I have been thinking of many titles for this post.
“Putting today’s technology in perspective.”
“Baseball is still more art than science.”
As an analyst, I want to be able to explain to the viewer what the new technology we’re using means on a particular play and I have about eight seconds to do it before the next pitch. Quite a challenge.
As fans, you will soon be exposed to Statcast. MLB has invested a lot of money in it. Without trying to make it too complicated, I will give you one example. A center fielder runs down a fly ball in the gap and makes a spectacular catch. Statcast says he ran 35 feet in x.x seconds to make the play. What I need as an analyst to put this in perspective for you is how much ground does the average center fielder cover in the same amount of time this center fielder covered. Also, did he get a good jump on the ball off the bat? What was his reaction time? From a TV producer’s perspective, he or she will have to put together a replay showing all of this after the next pitch is thrown and get it to you in about eight seconds. Welcome to the new age of technology in baseball.
Viewers can have a lot of fun with this and it could be very entertaining, but we have to be able to make it understandable for you watching at home. MLB will be testing this in Spring Training and educating us so we can make it clear to you.
My job as an analyst and former player is to communicate to you that baseball still is more art than science. I hope someday there are two MLB Network channels. One that can show all the technology applications explaining the speed with which things happened on the field. The other channel would show the game as an art form. The athleticism of a shortstop making a play in the hole, twisting and turning and making an off balance throw to get the runner by a step. I saw Derek Jeter make those for 20 years! That’s the part of the game I enjoy. I don’t really care how many seconds it took him to do it or how much ground he covered. I just enjoy the beauty of the play because having played the game, I understand the difficulty and the skill involved.
We have also been introduced to many new statistics, metrics, analytics or whatever you choose to call them. OPS, WAR and many more too numerous to mention. We often hear a statement prefaced by, “They say.” My question has always been, “Who is or are this They?” For example, I was preparing for a game a couple of years ago and the advance notes said “They say” a particular pitcher is now using a lot more cutters than he did in previous starts. I asked his pitching coach about it and his answer was, “The pitches that were entered as cutters were normal fastballs.”
My point? Who is entering this data and can we trust its accuracy? When a hitter has a high OPS (On-Base Plus Slugging) did he do his damage in the fifth inning when the score was 8-0 or did he get a key hit in the eighth against an elite pitcher in a 1-1 game. My teammates Harmon Killebrew and Tony Oliva got a lot of their hits off top-level pitchers late in close games. Can we measure that? What I cannot overlook as a former player is that the game is played by humans not robots. We feel slightly different each time we perform. Body function, family life and outside distractions all can affect the way a player performs on a particular day or night. There is no acronym for that.
Another item I take issue with are Spring Training stats. Sure, go ahead and keep the game score, but not individual stats. Why? the conditions that games are played in are completely different than when they are played in Major League multi-tier stadiums on flawless fields. Florida and Arizona fields get baked out and hard and are more difficult to field ground balls on. The wind usually blows out in Florida, turning routine fly balls into home runs. The challenge for management is to be able to evaluate the talent without using statistics.
I remember back in the late 60s when Graig Nettles made a few errors on the hard, rocky infield at Tinker Field in Orlando. Consequently, our owner and GM Calvin Griffith had him moved to the outfield because he didn’t think Graig could play third base. Two years later, the Twins traded him to the Indians and most of you know he eventually became a terrific third baseman for the Yankees and was a big part of their World Series-winning teams in 1977 and 1978.
I like the way my friend, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells, handled veterans in preseason football games. At some point in training camp, he would tell the player that he had to show him he could still “do it.” I would feel the same way about a veteran baseball player. You don’t need a stat sheet, you just need several sets of eyes that can evaluate talent. It is called “Spring Training,” not “Spring Performing.” I think we might have fewer injuries if we treated it more like training.
I have seen highlights of a few games and I see pitchers taking signs from the catcher and throwing breaking pitches, but the radar gun — if accurate — shows fastballs in the high 90s. I never used catchers signs my first few times out in spring training. It was like pitching batting practice to the opposition. I honestly can say I never left Spring Training with an arm issue and was fresh most Septembers, usually ending up with over 250 innings (and a couple years over 300) innings pitched. Today’s pitchers are stronger and more talented than I was, and maybe with more relaxed training in the spring and less interest in performance, we can eliminate some injuries and see our stars healthy in September when it counts the most.
It’s a wonderful time of year for all of us who are baseball fans. At Spring Training games you have more access to the players, thanks to less expensive seats closer to the field, where you see all the young talents who will be stars in the near future. I remember watching Giancarlo Stanton a few springs ago when he was still Mike Stanton. I was standing next to Hall of Famer Tony Perez and Tony was telling me how he warned all the Marlins coaches to leave Stanton alone. “Don’t change a thing and he will become a star.” Now, $325 million later he is a mega-star. I would encourage you to just watch the agility, the foot work, the power and the speed of today’s players first, and then if you enjoy the technology available, you can do that for fun.
A few things have popped up in the sports news lately and they have hit my hot button!
As a media person as well as a former professional athlete, I am blessed to have a unique advantage in some of the “shenanigans” that go on in sports. The much-ado-about-nothing story that slightly deflated footballs were used in the AFC Championship Game game is an example of the people responsible for airing this coverage on TV and writing about it failing to do sufficient homework.
I tried to approach my job as a broadcaster the same as I did when I was a player. Be prepared. Do the homework and research necessary to be accurate, honest and objective. Unless you have been living under a rock and not paying attention to what goes on behind the scenes in sports, you have missed the fact that teams in all sports — both professional and amateur — always have tried to get an edge over the opponent.
Although I made my living in baseball as a player, I did do some volunteer work in professional football in the baseball offseason. In the 1960s, I worked the sidelines at Minnesota Vikings games, helping my friend, Jimmy Weisner, the equipment manager for the visiting teams. I tossed parkas over the players coming off the field. I have wrapped a parka around Bart Starr, Gale Sayers, Ray Nitschke, Paul Hornung and Johnny Unitas. In my snowmobile suit and ski mask, they had no idea I also was a player at their level in a different sport. I had access to the locker room and I heard all the conversations about their sport.
So, let me tell you that “doctoring” footballs to suit your quarterback, receivers and kickers has gone on for decades. I know of teams that used to take four footballs at a time, put them in plastic garbage bags and have someone repeatedly slam the bag against a wall to soften up the balls. Then they would wash them, put them in the dryer to dry, and put them in the box for the officials in order to appear brand new, even though they had been broken in a bit.
I give you all this background information to point out that if today’s media would do their research, they would find out this stuff has been going on for a long time. And, by the way, I was rooting for the Packers to get to the Super Bowl, so I am not writing this to support Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, though I have great respect for both of them. I wish the media would look for the value in pursuing the life of Brandon Bostick. He is the player who fumbled the onside kick that enabled Seattle to recover it and eventually win the game in overtime. His attitude and accountability are life lessons for every young athlete on how to handle a crisis.
Final thought on this: Wouldn’t it solve this issue if the league just put 24 footballs in the hands of the officials on game day, with the same specs for both teams?
The big media buzz over the deflated footballs brought back memories of things baseball teams did to gain an edge. I broke into the majors with the Senators in the middle of the 1959 season at 20 years of age. My first game was against the Chicago White Sox, the eventual AL pennant winners that year. They were known for speed and bunting. Our third baseman that day was Harmon Killebrew. He would become my friend and was a teammate for the next 15 years. Harm told me that if a bunt rolled down the third baseline, don’t expect it to roll foul like most would in other parks. Fields were crowned for drainage in those days and slow rollers down the line tended to roll into foul territory. The White Sox slanted their foul lines toward fair territory so bunts would stay fair and become hits.
Both Harmon and the White Sox habit of “customizing” things to their advantage surfaced again in the mid-1960s. After hitting a long fly to left that resulted in a long out, Harm sat next to me in the dugout and said, “I crushed that ball. I can’t believe it didn’t go out.” In those days, they rolled the last out of the inning toward the mound, so being the pitcher that day, when I picked up the ball, it felt unusually cold for a summer day. Later we would find out the White Sox stored the baseballs in a cold room. They were singles hitters and we had home run hitters. The cold baseballs didn’t carry as well. The White Sox also were caught using a telescope in center field to look at opposing catchers’ signs, to be able to tip off their hitters on what pitch was coming. But it wasn’t just the White Sox. Most teams did something to gain an edge.
News this week of using a pitch clock to speed up games. It has been supported by our outgoing commissioner, Bud Selig. I wish there were a way for Bud to stand behind a pitcher during the game and see that it’s not pitch clock, but a batter clock.
During a postseason game a few years back, I decided to track the time hitters took up by stepping out of the box, adjusting their wrist bands, re-fastening their gloves and looking at the third base coach for a sign with a full count and the bases loaded, when no sign would be necessary. Without going into the exact time details of what it took for a batter to get ready for the next pitch, I can tell you that if batters kept one foot in the box after each pitch and if some company could develop a batting glove that would fit snugly enough that it wouldn’t need re-fastening and also had a wristband attached to it, the game would be a minimum of 20 minutes faster. Speaking as a former pitcher who pitched many games in under two hours, I can assure you that even with increased commercial time, it is not pitchers who are causing longer games. It is managers trying to control too many things from the bench, making too many trips to the mound and batters who take too much time between pitchers. I have had a chance to meet our new commissioner, Rob Manfred, and I hope to get the opportunity to share my thoughts on the issue with him.
I close with a tribute to everyone’s friend in baseball, Ernie Banks. Ernie always made you feel like you were his closest friend. In 2009 while covering the All-Star Game for MLB Network, I walked into the lobby of our hotel in St. Louis and heard a pleasant voice calling my name. I looked at the person, and it was Ernie sitting in a lounge chair, mimicking holding a golf club in his hands. It was a reference to the fact we were both golf enthusiasts. I introduced him to my bride who was a former golf professional at the club level and asked Margie for a few tips on his setup and posture. So here is Margie giving Ernie “Bingo” Banks a golf lesson in the lobby of the Ritz Carlton Hotel in suburban St. Louis. What a great memory for both Margie and for me. No one could make you feel prouder to be a ballplayer than Ernie Banks. Thanks, Ernie, for all you did on the field and for the way you uplifted all of us with your spirit.
I was pleased to see there is a strong push from the medical field on seeing what can be done about trying to limit and possibly end the rash of elbow injuries to pitchers. As Dr. James Andrews and many others have stated, the injury begins to happen at an early age to pitchers who play in multiple leagues, don’t get enough rest between appearances and attempt to throw too fast at an age when their bodies are not completely developed. Too much stress on the ligaments, tendons, muscles and bones that are still not completely mature.
I respect what all of them say but I also would add this component to the discussion: Why don’t the leaders of our professional and amateur organizations ask those of us who have pitched at the highest level for long periods of time what we did to train and condition our arms to avoid serious injury? Were we just lucky or are there things we did that could be helpful to pitchers of all ages and levels of experience?
I’m certainly not looking for work or suffering from a bruised ego, but I think drills and theories I learned from the late, great Warren Spahn and coaches like Eddie Lopat and Johnny Sain could benefit today’s pitchers. Johnny was Leo Mazzone’s mentor and Leo coached those great staffs the Braves had in the 90s. They did more throwing between starts than most organizations.
It’s puzzling to me how the culture has changed in trying to be the best you can be. I couldn’t wait to meet Warren Spahn, Robin Roberts and Whitey Ford and pick their brain about the art of pitching. I have told this story many times to groups. Whitey and I were the starting pitchers for a game in Minnesota in the early 60s. The bullpen mounds at Met Stadium were about 20 feet apart. As we were warming up, I could hear the spin on Whitey’s pitches. Yes, hear the spin.
I casually walked over to the fence that separated the two of us and asked, “Whitey, would you mind showing me how you hold your fastball? (“Hold” meaning position of the fingers on the ball and finger pressure.) He could have told me to get lost, but he took a minute to show me. We were competing against one another that day! That was incredibly generous of him. I switched to that grip, picked up added spin and movement and my pitching effectiveness improved. I have several other stories like that about picking up little tips from pitchers who were successful.
I’ve been involved in professional baseball for over 30 years since my pitching career ended. I have had very few pitchers who ever approached me and asked how I did certain things or trained and conditioned my arm. Roy Smith, who pitched for the Twins in the late 80s, was the only pitcher I can remember asking me several times to talk pitching. It’s disappointing to hear coaches in Major League organizations tell me, “A lot of them don’t know you played and don’t care if you played or how you did it.” It’s just the way it is today.
Even with that attitude today, I would hope organizations interested in developing pitchers that have the best chance to pitch effectively and free of injury would want to find out what pitchers from my era did to be able to start more games a season, pitch more innings and complete games and remain injury-free for years. I don’t care if they ask me. Ask Jack Morris, Greg Maddux, Jim Palmer, or Tom Glavine. There is a wealth of information available to help today’s pitchers — not just from doctors, but guys who have pitched effectively in the Major Leagues for a long period of time.
If I had a son who was a pitching prospect, I would first try to hook him up with former Major League pitcher Tom House. Tom offers drills, exercises and advice on how the pitching arm should move. Different muscle groups have separate jobs, but all need to work harmoniously. I thought for years that Tom was eccentric and his training methods were way too radical. Now I’m proof that we can get a little smarter as we mature and realize we are not always right. I do Tom’s shoulder exercises as part of my training with my Titleist Performance Institute trainer. Interestingly, I think golf has adopted Tom’s methods more than baseball.
I also would recommend that a pitching prospect consult Buddy Biancalana, the former Royals shortstop and a big part of the Royals’ World Series win in 1985. Buddy works with athletes on “getting out of your own way” by getting the brain to do what it is designed to do and not interrupt it with our own doubts and fears. Hundreds of us former pitchers can provide input on the art of pitching: grips, drills, and theories like the importance of the count. That’s always what should dictate how you pitch and what pitch you throw. The count and the scoreboard should be considered above all else in pitching.
A couple more items: I was discussing the dilemma of avoiding home plate collisions with Johnny Bench, probably the greatest all-around catcher in baseball history, at last week’s Rawlings Gold Glove dinner. We both came to the same conclusion — and I think Tony La Russa agreed. Just make every play at home plate a force play like first base. Catcher catches the ball and steps on the plate before the runner does it’s an out. Am I missing something? Is that too simple? If the object is to avoid contact, that would accomplish it. You don’t see many collisions at first base.
And pace of play. Let’s start with the batter. Can a company design batting gloves that don’t have to be refastened after every pitch? Can the hitter remain in the box between pitches? Mickey Mantle seldom moved his back foot when he took a pitch and immediately was ready for the next pitch. Can we have musicians record sprint-up tunes instead of walk-up music? Can batters be told they don’t have to step out of the box and look for a sign on every pitch? If it’s 3-2 with the bases loaded, why do you need a sign? We could limit trips to the mound to only making a pitching change.
Maybe we could get sponsors to sponsor three innings of a game or even an entire game, then we could open the telecast saying , “Tonight’s game is brought to you by ________ with limited commercial interruption.” Then we could have 50-second breaks between half-innings. I know, I’m dreaming or hallucinating.
Feel free to voice your opinions on any of this as long as your goal is to continue to make the game better. You’re certainly not obligated to agree with me.
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.
Brooks 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.
First, thank you:
– Madison Bumgarner, for doing what you did
– Bruce Bochy for making the decision to use you
– Dave Righetti for supporting it as well
My hope is that this will be the norm and not the exception. Everyone in the media — including some who played the game — were aghast that Madison was able to do what he did. Are they too young to remember what Lew Burdette did for the Braves in the 50s, what Sandy Koufax did against me and the Twins in 1965, and Mickey Lolich (who gets left out of too many conversations) for what he did in 1968 with the Tigers?
All pitched and won games in the World Series on two days rest. And all were complete games. (Lolich also homered in one of his wins.) That was the norm in that era. We were not any stronger, better, or bigger than any of today’s pitchers, but we were trained differently.
Madison Bumgarner proved it can be done today. Unfortunately, organizations have continued to drink the Kool-Aid that says pitch counts, innings restrictions, and extra rest will help prevent injury and possibly improve performance. Most of those who preach that probably never have pitched in the big leagues.
I “only” can speak from the experience of 25 seasons, over 4,500 innings, a couple seasons of over 40 starts and 300 innings that IT WILL RUST OUT BEFORE IT WILL WEAR OUT!
I will concede that occasionally an extra day between starts could be beneficial if you start 40 games a year but I guarantee you that your control and rhythm and ability to repeat your delivery will be better. I really believe there would be fewer walks, more strikes thrown and fewer injuries. Check out MadBum’s strike/ball ratio in Game 7 with two days rest: 68 pitches, 50 strikes.
I know doctors personally who tell me the rash of elbow injuries in baseball does not come from overuse in the big leagues but with overuse as pitchers in Little League and travel team competitions. Too much stress on the arm at a young age, trying to throw too hard before their bodies are developed completely.
I understand that my words here will fall on deaf ears, as they did when I spoke out about shutting down Stephen Strasburg in 2012, when I think the Nationals could have ridden him to a world championship like the Giants did with you-know-who. But I am and will continue to be unwavering in my stance on this subject.
I take it as a compliment when the modern numbers nerds and stat geeks ignore my opinions, because I don’t accept the modern logic. I hope in my lifetime some combination of GM, agent, manager and pitching coach will start in the lowest minors to train pitchers to do what Madison did that thrilled us all who believe in what pitchers can achieve if given the opportunity.
Like Jack McKeon trained me when he was my catcher/manager in 1958 in Class C ball in Missoula, Montana. In the sixth inning, a few men on, nobody out, Jack would trot out to the mound, spit a little tobacco juice on my shoe and say’ Figure out a way to get out of this, Kid.” Sometimes I would, sometimes I wouldn’t; but I eventually learned how to pitch out of late-inning jams.
As the late, great Warren Spahn told me in the early 60s when he was kind enough to give a curious 23-year old lefty a pitching lesson, “Kid, when the game is tied in the seventh inning, the game’s just starting. Wouldn’t we all love to see Madison Bumgarner and Clayton Kershaw go toe to toe for nine innings? I’ll buy a ticket to see that one!
Salvador Perez is some catcher, Brandon Crawford is some shortstop and Lorenzo Cain is going to sign a big contract one day like Torii Hunter did. “Boch” is going to the Hall of Fame. My earlier memory of him? I was Pete Rose’s pitching coach in 1985. On September 11 at 8:11 pm, Pete singled to left center off the late Eric Show to break Ty Cobb’s all-time career hits record. The Padres catcher was Bruce Bochy.
The Giants announcing team of Kruk and Kuip is as good a listen as any announcing combo on the planet.
Thanks Ned Yost for the classy way you handled losing a tough Game 7.
I loved George Brett’s comment on the pregame show: “Hitters have become too robotic instead of ‘look for the ball and react'” That’s why strikeouts are at an all-time high. Read all the advance scouting reports that say, “With two strikes, this pitcher throws a slider 81 percent of the time,” and then he slips a fastball by you. Good luck with that kind of approach.
I respect Eric Hosmer’s ability and postseason performance, but if he swung that hard on every pitch I threw and lunged over the plate like he does, he would have to get a pitch under his armpits to make him back away. Hitters tend to swing like the ball is on a tee with no fear of being made to move their feet back. I’d loosen up on the brushback rule before I’d make catchers give runs away because they can’t protect the plate.
Along those lines, I guess all winter long people will be questioning Royals third base coach Mike Jirschele’s decision to hold Alex Gordon at third. How about this scene: Jirschele sends him, there’s a close play at the plate, and Gordon is called out. But… it appears Buster Posey may have had the toe of his shoe too close to the plate. We wait out a five-minute replay and Commissioner Selig, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa are called in to have a vote. TWo of the three overturn the call and we head to the 10th tied at 3!
Or… Gordon is called safe at home, but it is reviewed and Gordon just touched Posey’s left foot when he was in front of the plate to knock him off balance and the safe call is overturned! Could happen. Let’s hope it never does.
Joe Panik should have been given some kind of award for the DP he started in Game 7. Pretty good chance the Royals win if he doesn’t make that play. The Royals would have taken the lead and may never have had to face MadBum! I love it when plays like that happen, because you can’t do a graphic on TV like a pie chart or a shift alignment to explain what happened. It’s the art and skill of the game and the reaction of world-class baseball players. You really have to be at field level to see how fast things happen in a slow-moving 3.5-hour game.
Hope you enjoyed the postseason games as much as I did. Now what do we do? The Breeders Cup is on this weekend. That helps. You couldn’t pay me enough to watch an NBA or NFL game. I’m glad the PGA now is almost a year-round season.
Let’s see… I guess it’s only 14 weeks until pitchers and catchers report. I can’t wait. I look forward to having the opportunity to enjoy my 59th season following the most intriguing game on the planet.
I would have been happy for any of the 10 teams that qualified for postseason play to have made it to the World Series. I have friends, former teammates and former opponents who are now coaches on all 10 teams. But now that the Royals and Giants are there, it is refreshing as a former player and lifelong fan of the game that teams with something inside of their minds and bodies trump the continuing litany of mostly meaningless stats identified by acronyms (that a lot of us still don’t understand) spewed out almost defiantly to try to have us believe that’s what determines the final score.
The final score is the only real meaningful number out there. Because anyone who has ever played knows what my friend Buddy Biancalana wrote in his guest post to this blog is true. I won’t bore you with my stats but in September of 1967 I enjoyed a similar period of time that Buddy had in the 1985 World Series.
How I wish I knew then what I know now about “getting in your own way,” “trying too hard” and many other things that keep us from performing our best at the right time. I never knew how right I was when I would holler in the dugout prior to taking the field before heading out to the mound, ” Okay guys, let’s cut our heads off and let our bodies go to work.”
My hope is that each of these teams can keep playing the game with the same unbridled enthusiasm and fluidity that they have done so far. It has been a real pleasure to watch the game played as art and not science.
Both teams come into the Fall Classic with monentum. I really feel it will be more difficult for the Royals to keep theirs than it will be for the Giants. Kansas City will have had a longer layoff. San Francisco is in a more fluid mode.
MadBum (my favorite pitcher in the big leagues) will be on regular rest. He is the best I’ve seen at a young age of “letting his body do the work” — not overthinking. He also seems to be able to repeat a fluid motion better than most we have seen in the past few weeks.
I am not a prognosticator, so I would never say the Royals can’t do it, I just think they have a more difficult challenge ahead of them than the Giants, who seem to able to treat these World Series games as everyday Spring Training games. Selfishly, I hope that these two teams continue to play the game this week with the same “intensity without tension” (credit to Joe Torre for that saying) displayed by Lorenzo Cain and many of his teammates, and Hunter Pence, The Panda and their teammates.
It may open the door for those of us who recognize the game is played by real people, not robots, They have different feelings every day like all of you. It would be nice to get equal airtime to educate and inform fans about the art of the game. If the “numbers nerds” and “stat geeks” predict the Giants in five or the Royals in six, ask them if they can tell which games they will lose.
Statistics and records in baseball are great to use for historical purposes. The numerous graphics and metrics tell you what happened in the past, but the outcomes of the games you watch today and tomorrow will be decided by the things that Buddy refers to in his article. How do I know? I’ve been there and done that. And sometimes didn’t do that!
What a great time to be a baseball fan and then having the advantage of being a former player as well. I wish these Division Series games could go on forever. Compelling games that really expose what determines a win or loss, these are much more entertaining to me as a fan, because you see so many different teams in a short period of time. The LCS and World series drag on too long.
These games are pleasing to me because they expose how the endless metrics and stats that inundate us with have very little to do with who wins or loses. It’s not pitch count, it’s pitch selection and execution. More on that later.
It’s been a real pleasure for me to see the maturation of Buck Showalter as a manager. I was announcing Yankee games in 1995 when Buck was managing them. He was not as free to be himself then because, well, because they were the Yankees and George Steinbrenner and his ‘baseball people’ were still a little heavy-handed during that time and looking over his shoulder.
Now he’s become the most delightful, insightful, secure, unguarded manager I talk to for pregame preparation. How about him leaving a lefty, Andrew Miller, in to face Miggy? How many managers today would have the guts to do that? And walk the winning run intentionally? Great move. Brad Ausmus had no power hitters left on his bench.
Speaking of Ausmus, did you know three of the four managers in this season’s LCS are former catchers? Six of the 10 teams that qualified for the postseason were managed by former catchers.
As a former player and coach and current announcer for MLB Network, over the past 58 years I have had the advantage and privilege of being in uniform for over 4,000 Major League games, and in the broadcast booth for another 2,000. What I have learned from those games is that it is not the pitch counts, innings restrictions, OPS, WAR, WHIP, or any other acronym that determines who is going to win or lose.
As our friend Joe Torre said many years ago, the key is to be “intense without being tense” — a fluid motion and less grip pressure on the ball and bat. The four teams that did that the best are the four teams still standing. None of the four were favored to win by most people. They all certainly surprised and impressed me.
When are we going to quit “drinking the Kool-Aid” served by those who have never worn a Major League uniform or experienced what it is like to be in the game? There are hard-working managers and coaches who could have much more influence on their teams and players if they didn’t have to be subjected to the metrics handed down from above. My longtime friend and teammate, Hall of Fame broadcaster Tim McCarver, and I delight in being accused of not embracing a lot of the metrics. We take it as a compliment!
Let’s go back to pitch counts. I’m sure there is a lot of discussion today about Clayton Kershaw’s pitch count coming back on “just” three days rest. Let me go back to Game 7 of the 1965 World Series when our Minnesota Twins were playing the Dodgers. Sandy Koufax was pitching with two days of rest, coming off a complete game shutout in Game 5. He had an average curveball by his standards the first five innings, and then it lost its bite and he threw nothing but well-located fastballs the final four innings. The result was a 2-0 shutout.
Last night’s Cardinals-Dodgers game solidified my thinking that there are more late-inning, game-winning hits off poorly thrown breaking balls than fastballs. Former coaches Eddie Lopat and Johnny Sain, both curveball specialists, taught me that early in my career.
If you watched Kershaw’s curve in the early innings, it was crisp and sharp. Then it began to lose its bite. Cardinals pitcher Adam Wainwright predicted Matt Adams would hit a curveball out if he got one. He probably could see from the bench what I saw on TV. I would never second guess the call of A.J. Ellis or Kershaw in throwing the curve. The pitcher and catcher know better than anyone in the park which pitch they think is best. It’s the execution.
As Eddie Lopat taught me, if you throw a curveball late in the game when it isn’t as sharp, you try to throw it “lower than low.” Try to bounce it on the plate and it will come in at the knees. It always seems to come in a little higher than you intended.
That’s all that happened on that pitch. It wasn’t because his count was at 100-plus pitches. It was the execution. As the late, great Warren Spahn told me 50 years ago, “Kid, when the game is tied in the seventh inning, the game is just starting. You can’t get by the last three innings with mistakes that you may have in the first six.”
Taking starting pitchers out when they are rolling along is another area where gut and art are better than metrics. Jordan Zimmermann was rolling along like a freight train. Why stop the train? It’s like taking the starting catcher out for a pinch hitter when he and the pitcher have a shutout going. There was more pressure on Drew Storen in that situation than on Zimmermann. He had the feel of the ball, fluid motion, could smell the finish line. Why stop him?
Probably because the organization’s protocol is that this is what we do in the ninth inning when the pitch count hits 100. What a shame that our game has come to be science rather than art and feel. I’m sure Matt Williams was influenced by how things are done day after day, regardless of the situation.
I like Kansas City’s “Moneyball” — not walks and home runs and taking pitches, but stolen bases, sacrifice bunts, great fielders and an outstanding bullpen. That’s moneyball for me.
Another item that those of us that have been in the game for a while have long recognized: the three men who affect the outcome of a game the most are the two starting pitchers and the home plate umpire. The last couple of Cardinals-Dodgers games were good indicators. Umpires are people not robots. They all interpret the strike zone differently.
As Buck Showalter told me earlier this year, “Some umpires hunt strikes; some hunt balls.” I know Dale Scott, Eric Cooper and several of the umpires. “Scotty” has always had a pitcher-friendly zone. In my era, Ed Runge was that way, too. His motto was, “They didn’t come to see you walk.” Eddie Hurley was just the opposite. I called him “Cracker Box,” because that was the size of his strike zone. There is no doubt that if a different umpire had been behind the plate in some of these Division Series games, the outcome may have been different. But they’re human and they’re the best in the business.
Now, I do embrace some numbers. My favorite set of numbers is the final score. Score one more than the opposition, you win 100 percent of the time. Nice percentage.
The number three is scored most of the time according to the 25-year database my friend Merrianna McCully has in her book, Three Up – Three Down. Two runs is second most common. It’s interesting that three runs were scored by one team on eight occasions in the 26 Division Series games this year. The team scoring three runs won six of those. Impressive starting pitching, great fielding plays and lockdown bullpens enabled that. Two runs were scored seven times, with just two wins out of those seven games. Four or more runs were scored eight times, and those teams’ record in those games was 6-2.
That’s the norm during the season. If you score four or more every game, you should win the series. Not eight one day and none the next. Averages are meaningless. A consistent four runs is what you shoot for every game. You can see how that “swing run” is a little lower with these four teams left. Three runs might be enough.
Enjoy the rest of the postseason. I hope these LCS and World Series games are as good as the Division Series games!
The now common MRI. It seems like if a pitcher sneezes nowadays and mentions “elbow discomfort,” an MRI is scheduled and if there is a micro tear or strain of any kind, the pitcher is shut down and soon the now-famous Tommy John surgery is next.
I have kidded Tommy, knowing him well enough to do it, that some people think he is a doctor! It’s really the Frank Jobe procedure and we shouldn’t let Dr. Jobe’s name lose its significance now that he has passed on. Now it’s James Andrews and David Altchek who do most of these procedures, grafting the ulnar collateral ligament with a tendon from the wrist or hamstring.
I had the privilege of participating in a roundtable discussion on MLB Network recently with both doctors, discussing the alarming number of amateur pitchers who are having the surgery. I deferred to the medical professionals on how best to prevent it. They identified the overuse of Little League pitchers and youngsters trying to throw too hard before their bones and muscles are full developed as the causes.
Fast-forward to the professional level, and I don’t think any Major League pitcher who has pitched a significant number of innings would have a perfectly “clean” arm on an MRI of their elbow. My point here is — and again I would respect Drs. Andrews’ and Altchek’s opinions — can a pitcher pitch with some micro tears and not do more damage if he or she throws with proper technique?
Here I would defer to the opinion of former Major League pitcher Tom House, whose ideas were misunderstood and questionable to me for years. I have come to respect his knowledge of the biomechanics of the pitching arm. How the elbow, shoulder and lower body have to work as a team to reduce the chance of injury. I say “chance” because there are no guarantees it won’t happen.
I speak out on this subject because of my own experience with the same injury. I recently saw a video on YouTube of a game I pitched in September of 1967. My last start of the year. We win, we go to the World Series. I was having the best month of pitching in my career. (I won’t bore you with my stats, but if I won the game it would have been my eighth win that month, and I was averaging nine innings every start.)
Suddenly in the third inning, while throwing a pitch to the pitcher, Jose Santiago, I felt like I bumped my elbow on a hard surface and hit my “crazy bone” as we called it. After throwing several more pitches, I had to come out of the game. The diagnosis was the injury that now seems to require TJ surgery, but that procedure was not available at the time. I never had surgery and let it heal naturally over the winter. I wasn’t as effective for a few years, but I was able to do what I enjoyed: pitching.
Looking back on my workload in 1966 and 1967 has given me some insight into the possible cause. I had pitched over 300 innings in 1966 and was in the high 200s in 1967. The smoking gun probably was September of 1967, when I was starting my eighth game that month and into the mid-60s in innings that month. I was — and still am — a big proponent of the four-man rotation with three days’ rest between starts. The arm recovers fine, control is more consistent, and delivery probably will be more repeatable because you get to the mound more often.
I write this hoping we can learn a way to use pitchers to their maximum efficiency and value to their team and yet be prudent in not overworking them. A thought I have is the types of pitches and the emphasis on power might be more harmful to pitchers today than in my era. We were basic fastball, curve, change-up pitchers. The slider came along, but it really was what we call a cutter today — not all the action with the elbow, and more emphasis on finger pressure and the wrist. Not as many splitters or hybrid sliders. Today’s slider for most big league pitchers is the most hittable pitch around if not thrown with the perfect combination of power and break.
The recent article on the screwball by Bruce Schoenfeld in the New York Times has prompted me to get on my soapbox and say, “Bring back the screwball and the slow curve!” Josh Beckett is making good use of a slower curveball in his recent string of well-pitched games. (Unfortunately a hip injury has sidelined him.) David Wells was a very durable pitcher and most of his career was a fastball/curveball pitcher.
Marv Grissom, my pitching coach in the early 70s, helped me develop a screwball. I abandoned my version of what people today would call a slider — we called it a short curve — and went with fastball, slow curve (12-to-6 or 11-to-5 break) and a screwball in 1972. I got off to the best start of my career and was headed for potentially my best season when a broken wrist on July 1 ended my season. My screwball never was as good after that. Why? It is thrown with more wrist action and less elbow torque.
I really believe if pitchers would begin to practice pitching from 45 to 50 feet and work on spinning the ball with their wrist and pay attention to grip pressure, a relaxed thumb, and stick today’s version of the slider where the sun doesn’t shine, we might have fewer injuries, more complete games and more durable pitchers. Splitters and sliders might be making hitting more difficult, but there is a price to pay for overusing them.
This article is written because of my disappointment in not seeing Matt Harvey, Masahiro Tanaka and many other injured pitchers be able to enjoy longer careers and allow us the pleasure of seeing them match up against each other and pitch the whole game.
It’s been a while since I’ve blogged and I owe several of you for your kind comments reacting to my posts. It’s a fun way to connect with you, and I’m sorry I can’t take the time to answer all of your questions.
Spring Training is winding down and the season openers will be here this week. I still think we are losing that special feeling baseball has had over the years of having the first opener in the daytime in Cincinnati and the others a day later. In Japan? And at night? Stop it! Forgive me for being so traditionally minded. I’m all for progress that is in the best interest in the game, but this is not it for me. I know, TV swings the hammer and I have made a nice living from talking baseball on TV but I still think there could be some compromise instead of always deciding in favor of the financial benefits and not common sense. My grandchildren will never know how special Opening Day of baseball season should be because of the current approach. Okay, I’m off my soapbox.
How about the ridiculous injuries suffered by players this spring! I wouldn’t even mow my own lawn with a power mower because of the injury former lefty, Curt Simmons, suffered in the 50s. Nipped off some toes mowing his lawn. I remember Bobby Grich, All-Star second baseman, who signed a lucrative contract with the Angels and injured his back carrying an air conditioner up the stairs. Please guys, think about your career and your team and the investment the organization has in you before you do things that could ruin your life and your career — or your career and your life. Either way.
I enjoyed playing a little raquetball and basketball in the offseason, but it was for conditioning and recreation and I felt like I was in pretty good control of my actions.
Too much emphasis on stats, scores, and radar gun readings. Who cares? My point of reference would be the spring of 1975. One of my last spring starts befoe the season started was against the Red Sox in Winter Haven, Florida. Chuck Tanner had to take me out in the 2nd inning. I was hoping to go six or seven. Gave up nine runs, three or four home runs. Deron Johnson hit two, I think maybe Jim Rice and Freddy Lynn had one also. All the infielders played a few steps deeper than normal. Outfielders were out of breath chasing down the extra base hits.We all had a good laugh about it. I was 36 years old.
Today some would be up in arms saying things like “Is his velocity way down?” “Is his career coming to an end?” I started that season 5-0, went to 9-1 and then 13-5 at the All Star break and made the 1975 All star team.Do any of you Cardinal fans remember what David Freese‘s spring stats were in 2011?
My point is, the wind blows out in a lot of ballparks in Florida in the spring. Fly balls become home runs. Pitchers are just getting their arms conditioned. There is no incentive to win a game. It’s just practice, for crying out loud. Don’t worry about stats and wins and radar gun readings.
Let’s start paying attention when the bell rings, which for me is the first game in Cincinnati, no matter what the schedule says. I’m prepping for my season opener, which will be April 12 on MLB Network with Bob Costas. Marlins at Phillies. Hope it’s Halladay vs. Johnson.
A couple of short stories about Asian pitchers and Irabu: I was announcing Yankee games in the mid-90s when I said over the air, “I wonder if we’ll ever see an Oriental position player in the Major Leagues?” Dion James was playing for the Yankees at the time, and told me about an exciting 19-year old named Ichiro Suzuki who had a chance to be the first. We all know that story. Big fan of Bernie Williams from watching Yankee games in Japan. Wears number 51 because of that.
So, I get a letter about a week later from an Asian baseball fan. Not a malicious letter but scolding me gently for referring to Asian players as “Oriental.” He said, “Noodles and rugs are Oriental, not people. We are Asians.” Fortunately for me, he put his phone number in the letter, so I called him.
We had a pleasant conversation and I told him I certainly didn’t intentionally say “Oriental’ as a slur or condescending remark. It was said innocently out of ignorance. He understood. I asked him if he would be watching the next game we televised. He said he would. He was a huge baseball fan and was complimentary of our telecasts on the MSG Network. I asked if he would please watch and listen in the top of the 4th inning. He said he would. I took the opportunity to clear up the Oriental/Asian situation.
So, on to Asian pitchers coming to America with the potential to dominate the Major Leagues. Hideo Nomo, Irabu, Dice-K, Hiroki Kuroda, and Kei Igawa, the biggest disappointment of all for over $40 million. Potentially the best one I saw up close was Chien-Ming Wang from Taiwan. A near Cy Young Award-winner before he injured his foot/ankle running the bases.
Can’t Major League teams take a little time to teach pitchers how to slide and make proper turns running the bases? I learned from the great George Case early in my career and was used as a pinch runner often. Even stole a base at age 41, the oldest to do it until Greg Maddux one-upped me by a month or two.
However, my most serious injuries during 25 Major League seasons were from sliding. Slid too hard into second to break up a double play and into third beating a throw from the outfield. Broken wrist on one and cracked kneecap on another. My technique was good. I just slid too hard. I figure it cost me about 25 to 30 wins. If I didn’t learn from George as a young player, they probably would never had used me to pinch run. Used to pinch run for my teammates Harmon Killebrew and Greg Luzinski.
Okay, enough about me and my ill-fated slides. Wang had a devastating hard sinker. You could count on him to get at least 75 percent of his outs on infield groundouts. Stress-free motion, no hard breaking ball to put stress on his elbow. I thought he was going to be “The One” until the foot/ankle injury.
This brings me to Irabu and how the hype from Japan can be deceiving. I was preparing to announce a Yankee game in Chicago when Jim Fregosi, former All-Star Shortstop with the Angels and longtime scout and manager in the Majors, began telling me about Irabu. He had been scouting him. The phrase that stood out was when he said, “He’s Clemens when Roger was in his prime.” That will get your attention. Hideki had a great splitter, but his fastball didn’t seem to be as fast as the advanced hype.
Now, here is one thing to look for from Darvish and I hope he can deal with it: The hitters here are bigger, stronger, and more intimidating than the hitters in the Asian leagues. I will never forget the defining moment for me when Hideki Irabu’s confidence in his fastball was shattered. He gave up a monstrous home run in Yankee Stadium to Matt Williams when Matt was playing for the Indians. It was off Irabu’s fastball. Our crack TV crew had a shot of Irabu from our center field camera as Hideki was facing center field. The expression on his face was priceless. Mouth open, eyes wide open like he had never experienced anything like that. And he probably hadn’t.
The challenge for all pitchers — and I experienced it myself when Mantle and Colavito and other power hitters turned my best fastball around — is to have the nerves to keep challenging hitters and throw it for strikes. We have seen time and time again that the pitchers who come over here from Asia don’t have the confidence to consistently challenge Major League hitters with their fastball.
All except Wang, and he is on the way back. I hope he makes it. Did you ever watch Dice-K pitch? Painful. He’d rather bite the head off a rattlesnake than throw his fastball for a strike. He was actually a long relief pitcher even when he was winning games, because with today’s pitch count limitations he was over his limit in the 5th inning most of the time.
So, I’lll be keeping a close eye on Yu Darvish and see if he is finally the one to be able to challenge and dominate our bigger, more powerful big league hitters. For his and the Rangers’ sake, I hope he does. It will be good for the game and the Rangers profit and loss statement!