The following story contains material that may be disturbing to Boston Red Sox fans. Reader discretion is advised.
$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.
The bill was 300 large but the Sox added a $195,000 tip, which we trust Jay Z spread around his 40-person roster of Nightingale servers.
Mookie and the Betts
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.
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 One Percenters
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.
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.
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.
WHATEVER HAPPENED TO HUSTLE?
Bring On the Sloth Triplets
“I’m not the type of player who’s going to be Johnny Hustle.”
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?
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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. ___________________________________________________________________
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?”
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?
LOU: What the hell.
BUD: What is on second.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.
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."
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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."
Three quadrants? Enough said.
“David Price’s wind-up is almost pitching from the stretch.”
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.”
$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.
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?
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."
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.
"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 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.
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.
“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.
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 six 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.
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
“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."
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?
"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
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:
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.
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.”
"I found a wasteland of ignorance, greed, and scars
on the elbows of children"
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
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.
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.)
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.
***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
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.
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.
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.