row by dumping loopers into the left field corner and GB’s down the line.  Or even drop a harmless bunt.  Score two or three runs every game and see how long The Shift lives.  Maybe Jimmy Dykes could come back in the Time Machine to instruct the managers how to cease and desist.

Not sure about the outcome.  Maybe the defenses would be satisfied to stop the Home Run Derby by giving up a slew of left field artillery shots that at least stay in the park most of the time.  Or maybe they’d raise the white flag.

I don’t have the answer.  But it’s a good question and I’d love to see what would happen.  Just don’t hold your breath.

And, when your 12-year-old pulls on his Yankee pinstripes, maybe he’ll have the answer.  It sure beats Math, English and History.

 

“I intend to live forever.  So far, so good.”
--
Steven Wright

 

  OR AT LEAST BRUSH HIM BACK

          “Knock Somebody Down”

 “Hit one of my guys and I’ll hit two of yours.  Hit two of mine and I’ll hit four of yours.”
                   --Don Drysdale

“The hitter can only have one side of the plate.  The other side belongs to me.”
                   --Bob Gibson

Let me toss an amazing stat at you.  High and tight.  James Paxton has clipped exactly six hitters.  Not this season.  In his whole major league career.  Six years.  93 games.  540 innings.  And 6 HBP.    

Just to put that in perspective let’s make a few comparisons.

Justin Verlander 91 HBP with 19 in 2007 alone and 7 this year
Max Scherzer 73, including 11 last season
Chris Sale 80, with 17 two years ago
Roger Clemens 150
Don Drysdale 154

Paxton 6.

Is that carrying the Nice Canadian Boy too far?  Methinks so.

I’m not saying James should be throwing at hitters.  But he’s only plunked an average of one dude per season and that means he’s not coming inside enough.  The hitters are extremely comfortable with James on the hill.  A comfortable hitter is a relaxed hitter, a happy hitter.  A pro pitcher needs to implant a sliver of anxiety in their psyche.  Drysdale and Gibson let a hitter get comfortable as often as they flew to the moon.

In his last start Mr. Paxton was as dominant as Bill Belichick discussing football with a lowly reporter.  His fastball was lightning and his slider was razor sharp.  But he was dinged for a three-run jack by Colorado’s number nine hitter, Noel Cuevas, who was so relaxed in the box it looked like he was having a massage.

That just can’t happen.  And it wouldn’t have happened to Drysdale or Gibson.

                                                                    "Big D" 

Drysdale was 6-5 and threw sidearm.  To a righthand hitter it looked like the third baseman was pitching.  He fired six straight shutouts, notched 58.2 consecutive scoreless innings, popped 29 home runs himself, pinch-hit on occasion, pocketed 167 complete games, and went to high school with Robert Redford.  (We bring you all the news.)

And the Big D was as mean as a Sidewinder who’s just had some poor sucker step on his rattle.  Dusting hitters was etched into his DNA.

Bob Gibson had the same rep but he scoffed at the myth he was a headhunter.  Johnny Cueto has hit 14 or more sluggers in three different seasons.  Gibson never accomplished that dubious feat.

If you've talked to Gibson, which I’ve done many times (that’s a blatant self-serving lie), you know he was intimidating because he’d come inside with a vengeance if the hitter was leaning out over the plate looking for a breaking ball.  You could only have one side of the dish when Gibson was on the bump.

          "Someone is going to get hurt"

I’ve already used my favorite Gibson story elsewhere in this blog but I like it so much I’m going to regurgitate.  Catcher Tim McCarver remembers the time a runner on second was relaying signals to the hitter.  Gibson noticed.  He turned to the thief and told him, “You better stop that or someone is going to get hurt.”  The hitter damn near threw-up.

And this is my second favorite Gibson tale.  One night when McCarver made a trip to the mound to discuss strategy, Gibson said, “Get back behind the plate.  The only thing you know about pitching is you can’t hit it.”

Gibson was a ferocious bulldog competitor with an intimidating glare.  But he claimed he was nearsighted and couldn’t see the signals very well.  So much for mythology.

Even though you get ejected these days if you throw at hitters there still seems to be a lot of it going down.  The Padres and the Rockies took turns drilling each other earlier this year until a barroom brawl ignited when Colorado 3B Nolan Arenado was buzzed by a blistering heater.  "Nolan reacted to a ball thrown behind his head," Rockies manager Bud Black said. "I'm sure he felt it was intentional."  Five players were thumbed.

           Nolan Arenado, "Don't be throwing behind my head."

At any rate I need your help here.  I’ve been trying to get Pax to be a little meaner but he’s such a nice young man he’s reluctant to drive hitters off the plate.

So, if you’re in Safeco when James is on the mound, don’t hold up a sign that says “EH”.  Be a leader.  Create your own slogan.

Like “KNOCK SOMEBODY DOWN”

But, if you’re a pacifist or just a kind Canadian, soften it a little to:

“BRUSH HIM BACK”

See, you, too, can be the Mariners pitching coach.

 

HARBUT, DYKSTRA, AND THE HALLS

       The Cougars are prowling once again

When you play for the Chilliwack Cougars you hook into the Daily Double.  A very high profile program.  That is essentially free.  More on that shocker later.

Last season the Cougars won the Academy Award when righthander Cade Smith was drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 16th round, the top pick in B.C.  Even though he didn’t sign and went to the University of Hawaii, it was fuel for Grant Rimer’s College Prep loop to pound its chest like King Kong.     

This time around the Cougars are 32-3 in league play and 55-7 overall.  To say they are talented would be like calling Mike Trout a pretty good hitter.

The overall CEO of the Chilliwack program is former UBC pitching coach Sean Corness but Scott Pankratz is front and center with the CP's much of the time.  Let’s take a look at his crew.

On the hill the Cougars have the likes of 6-1 righthander Carter Harbut, who threw last year in the Canada Cup, which pretty well anoints him as an ace.  He sits on 85 and tops out at 87, not spectacular velocity, but he has a lot of head room to lift weights to strengthen his legs and core and he understands how to pitch.  A lot of D1 schools agree.

I’ve seen video of Harbut and he has solid rhythm and balance, good control of his body, he gets down the hill, and he finishes aggressively.  Looks like he also has a tight cutter/slider with late break.

But Carter could use a little more knee raise and tilt to get increased velocity.  Tilt is simply lifting your front shoulder a bit for a stronger load.  Some coaches are against it but most power pitchers have more tilt than the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

        This is TILT.  It gives James Paxton extra hump on his heater.

Conall Sexton, who also tosses in the mid-80’s with a sharp breaking ball, is gradually overcoming a shoulder strain but he’s increasing his work load every week.

Then there’s Connor Dykstra, who just may be the best catcher this side of St. John’s.  He’s only in grade 11 but college coaches are already aiming emails at Pankratz and Dykstra may even have a shot at being drafted in 2019.  His pop time centers around 1.9, which would be gold for a lot of pro receivers, and he frames and blocks well, which gives him the Catcher’s Triumvirate.  And, oh, yeh, he hits for average and power with a quick, compact stroke.  What's not to like?

          A "Dirt Bag" and a rookie

Which brings us to the Hall Twins.  Well, they aren’t exactly twins, just brothers, but their DNA is a match.  They are talented.  Very talented.

Ty Hall, who plays everywhere in the infield, is in grade 11 and Pankratz affectionately calls him a “dirt bag”, one of the greatest compliments you can give to a competitive athlete.  It simply means he’s driven to hustle, to scramble, to battle, to get dirty and knock down every blistering groundball.  Amen to that.  “He has a plus glove, he’s smart, and he’s a clutch hitter,” Scott says.

His brother is grade 10 rookie infielder Jude Hall.  Pankratz says he has all the tools, he hits .400 plus, he has cheetah speed, he’s stolen enough bags to equip his own sporting goods shop, and he’s on the radar of the Junior National team.  Enough said.

Dykstra and the Hall brothers have been invited to the B.C. Selects camp next week in White Rock.

                                Carter Harbut, the ace.  

Jack Ray is too old for that camp but he nails down shortstop for the Cougars like a master carpenter and Pankratz thinks he has a glove as good as anybody in the province.  “He has excellent range and a very strong arm.”  What’s more, he also pitches and they can “plug him in anywhere” because he gets a lot of big outs and he’s extremely “calm under pressure.”

The Cougars score runs like it rains in Vancouver and, when it comes to RBI’s, they count on guys like Brendan Schulz, a corner infielder with gap to gap power.  “He’s a big, strong kid with incredible bat control.  If you need him to move the runner over or deliver a sac fly he’ll get it done.”

The outfielders include Dallas Teichrob, who has a plus arm and covers more ground than Astroturf, and Louie Oostenbrug, a solid all around ace with the gap power to drive in runs.

          "They set the bar very high"

All in all the Cougars have out-scored their College Prep opponents 249-71, which is like an avalanche attacking a mogul.  Their talent mostly hails from Chilliwack and Abbotsford, plus a sprinkling from Surrey and New West.

“Sean and I emphasize team culture,” Pankratz says.  “A culture of respect for each other and the coaches and the team.  We expect our guys to play the game right.  Of course, they’re competing for playing time but they always have each other’s back.  Our dugout has a very positive environment.  We want them to enjoy the game and go home and tell their parents, ‘I love playing for the Cougars.’  We’ve been fortunate to have some very talented kids who work hard.  They set the bar and they set it high.”

He says 90 per cent of their grads settle into college baseball at a reasonably high level.

Pankratz, who has been a BC Minor coach for 21 years, is not anti-PBL, not at all.  “They try to recruit our players all the time.  If our program isn’t good enough the players should go somewhere else.  We get calls from a lot of kids who want to know what our team is all about.  We’re here to give them another option and there’s no need to be fighting each other.  We can all get along and run good programs.”

          And here’s the kicker

“Our players don’t pay anything out of their own pocket,” Pankratz says.  “The parents do a great job fund-raising and the money doesn’t go to the team.  It all goes to the kids.”

By comparison, some PBL teams charge fees of $8,000, plus travel expenses.

Scott is optimistic about the Cougars wearing another College Prep crown but he’s also a realist and takes nothing for granted.  Cloverdale is solid, Tri-City is “scrappy” and Ridge Meadows is tough.

“We just want our players to enjoy the journey,” he says.

And a remarkable journey it has been.

 

BEING A PRO

     Wind Sprints--Fast Twitch Endurance

I’m always hearing about starters who get tired after throwing 100 pitches.  They shrivel like dehydrated flowers.  Their velocity thuds like an anchor.  Their mechanics resemble a toddler on a skateboard.  They have less stamina than a sedentary 400-pounder. 

And they are either too lazy or too ignorant to get in shape.

There is no excuse for tiring after six innings on the mound.  None.  Building endurance is not rocket science.  All it requires is a small portion of sheer guts.  And an IQ in double digits.

For decades incompetent pitching coaches have instructed their flock to run posts.  Over and over and over, until the cows aren’t only home, they’re being milked.  They jog.  They’re as bored as the third base ump.  And not only do they accomplish almost nothing, they are actually nourishing a huge negative.  As counter-productive as drinking a can of Coke to alleviate dehydration.

We are not marathon runners.  Running slow-mo laps develops SLOW TWITCH muscles.  Take a look at champion marathon runners.  They have eaten their own muscles so much they look like skeletons.  Marathon runners are the epitome of slow twitch.

Baseball players need slow twitch as much as Mark Zuckerberg needs a $10 bill.  Everything about baseball, and I mean everything, is FAST TWITCH.  Pitchers and hitters explode as quickly as a cannon.  Running down a fly ball takes two or three seconds and even a triple is good for only 12 or 13 clicks.

      You want FAST TWITCH?  I give you Usain Bolt, the fastest man alive.

Baseball endurance is built on fast twitch Plyometrics and drills that stress agility and reflexive quickness.

          But the best are WIND SPRINTS

Back in the Dark Ages when I was 20 I’d walk up to the local park late on a sweet summer night and run sprints.  I’d make sure I warmed up properly by running a couple of laps and stretching if need be, and then I’d immerse myself in the utter joy of sprinting to build fast twitch endurance.

Walk 25 yards.  Jog 25.  Sprint 50 yards.  Then do the same coming back.  For half an hour or more.

Gradually, professionally, I stock-piled stamina.  Fast Twitch Endurance.  I’d do 30 sprints, then 40, 50, 70, even as many as 100.  Anywhere from 1,500 to 5,000 yards of explosive sprinting.

And the more I did the more I loved it.  I got to the point where my lungs and cardio were so strong I was barely breathing hard.

And I never, not ever, got tired in a game.  We’d get into the seventh inning and the coach would ask if I was wearing down and I’d tell him, “I feel stronger now than I did in the first.  Let’s play 10.”

  He threw 28 consecutive complete games.  These days one is a miracle.        

          You Are NOT Running a Marathon

Don’t train to be a marathon runner.  Train for FAST TWITCH ENDURANCE.  Run Wind Sprints.  Make sure you warm-up properly and start easy.  There’s no need to push hard in the beginning.  Do a handful and then gradually increase the count, always making sure you can handle it.  In no time you’ll feel like you can run all day, every day, and never get exhausted on the hill.

Phillies Hall of Fame righthander Robin Roberts once notched 28 complete games in a row (yes, in a row) and you’d need a Colt .45 to get Bob Gibson off the mound.  They were true professionals.

Now a complete game happens as often as a UFO stops for lunch in your back yard.  Stacked bull pens are the main reason, of course, but, if a pitcher is buckling from lack of endurance, he’s just too damn lazy and gutless to get in shape.

From what I see in the big leagues, he’s not alone.

THE HOUSE OF DAVID

       Playing Shortstop on a Donkey

Beards.  And more beards.  From Justin Turner to Evan Gattis to Dallas Keuchel.  Pretty soon you won’t be allowed on the field unless you have a furry critter hanging off your chin.  George Steinbrenner must be growling in his grave.

But these dudes are rank amateur Beardies compared to the legendary House of David.

Yes, legendary.  Even if you’ve never heard of them.

I won’t bore you with an HOD history lesson.  Well, yes, I will but I’ll hide it by immersing it inside some great sports writing, if I say so myself, and I do, even if you don’t.

The House of David is an Adventist religious cult founded by Benjamin Purnell in the Year of Our Lord 1903.  Being a reasonable zealot Purnell immediately banned almost everything worthwhile in life for some men, including:

Alcohol
Drugs
Tobacco
Meat
Shaving
And…migawd…Sex

Purnell was such a humble man he only thought of himself as the Seventh Messenger from the Book of Revelations.  At least he didn’t feel like the Second Coming.

So, of course, with all these No-No’s, no one joined the House of David cult and he died a lonely, beaten man.

Wrong.  Not only did the House of David survive, it thrived.

Purnell also loved baseball.  Go forth, he said, and barnstorm.  Play 200 games a year, covering the whole of these God-fearing United States, two and three games a day, riding a bus from diamond to diamond.

From L to R--Dallas Keuchel, Jayson Werth, Jake Arrieta, Brian Wilson, James Harden (how did he get in here?), Sergio Romo, Brian Schlitter, Evan Gattis, Justin Turner, Josh Reddick, Bryce Harper (after he shaved), Rollie Fingers, Sean Doolittle, Charlie Blackmon, and Derek Norris.  

True to their cult dogma, every House of David player sported either a monster beard or flowing locks that fell like a waterfall, often down to their waist.  They made Metal Hair Bands look like jocks with crewcuts.  They also ran the bases like Pete Rose, handled the bat like Ty Cobb, and played pepper so skillfully it dazzled the fans who flocked to their games.  Sometimes they made like David Copperfield and convinced the baseball to disappear by hiding it in their beards.

And for an inning or two they saddled up and rode donkeys.

Yes, donkeys.  I’ve played with a few but I don’t recall ever riding one while I was in centerfield.

      "Listen, kid, it was like this when I was playing second base..."

It was a glorious bonanza of unique skill and circus acts.  For 40 years the Bearded Men crisscrossed the continent, winning more than two-thirds of their games and putting on performances that rivaled the Harlem Globetrotters.

          Way Ahead of Their Time

And they also blazed a trail that honoured their commitment to human rights.

***In the 1920’s The House of David was one of the first white teams to tackle the best players of the Negro League.  Their battles against clubs like the powerhouse Kansas City Monarchs were a revelation to white fans who had never witnessed a mixed race game.  In their own small but significant way the HOD paved a little section of road to help Jackie Robinson bust a hole in the scourge of segregation.

***The House of David spent an entire summer touring with the Monarchs and insisted on eating and sleeping in the same establishments.  This was about as far ahead of their time as Einstein’s Theory of Relativity.  Decades later Robinson and the Dodgers were still fighting that battle and don’t ask what Hank Aaron suffered through as he challenged the Babe.

***They also had a team for women, who went undefeated one season with several men playing in drag.  (I assume the law against shaving was washed away for these "ladies" or it would have been a real circus act.)  A blow for women--and also transgender folks.  How’s that for covering human rights?  By the way, in HOD Land women were allowed to vote and held office years before that was widespread in American society.

***The Beards were one of the first teams to ever play night baseball when they set up portable floods in Independence, Kansas in 1930, five years before the MLB saw the light.  Take that Wrigley Field.

Satchel Paige--"Don't look back.  Something might be gaining on you."

***They hired Hall of Famers like fireballer Grover Cleveland Alexander, the great Satchel Paige, and Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown, who lost two of the digits on his right hand in a farming accident.  Undaunted, Mordecai invented a grip that gave him a curveball with supersonic spin rate.

***When Babe Ruth was released by the Yankees in 1934 he met with some House of David players, wearing a fake beard.  They were hot to sign the Bambino but reconsidered after perusing Babe’s history of gluttony, booze, and sexual escapades.

          Okay, some history

For some reason this austere life appealed so much to the good citizens of Michigan hundreds of them joined the cult and thrived on 1,000 acres of Benton Harbor land.  They harvested fruit and grain, built an electricity plant, plus shops for tailors and carpenters, a laundry, a small zoo, mansions to live in, and an amusement park.  Without sex you have a lot of time on your hands.

Purnell thought baseball taught discipline of mind, body and soul so he erected his own Yankee Stadium and started playing local semi pro teams.  By 1916 the House of David had corralled the county crown and the New York Times even gave them space.

At one point they had three teams touring like Cirque de Soleil.  All the revenue went back into the commune and players distributed religious literature in the packed grandstands to recruit and educate.

Benjamin Purnell was convicted of fraud in 1927 and died a few weeks later.  As usual, several factions battled for control and there were as many splinter groups as a broken bat.  The House of David trademark wasn’t copyrighted and ruthless promoters pasted the name on random teams like a rock band touring without any of their original members.  Mary Purnell, Benjamin’s wife, formed the City of David and that team managed to breathe until 1956.

I actually saw a game around that time but I was too little to remember the details.  Except for the Beards riding the Donkeys. That’s one image etched in my mind like a tattoo.

 

“If a word in the dictionary was misspelled, how would we know?
--
Steven Wright

                             
 BILL GREEN, PART ONE

        What are Scouts Looking For?

Baseball Scout.  The words have a certain power.  Like being a cowboy or a surfer or a movie director.  When a baseball scout pulls out his Stalker pistol he becomes a deity, a gunslinger with a Wyatt Earp rep. 

The scouts all know that’s hype, of course, because their business is a stew of lonely trips to nowhere, lousy hotel rooms, wasted days, and, every once in awhile, a golden nugget, an arm, a swing, that lights up the night with a streak of lightning.

Bill Green was one of the best.  Besides coaching the powerhouse Coquitlam Reds and Selects for a millennium Bill was also the B.C. rep for the Canadian Major League Scouting Bureau, headed by the inimitable Walt Burrows.  Together they made a one-two punch as potent as vodka mixed with TNT and they left no arm and no bat unturned for over two decades.

It all started in 1991 when the Dynamic Duo travelled to Florida for two weeks of Scout School.  Morning classroom sessions and then an Instructional League game where they evaluated the talent.

The grades start at 2 and end at 8.  “Five is average,” Green says.  “And that means major league average--not high school.  That’s the key.  You have to understand what average means.  Then they compare your evaluation to one of the veteran scouts.  It’s all about the rookie scouts getting their bearings about what is an average MLB arm or swing.”

Therein lies the enigma.  Scouting is three parts science and seven parts subjective opinion.  In the wrong hands it’s about as solid as tomato soup and as reliable as tweets from a troll.  Green and Burrows were the right hands.

         Adam Loewen, who turned down $4 million once--but not twice.

At times you’re betting on a horse race when the 30-1 longshot whips the 3-5 favorite.  Think about this beauty.  There were 24 players drafted before Mike Trout in 2009, including such notables as third pick Donavan Tate, #4 Tony Sanchez, #5 Matt Hobgood, and the renowned LHP Matt Purke, who was nabbed by the Rangers at #14 but didn’t sign.

Obviously, to some extent it’s a crap shoot, a word Bill uses to describe the low rung on the evaluation chart.  “A rating of 2 is crappy,” he says.  “As low as you can go.  And 8 is the top.  Hardly anybody gets an 8.  For an 8 you have to see it to believe it.”

Catchers would audition with throws to second, timed with a stop watch.  “A time of 2.0 seconds or under is pretty good,” Bill says.  “One guy had a hose and gunned it in 1.85.  You can see that without timing it.”

Green was damn good when it came to evaluation but a lot of the nascent scouts were all over the place.  “Mostly they over-evaluated.  There shouldn’t be more than one number difference.  If there’s two or more somebody’s wrong, maybe both of you.”

You’re judging Five Tools.  Arm.  Running speed.  Hit.  Hit for power.  Field.

          A LIVE ARM

There is nothing mystical about this.  A live arm means velocity, of course, but it's much more than that.  When a pitcher is loose and relaxed and the ball explodes out of his hand that’s a live arm.  If he strains to get velocity he will still be a prospect--but not as much as the kid who doesn't have to fight for pop.

Yes, you have to throw hard to throw hard.  But not by muscling up.  A live arm comes from a delivery with rhythm, balance and timing.  See How Easily You Can Throw Hard.

A scout will use the radar gun but he isn't a slave to the readings.  A live arm throwing 86 has the potential to gain velocity.  Movement is also obvious to any good scout.  So is command but in the beginning it isn't as crucial as velocity.  The theory is simple--give us a live arm and we'll develop command.  Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't.

          SIZE AND ATHLETIC ABILITY

Most scouts won't spend a lot of time looking at a pitcher under six feet unless he has extraordinary velocity and movement.  That may not be justice but that's the way it is.

Size simply means leverage and it projects as long term velocity.  A kid who stands 6-3 and throws 88 projects better than his teammate who is 5-9 with the same numbers.  That's just common sense.  But, if you're 5-9, don't give up.  You might grow late and develop immensely.  Persevere.  Maybe you’re the second coming of Billy Wagner.

Athletic ability permeates good players.  It's physical and it's mental.  Good athletes have more long term value and they just do things better.

          HITTING

“Hitting is the toughest to indentify,” Green says.  “A prospect can get stronger and develop from better coaching.  You might see a pudgy kid who makes contact but that doesn’t make him a player.  The best scouts pick up on small stuff, like a guy pulling off the ball, and that may give him a negative number.”

There’s also the age old problem of believing stats.  “You’re not supposed to rate performance,” Green says.  “You have to go beyond that.  But a lot of scouts fall into that trap.  A guy hits one off the wall and gets a high number.  But who’s pitching?  It’s not necessarily performance.  It’s a lot more.”

       Not as good as Hobgood and Purke?  Apparently, the scouts thought so.

Most people have no idea what a pro scout is, in fact, scouting.  Most stats mean zilch.  They’ll hear about the phenom who is hitting .480 with 15 jacks and it turns out he has little bat speed and he’s ripping 78 mph fastballs.  Of course, he's effective against weak pitching but he has more chance to win a Nobel Prize for inventing a cure for death than playing pro baseball.

Green sums it up, “Ultimately, you’re looking for hand and bat speed and athleticism.  That’s what makes a pro hitter.”

          PROJECTION

And then there’s the elephant in the room.  It’s called PROJECTION and it’s the beef, the main course, the mental process that haunts any good scout.  How good is this 17-year-old going to be when he’s 21?

You do NOT draft anyone to play in the minor leagues.  You draft him to become a big leaguer.  Will this young man get there?  Does he PROJECT?

It’s the art of scouting.  And PROJECTION separates the men from the radar gun when it comes to the June amateur draft.

          MAKE-UP

This is the toughest of all--and, ultimately, the most important.  All great players have great make-up.  Intelligence, courage, perseverance, work ethic, commitment, need to succeed.  You can have the best arm for 500 miles and amount to zero if your make-up is weak.

But make-up is so difficult to pin down.  Can this kid survive without mommy and daddy and his high school girlfriend?  Can he deal with life on the road, with doing his own laundry, with junk food instead of home-cooking, with abusive fans, and roommates who won't let him sleep?  How do you evaluate that in your report?

Of course, you don't.  If you’re a scout, you talk to him frequently, you read his parents, and you ask his coach, who will often lie to protect the kid's interests.  And then you hold your breath, make a judgement call, and hope and pray you're right.  Occasionally, you are.

          BIRTH OF THE BUREAU

The Bureau lived from 1991 to 2014.  It was financed by the 30 MLB teams and it ended when they took a machete to their scouting budgets, which seems like slitting their own wrists.

“Some teams hardly spend anything on scouting,” Green says.  “The Tigers, for instance, never came up here even when we had some top prospects back in the 90’s.  They’d do it on the cheap.  They’d trust the accuracy of the Bureau draft order.  And other teams didn’t use the Bureau all.”

He says the Dodgers always had lots of staff and States like New York and Florida had excellent coverage.  If you were in North Dakota you’d probably see a scout as often as Bigfoot, although he would probably be an ace at evaluating Hit For Power.

                         "Hit the damn ball, clown, or I'm coming to get you."

Bill never gave an 8 rating but Adam Loewen, the 6-6 flamethrower with the Chiefs, was on the bubble.  “He was close to an 8.”

He has an amusing story about Loewen and the 2002 draft.  The Pirates had the first pick but they didn’t come north, probably because they thought it was snowing in Vancouver in June.  “Not a very classy organization,” Green says.  “We never saw their guy up here.”

But Pittsburgh was on board when Loewen showcased in an Arizona tournament.  “There were over 30 scouts there, including cross-checkers, scouting directors and even a few general managers,”  Green remembers, “and they were all there to see one guy, Adam Loewen.  He threw three or four innings and he wasn’t great but he was good enough.”

This is where it gets really weird, even for the Pirates.  Their numbers somehow told them they had a photo finish for numeru uno, a four-way dead heat—Loewen and three college dudes.  “We’ll give our pick $4 million to sign,” they told the quartet, “and we don’t care which one of you takes the money.”

Loewen wisely said No Way.  He was drafted fourth by the Orioles and eventually signed for $4.02 million.

          The Jump in Velo...and then there's Boras

The grading of pitchers has shifted somewhat over the years.  “It used to be a guy throwing 89-90 was about big league average,” Green says.  “Now that’s below average.  A lot of high school kids in the States are throwing 92-93.”

And a lot of prospects have to change position.  Canadian shortstops usually wind up at third base.  When the Minnesota Twins drafted Justin Morneau, who caught for the North Delta Blue Jays, they gave him a trapper faster than you can say “Keith Hernandez” and Justin became an all-star first baseman.  “He was a corner guy all the way,” Green says.

            Bill Green, one of the best (photo courtesy the Tri-City News)

I asked him why the scouts passed on James Paxton out of high school.  Partly it was because he had committed to the U of Kentucky but they also thought he was a bit sloppy and not that good of an athlete.  And they were very wrong.

When James was drafted in the first round by Toronto after his junior year he brought the infamous Scott Boras on board to “advise” him during contract negotiations.  Eventually that deal fell through and Paxton spent a couple of years getting back on track, as I noted in an earlier story.

“I’ve got no use for Boras,” Green says.  “He always presses for more money over the slot evaluation.  Boras has screwed up a lot of draft picks because he pushes the envelope way too hard.  He’s teed off every team he’s dealt with and some of them won’t draft a player if Boras is involved.”

Such is the life of a scout.  For those 23 years Burrows and Green were tireless when it came to unearthing talent.  “If you could play we’d find you,” he says.  “No matter where you were.”

          What are the odds?

Less than one per cent of high school or college players ever get drafted by a major league team.  Far, far less than one per cent.  Of the 1,500 who are drafted each June, about half of them will sign a pro contract.  And, of those 750 or so, only about seven per cent ever make it to the big leagues.  In other words, a 93 per cent failure rate.

What’s more, if they get to the big leagues, only a small percentage succeed long enough to become a free agent and make the big bucks.

If you're good enough to get drafted, you are already in an elite group.  If you sign and play pro it's about as exclusive as winning an Academy Award.  And, if you become a big leaguer you are among the Chosen Few.

NEXT WEEK--PART TWO, Our Disappearing Prospects
               PART THREE, Mike Gosse, a Big Little Guy

 

"Everything is within walking distance if you have the time."
      --Steven Wright

 

The Miracle on Turf

          A Cure for Betances

Watching Dellin Betances pitch is as frustrating as tying your shoelaces with one hand.  He has less control than a pilot in a hurricane.  If he dove off the 10-metre board he’d miss the pool.  To Dellin throwing strikes is as foreign as speaking Mandarin.  The plate is a surreal mirage that never stops dancing.

The guy has electric stuff, a 100 mph heater and a guillotine slider.  But he’s as mechanically unsound as a V8 running on four cylinders.

His problems are pretty simple, very basic, and as obvious as sunrise.  Either Yankees pitching coach Larry Rothchild doesn’t have a clue or Betances just won’t change.  A huge waste of talent.

Dellin’s downfall starts at the beginning.  His knee raise.  He over rotates toward second base and this ignites an Action/Reaction like a jet engine.  Exit Snapchat on your smartphone and Google Sir Isaac Newton, who threw a wicked sinker and posted a 2.54 ERA for Cambridge’s Trinity College in 1662.  A/R was Newton’s Third Law of the Bull Pen.

This over rotation in one direction generates spin out on his finish where Betances opens up like a jack-in-the-box.  His stride is eight to 10 inches off line and he’s aiming at the left-hand batter’s box.  That’s like driving a car backwards on the highway.

All of which puts him so far off balance he often resembles a bowling pin ready to topple.  Trying to throw strikes when you’re staggering on the mound is the same as a tightrope walker with extreme vertigo.  Not much chance.

Command depends on two things.  Balance and Direction.  Betances has neither.

I’d like to spend half an hour with him in the bull pen.  I know how arrogant that sounds but I hate to see talent squandered and I’m confident he can turn it around with some simple mechanical adjustments.

            Did you notice Andrew Miller was  a Yankee?

Here’s what amazes me.  Betances and Rothchild saw Andrew Miller Up Close and Personal for two years.  Did neither of them notice Miller blazing strike after strike with high 90’s velocity and a slider so filthy it needed to shower twice a day?  Did neither of them notice Miller’s blue chip command from a slide step delivery?  Andrew is the classic example of Simplify, Simplify, Simplify.  No knee raise at all.  Just come set, pick up your foot a few inches and stride directly to the plate.  There is virtually nothing that can go wrong with a delivery that simple.  Throwing strikes is as automatic as breathing.

So that’s where I’d start with Betances.  Slide step and throw.  Balance is automatic.  And it’s so easy to maintain Direction.

Next step.  Tuck and go.  Left knee coiled to right knee, step and unload.

And then we’d gradually add a knee raise, concentrating on balance with rotation only to the middle of his body.  As soon as Dellin started to waver we’d cut back again.

But the knee raise isn’t really necessary.  He can do an Andrew Miller and throw from a slide step.  His command will lock in and his mph might actually increase because velocity also depends on balance.

There you have it.  Dellin Betances cured.  Healed.  The Miracle on Turf.  Throwing bullets for strikes.  If only.

 

"I refuse to join any Country Club that would have me as a member."
--
Groucho Marx

FAST BREAK DYNAMITE

         The Six Foot Basketball League

Many, many moons ago I had this brilliant idea.  I get one every decade or so. 

I called it the Six Foot Basketball League.  It was actually 6-2 and under with one over-sized player, who could only be as big as 6-6. 

Think about it.  All those great JC and Div 2 and small college dudes, shrimps in the world of hoop, way too tiny for the NBA, but loaded with quicks and speed and sizzling moves, storming up and down the floor like tornadoes.  The 99 per cent who never get drafted.

What’s more it was four-on-four, which opens the floor like a fat man’s zipper, giving these Mighty Mites the space to sparkle like 24 carat Acrobats.  Space ignites action.

Fast Break Hoop with so much Run and Gun it would make the NBA look like the Long John Silver League.  An End to End non-stop Blitzkrieg like watching Pistol Pete Maravich or 5-3 Muggsy Bogues multiplied by eight.  All those 5-10 point guards as quick as a strobe light but with as much chance of playing in LeBron’s domain as I have of riding in the Kentucky Derby.

They’d shoot the lights out and scoot like a cheetah.  I could call it the Wall to Wall Flash League, as fast as The Roadrunner after eating a meal of  megabytes.

          See, Pistol Pete was so fast no one knew where he was.

So I sent a Six Foot story to Eric Whitehead, the Province columnist who doubled as the Sports Illustrated rep on the west coast.  “Sometimes they print these stories, sometimes they don’t,” he said, being nice.  And, of course, they didn’t.

So now there’s the BIG3 League, the brainchild of Ice Cube, among others.  A lot of ex-NBA stalwarts with superstar coaches like Julius Erving, Rick Barry and Charles Oakley.  Second year and they seem to be drawing.

But they missed the point.  It’s 3-on-3, obviously, just like we did playing pick-up.  And it’s half court with only one hoop.

Too bad.  Half court sends Fast Break to the showers.  They should have gone 4-on-4 full court.  With a height restriction.

When you go end to end you emphasize speed and ball handling and driving to the hole.  Is there anything in sport more entertaining than Fast Break Basketball?

So there you have it.  The most revolutionary, dynamic burst of neurons this side of Curly, Moe and Larry.  If you have a few million loafing in your bank account, doing absolutely nothing useful at all, please let me know.  The Six Foot Basketball League will be the biggest thing since Instagram (well, maybe not that big) and we’ll be pulling dinero out of our ears.

Hell, maybe Ice Cube wants to expand.

 

PLAYING CATCH WITH A 10-YEAR-OLD

          Thank you, Aaron Judge

I saw something very beautiful last night.  It made my heart sing. 

The Yankees are in Philly.  Aaron Judge is warming up between innings.  And he’s playing catch with a little boy in the right field stands. 

The kid looks like he’s maybe 10 or 11.  He’s obviously an athlete, probably an all-star, because he handles the glove with ease and his arm action is smooth and fluid. 

Judge tosses him the ball and the boy, who is 20 feet above the grass, throws it back.  Judge returns serve and they go back and forth several times.

Can you imagine the thrill this kid felt?  Sure, he’s a Phillies fan, but he’s warming up with Superstar Aaron Judge, one of the most magnetic players the game has ever seen.  Not before the game.  During the game.  That’s not just winning the Powerball jackpot.  That’s scooping the Hall of Fame lottery.

You may be a furlong ahead of me on this one because this isn’t the first time Aaron has given a kid the gift of a lifetime.  He did it on the spur of the moment two years ago in Port Lucie spring training and then again last July with a young Mariners fan in Seattle.  There’s online video for both.

And, apparently, several other MLB players have joined the parade.  This could become a tradition.

There’s always a liability factor, of course, so they better make sure the kid can catch.  Strafing fans in the stands is ka-ching to lawyers.  But let’s leave that one in the GM’s office.

Thank you, Aaron Judge.  Thank you for bringing it back home.  Not the obscene $20 million salaries.  Not all the blatant hype.  Not the misguided vicarious idolatry.

Back to a Game For Little Kids.  Back to when you were 10-years-old and playing catch with your father or your older brother.  Back to a glove and a baseball and a dream.

Back to where it belongs.

 

 THERAPY FOR LETHARGY

        Sweet, Sweet, Sweet Caroline

I’m watching the Red Sox and the Mariners.  As they head into the bottom of eight the whole place lights up like a lightning strike.  “Sweet Caroline” is blasting from the PA system.

That’s a life enriching tradition at Fenway and it’s been like that for 20 years.  The fans get into as if they’ve been dosed with an injection of B12.  They sing along, they dance, they high five, they express themselves.  At one point the PA goes mute and the Red Sox faithful carry the tune.  It is a bonding moment, a Feel Good moment, a righteous moment for a glorious  Blood Rush as they absorb every chord, every word of Neil Diamond’s masterpiece.

           The ineffable Neil Diamond, the greatest songwriter ever

Whatever happened to music?  Where we once had The Beatles and The Stones and CCR and The Who and The Band and Frank Zappa and Joe Cocker and The Allman Brothers and Led Zep and AC/DC and Jerry Lee Lewis and Abba and The Sex Pistols and The Beach Boys and The Eagles and Bob Seger we now have pap that is so listless it gives new meaning to the word Boring.

I have this theory.  One of the reasons you see so many lethargic players these days is the dull, comatose music they listen to.  It seeps into their cells, it attacks their DNA, it sucks the energy out of their muscles, it turns them into The Walking Dead.

By contrast Sweet Caroline ignites an instant Rush so dynamic you can’t stop singing, you can’t stop moving, you can’t stop feeling a Jolt of Joy.

You want to energize your team?  Play Sweet Caroline or Seger’s Oldtime Rock & Roll or Van Halen’s Jump or I Saw Her Standing There by The Beatles or AC/DC’s Highway to Hell on your PA system.  During games and practices.

Of course, they’ll be negative at first because they’ve been brainwashed by the Social Media imperative to be Current and the teenage need to shoot down anything orbiting from anyone over 20.  But, eventually, unless their neurons are permanently lights out, they’ll stir and come alive.

You don’t need caffeine or energy drinks.  You need music with drive and melody and rhythm and rush.  It's Therapy for Lethargy.

You’re welcome.  And I’m sure the cheque will be in the mail.

 

"I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career.  I've lost almost 300 games.  And 26 times I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed.  I've failed over and over and over again.  And that is why I succeed."
             --Michael Jordan, the greatest ever

 

EXCEPT FOR SANDY KOUFAX

    Baseball Players--Tough as Marshmallows

How tough was Rodney Harrison?  This tough.

Near the end of the 2004 Super Bowl the Patriots corner broke his arm tackling a Carolina running back.  The Panthers were in a hurry-up offense with the clock ticking so Rodney stayed on the field.  And made another tackle that cracked his arm again.  

So, finally, he left the field and was escorted into the dressing room.  But, as the medics set-up for an X-ray, Harrison escaped and came back to watch New England conquer.

                        Rodney had to see the finish.

“He broke his arm and didn’t come off the field,” teammate Teddy Bruschi said, later.  “Then he made the tackle on the next play and it completely broke.  They put an air cast on his arm but he said he wasn’t staying in the dressing room.  He was going back out there.”

By the way, Harrison figures he had as many as 30 concussions during his NFL career.

          Football players are like that.

Take a look at J.J. Watt who aced the 2015 season with the Texans playing with more injuries than Sonny Corleone.  His groin muscle was ripped so far it was almost detached from the bone.  He had a fracture in his left hand.  And a herniated disc.

“You fight through excruciating pain,” Watt said.  “You just grind through it.  If I can physically step on the field to play, I’m going to.  That’s just the way it is.”

          And so are hockey players.

I heard a story once about an NHL tough guy who could certainly understand Watt’s pain.  He also had a pulled groin that was gradually saying goodbye to the bone.  But he kept playing, taking multiple injections of cortisone.  Before each game of the Stanley Cup final his teammates would hear him screaming in the trainer’s room as he endured another shot.

The coach kept telling him he didn’t have to play but he answered, “This is the (bleeping) Stanley Cup.  I’ll play.”  And he did…until his groin muscle actually separated from the bone.

          Gracie and the Great Kimura

Then there’s Helio Gracie, who created Brazilian jiu-jitsu.  In 1951 he fought the Great Kimura, the Japanese icon.  When Kimura entered the stadium there were 20,000 Brazilians on hand and he was serenaded by a barrage of insults and raw eggs.  Kimura noticed a coffin nearby.  “I asked what it was,” he remembered.  “They said Helio brought this in for you.  It was so funny I almost burst into laughter.”

                                     Masahiko Kimura, the Great One

Kimura was as immensely powerful as The Hulk, The Rock, and Andre the Giant amalgamated into one body.  He wrestled telephone poles just for fun and had a huge weight advantage.  When he engineered a submission hold any normal dude would tap out.  But not Helio.

“The stadium became quiet,” Kimura narrated.  “The bone of his arm was coming close to the breaking point.  Finally, the sound of bone breaking echoed through the stadium.  But Helio still didn’t surrender.  I had no choice but to twist the arm again and another bone was broken.  And Helio still refused to tap out.”  Finally, his brother, Carlos, threw in the towel, knowing  Helio would never quit.

Gracie weighed about 155 pounds and he proved a smaller man could survive and flourish by using leverage and technique to overcome brute strength.  He also had seven sons, Rickson, Royler, Royce, Relson, Rorion, Robin and Rolker, and two daughters, you guessed it, Rerika and Ricci.  In Brazil, by the way, the R is pronounced like an H.

Helio lived to 95 and was still on the mat teaching until 10 days before his time expired.  And I’m sure he never tapped out.

          Sandy Koufax, who threw through pain

You think pitching with a blister is tough?  To Sandy Koufax that would have been like a holiday in Bermuda.

Koufax, the greatest pitcher who has ever stepped on the hill, had so much elbow pain he started taking cortisone shots in 1964 but still blitzed his third no-hitter.  One morning he couldn’t straighten his arm.  Dodger team physician Robert Kerlan diagnosed traumatic arthritis.  Sandy went 19-5.

The next year  Koufax actually threw a complete game in spring training (times have certainly changed) but woke up to see his entire left arm black and blue from a hemorrhage.  So he started taking aspirin and codeine every night and often in the middle of games.  He loaded up with atomic balm and Butazolidin, the drug used to stop inflammation in horses.

Dr. Kerlan insisted his arm could not survive another season but Koufax refused to tell anyone.  He simply took the hill every fourth day, threw 323 innings, went 27-9 with a 1.73 ERA and notched 317 K’s.  Oh, yeh, he also blew away 27 Cubs in a row, which is almost universally considered to be the greatest game ever pitched.

It got to the point where Sandy could not straighten his arm at all and he had to bend his neck so he could shave or eat.  His elbow was drenched with cortisone several times a season and his stomach was full of the anti-inflammatory cocktails he swallowed that made him queasy and “half high on the mound.”

After every game he soaked his elbow in an ice bath for half an hour, encased in an inner tube to avoid frostbite.  But it didn’t stop his arm from swelling an inch.

When 1966 wrapped he faced the possibility of being crippled and he had no choice.  Sandy retired at age 30.  In his last two seasons, battling intense pain, he was 53-17 with 699 strikeouts and a 1.89.  “I’ve got a lot of years to live after baseball,” he said.  “I’d like to live them with complete use of my body.”

How good was Koufax?  Listen to the legend himself, Willie Mays.  “Sandy would strike me out two or three times a game.  And I knew every pitch he was going to throw — fastball, breaking ball or change-up.  Actually, he would let you look at it.  And you still couldn’t hit it.”

          And then there's Josh Donaldson.

Donaldson is pulling down $23 million this season to play a little boy’s game for the Toronto Blue Jays.  And he’s been on the DL for almost a month.

He has a sore calf muscle.  “It’s not to the point where I’m comfortable sprinting,” Donaldson says.

He's not Comfortable. Poor baby.

He can swing the bat, he can field, he can throw, he can run.  But it’s sore when he sprints full out.  Hell, he could crawl to first base and get down there faster than Kendrys Morales.

 

     

THE ANSWER TO RACISM AND SEXISM

               We Are All Unique

          “We all have the same hopes and dreams.”
                                    --Barack Obama

That cliché is not only 100 per cent wrong.  It actually causes racism.

We do not have the same hopes and dreams.  Not at all.

Do you have the same hopes and dreams as a serial killer or a rapist or a terrorist?  Do religious zealots have the same hopes and dreams as an atheist?

If you love animals, as I do, are your hopes and dreams the same as a hunter?  Does a teenage girl in Boston have the same hopes and dreams as a cowboy in Montana or a 320-pound NFL defensive tackle in Miami?

Do Wall Street brokers have the same hopes and dreams as a Greenwich Village poet or a homeless drifter?  Are a child’s hopes and dreams the same as a senior?

If you’re a 65-year-old woman living in slum poverty in India, scrubbing dishes for $3 a day, do you have the same hopes and dreams as a Silicon Valley teenager who attends a private school and drives a Porsche?

And, if you’re an Hispanic in Watts do you have the same hopes and dreams as the racist down the block?  Try telling them they share the same hopes and dreams.

    I treat everyone as a Unique Human Being.  Unique.

No one has ever been like you.  And no one ever will be.  Your existence is billions of trillions of cells and neurons and thoughts and images uniquely different from anyone who has ever taken a breath of air on this planet.

Sure, there are a few things you share with me.  But our differences are far more significant and far more important.  And that’s the way it should be.  I don’t want you to be like me.  That would just be boring.

When you treat everyone as a Unique Human Being there is no time, no room, no reason for Racism.  Or Sexism.  Or Homophobia.  Or any ism or phobia you can name.  None.

When you treat everyone as a Unique Human Being there are no stereotypes.  No prejudices.  No discrimination.  No clichés.

We DO NOT share the same hopes and dreams.  We are all Unique.  And that’s how it should be.

--Dave Empey

AND MY LOVE FOR UMPIRES

             Sale Shovels Horse Manure

Chris Sale, the lights out Red Sox lefthander, lost it last week and blistered umpire Brian Knight with a Four Letter Barrage that stung the air.  And I loved it. 

Hold on now.  It wasn’t the expletive deleteds I loved.  It was the nuclear explosion itself.

I’ve never understood why hitters can throw a temper tantrum like a four-year-old who’s been denied sugar but pitchers have to suck it up.  As far as Jose Bautista is concerned any pitch he takes is a ball.  Automatic as the buttons on an elevator.  Call a strike on Joey Jackass and he’ll whine like a teenager who’s benched with his smartphone confiscated.

But pitchers See No Evil and Speak No Evil.  Throw a blistering fastball on the corner, on the knees, a perfect pitch, and Blue says it missed.  Shut up.  Clench your teeth to keep your mouth shut.  Don’t jump over the line and rile the dumbass or he’ll snap like a rattlesnake and bite your butt all the way to the showers.  Or, even worse, you'll stay on the hill but the only strike call will be a lollipop down the middle.

But Sale was done for the night so he signed the Declaration of Independence.  When Alex Cora pulled him in the seventh he unleashed a torrent of abuse on Knight as he left the hill and then again in the dugout.  I’m not a certified lip reader but the onslaught was obviously centered around manure.  As Orioles analyst Jim Palmer said, “Something anyone will understand if they’ve ever cleaned out a stall for a horse.”

To be fair, I don’t think Knight had a bad game.  In the third he missed a pair and one was a fastball in that bothered Sale so much he actually turned to the second base ump to complain.  Or verify.  In the seventh Sale walked two hitters on sliders that appeared to slip around the plate.

But, according to his mates, Sale came into the game with a “chip on his shoulder” after a couple of losses.  Knight took the brunt of the chip.

                 Can you see the chip on his shoulder?  There it is. 

Coming from me that borders on absolution.  I have never gotten along with umpires.  They are far too insecure so they over react to any criticism and, because they have fascist control, they abuse it game after game.  Simply put, most of them aren’t very good.

I’ve seen PBL umpires who think the belt is high, who don’t know the balk rule, and even one who thought a fly ball that landed about six feet foul was fair because it was inside the bag when it went over first base.  Yes, a fly ball.

          Are ejections rejections?

I’ve been ejected more times than a USB flash drive.  In Parksville I argued a call and then walked away four or five steps and got the thumb, apparently because I had the audacity to turn my back on the umpire.  At Parkgate when a base ump froze on a throw to first base I asked the plate ump to tell him to make the call.  Considering he was being paid to do likewise it seemed like a reasonable request.  Ejected.

As far as their strike zone is concerned I often had no idea which game they were watching.  It was so bizarre we once had a pitcher accused of throwing at the Man in Blue when our catcher apparently missed the ball on purpose.  I never asked.

Before the PBL was born we travelled south with the Twins almost every second weekend, which was great competition for guys like Ryan Dempster and 22 other draft picks.  The American arbiters were often better.  I’d ride them to protect my pitchers but they seldom seemed to take it personally.  One of the best in Seattle was a dude who would listen for a few innings and then calmly say, “That’s enough, Dave.”  He showed no insecurity or fascism.   Respect deserves respect so I’d cease and desist.

          Run the Power Sweep at the Shortstop

There was one amazing exception at a Washington tournament.  Pop foul.  Our first baseman, Kyle Chalmers, moves in to make the catch.  And the hitter runs right into him before the ball hits his glove.  Obvious interference.  But the clown behind the plate just called it a foul ball.  “The runner has the right to the baseline,” he said.

Imagine that.  A shortstop goes to field a groundball.  And the runner at second throws a vicious body block and drives him into left field.  “The runner has the right to the baseline.”  Of course.  It’s third and 10 from the 40-yard line.

That gentlemanly discussion went on for a decade or so.  I asked the base ump to exorcise his partner’s delusions but he just stared at me and said, “It’s his call.”  Meanwhile, the score booth was filled with aficionados searching the rule book, which told me something about their common sense.

Suffice it to say it took a long time and words like “asinine” to eject me because everyone in the State knew how egregiously wrong he was, but, eventually, I was exiled.

I will solemnly swear I’ve never been wrong when I’ve been booted by an ump although I’m sure they’d have a different story.  But this is my blog.

 

"My mother never breast fed me.  She told me she only liked me as a friend."
--
Rodney Dangerfield

 

        The INCREDIBLE Shrinking  Strike Zone

The Rulebook says:

“The upper limit of the strike zone is MID-WAY between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants.”

Let’s read that again.  “MID-WAY between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants.”

In other words, AT THE LETTERS.

So why did the belt become the top of the zone?  What gave the umpires the right to change the rules? 

The last time a pitch at the letters was called a strike a dinosaur was at the plate in the 10,000 B.C. Ice Age World Series.  And that was because the umpire couldn’t find a belt.

It got a little better a few years ago when MLB decided to raise the zone to a few inches above the belt.  But they still don’t call the rulebook zone.

So why not change all the rules?  A runner is two steps past first base when the throw arrives.  Why not call him out?  After all the MLB brain trust is obsessed with speeding up the game.  That could chop at least 15 to 20 minutes.

 I’m not asking for a wide zone.  Not at all.  Just the legal zone.  If a pitch barely grazes black it is a strike.  The rule book says so.  If a pitch is letter high it is a strike.  The rule book says so.

Why did the umpires Deep Six the top 12 inches of The Incredible Shrinking Strike Zone?  It actually started about 50 years ago because the hitters lobbied the umpires.  Pitchers like Jim Palmer survived on High Heat, fastballs up with some hump and carry.  Most hitters couldn’t handle that sort of gas at the letters so they whined and moaned as often as wheels turn.   The Men in Blue gradually, inexorably, methodically lowered the strike zone, inch by inch, until it hit the belt.  And some of them lowered it even more so the belt was high.

There is a wonderful irony here.  In this day and age hitters seem fixated on hacking at pitches up in their eyes, even at their neck.  They get the umpires to chop the zone and then they wail away at 747 vapour trails.  It’s like the High Heat Fentanyl Addiction.

There is, of course, another reason.  If a pitch is six inches low and the umpire calls it a strike almost everyone in the park can see that’s a bad call.  But when a fastball is thigh high and nails six inches of the plate and he calls it a ball the fans think, “Well, I guess it missed outside” because they’re seldom in a spot to see it was clearly a strike.

The umpire is bullet proof and the pitcher is screwed.  More power to Chris Sale.

 

REMEMBER DON DENKINGER?

How many Rings are on the Wrong Fingers?

During the last two seasons there were 2,897 calls reviewed.  And 1,417 were overruled.  Yes, on close calls the umpires were wrong 49 per cent of the time.  You could flip a coin and get that result. 

The current full review system is only in its fifth season.  Before 2014 how many games would have been tossed upside down if they had video review?  How many playoff series would have been reversed?  How many World Series celebrations would have been in a different city?  How many lives would have been changed in both directions?

The most famous blown call put a huge blemish on game six of the 1985 World Series.

The Cardinals led 3-2 in games and were about to be crowned, leading 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth.  Jorge Orta led off for the Royals and chopped a routine groundball to first baseman Jack Clark, who flipped to the pitcher, Todd Worrell.  It was fairly close but Worrell clearly beat Orta to the bag by about half a step.

And Don Denkinger called him safe.

In the TV booth analyst Jim Palmer said, “Looked like he was out” and Al Michaels agreed, “I don’t think there’s any doubt about it.”

There was no doubt to anybody, including even the Kansas City fans and tens of million watching on the tube.

But there was no way out.  You can’t change the call and you can’t ask for a do over.  Orta was safe and sound.

         A moment in time, an out called safe that changed their lives.

From there on the inning went sideways for the Cardinals faster than an anchor dropping 36,000 feet into the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench.

Clark and catcher Darrell Porter somehow screw up on a foul ball and let it drop, giving Steve Balboni a second chance.  He singles to left, Porter is crossed up on a slider, both runners advance, and with one out Garth Iorg is jammed but bloops a two-run single.  Game over.

The Royals close it out the next night with Wunderkind Bret Saberhagen blitzing a two-hit 11-0 shutout.  Denkinger is the plate ump.

"If it happened now," Denkinger says, "they'd review it and overturn it.  I'm obviously reminded constantly that I made a mistake. You know what? I was an umpire for more than 30 years in the Major Leagues. I know I made a lot of mistakes. That one was just blown out of proportion."

The Cardinals might not agree.

“We had three outs to go to become world champions," St. Louis second baseman Tommy Herr says.  “You’re already under enough stress and tension. Now you have this happen. It kind of blows the lid off your emotional stability. The whole inning unraveled after that, and then we had to regroup.  It was brutal. Something we just couldn't recover from."

Herr adds, "I'm not a big fan of replays, but if it was in place in my career, I'd have two World Series rings instead of one." .

Royals veteran Jamie Quirk is tired of hearing about it.   "He was out. That was clear from the replay. But when the play happened, watching it with the naked eye, you kind of thought Worrell was off the bag. We're sitting there in the dugout, yelling, 'Safe!' It wasn't as obvious as everyone thinks.  And other things happened.  How about Clark missing that popup?   And does a bad call mean you have to lose 11-0 in the next game?"

Denkinger was actually a very good umpire so I’ll give him the last word.

"There are plays that happen that you can't correct," he says. "You live with them. You just don't want to do it in the World Series.  The object is to get the call right so I'm all for review.  If they had it in 1985 nobody would ever know my name."

I lied.  Here’s the last word.  This call is infamous.  But how many more have there been that are less obvious?  How many winning runs were out but called safe?  How many tags missed the runners foot?  And how many World Series rings are on the wrong fingers?

 

RELIEF FOR TENDONITIS

             The Cure for Sorearms?

Back in January I was doing some lifting and I strained the hell out of my left arm.  The next day there was an aching, throbbing pain in my shoulder and then my tricep and my forearm.  It was extreme tendonitis.

I thought it would disappear in a few days.  Wrong.  Very wrong.

For the next two months the pain stalked me like a voracious vampire.  It ached when I tried to sleep.  It ached when I picked anything up.  It ached when I tried to write on the computer.  It just ached.

I’m left-handed and I tried to do as much as possible with my right arm, which helped a bit, but not much.  The throbbing pain would relent at times but that was just a tease.  I’d do something left-handed and it would trigger again.  And often it just pounced for no reason at all.

I’d go shopping and have to rest my arm on something, anything, hoping the ache would dissipate.  Sometimes it did, often it didn’t.  Several times when I was driving it got so intense I actually starting yelling out loud.

I tried everything I could think of.  Rubs.  Pain killers.  Nothing had the slightest effect.  The pain never stopped.  How long is this going to last?  Four months?  Six?  A year?

Then I got a break.

I was talking to Paul Gemino, who coached the Twins with me back in the 90’s.  He also wrote songs and shred on his axe for the band I managed.  Paul is a sixth degree black belt who teaches Tae Kwon Do in North Van and a great resource.

             Paul Gemino and his pet crocodile.  Or is it an alligator?

“Try Epsom salt,” he said.

I did.

I bought a bag of Epsom salt and poured a cup and a half in the water as I ran a hot bath.  Absorbed it for an hour, making sure my left arm was submerged.

That night the pain was gone and I could sleep.

There was still some ache the next day but it was greatly tamed.  I repeated the process two days later and then once more.  And the pain was gone.

Two months of rubs and pain killers.  Nothing.  Three hot baths with Epsom salt and the tendonitis was defeated, gonzo.

Now I’m not talking about a torn ACL here.  Or a rip in the labrum.  Those may require surgery or far more expertise than I can offer.

But, if you’re a pitcher or a catcher or a shortstop or whatever, and you’ve got an aching pain from tendonitis or a strained muscle, I think this could help immensely.

I also know trainer Bob Baffert used Epsom salt to soothe Justify, the Triple Crown winner.  If it’s good enough for an ineffable trainer and a magnificent horse like Justify, then it’s good enough for me.

WARNING:  I am obviously not a doctor.  Some people drink Epsom salt and that can possibly have severe side effects, including heart problems and paralysis.  There could also be side effects for use in a bath, like a rash.  Please consult your doctor before using an Epsom salt bath.  And so some Internet research.  Those are always your priorities.  

   

AND HOW BAD ARE THE ORIOLES?

            The Saga of Showalter and Bonds

I try not to watch the Baltimore Orioles.  I’m afraid I’ll blow chunks all over the TV.

The Orioles bring new meaning to futility.  They just might be the worst team to ever set foot on an MLB diamond.  This is not an expansion franchise or a rebuild.  This is seasoned veterans.  And they are awful.  Pathetic.  Terrible.  Inept.  And my apologies to those noble words for using them in the same paragraph with the O’s.

Baltimore is on track to lose over 110 games this year.  They look like a troupe of senior citizens who used their walkers to hobble into the park and then found out they were pencilled into the starting lineup.  They’re General Custer preparing for Little Big Horn.  You know it’s not going to end well.

And here we go again.  The Blue Jays sweep the Orioles and the Sportsnet cheerleaders are in Seventh Heaven.  They forget to mention a janitor could sweep the Orioles, who would have a hard time winning in the Florida State League.  What's more, the Jays needed extra innings twice and a blown save to prevail.

Of course, Pat Tabler says, “It’s still big league pitching.”  Really?  Where?  Was it Brad Brach who came in to close with a three run lead and dropped a pair of walks that opened the door for the Blue Jays to steal a win?  Or Alex Cobb ,who has a sky rocket ERA and slow mo mechanics that eliminate any rhythm whatsoever?  Was it Miguel Castro who Walked In the Walk Off?  Or a platoon of relief pitchers who thought they were throwing pre-game batting practice?

              Machado must be counting the days until he escapes the Orioles.

At the plate Chris Davis looks comatose and as confused as a Norwegian trying to speak Cantonese in Peru.  Do the Orioles have a MLB scouting staff?  Have they noticed that Marco Estrada lives on a circle/split change and a high school fastball that works best when he elevates at the letters or neck, despite what Kevin Barker and Joe Siddall think?  Just lay off that heater 18 inches out of the zone and he’s on the ropes.

Apparently they haven’t got the message.  Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo and Jonathan Schoop and even Manny Machado just keep on hacking at those high fastballs, like suckers at a Ponzi convention.

Which brings us to Buck Showalter.

           May 28, 1998

The Diamondbacks are edging the Giants 8-6 with two gone in the bottom of nine.  But the Giants have the bases jammed and a monster just stepped into the batter’s box.  He is lethal.  He is stoked.  He is loaded with PED’s.

He is Barry Bonds.

What a showdown.  Fans thrive on these moments. But not tonight.

Showalter, managing the D-Backs, signals to his catcher, Kelly Stinnett.  Four fingers.  Walk him.  With the bases as loaded as an Irish alcoholic on St. Patrick’s Day.

So right-hander Gregg Olson issues four mandatory wide ones to Bonds to push a run across.  Then he goes to a full count on Brent Mayne before he lines out to right field.

 ''I wish I had a picture of Kelly looking at me,'' Showalter said later.  “He thought he’d missed something.  He was looking for the open base.”

After the game Showalter asked Stinnett, ''At what point did you think I lost my mind?”  Stinnett had the good sense not to answer.

                      Barry Bonds, 762 home runs, 688 intentional walks.  

''There are only three or four players in this game you'd do it with, and Bonds is one of them,'' Showalter explained.  ''You try to give your club the best opportunity to win a game.  It might not have been good, but it was better than the option we had.''

Was it really?

Bonds was hitting .304 at the time with 13 jacks.  Seems to me there was the option of actually playing baseball.  Walking a guy with the bases loaded is legal, of course, and Showalter can make a case for it being his best roll of the dice.

But at what long term loss?  What psychological breakdown did he inflict?

He has just sent an indelible, neon light, etched in stone, emailed, Pony Express message to his team, not just the pitchers, but to every dude wearing a D-Backs uni.

Our pitchers are so useless, so impotent, so weak, they’re incapable of getting a .304 hitter out.  But we won the game so it’s all good.

 With the white flag blowing in the wind.

I’m not talking macho here.  This isn’t about who has the biggest.  It’s about Accepting Challenge.  It’s about competing.  Isn’t that really why we play sports?  To see if we’ve got the gonads to meet someone head to head and be the best we can be.  Isn’t that winning?

I don’t know how Gregg Olson felt that night.  Maybe he was pissed.  Maybe he was relieved.

But I know this.  If Buck Showalter had told Roger Clemens or Bob Gibson or Whitey Ford or Sandy Koufax or Don Drysdale or Early Wynn or Justin Verlander to walk a hitter with the bases loaded they would have given him the ball.  Where the sun don’t shine.

            Don Drysdale, who threw 95 sidearm and would knock down anyone.

 

 “The best high school pitcher I’ve ever seen”

               The Tragedy of Brien Taylor

Who Wants to be a Millionaire? 

For openers try Casey Mize.

Mize, a strapping RHP for the University of Auburn Tigers, was drafted number one overall by the Detroit Tigers, which means he won’t have to remember the name of the team he plays for.  He also won’t have to worry about paying the bills for the rest of his days here on Earth because Detroit will offer him $8.1 million for his autograph.

The MLB draft delivers a whole slew of multi-millionaires and some of them go on to drink from a fire hydrant of even more cash.

And then there’s Brien Taylor.

Taylor inked with the Yankees 27 years ago.  As the top pick in the draft, he held out until New York offered him $1.55 million.  In 1991 that bankroll should have been enough to garner several mansions in Taylor’s home town of Beaufort, North Carolina, plus an apartment block or two, a yacht, and a savings account bulging like it was devouring steroids.  But somehow that bonanza disappeared like a wisp of smoke in a hurricane.

Brien Taylor threw bullets in high school, 98 mph streaks of lightning.  He was Odds On.  A rangy 6-3 left-hander with AC/DC stuff and a future as bright as Sun Flares.  Just hand him the keys to the Cy Young and get out of his way.  Say hello to Cooperstown, Brien.

                         The Golden Arm of Brien Taylor

How good was Brien Taylor.  This good.

From infamous super agent Scott Boras

“Brien Taylor is the best high school pitcher I’ve ever seen.  I've watched the talent in 35 drafts and I’ve never seen anyone like him.  He was a true phenom."

Boras started tracking Taylor when he was 17.

"I remember a pitch he threw in high school. It started in and moved out and it still stayed in the strike zone. The catcher completely missed it and the umpire called it strike three.  He just had an electric arm. A lot of kids in high school throw hard, maybe 92-93, but the key was the late movement.  Brien threw downhill. It got to the plate and it just exploded.”

Boras, of course, was Taylor’s agent, so you have to take those words with about 1.55 million grains of salt.

But, still, all that salt is blue chip.  Here’s back-up.

From Bill Livesey, Yankees 1991 scouting director

“He had everything you’re looking for--size, strength, athleticism, body type, loose, live arm, the ability to spin the ball. He topped out at 98 but you couldn't tell how hard he was throwing because he threw so easily with so little effort. He was the total package."

That sort of See How Easily You Can Throw Hard dynamite stuff  projected to be 102-104 when his body matured.  It was unheard of.

Joe McIlvaine, former San Diego Padres GM

"There are two things you can't teach a pitcher. One is size. You can't make a kid 6-foot-3. Another thing is arm strength. You can't create arm strength. The other things -- the curveball, the delivery, the changeup -- you can improve upon. Brien Taylor had size and arm strength."

You can, of course, develop arm strength with the right training.  It happens all the time. Still, he was right about Brien’s amazing wing.

Jim Hendry, Florida Marlins 1992 player development

"I saw him in the Florida State League. He was as good-looking a prospect as you'll ever see. He was 97-98, left-handed. He looked like he was going to have a great slider. He was a can't-miss. He had the perfect body. That is what the great ones look like.  When you see guys like Doc Gooden and Kerry Wood and Brien Taylor you know they’re something special."

            From 300 to 750 to 1.55 million

And Taylor certainly was something very special.  So what happened?  It’s a very tragic story.

In high school Taylor went 29-6 with a 1.25 ERA.  He struck out everybody but the groundskeeper, a massive 213 K’s in only 88 innings.  He was only 18 but his fastball often popped 98 and even 99.  Blue heat.

At first the Yankees offered Taylor $300,000, which eventually blossomed to 750k.  No way, Boras said, pointing out that the Athletics had signed Todd Van Poppel for $1.2 mill the year before.  Brien was not exactly on the honour roll so no NCAA school offered him a scholarship, which obviously Deep Sixed his bargaining power.

Scott Boras, renowned as the toughest negotiator in baseball

Still, his mother was a shrewd lady.  She accused the Yankees of racism and classism, a doubleheader of isms.  With Boras in the driver’s seat, she told the Yankees to stick it.  Brien would damn well enrol at Louisburg Junior College and you high falutin’ New Yawkers can either take your 750 large and eat at Toots Shor’s restaurant or eat your heart out.  Maybe both.

Now it begins to sound like a movie script.  Taylor carried out the bluff, actually going to Louisburg with his father on August 26, the kick off for the fall semester.  His first class was at 10 a.m.   If he walked in and sat down he was off limits to the Yankees.

At which point the Boss, George Steinbrenner, let it be known someone should be shot if the Bronx Bombers didn’t ink Taylor.  That meant GM Gene “Stick” Michael was in George’s sights.

Presto.  The Yankees succumbed and forked over the 1.55.

            "He Had a Cult Following"

"When we signed him,” Michael remembered, “Tony Kubek went up to Boras and said, ‘Scott, that statement by George, how much money do you think that made for you?'  And Boras said, 'About $750,000.' "

Before even throwing a pitch Taylor was named the best prospect in the game by Baseball America.  He was on his way.

"He went out that first year in the Florida State League,” Michael said.  “And he was very dominant for an 18-year-old kid who didn't play real good high school baseball. His fastball averaged 95 miles per hour. The minor league people told me that no one else could do that."

Michael compared him to blazer Randy Johnson.  "His arm slot was exactly like Johnson's, not sidearm but very low three-quarters.  And Brien threw a little bit harder."

Scouting director Livesey noticed something else that seldom happens in the minor leagues.  “He already had a following.  He’d sit in the stands, trying to do his work, and all kinds of people would come to get his autograph. There were people after the game outside the bus.  He had a cult following."

Taylor was 13-7 with 150 strike outs the next year in 163 Eastern League innings.  The Yankees wanted him to work on his curveball and pick-off move by going to Instructional League but Taylor declined, not a good decision.  Instructs is a great vehicle for refining talent.

                    December 18, 1993

There are moments in life when you look back and say, “Why did I do that.  It makes no sense at all.”  Regret is a terrible thing.

On this day, a week before Christmas, Brien Taylor made a decision that disintegrated his life forever.

His brother, Brenden, got into a fight at a bar and got himself beat up with some lacerations.  Boras remembers, "Brien was at home in bed.  He goes over to find his brother to protect him.”

It’s not totally clear what happened next, depending on whose story you accept.  One version said Taylor was out of control and threw a wild punch that missed and he fell on his shoulder.  But Boras says, “A guy took a swing at him and he put his left arm up and his hand and arm took the force of the swing. It pushed his arm back behind his head.”

At any rate Boras immediately took Taylor to see legendary Tommy John surgeon Dr. Frank Jobe, who said it was the worst shoulder injury he’d ever seen.

                     The great Dr. Frank Jobe, who invented Tommy John surgery.

At first Boras told reporters the injury was a bruise.  But Dr. Jobe operated to repair a torn capsule and a torn glenoid labrum in Taylor's shoulder.  Tommy John is for the elbow.  The labrum is much harder to repair.

Brien Taylor was never the same again.

He was in dry dock for the 1994 season but returned to the mound in 1995 with the rookie Gulf Coast Yankees.  He’d lost 8 mph off his fastball and