October 13th, 2011
Wow! What great baseball we’re getting a chance to see and enjoy. Not perfect, but exciting and enjoyable. As I watch the games and read the articles before and after the games filled with quotes from managers and players it triggers many thoughts and emotions. Sometimes I wish that I could relent and give in to the present day philosophies. Science over Art. But, I can’t.
I don’t care for the word “purist,” I can accept traditionalist and I’m all for progress if it benefits the game and makes it better. But, as I see it, it doesn’t always make it better. I guess I’d call myself a fan that enjoys the simlplicity of the game. throw it, field it, hit it and see who wins. I like the KISS theory. Printed those 4 letters in my glove in the 60’s. [KeepItSimpleStupid]. That’s one of the reasons I enjoy seeing the things that affect winning or losing a baseball game whether it is in May, July, or on the national stage in October
Whether it’s 1945 or 2011, lttle things mean a lot. I have followed this great game since 1945. Tigers beat the Cubs in 7. Last time the Cubs were in the Fall classic. I was 7 years old and I remember it like it was yesterday. Tigers had a big first inning and won game 7 and the series. Greenberg, Newhouser, Caverretta were some of the player’s names. Eventually I had their baseball cards in the spokes of my bicycle wheels.
I give you that background because not a lot has changed in terms of what determines who wins or loses. Throw strikes, catch it when they hit it to you, make accurate throws, try to make solid contact and put the ball in play. As some of my minor league managers and big league pitching coaches told me,” Do the ordinary things in an extraordinary fashion” and you’ll be fine. In simple terms, do the basic fundamental things consistently well. The game was more of a player’s game until the late 80’s. it was art. Pitchers and hitters had distinctive motions and stances and the game was played by feel and instinct and what was in your heart and stomach meant more than a printout of what happened in the past and influenced manager’s decisions on who to play and pitch and where to position players in the field.
Why did it change? computers? detailed scouting reports? Better educated executives, managers and players? I don’t know. Like the crafty lefthander of the 50’s and 60’s, Curt Simmons, said. ‘ play’em a step to pull or a step the other way’. Abner Doubleday put’em where they are for a reason. Or, as Branch Rickey, the innovator of the farm system, said to pitchers, “Throw strikes for 5 innings and lower strikes for 4 more” You’ll win a lot of games.
Now…..I know it’s not that simple but when I look at the results of the 1st few games of this post season I see examples of science taking over for art and feel and not always for the better. Example, Rick Porcello pitched a terrific game game for the Tigers Wednesday in game 4. He deserved a win but repeatedly throwing to 1st base with Elvis Andrus posing a threat to steal 2nd may have cost him and his team the win. Was he throwing to 1st base a gazillion times because the bench signaled for him to do it? I hope not.
That seems to be what pitchers deal with in today’s game of science over art. all kinds of signs from the bench, countless trips to the mound to scramble a pitcher’s brain that’s already moving at warp speed because of the pressure of the situation. Who knows better than the guy with the ball that’s closer to the action than the bench whether the runner on 1st has taken too big of a lead? As Woody Hayes, the late football coach at The Ohio State University said about the forward pass. 3 things can happen and 2 of them are bad. same thing with throwing to 1st for a pitcher. a balk or a wild throw happen more often than a pickoff. Vary your time that you pause in the set position, step off the rubber if you’re not comfortable , don’t give the runner the satifaction of thinking he’s important. If he steals what are the percentages that he’ll score??. There’s a number I never see on the tv screen. only what % a catcher has of throwing out runners which are most of the time because the pitcher didn’t get him the ball in time to make a decent throw.
Whew! I’m venting a little more than I thought but I just wish they would let the players play and put the fielders in normal positions, [maybe Mark Kotsay and Corey Hart would have caught those 2 fly balls in the 1st inning of the Cards/Brewers game 3]. I am so thankful I played in an era where you looked in the box score the day after a game and saw that you were a winning pitcher or a losing pitcher because of what you did not because people who weren’t on the field of play made decisions that determined your success or failure. If you wanted your right fielder to play a little shallow, you looked out and waved him in a little. It was your game on the day you pitched. you pitched with your gut and your heart and your instincts. Pitching and playing was an art not a science.
And when it was over you and your teammates had the satisfaction of saying, ‘we laid it all on the line for better or worse’, “We’re not going to blame it on the manager, the coaches or any computer printout that gave us a notebook full of information about what happened in the past but couldn’t predict the future”. Like Ozzie’s homerun in 1985 from the left side of the plate….look up those percentages. First time in how many thousand lefthand AB’s? Or when Nolan had a lead in the 7th against the Phillies in 1980 and the Phillies won the game. he had never given up the lead when he led in the 7th up to that game. It’s about what’s going to happen today not what happened in the past and I sure wish today’s players could have more to say about the outcome.
Oh, and one more thing. Commissioner Bud, I call him Bud because we have known each other for a long time going back to when I was privileged to be a rather insignificant member of the 1982 St. Louis Cardinals that defeated his Milwaukee Brewers in the World Series; could you demand that clubs put a moratorium on announcements of hirings and firings until the World Series is over so we don’t have to hear during or between innings or read about who is going where and why and we can watch and read about the players who make it possible for us to enjoy fall baseball..