Results tagged ‘ pitching ’

Arm injuries

Masahiro Tanaka

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.

If I could have a conversation with Stephen Strasburg

Video: Reading the letter on MLB Network

Stephen, I’ve never met you but I’ve seen you pitch and you are special. I announced your debut on our MLB Network with Bob Costas and John Smoltz. I was very impressed. I imagined being you. I made my debut in 1959 at age 20 and lasted 2 1/3. Never struck out a batter. Took the loss. What you did that night amazed me. I don’t know if I could have found the strike zone with all the advance hype and the high expectations heaped on you. It was quite a treat to witness what you did.

Now I get to visit with the managers and sometimes the coaches when I come in to announce a game on MLB, but I seldom get time with the players. Organizations protect their young stars from media and I don’t blame them. I have heard comments from people from a lot of different stations in life on what should be done about limiting your innings that you pitch this season. Executives, sportswriters, former players and pitchers, TV analysts from not only baseball but also football and other sports! Even some national news correspondents have weighed in on the subject.

Your manager, Davey Johnson, is a former teammate and friend, a man for whom I have great respect. He’s in a tough position. He wants to do the right thing. But Davey, like many of the people who have commented on this, has never pitched.

I can only talk to you as a former pitcher who wanted to be a Major League pitcher since he was 8. My motivation was to pitch in the big leagues, pitch in an All-Star game, pitch in a World Series. You have done two of those three. I can only tell you as one who pitched in two World Series that doing that is the ultimate prize in Major League Baseball. I was fortunate to do it at age 26. Hooked up with the great Sandy Koufax three times in 1965. Had a chance to be a World Series MVP. Sandy denied me that with his great performance. It was 17 years later when I finally got a chance to participate in a World Series again. That’s still a record for the most years between World Series appearances. We won that one. The Cardinals beat the Brewers. I had very little to do with it but it remains my top moment in baseball.

The money is nice but the ring is the thing for an athlete. It ranks high above pitching for 25 seasons in the Majors, 283 wins, 16 Gold Gloves, an All-Star Game where I faced Willie Mays, Roberto Clemente and Hank Aaron. Being on a World Series winner is the ultimate prize. We just had our 30-year reunion in St. Louis, celebrating our World Series win in 1982. Those are memories you’ll always have no matter how long you pitch.

If you can imagine what it would feel like to ride down Pennsylvania Avenue in a victory parade with your teammates and wave to the White house and hundreds of thousands of Nationals fans and feel that feeling . . . . you would give a lot of thought to whether it was right or wrong not to pitch anymore this season. It’s easy for me to say as it was for many pitchers before me who pitched in the Fall Classic. Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver, Catfish Hunter, Koufax, Jim Palmer, Jack Morris, many more. We gave no thought to what the condition of our arm might be next year. This was the World Series — the ultimate stage. Who knows if we’d ever get back there again?

Give this some thought. It’s not Mike Rizzo’s career or Scott Boras’s or Davey Johnson’s or even your that of your parents. It’s yours. Do what you want to do, not what others think you should do. Selfishly, I would love to see you pitch in a World Series for the city where I made my debut. The Washington Senators were known for “First in war, first in peace, last in the American League.” You have a chance to do what the great Walter Johnson did for Washington. No one since.

Let me ask you this: “Did you have any symptoms before you injured your arm? Anything that led you to believe you were going to injure it on your next pitch?” I didn’t. I was having the best month of pitching I ever had in September of 1967 when — “pop” — there went my elbow. We pitchers really don’t know when it’s going to happen or if it ever will happen, do we? It’s a fragile profession. I’m just happy I never had to make the decision you should be able to make. If my GM told me in September of 1965 that he was going to shut me down and not allow me a chance to pitch in the World Series, knowing my stubborn Dutch nature, he would have had quite an argument on his hands. My Dad’s biggest thrill was watching me pitch in the World Series. It would have haunted me the rest of my life if I had deprived him of that. Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro were Hall of Fame pitchers but never got to experience the ultimate prize.

Good luck with your decision, Stephen. But please remember — it’s your career, your arm, your decision. Nobody’s else’s.

Will we finally get The Real Deal?

Yu Darvish. He appears to be the most successful, celebrated, hyped Asian pitcher to sign with a Major League team since Hideki Irabu.

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!

OUT BY A STEP

About 10 years ago, the Shalin brothers, Mike and Neil, wrote a book about 100 players that just missed getting elected for the Baseball Hall of Fame because their career accomplishments fell just short. Several of those have since been inducted. Gary Carter, Bruce Sutter, Jim Rice, Andre Dawson and now, Ron Santo. Both Mike and Neil are writers. Mike has covered baseball for the Boston Herald and Neil is a freelance writer in Chicago. I am one of those 100 players they list and profile.

If you are a year around baseball fan you probably know that the Veterans Commmittee announced yesterday that Ron Santo has been selected for induction in 2012. I fell 2 votes short. The committee is comprised of 16 guys, former players, executives and writers that were involved in the game during what has been designated ‘The Golden Era”. Pretty cool to have been part of that era. The committee members were Hank Aaron, Al Kaline, Ralph Kiner, fellow MLBlogger Tommy LaSorda, Juan Marichal, Brooks Robinson, Don Sutton and Billy Williams from the players arena. Paul Beeston, Roland Hemond, Bill DeWitt, Gene Michael and Al Rosen from the executive branch. Dick Kaegel, Jack O’Connell and Dave Van Dyck from the media. You need 75% or 12 votes to earn election. You had to have played at least 10 seasons in Major League Baseball and been retired for at least 21 years.

Enough about specifics. I am honored to have been considered for election several times by the Veterans Committee after falling well short of election by the Baseball Writers Association of America voters during that eligibility period. I was more curious and somewhat optimistic this year than ever before. Why? Because I was being judged by my peers. I got a fair hearing. I fell 2 votes short. I am not disappointed. I would not have celebrated with a ‘whoopee’ or thrust a fist in the air if I were to have been chosen. Out of respect for so many whose careers are close to HOF caliber but ‘Out by a step” I would have felt humbled and grateful. Players like Dick Allen, Tony Oliva, Ken Boyer, Luis Tiant and many more too numerous to mention. It’s a very select fraternity to gain admission unlike being elected President of the United States where a little over 50% will be enough.

I am grateful for those 10 who supported me and I have a pretty good idea who they are. Many have told me personally that I belong and that is an honor in itself. When former players like Brooks, Sutton and Marichal tell you to your face that you belong that is very gratifying.

Shed no tears for me or feel no animosity toward the 6 who didn’t feel I belonged. When I think of the 460-plus teammates I played alongside of and the thousands of players who made it to the big leagues and thousands more who aspire to get there, missing election to the Hall of Fame by 2 votes doesn’t diminish my career or life one iota.

For fun, strictly tongue-in-cheek, I have told some people who ask me why I think I haven’t been elected yet that there are 2 possible reasons.

1. I played too long. If my career ended after 1975, my pitching numbers from 1961-1975 were exceeded only by Bob Gibson when you consider wins, era, innings, complete games, etc. My last 8 seasons were a combination of being less effective than the first 15 and I was a lefty relief specialist the last 5.

2. I was blessed with more athletic ability than most pitchers. I was used as a pinch runner on several occasions. In 1972, the last year before the DH, I was having a good season at the plate as well as on the mound. 10-2 nearing the All-Star break. Batting close to .300. Slid into 2nd base and broke my wrist. Cost me a half-season. Another baserunning injury occurred in 1976. I could never defy a manager’s authority, especially in the dugout in front of my teammates. But…when Danny Ozark called on me to pinch run for Greg Luzinski in St. Louis one day, I cringed. I was 37 years old. Late in the game, legs not loose or any forewarning that I might be used. Jay Johnstone hit one in the gap and I scampered, as fast as a 37-year-old without warming up can scamper, into third. Slid in hard and cracked my right kneecap. My pitching record at the time was 10-6 and I was on a pretty good roll. I finished the season 12-14 and was never considered a regular starting pitcher after that incident. To this day I wish I had politely said to Danny, “I’m not ready to pinch run.”

So,2 injuries that probably prevented me from reaching 300 wins which usually qualifies as automatic election to the Hall were not pitching-related but baserunning issues.

I tell you these stories not with an attitude of ‘Woe is me” or ‘sour grapes,’ just as unusual reasons for being compromised as a pitcher.

I think if Warren Spahn and Robin Roberts were alive and were on the Veterans Committee, I would be going to Cooperstown in July. There have only been a few starting pitchers inducted in the past 20 years — Steve Carlton, Nolan Ryan and my friend and teammate Bert Blyleven.

Life is good, baseball was good to me and for me and I feel relieved that this year’s process is over. It is by far the fairest way to decide who belongs and who doesn’t. I am happy for Ron Santo’s family. I know Billy Williams was pushing hard for Ronnie to be selected and I’m happy for him and Fergie Jenkins and Ernie Banks who, I’m sure, feel great about it as well. I’m also sad that this process wasn’t in place years ago so Ron would be alive to enjoy it. I was a teammate of Ronnie’s in 1975 when he finished his career with the White Sox. A frustrating time for him being on the South side of Chicago instead of in the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field.

I wish I could personally thank all of those who reached out to me to express their disappointment that I missed earning admission to the Hall of Fame. I have no regrets about being “Out by a step.” I enjoyed the game, I played the game and I continue to be involved in the game. I am a blessed man.

Pitching at its highest level

October is an exciting time of year for baseball fans and I am a fan as well as a former player and now, a member of the MLB Network announcing team. So I thought I would revive Kaat’s Korner and blog some of my thoughts. I started Kaat’s Korner in the late ’80s as a pregame segment on the Minnesota Twins Cable Network when I was announcing their games. I also did some blogging for YES while a member of the Yankees’ announcing team. Of course, the original K-Korner will and always should be credited to my friend Ralph Kiner, who had his show called “Kiner’s Korner” since the early 1960s on Mets telecasts. That title itself was based on his old “Kiner’s Korner” section of home run seats in left field at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field in the 1940s, replacing Hank Greenberg’s “Greenberg’s Gardens” there.

Those slugging roots notwithstanding, I am going to start with my favorite topic: pitching. The real “money” ball players, as I have often good-naturedly chided “Moneyball” central figure Billy Beane, are pitchers. No disrepect to the likes of Ryan Braun and Albert Pujols, but it is still about which team pitches best usually wins. Oakland had Barry Zito, Tim Hudson and Mark Mulder as their starters when “Moneyball” became a term that some experts glommed onto as the reason for a team’s success. They were hard to find in the movie. I guess Yogi Berra and Kirby Puckett could not have played for a team that operated on the “Moneyball” theory. They seldom walked or struck out or took a lot of pitches!

Chris CarpenterOK, back to pitching. I think the classic duel between Chris Carpenter and Roy Halladay in Game 5 of the National League Division Series should be required watching for every pitcher — amateur, Minor or Major Leaguer. Watch the videos on MLB.com and study how Carpenter and Halladay went about their business. Pay attention to the pace with which they worked, the methodical, rhythmic, consistent time between pitches. There was not much hesitation. They never seemed to have any doubt about what they wanted to do with the next pitch. They pitched like the hitter was just someone standing in their way. They seemed to say: “I challenge you to hit this pitch, I’m not afraid you’re going to hit it.” They had no apparent fear of contact and pitched their pitches with conviction. I refuse to say “threw their pitches” because these two are not “brain-dead heavers.” That’s a term pitchers in the past 10 to 15 years have coined for those who are infatuated with how fast their fastballs are clocked. They are throwers, not pitchers. Justin Verlander was a thrower as were most of us in our early days in the Majors, but he has become a “pitcher.” Look at the results this year.

Listen carefully to what Carpenter said after the game when asked how he produced so many groundball outs in a ballpark that rewards flyballs. He made it sound so simple and other pitchers should take note: “Yeah, keeping the ball down in the strike zone, sinking the ball down with my fastball, keeping my breaking ball down, staying ahead in the count. And when you do that, you get those guys who obviously are a fabulous hitting ballclub, you get them in swing mode. If you’re aggressive and they know that, if they don’t swing, you’re going to be 1-2, 0-2, whatever it is early in the count or behind in the count, they’re going to start swinging and that’s when you can start expanding the strike zone and getting the ball down and getting them to swing at stuff you want them to swing at and producing good results.”

Where's my limo?Those Game 5 results took me back to the World Series games between the Yankees and Braves in the 1950s when Lew Burdette, Warren Spahn, Whitey Ford and Bob Turley were hooking up in similar pitching duels. I didn’t miss a pitch. That was pitching at its highest level, like Sandy Koufax and Bob Gibson. I smiled as I read comments about how some players on other teams do not like Carpenter. He seems to be mean or brusque or unfriendly. Good on ya’, Chris. That’s the way it should be! Not many liked Gibson, either. I wish more hitters would have hated me. My problem was the opposite. They sent a limo for me on the day I pitched so I’d get to the park safely and they could run up to the plate and swing. I wish I’d have known Chris Carpenter back then.

For me, other pitchers this postseason who are enjoyable to watch, whether they won or not, have been Cliff Lee, Ian Kennedy, Yovani Gallardo, most of the Texas staff. They give you the impression Yovani Gallardothey are in control of the game and are going to dictate the pace. I wish there were more of them. I announced some Red Sox games in September and, living in Vermont in the summer, I watched a lot of them as well. Jon Lester and Josh Beckett are high-quality pitchers, but — and I mentioned this to my friend Terry Francona on more than one occasion — they began to pitch like they were stuck in quicksand in September. No energy, no pace. They appeared to have scouting-reportitis. That’s a disease pitchers suffer when they have studied hitters’ weaknesses to the point where they do not “trust their stuff” and worry about the hitter making contact.

I look forward to seeing more performances like I saw from Chris and Roy. There are too few of them these days.

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