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.
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.
Kershaw loads his breaking ball. Note his middle finger on the seam.
It's a calculated risk and it's your choice
I don't have any problem with young pitchers throwing breaking pitches. But only if they're throwing them PROPERLY. I've taught kids 11 and 12 to throw curves and none of them had sorearms. And how do I know there wasn't damage that showed up later in their life? I don't. And therein lies the heart of the problem. We can never be absolutely sure about these things--and anyone who says he's sure is a fool.
But life is full of calculated gambles. And, as a coach or a parent, how much risk the pitcher takes is up to you. If you want to eliminate curves from his diet--then feel free. You may be absolutely right. But…
Good mechanics, intelligent warm-up and proper rest will eliminate most of the problems in throwing breaking balls.
Bad mechanics are the grand daddy of all arm damage. Bad mechanics are like General George Custer riding full bore to Little Big Horn--a disaster waiting to happen. Nothing will lead to shoulder or elbow damage faster than throwing off balance or off line. There are definite risks in throwing curveballs--but good mechanics reduce them considerably.
Teaching the Curveball
Baseballs curve because they spin. That's obvious, of course, but understanding spin is what it's all about. To solve this mystery the pitcher just holds the ball up alongside his head, palm facing in, elbow as high as the shoulder and fingers on top. Take a step, pull down with the middle finger, and spin the ball out over the index finger. Spin it to a receiver 20 to 30 feet away--or into a fence or a sofa in the living room. Feel the spin.
Spin with Proper Arm Action
Gradually lengthen this out and spin it with full arm action, just taking a step. No knee raise. Make sure those mechanics are right--elbow up, fingers on top--and spin the ball 30 to 40 feet, maybe 10 to 15 times. Check and make sure there's no elbow soreness.
Flat Ground Curveballs
Next step. Throw curveballs on flat ground, nice and easy from your full delivery. Same arm action, pulling down with the middle finger. Emphasize a smooth follow through, pouring your shoulder to the plate.
Take it to the Mound
Throwing off the mound adds stress to the arm for two reasons: 1) There's a six inch drop for the stride foot and 2) The pitcher automatically gets pumped. Now he's a pitcher and he's competing. You need to throw from the mound but make sure you keep your discipline and don’t over-throw the breaking ball.
PULL DOWN. NEVER TWIST.
I can't emphasize this enough. Young pitchers think they have to “twist” their arm to throw a curve. This puts tremendous strain on the elbow and leads to damage.
Don’t twist at the elbow. Keep your fingers on top, palm turned in, elbow up, and pull the ball down out front. It spins out over your index finger like a karate chop or pulling down a window shade.
DON'T TWIST. DON'T TWIST. DON'T TWIST.