Gold Nuggets

Last Friday at the Plaza Hotel in New York, my wife, Margie, and I were able to attend a first-class gala courtesy of Rawlings and their parent company, Jarden, and Gold Sport Collectibles. Big-time event. As a former Gold Glove winner, I got to present the awards to the 2014 Gold Glove-winning pitchers. This year it was Zack Greinke of the Dodgers and Dallas Keuchel of the Astros. Joe Piscopo emceed and entertained, Glen Frey of the Eagles performed and Jay Leno did standup that was really funny stuff and entertaining. It’s a special gift to be able to do what Jay and previous performers like Jerry Seinfeld and Kevin James did.

rawlingsgoldglovetrophyBrooks Robinson and I were the first two inductees into the Rawlings Hall of Fame in 1991. Willie Mays and Roberto Clemente joined us the next year, and then the event disappeared for nearly 20 years! Credit Mike Thompson of Rawlings for bringing it back. One of the awards is the Rawlings Heart of Gold award which recognizes a player who has given back to the community. Albert Pujols was this year’s winner. A worthy choice.

If I continue to be invited to this spectacular affair, I’m hoping to invite my boyhood baseball role model, Bobby Shantz. Bobby was the first pitcher to receive the award in 1957. He would have won a lot more of them if the award had been created earlier. I learned how to field like Bobby from listening to Bob Elson, longtime voice of the Chicago White Sox, when Bobby would pitch against the Sox. Look him up and find out how special he was as a pitcher and fielder.

I would hear Elson describe Bobby’s delivery. He finished square to the plate on the balls of his feet, evenly balanced, and then took a short hop with both feet toward the plate — able to go left or right, glove in position for a comebacker or line drive. I logged a lot of hours in our backyard imitating that motion. At my first Spring Training in 1958, the pitching coach, Walter “Boom Boom” Beck, after watching me go through the customary pitcher fielding drills said, “Kid, you field just like Bobby Shantz.” The ultimate compliment. I say fielding because we are not really defenders like football or basketball, guarding other players, we field our positions. No big deal, just my personal preference.

What metrics and analytics cannot show you is the anticipation and discipline necessary to be ready on every pitch. Tony La Russa pointed that out to me at the dinner. You bat four or five times a game. As a fielder, you need to concentrate and anticipate on every pitch for the entire game. If you aspire to become a Gold Glove winner that can be for well over 100 pitches every game! It doesn’t take unusual talent to become a good fielder as much as it requires the aforementioned qualities. Players like Ozzie Smith, Mike Schmidt, Brooks Robinson, Willie Mays and others certainly were gifted, but if they didn’t have the discipline to do what is necessary on every pitch to go with that gift, they wouldn’t have been nearly as great in the field.

Since we just observed Veterans Day, I’d like to mention a name to you that many of you have not heard before. Colonel Bud Day. He died last year at age 88. He served in three wars and saw combat in two: Korea and Vietnam. Bud spent five-and-a-half years in the “Hanoi Hilton” and Senator John McCain called him the bravest man he ever met. Google him and read the book American Patriot: The Life and Wars of Colonel Bud Day. Millions have served and many are serving like Bud Day did. Thanks to all of them. Let’s not forget them.

I have a question for Commissioner Selig as he heads into retirement. Why is Alex Rodriguez still allowed to play baseball and Pete Rose is serving a lifetime suspension? I don’t agree with what Pete did and I wish he had been remorseful. He didn’t admit he made a mistake and that hurt him. But Alex has not been overly remorseful, if remorseful at all. Unfortunately, his Hall of Fame numbers and talent will not be how he is defined.

I think he will be remembered as the most selfish, arrogant, and self-centered player in history. Maybe a compromise since he wasn’t banned for life a couple years ago, which I certainly think he should have been. Start a fund for former players who are indigent, ill and/or have not much quality of life. Maybe name it the Alex Rodriguez I Wish I Had Been More Humble, Honest and Respectful of the Integrity of the Game Fund. Just a thought.

Note: If you have a question about pitching or TV work — or anything else, please leave it in the comments and I’ll answer it in my next post.

12 Comments

Jim, I think your blog is terrific. Thanks for sharing your insights and knowledge.

Jim, I am so glad to have found this blog! I am a Twins fan since about 1965–grew up in North Iowa listening to Herb n Halsey!! You were one of my favorite pitchers, mister! As you know, the twins are looking for a pitching coach. Are you interested? I believe you would be ideal. Mark Z.

One thing I really miss from watching games in the ’60s is the swift pace of play. Announcers used to make note of games approaching 3 hours as if it was a rare occurrence. Nowadays it is the norm. My pet peeve is batters stepping out after every pitch and adjusting their batting gloves. But even if Velcro were banned from the game, the length of time between innings for TV commercials would still be the biggest problem, I think. The big money has to come from somewhere. I know MLB has formed a committee to explore the problem of long games, but do you know if they have talked seriously at all about shortening the time between innings?

I agree with your comment about Bud Day. I read his biography by Robert Coram. I always interested how we know much more about John McCain’s experience instead of Bud Day and the commander, Stockbridge.

I live in Minnesota and I still regret that you no longer announce the Twins’ games. A recent local rumor is that Jack Morris or Bert Blyleven may be offered the pitching coach position.

From some of your columns and the roundtable discussion on ESPN, I take it you are not enamored by saber metrics. What is the best way to evaluate a batter’s or pitcher’s performance. I recently completed Hank Aaron’s autobiography, and he suggests total bases is the best measure of a batter.

Love your posts. What was your throwing routine in between starts!? Do you believe in long toss? If so, ‘ on a line’ or an arc to stretch your arm out!? Also, played 2 years w/the White Sox (Dewey Robinson was Pitching Coordinator and was coached by Jon Matlack a bit in my 1 spring training. He was good!) but did you break down your motion and work on spinning curves, locating fastball grips and changes from a shortened distance? And now that I coach kids, anything ‘special’ you would recommend into making them Pitchers!? I have a 12 year old son and I really don’t believe in curve balls until about 16…. Your thoughts? I love and respect your thoughts. Thanks for your ‘REAL’ messages. Loved you as a Phillie growing up in late 70’s, early 80s as a huge fan. Thanks for your contributions than and now to the game.

Another wonderful article,as I recall,you were pretty good at helping the ballclub with your glove,and bat as well as being Sam Meles favorite pinch runner.This with the best pick off move in the AL made you what we use to call a ballplayer,not just a pitcher.

Please send me your postal mailing address. Thanx…JL

Kitty:

Thanks for the post. Could not agree more on A-Rod. This guy has hurt the game more than any other player in history.

Tom

Kitty Kaat:
I enjoy reading your blog. It was fun to hear you mention Boom Boom Beck from your time with the Senators. I grew up hearing many stories from my dad (Dick Hyde) about him and you. One question I have concerns a story that I heard about you. On the way to the park in St. Louis you stopped in a convenient mart to pick up something and saw two kids playing a video game in the corner. You asked what they were doing on such a nice summer day inside and they said “playing games”. You told them to stay right there so “I can have a few more years in the big leagues.” I have used that story several times as a coach and dad to get my kids outside and playing ball. Merry Christmas and keep up the good blogs.

Jim.
Great seeing you calling the Yankee game tonight. You’ve always been a favorite of mine.
Brian

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Dude, Ozzie Virgil started > 10 years after the Alou brothers…

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