Reminder of Kirk Gibson’s World Series Heroics – Oct. 15, 1988

 dennis eckersley

When classifying the “Greatest Home-Runs” in Baseball history, the closest that Kirk Gibson’s 1988 World Series “Bomb” ranks to the top of the analysts’ charts, even by MLB Productions, is 2nd or 3rd, behind Bill Mazeroski’s 1960 “Walk-off”, and/or Bobby Thompson’s 1951 “Shot Heard Round the World,” that gave the Giants the pennant.

Of course the main criteria for evaluating these enduring historical footnotes are still the reminiscence of “that” notorious City-Team rivalry and a purely “Under-Dog” sentimentality (Giants’ 15 games deficit before tying the Dodgers, then winning the pennant; and Pirates’ monstrous negative run differential with the overwhelmingly favorite Yankees).

Now, if that criterion cannot be upgraded eventually by Time and Logistics, then a new category must be conceived in order to pay proper respect for what Kirk Gibson did in 1988 when single-handedly, but surreptitiously, leading the Dodgers to the World Series Title. (Space in this category would also have to be reserved for NFL Football’s 1972 “Immaculate- Reception”, which would probably rank 2nd as the “penultimate” contributor to those “Amazing” performances.)

In order to hit a single home run, so many aspects of a batter’s swing must be aligned to satisfy the anatomical, physiological, and psychological constituencies composing each player, as afforded haphazardly by the “gods of Baseball”. Most athletes, professional and amateur alike, who have legitimately tasted both the “thrill and agony” of most majors sports activities will usually attest to the validity of Ted Williams’ famous yet arguable statement that, “hitting a baseball is the single-most difficult skill to master in all of Sports”.

In an essay I wrote entitled, “Einstein and the Home-Run Principle,” Einstein supersedes the Williams’ statement when he parenthetically observes, “Hitting a Home-run is the most difficult thing to do in all of Sports.” To hit a home run, a batter has to be almost perfect in his application of the “the laws of physics” with regard to the mechanics of swinging a baseball bat with precision and power. To be a consistent home-run hitter the batter must also have an understanding of all the elements that are included in the dynamics of hitting a baseball effectively. Theoretically, it is possible to hit a home run every time a batter swings at a baseball. However, Einstein and others have found through Quantum Mechanics, when trying to establish the essence of matter, that “at the fundamental levels, causation is a matter of statistical probabilities, not certainties.”Therefore, with all the elements and combinations of variables with which a batter has to deal, from within and from without himself, the “uncertainty principle” gives compelling testimony that mastering the “rubik’s cube” of hitting a home-run every time is highly improbable. However, the knowledge itself, of such feasibility, enhances the statistical probability of success.

Not even Albert Einstein and all the renowned physicists of his time, and “saber-metricians” of this modern-era, could have approximated the statistical improbability of what Gibson did on October 15, 1988. The resounding joy that New Yorkers experienced in 1951 and preserved for decades was not altogether incalculable, since Bobby Thompson had not more than 3 days earlier lit up Ralph Branca with a Home Run that presented as an ominous note a precursor of what was to come. And Bill Mazeroski’s feat that ended the 1960 World Series, although dramatic, cannot have been totally unexpected. Pinch hitter, Hal Smith, had earlier hit a 3-run homer to stake the Pirates to a 2-run lead until the Yankees tied the game in the top of the ninth, thus extending the heart-pounding “see-saw” battle. “Maz” was 1 for 3 as he led off the bottom of the ninth. Yankee pitcher, Ralph Terry, made the huge mistake of getting the pitch up to the short but powerfully built Pirate second base-man, who took advantage and slugged the ball over the brick wall 408 feet from Home Plate. It was truly a magnificent and endearing moment for the Pittsburgh community and all Baseball fans outside of the Bronx – worthy indeed of memorial status.

All that being said, encomiums to those two distinct episodes in Baseball lore should pale in comparison to the near “mythical” grandeur that highlighted the glorified instant of Gibson’s exalted “blast”, as well as propagated the ecstatic drama that preceded his culminating heroics. Kirk’s advent into professional baseball is as mysterious as that of the legendary “Roy Hobbs”, without the tragic prelude. Upon completing a successful College football career, it was suggested that he not waste his athletic talent in the “off-season” and play “a little” baseball for his Spartan baseball team at Michigan State University. In that first and only year of College baseball, he played so well (.390 B.A., 16 HRs. 52 RBIs. in 48 games) as to warrant being picked in the first round of the 1978 MLB Draft by the Detroit Tigers. He was with the Tigers for 9 years, and was a key figure in attaining a World Series title in 1984. After being determined as one of the ballplayers being “black-balled” by MLB Franchises in the notorious “Collusion Scandal” of 1987, he left the A.L. Tigers and in January  joined the Hapless Dodgers of the National League, whose dismal ‘87 season needed something of a “Hobbsian” spark to generate new life into a ball-club in disarray.

At Spring Training a few opportunities presented themselves early in Camp to set the stage for an immediate change of direction in Team attitude and focus that would eventually lead the march to a much improved status and uncontested standing in the National League West to win the Division by 7 games.  Frivolity and practical jokes took a back seat to Kirk’s ultra-professional and business-like mentality, and the team flourished from beginning ‘till the season ended. His season ending stats earned him National League MVP honors while helping the Dodgers win 21 more games than the season before. But it was his uncommon “personal-leadership” and otherwise intangible, undaunted presence that invoked the “mythical hero” image his teammates and adversaries had learned to admire and would attempt to emulate. In the NLCS, although injured, Kirk still performed heroically in clutch situations, and his timely home runs in the 4th and 5th games clinched the National League Pennant, and advanced the Dodgers into an improbable World Series entitlement.

Kirk purportedly had done all he could to get the Dodgers to that World Series, but “they” were presumably going to have to get to the “Promised Land” without him, for the injuries he incurred along the way were too severe for any “mortal” to overcome and give a last ditch effort. All the world would have accredited the Dodgers with a valiant effort for just making it to the “Final” Series because everyone knew that even with Gibson, there was slim if any chance for them to beat the powerful  Oakland Athletics, whose superior arsenal of player personnel had amassed an incredible record of 104 wins to 58 losses. And even with Kirk’s Premier status with the “baseball gods,” the “Arrogant- As” knew that “one player does not a team make”.

With Gibson being an “absolute” scratch from the line-up (he wasn’t even at the pre-game introductions ceremony), the first game of the Series began unexpectedly with a first inning 2-run homer by Dodger, Mickey Hatcher. The “As” came back with 4 runs in the top of the 2nd,  and held a 2 run lead until the Dodgers scored again in the 6th. The game remained at 4 to 3, Oakland leading in the bottom of the 9th.

Throughout the game, there were brief TV glimpses of Kirk Gibson hobbling around in the dug-out as he was traversing the distance from the training room and back, trying to massage and loosen his painful joints and hamstrings. Ever-optimistic, Tommy Lasorda seemed to be coaxing his beleaguered star, to see if any type of “miracle” was in the offing. Vince Scully repeatedly commented that there was “absolutely” no chance of Gibson making an official appearance. With T.V. and radio broadcasts coming into the locker room, Gibson heard one of Scully’s commentaries as if providence were beckoning for him to consider an alternative thought. In sudden contemplation of all that was transpiring before him, Kirk realized an inexplicable surge of unwarranted confidence streaming through his consciousness. As in a biblical reference to Jacob wrestling with the “man” inside, Kirk’s vision of Princely accommodation could not be suppressed. The decision was made; his mind was determined; “the die was cast”; but only the portentous action itself was forestalled. “Will I look like and be a fool? What in hell could I possibly do? I can’t even walk! What or Who do I think I am?” would have been the common queries instigated by mortal fear that must be wrested away from that mind intent on fulfilling a noble purpose.

After Dodger pitching blanked the Athletics in the top of the ninth, the otherwise stalwart performance of Oakland Pitcher, Dave Steward, ended when statistically prudent “As” manager, Tony LaRussa replaced his Starter with the League’s Premier “closer”, Dennis Eckersley. It looked like a sure win for Oakland, since “Eck” was destined to face the bottom of the Dodger line-up (though somewhat of an ominous sign, in hind-sight). Eckersley got the first two outs in rapid succession, and was about to face a formidable, former teammate who was set to pinch-hit for the 8th batter in the line-up.

Meanwhile, in the Dodger dug-out, Lasorda learned that Gibson had begun a personalized mental and physical rehabilitation process, which immediately spurred Tommy’s ever-percolating mind to envision a preemptive scenario of his own. After appointing Mike Davis to pinch hit for Alfredo Griffin, he surreptitiously placed Dave Anderson in the on-deck circle, to make Eckersley and LaRussa think that they could afford to be a little cautious with Davis (a potential threat) and contemplate the “end” by pitching to the very weak-hitting Anderson.

All potentially constructive Dodger strategy lay in the proposition that Gibson regain a semblance of his former self. Yet, even if he could overcome the acute pain and obvious debility, what could he hope to achieve in this debilitative condition?  Bob Costas would later remark that while he was in the stairwell of the Dodger dug-out, he could hear the groaning, anguishing strokes of a batter  desperately trying to ready himself for one last at-bat, even “one last-swing”, while teammate Orel Hershiser was feeding baseballs onto the tee for Gibson’s convenience. Although most of his teammates must have sensed the futility of Kirk’s somewhat contrived heroism, they probably also could not have expected anything less from “the man” who had proven himself so many times before. They all must have thought the “good-prospect” all but possible, however their past experience would at least warrant a “statistically” derived- at chance of success. “YOU’VE GOT TO BELIEVE” would have been the genuine inspirational sentiment pouring into the ears of the players from the mouth and heart of Tommy Lasorda and the Great Dodger in the Sky.

Kirk is now sitting at the end of the dugout bench, fully dressed, and armed with helmet and “hickory”, speculating the purview the situation has presented. “I have inspiration and commitment to do something, but what, and how far can my own determination carry me? Will Davis get on base to set up my ‘grand entrance’, and what emotion will the fans exude? And will it give me that final burst of adrenaline to be propelled to heights previously unknown?”

Gibson was afforded no additional time to mentally peruse the circumstances of the present situation, for Eckersley just walked Mike Davis. Taking a deep yet unstrained breath, Kirk’s electrifying and confident image popped onto the top step, then out of the dugout to the thunderous roar of the now ecstatic and frenzied crowd.

“That’s what I wanted to hear”, thought Gibson, as he must have restrained the urge to shed at least a tributary tear of ineffable joy he and his patrons could feel in this present moment of triumphal hope.  Lasorda’s unending chants of “new promise” inspired his Team and the Dodger Faithful to loftier heights of exaltation, as Kirk finished his preliminary swings. His slow, deliberate, but majestic walk to the plate must have been a nerve-wrenching ordeal for the Oakland pitcher, even though he exuded a confidence rather than impatience to get the game over.

One could only speculate as to what order of thoughts must have been aligning themselves in Gibson’s mind as his footsteps proceeded into that rarefied cubicle of variable distinction. Before assuming his characteristically “Spartan” batting-stance, his back cleat scratched the hardened dirt for a foothold to secure a base from which his afflicted body might launch its purposeful attack. He was finally ready, and none too soon for the exasperated Eckersley, who let his arm commence with the business at hand, firing a blazing, side-arm, tailing fastball, for which Gibson must have felt a tad unprepared. All observers couldn’t help but notice the constrained, oblique wrenching, late response Gibson’s off-balanced body and bat conveyed as it almost completely missed the ball. The second pitch gave the same explicit message, and the fans as well as Eckersley himself must have sensed that “the Gibber” was no match for the “Eck”. Kirk was behind 0 and 2 in what seemed like a “heart-beat”, and Dennis was determined to finish him off on the next pitch.

Eckersley’s disdain for Gibson’s futile attempts was obvious as he was about to throw another fast ball, same speed, to the same spot (away). The fact that Kirk looked bad, but progressively better on each swing did not escape Eckersley discerning eye. Gibson knew that his body needed only a short quick turn, but even that was too slow to get his arms activated. On that third fast-ball, Kirk was prepared to shorten the turn and throw his arms and hands more quickly. The result was a swing with little power, as his arms and hands were too far out in front and his wrists rolled over way too soon. He was grateful that he even made contact for an otherwise worthless dribbler that forced him to run toward first before the ball fortuitously struck the edge of the infield grass and abruptly darted foul, thus extending his at-bat. (That had to hurt!)

After his first pitch to Gibson, it became obvious to Eckersley, as well as the “brain-trusts” in both dugouts, that Kirk was not the optimum threat for which everyone fancifully hoped or cautiously suspected. But he was quickly portending to be a formidable adversary, even in his seemingly “powerless” condition. “Eck” recognized that with all the pitches Gibson was subtly calculating, making superficial contact with every one, it might only be a matter of time before he can put one in play, perhaps to the detriment of Oakland. Therefore, he can’t let Davis steal second base. Before his second and third pitches he made 3 throws to keep Davis close. With 2 strikes on Gibson, the Dodgers might be desperate. His 4th pitch was a ball outside, going a little farther to see if Kirk would bite beyond the fringe. He didn’t. Since “Eck” didn’t throw over before the 4th pitch, Davis attempted a steal on the 5th. Gibson had his best swing yet, but fouled it back. Eckersley didn’t think Davis would steal on consecutive pitches, and he was correct, but threw “Ball 2” in the process.  Before his 7th pitch, he threw to first base again. But on the pitch to Gibson, the ball was further outside, and Davis successfully stole second base, much to the consternation of LaRussa, Eckersley, and the “As” dugout as the count rose to 3 and 2.

The situation had not developed the way Eckersley intended. Gibson’s impotent yet “frisky” at-bat posed a conundrum whose immediate solution never materialized. So there was only one direction in which to go! As Dennis Eckersley was truly an adroit “student of the game”, he, like the many who had come before him, usually observed Masterful Warren Spawn’s advice when administering to their trade: “It is the batter’s duty to have good timing and rhythm to perform effectively, while it is the pitcher’s duty to off-set that rhythm and timing with variable speeds and placement of pitches.”

As for Gibson the batter, he had neither rhythm nor timing when he came to the plate. But through the course of his gauntlet-like “trial-by-pitch” he had developed both to a rather insignificant level. Now, it was thought by “Eck”, to end this dilemma. He knew what he had to do. He’d done it before, with great success. And he will do it, NOW! The Game wasn’t necessarily on the line, if his strategy failed. Gibson would walk, and the Dodgers would still have a runner in scoring position, presenting merely a secondary condition that would quickly be dismissed. But “Eck” was confident, he could not fail. “This is absolutely the ‘last hand’.

All the “Cards” being dealt, Eckersley landed (in Poker parlance) a 4th Ace, while Kirk had a pair of Jacks and the 7, 8, 9 of Clubs. Kirk could have kept the pair and thrown the other 3 away, but instead threw the Jack of Hearts. The statistical probability for Eckersley’s success was astronomical! Kirk Gibson seemed to have been abandoned by the “gods” and his mythological legend was about to become irreparable.  The most he could hope for was simply a mimesis of thatLuis Gonzalez” swing, and flare a base hit that might tie the game. But in Eckersley’s mind, a game-ending out is all Gibson’s “gunna” get!

There’s the tying run on second base. Eckersley is in his “stretch”. The count is 3 and 2. “Eck” is about to deliver the most potent pitch in his repertoire. The Dodger dugout is ecstatic. Now, with the fleet-footed Davis in scoring position, a base-hit would tie the game, and that is all and the best they could expect from their forlorn hero. But Eckersley had other plans! And, what was Gibson himself thinking?

Just before Eckersley was to deliver his “secret” pitch, Kirk abruptly stepped out of the batter’s box, as if to regain his composure in this momentous circumstance. But, in that instant, a higher source seemed to beckon him to recall an otherwise innocuous fact that Kirk had read on a report prepared by an astute and meticulous “scout” before the playoffs began. After pondering the present situation, all statistical possibilities seemed to be aligned in a favorable position. And the curtain was about to fall with a dramatic conclusion, on one of these conquering heroes, each with his own weapon of invincibility in hand (Reminiscent of the final poker-hand in the movie, “The Cincinnati Kid”). But which will project the image of “The Man”?

Kirk looked toward the mound, then stepped into the “Box”, knowing he had all the information he needed (his final card was dealt). But is his faith in his belief strong enough; and will his mind’s commitment to act unflinchingly, in spite of his apparent bodily condition, enable his warrior-heart? 55,000 spectators are about to find out as well.

Neither antagonist is smiling but each exudes an indefinable confidence, even while knowing well that “one will die today”. Eckersley takes his stretch and prepares his “Load” for delivery. Gibson makes a final but ominous mental query designating his unquestioning tact as “the die is cast” once more, “Sure as I’m standing here, partner,  you’re going to throw me that “back-door” slider, aren’t you?”

As the pitch leaves his hand, Eckersley recognizes the ball’s trajectory to be perfect, right where he wanted it. With all the pitches he had thrown, he knew Gibson would see the ball moving directly toward the outside. He also thought Gibson’s quick sense would assume that since his side-armed fast ball “tails”, the pitch’s destination would obviously move farther outside for a ball. He was expecting Kirk to momentarily relax, and not have enough time to respond to the pitch’s abrupt deviation of speed and direction, until it was too late – The “Aces” were “face-up”!

“Sure enough”, realized Kirk, upon first glance! His “absolute faith”, and patience allow him to wait. He’s not yet lifted his front foot as he did previously while expecting Eckersley’s fast ball. An extra nanosecond of Time is in his favor. “Now, all I have to do is get my timing right, to be able to explode at the precise moment!” In his extremely “closed-stance”, as he discerned the ball’s outside trajectory, he waited until he could detect its subtle and abrupt turn toward him. Then his front foot exaggerated its deliberate stride toward third base, as his body was “gathering” its forces to uncoil as his foot would plant into the ground.

Eckersley couldn’t help but notice that Gibson’s physical demeanor was uncommonly composed as he unobtrusively glided in the direction from which the ball was finally descending (as if he knew what was coming). “Eck” saw Kirk’s foot plant, his body uncoil, his arms extend, and in a final explosive lunge of shoulders, hands and wrists observed the bat contact the ball with an uncanny perfect synergy that launched the round projectile with improbable force in the opposite direction from which it came.

dennis&Kirk

With all spectators and both dugouts watching in apparent disbelief, the ball kept rising and carrying farther and farther in its ellipticity until it finally disappeared over the right-field wall, as Kirk’s final card resoundingly struck the table as a 10 of Clubs – and a “Straight Flush”. Throughout the day not a hint of joy was expressive of the face of Kirk Gibson, only a stoic facade hiding pain, disappointment, resentment, and disdain for his helpless and impotent condition. As the follow-through of his celestial swing of bat was complete, and he cautiously embarked on an unrehearsed, and as yet undefined, trek, an observer could detect a gradual change in facial disposition. The remorseful look of indifference was suddenly transforming into a heavily distinguishable canvas of ecstatic jubilation. And in a moment of triumphant glory he pumped his bent right arm in successive punches along the side of his beleaguered body after the subjugated leather-bound projectile did indeed traverse the height of the outfield fence for an uncontested, historic “masterstroke” (Tour De Force) of amazing ramifications, the conclusion of which would be directly revealed.

The instant of evidentiary proof of Gibson’s success immediately transformed the hopeful yet solemnly-cautious dispositions of Dodger fans and Teammates (who hadn’t really believed in “Santa Clause”) into genuinely faith-filled followers who, at that “holy instant,” probably could have moved a mountain or two. The dug-out Dodgers were streaming out onto the field, arms flaying and voices shouting “Hallelujah” (from the roof-tops) to their “resurrected “messiah” as he buoyantly circumnavigated the bases in all but reconstructed, glorified form.

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His amazing feat did provide a Home Run of incomparable distinction. And it did win that First Game of the “Series”, in abrupt and miraculous fashion. But the intangible essence of that single act of unfathomable “Heroism” also unlocked a momentarily imprisoned spirit of Team unity that suddenly “empowered” the Dodgers to claim the 1988 World Series Title, even without Kirk playing another moment of any of the remaining 4 games. Kirk Gibson’s Home Run was truly the “single-most amazing performance piece in Sports history.”

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Postscript:

As unlikely as Kirk Gibson’s conquest was, at that momentous October event, what more climactic expression of exaltation could be spontaneously delivered than that spoken by Baseball’s “immortal bard”, Vin Scully, when he exclaimed, as Kirk was rounding the bases, “In a year that has been so ‘improbable’, the ‘Impossible’ has occurred.” Truer words were never spoken. No one in the world could have expected Gibson’s humble yet triumphal salute, “I came; I saw; I conquered!” And for the last 25 years, legions of followers have echoed the words of another prominent and renowned sportscaster (Joe Buck) as he commented repeatedly, in breathless exuberance, “I DON’T BELIEVE WHAT I JUST SAW! I DON’T BELIEVE… WHAT I JUST SAW”! Nothing in Sports History can equate to Kirk Gibson’s “improbable” and “impossible” act of courage and accomplishment. The only historical event that would have shared in equipollence would have been “The Battle of Thermopylae”, if the Spartan warriors had defeated the Persians.

“Little-Things”… Part 2 – Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton

Two of my favorite players have formed habits that have finally shown how detrimental these  annoying characteristics can become, especially in times when individuals cannot afford the luxury of passively tolerating their defective attributions. First, it is true that Mike Trout is the most fun and exciting player to watch play the game. His refreshing attitude, and his speed and power certainly make him a worthy candidate for this year’s MVP Award. But as good as he is, how much better could he be if he stopped “taking the first-pitch fastball, right down the middle?

Although he almost always battles back (sometimes from an 0-2 count), and is considered by many as a very good “2-strike” hitter, Pitchers purposely get ahead of him (almost always) by throwing a fastball right down the middle, and watch him passively take the pitch as if he is simply sizing up the pitcher and setting himself for the next pitches. Now, this might have been a successful ploy for a while, but Major-League Pitchers are now taking advantage of “his generosity” of offering one (or maybe two) preliminary strike. But then, after the juicy – fat pitch, they have started jamming him in-side, then finishing him off with sliders or fast-balls away, if he doesn’t pop-up or ground-out with the “inside-heater”. You’d think that, at least once in a while, he set himself for that “first-pitch” and “rip-it”. It might ultimately change the current “dynamic” and get him back to hitting .300, and striking out less. “What’s he Thinking?”

Secondly, with all the injuries this season to players who have stubbornly continued to slide “head-first” into “the bag”, bryce-harper-sliding 1mike-napoli-fingerHead first slide 4it was only a matter of time before the “most notorious of them all” – Mike Trout – injured himself sliding (Head-First)Rays vs. Angels. But he waited until the most important part of the baseball season to injure his thumb. He must have felt himself invincible, since he does appear to be the “strongest – looking” player in Baseball. But what he, and many others (including his com padre – Josh HamiltonJosh H. head first slide) have not taken into conscious consideration are the following facts:

1. Experts have proven that sliding feet-first is faster.sliding 5

2. The upper parts of the body (head, face, neck, shoulders, arms, hands, fingers) are much easier to injure than the lower portions (unless of course the player hasn’t learned the proper technique in sliding “feet-first”.)Head first slide 3

3. No defender is afraid to place his own body in the way of a “head-first” slider, and block the base from the runner. He would be “less-inclined” to block a “feet-first” slider. No infielder ever stood in front of the base when Ty Cobb was slidingTy Cobb sliding 3headfirst slide 6sliding 10

There is no-telling how Trout’s thumb injury will affect the rest of the Series, but I hope it’s not serious enough to stop his “Game 3 Comeback”.

Josh Hamilton’s idiosyncrasies have left him in states of chronic depression and depreciation of skill. He has been injured and sidelined so many times, primarily from not being able to overcome his “instinctive” nature to slide into bases “Head-first”. His current chest-injury probably is the result of sliding on his chest. It’s no wonder that his facial expression and body-language during the last two play-off games are they that give any spectator the impression that he appears to be in a “Stupor”. The question “What is he thinking?” is mute compared to “Is he even thinking?”

It’s easy to understand why he would be depressed for not being able to perform like he and everyone else knows he is capable of performing. But  what can not be understood nor justified is, “why does he continue to slide head-first”? He needs a lot of work  to correct the flaws in his batting mechanics, but he cannot even focus on those until he is able to be healthy. And the first important thing he needs to do to attain, and maintain his health is re-vitalize his thinking about how important the “little-things” in baseball (and in life) are. He had (perhaps still has) as much skill, if not more, as Mike Trout. Will we ever be able to see it demonstrated again?

Here’s hoping that two of my favorite players regain their former countenances and proficiency. Best to them!

“Little-Things”: Doing “Them” Right Determines the “WINNER”! – Part 1- Kershaw

There is only one way to do “LONG-TOSS”! And that is, to practice the “throw” from the angle and with the trajectory that is most accommodating to the angle and trajectory from and with which the player normally throws. IF a player’s purpose is to throw an object as far as he can while strengthening the muscles of his body to replicate that specific action whenever he throws the object, then that form of “long-toss” may be useful, particularly for a “Javelin-thrower”.11th IAAF World Athletics Championships: Day Seven

But if the player is a pitcher or fielder on a baseball team, he does not want to train his body and the muscles that coordinate the precise actions of his particular function in a manner totally alien to the highest performance level of that function. A pitcher (like Clayton Kershaw) does not want to spend 20, or so, minutes prior to a game (very important game) replicating actions in his pitching motion that have very little to do with what he intends to do under Game-Conditions. The “Law” of Specificity of Movement will render to any individual that which he intensely practices. Even the “Law of Attraction” would state, “that, which is like unto it, is drawn”. Why would a pitcher warm his body and throw with increased intensity for an inordinate amount of time at an angle and with a trajectory contrary to that with which he expects to use in the game?baseball_flightnolan-ryan 5200px-Nolan_Ryan_17Nolan Ryan (Pitching sequence)nolan-ryan 15Kimbrel 8Kimbrel 4Kimbrel 2Billy Wagner 2Tanaka 22Chris Davis 3

With all the accolades foisted onto Kershaw (this year: possible Cy-Young, and perhaps MVP awards), if his pre-game preparation always entails his particular version of “long-toss”, I am stunned at his outright success. His control problems during the Cardinal game, fastball up-high, and ineffective breaking pitches early in the game (home-run), (and intermittently afterward) were pre-determined by his pre-game preparation. Since I don’t see much of the Dodgers on TV (I can’t get the Dodger Station), I wasn’t aware of Kershaw’s pregame regimen. I’m hoping this was his first time. I certainly hope it was his last!

For a better understanding of “Specificity of Movement” check my articles on this blog for June 12th, and May 20 of this year.

Coming Soon: Mike Trout and Josh Hamilton

Lasting Memorial to Bud Selig

Baseball’s Only True Legacy for Bud Selig

There has never been a better Sports Commissioner than Bud Selig. The collective wealth that has transpired in the Professional Baseball Community, from which everyone associated with Baseball has been beneficiary, is due primarily to the intelligent management of MR. Selig. That, having been said, while not using this format to list all of his accomplishments, I would like to enlist the prospect of his “lame-duck” powers to provide an opportunity for him to fully retire with the greatest honor possible – “Be ye therefore Perfect”.

The only really important issue that has not been resolved during his Tenure, to the satisfaction of Real-Baseball-Purists, is the total elimination of that despicable aspect of primitive Baseball culture known as The “Bean-Ball”  mean baseball face,Intentionally Hitting of the Batter, by the Pitcher. Baseball’s “old-guard” has apparently convinced our rightly esteemed Commissioner that “It” is and should always be “part of the game”.

Once the Designated-Hitter is fully ensconced in both Leagues, the only, and most significant change necessary for all perceptive entities to agree upon, and from which to incorporate a lasting memorial to a truly remarkable “man of authority” is to step up a legitimate process of eliminating the “bean-ball” completely. After watching all that has transpired thus far, it is my prophetic and providential declaration that the only substantive way to stop the insidious  “carnage” that has been wrongly institutionalized within America’s great “Pastime” is to diminish from that Team and its respective representatives (Pitchers and Managers exclusively) their equal opportunity and facility to direct their teams to uncontested victory. The only thing that will stop the revenge-seeking and dispassionate collaborators to a false sense of “team-honor”, -unity, and –dignity is to apply the harshest possible retribution for any batter being hit by a major-league fastball directly on a part of his body that is not protected by significant padding. Fines and suspensions are such superficial penalties to a pitcher who is usually following the commands of his manager. He (pitcher) will probably be recompensed by the team for his financial loss, and a few days of vacation will not usually bother him.

The ONLY solution to this PROBLEM is to allot two bases to any batter hit by a Major-League fast-ball. Such a batter will be allowed to go directly to Second-Base. If a runner is on Second Base, he moves to Third Base. IF runners are on Second and Third bases, then the runner on 3rd scores. I think you can see how this will affect a team whose pitchers are either errant or deliberate with solid contact of their inside fastball upon a batter.

Tony LaRussa’s logical statement on the subject might be paraphrased to read as follows: “It doesn’t matter if it was deliberate or not. Pitchers are going to come inside to certain batters; and those pitchers might not be accurate with their pitches. – Then, they shouldn’t come inside, if they don’t want to be retaliated against.” How can anyone deny that statement’s logic? Since it can’t be denied, then the only alternative is to enact a law or rule that precludes its relevance! Don’t put the blame on anyone! Simply declare that such a batter who is “impacted” by the errant or deliberate pitch be awarded adequate compensation for his being bludgeoned by such a pitch. Most often an innocent “next-batter” is the recipient of a malicious act of retribution. In other cases it is the “poor-innocent-victim” of a pitcher or manager who has decided that said-batter can’t hit the “inside-heater” that subsequently “gets-away” from the “perpetrator” who could care less if he “accidentally” hits the “man-with-bat”.  Take all of that away. From now on, it’s nobody’s fault. But such callousness of a Pitcher most certainly will affect the outcome of that inning, game, and pitcher’s best effort on the mound.

If a Team’s pitching staff is “spot-on” with accurately thrown fast-balls in-tight to certain batters, and never hit a player with a pitch, then there’s nothing to argue about. IF a Pitching staff is not that good with the accuracy of throwing fast-balls inside, and accidentally hit batters, there should be no reason for displaying ill-will. The batter simply advances to second base, while the other base-runners advance accordingly. What would there be to argue about? Justice has been served – no fines, suspensions, or fights!  If this “new rule” works out fine, then most teams and players would be happy. But there will probably be a “Team” or a “player” who is “smart” enough to circumvent the rule in a “mercy-game”, when the out-come seemed too sure, one way or another. Umpires and other League officials might still have the power to impose themselves on those few disorderly “barbarians”, until they are eventually “weeded-out”.

Bud Selig has helped present to the world a more dignified and civilized Baseball Society. It would seem regrettable that he should leave his office with less than a complete sense of fulfilling his destiny. His true legacy awaits him if he can leave office after he submits to his “highest-calling” of finally putting an end to the “bean-ball” controversy.mean baseball face

Sincerely submitted,

John F. Paciorek

P.S. For more understanding, see article submitted August 8, 2014 – “…Eliminating the Bean-Ball”.

Coming Soon: “Little-Things” – Doing “Them” Right determines the “WINNER”!

Momentum and Efficiency through Perfect Timing – Part 3

 

Bonds -stanceBarryBonds_bat flatBarry Bonds HRBarry  Bonds 9

There has been no greater practitioner of “perfect-timing” in  consistently hitting a baseball than Barry Bonds. A close “second” and “third” were Ted Williams and Hank Aaron. Barry Bonds HRTed Williams - swinghankaaron 1But, because of their natural, ill-contrived tendencies to “stride” (even in the slightest), all three fell short of the expanded “greatness” they could have achieved. Ted was the last to hit .400, in an era when “power-pitching” was not as profuse as today, and the “bull-pens” markedly deficient. The next player to hit .400 will be a batter who does not stride. But he will also have to be one who has eliminated all or most other “margins for error” as well.Albert Pujols 1Albert Pujols 8Mark Mcgwire 4Kemp Front AnkleAlbert Pujols 15Ossie 2ted_williams_ bat routeBabe Ruth 3

 

Albert Pujols had the right idea when he devised a low-stance, with his hands and bat just below his shoulders, at what would be close to a “high strike”. Albert Pujols 1He attempted not-to-stride, but to simply raise the heel of his front foot, then forcefully press down as he was to commence with his swing. He had become one of Baseball’s more successful hitters. Then for some reason he decided to raise his hands and bat above his shouldersAlbert Pujols 8, and his decline began, but not simply for that reason alone. The high bat and hands merely added another “margin for error” which, combined with others, exacerbated all his legitimate attempts at perfecting his swing. From his “low stance”, and lower hands and bat, he had perfect balance and power-potential. The only thing missing was “how to effect his front-foot-plant” while not striding! Instead of twisting his front heel and then pressing down  forcefully, he simply should have pointed his front foot at a 120 degree angle to the pitcher (as did DiMaggiojoe-dimaggio-s-legs-in-batting-stance-at-home-plateand Williams Ted Williams (feet in stance)ted_williams_ bat route). Even with his senior-citizen status, this year (2014), he is having his best year with the Angels. His “low-center of gravity” is the basis for any further success he has. The margins for error that he would have to eliminate to become a more formidable batter are these:

Bring his arms, hands, and bat down to his former height Albert Pujols 1.

Point his front foot to 120 angle to the pitcher (like DiMaggio)joe-dimaggio-s-legs-in-batting-stance-at-home-plate.

Grab the bat with both hands evenly, not having his left hand tucked under his right.

And “choke-up” just a little. At this stage of his “game” he needs as much bat-control as is possible (look at Barry Bonds and Ted Williams )- Ted Williams' gripBarry Bonds Pirates 1992.

Pujols has eliminated (to a degree) the most debilitating aspect of batting deficiency. At least his head is still in his “non-stride”. But the extra movement of the twisting front foot (from a point where the toes are pointed to Home – plate) prevents absolute focus on the “pure” foot-plant. Compare the following two foot-plants: Kemp Front Ankleted_williams_ bat routeTed Williams - swing. Kemp, in the first photo, is subject to strain of ankle and knee, while no strain is imminent in Williams’ swing.

Without a stride the batter can be assured of the best possible visual acuity for tracking the in-coming pitch. And without a stride, the batter can exact a faster time-sequence with which to initiate the action of the swing. The swing cannot begin until the front foot is planted. (Have you ever tried to swing a bat with the front foot off the ground?) Anyone who believes he NEEDS to stride (because, since Baseball’s inception, everyone has always accepted the “need to stride”, especially for the application of maximum power), does not have a clear understanding of how that slight movement  affects the “timing” mechanism  to the “perfect swing”.

The following conditioning sequence will facilitate a habit-forming regimen to accommodate the essential training needed to begin the conquest of stagnant hitting deficiency.

4-STEP HITTING DRILL: (This should be done without a bat first, then with a bat after total DSC_0119DSC_0120DSC_0121DSC_0122DSC_0123coordination has been mastered.)

 

Step 1 – Assume a position of maximum strength and balance. Get as low a stance as to not feel too uncomfortable, with feet spread at the distance of your normal stride. (Remember, a low stance gives you a natural advantage of a smaller strike zone as well as a fundamental posture for stronger and quicker movement. If you understand the value of this “principle,” any physical discomfort you seem to have with a low stance will diminish as your body becomes acclimated through repetition and positive results.) Then begin the repetition of the entire hip-shoulder “weight-transfer,” step by step. Repeat five attempts focusing on the straightening of the front leg, by pushing down hard on the front foot with the feeling of pushing your body backward. If the body does actually fall backwards, off balance, your back foot and bent knee are not doing what are required of them.

Step 2– Focus on the action of the back leg. With a low stance, as you assume that the transfer of weight is imminent, drive the back bent-knee forward with force, rotating from the outside of the big toe of the back foot. Focus on maintaining a bent back leg during the simulation, but be conscious of the other three stages (especially the front leg).

Step 3—Focus on front shoulder action. As front foot is planting, be focused on how forcefully you can shrug and pull the front shoulder up and backward. If the movement feels weak, it’s probably because the hips did not initiate the action.

Step 4—Focus on back shoulder and elbow. When the front shoulder shrugs, the back shoulder (with elbow) automatically lowers. The muscles of the Pectoral (in chest) and Latissimus (in back) areas drive the elbow down and forward ahead of the top hand. The hand is thus in a palm-up position to force a flat bat through the ball. So focus on the backside of the upper body coming through. But be conscious that the front side seems to be initiating the action.

After these four steps have been mastered, use a bat and go through them again, using a batting tee until mastery is attained. After that, go through the same procedure, this time combining step one with step two, and step three with step four, making it a two-step drill. (Then, step two with step four, and step one with step three.)DSC_0125DSC_0126DSC_0128DSC_0129DSC_0130

Remember, you are working to see how fast you can complete the entire action “perfectly”. Only perfect practice will make perfect, so perform the drills at full speed with the expectation of reacting faster as the mechanics of the swing are perfected. Eventually you can move the tee to cover all the areas of the strike zone. Remember also, to assure that the head not move, refrain from taking a stride—you really don’t need it anyway if you perfect the “four step” drill.

Also Remember: When assuming your stance, always have the front foot pointed at a 120 degree angle (or slightly less)to the pitcher, not a 90 degree angle (or less) which many batters assume because they have been told that it will keep their front hip and shoulder from opening too quickly. The front foot, at a 120 degree angle, will allow the weight transfer during the swing to be more accommodating to the front knee, ankle, and foot joints. While, at 90 degrees or less, the tension on the front foot, ankle, and knee can have a dire affect on the ligaments and tendons while the body is twisting and turning on its rotating axes. Harold Baines and Ryan Howard can attribute their knee and ankle problems, as well as their erratic batting proficiency, to the extremely awkward front foot positioning in their stances (and plant)(Can you imagine what would happen to a power-pitcher if his front foot planted at a 95 degree angle to Home-plate, rather than the normal 180 degrees  Kimbrel 5? )Just look at the front foot positioning of outstanding hitters such as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, to validate the proper transfer of weight during the swing.Ted Williams (feet in stance)joe-dimaggio-s-legs-in-batting-stance-at-home-plate END.

 

Momentum and Efficiency through Perfect Timing – Part 2

 

Ted Williams - swingTedWilliamsShortSwing2Carl_Yastrzemski 2

Yaz-3Yas100934860.JPGhankaaron 1
Bonds -stancebonds - contact 2Barry Bonds HR
I have previously mentioned (in other essays) that there are no “bad-hitters” in Major-League Baseball. But there are those who are considered better than the “others” because of their consistency of making solid contact with the pitched ball. And these are those who have attained the mental and physical facility for producing both a more exact timing-mechanism and the most proper batting technique for hitting a baseball with power and efficiency.
In this new “modern-era” of Major-League batting prowess, it has become more difficult for elite athletes to become proficient hitters because of both the surprising rise of “power-pitching” potential, and the extraordinary ineptness of the “modern-batsman” to eliminate the margins for error that tend to exacerbate the ordinary and natural ability of the common Major-league hitter to attain a consistent approach to the pitched ball. It is a testament to the outstanding athletic ability of all Major-Leaguers that they can ever demonstrate the “precision-timing” to hit a Verlander or Kershaw Curve-ball, or a Tanaka or Holland “splitter” (change-up), or a Chapman, Strassburg, or Rosenthall Fast-ball. And even the best of hitters will not do it consistently!
The batters in the preceding sequence of pictures represent multiple eras of batting prominence. But each was not without his individual flaws. Ted Williams, while being the first and most scientifically oriented batsman, was almost flawless except for his too erect of stance that prevented him from hitting well the low, outside pitch(not to mention his propensity for not hitting the outside pitch to left-field). Carl Yaztremski, while being mentored by Williams, held his bat too high, and his stride was more than could perfectly accommodate a variety of off-speed pitches. Henry Aaron can probably be considered the “Mohammed Ali” of the Baseball world, not for any overtly ostentatious disposition to the game, but rather for his exquisite timing, vision, and patience while addressing the pitched ball. His short swing and minimum follow-through with his body contacted the ball with subtle but efficient power to hit many Home-Runs, but none (or very few) that would afford him early notoriety as a premier “Power-Hitter”. He simply got the job done consistently, striking the ball solidly and providing near-perfect trajectory to reach the minimum distance to leave the field of play. Barry Bonds would have to be considered as the “Mike Tyson” of Baseball’s “Prodigious-Blasters”. After Mark McGwire’s physical decline, Bonds took over as undisputed “King” of “the Long-Ball”, not only for the frequency with which they were hit, but also for the distances his home-runs traveled, plus his regularity of contacting the ball solidly for base-hits.

Much controversy has erupted over the “Steroid Era”, and Bonds’ usurping of Aaron’s previous “Home-Run Crown” has left a tainted image for his legacy. But, aside from the disputations about the authenticity of his Baseball records, it is hard to dispute the physical (and visual) fact that Barry’s swing was the most consistently beautiful, efficient, and proficient and powerful looking in Baseball History:

Barry Bonds 10Barry Bonds 17Barry Bonds 12Barry Bonds Follow throughBabe Ruth 3Ted Williams - swingYas1hankaaron 1yogi berra3Mickey Mantle 2Cincinnati Reds v Houston Astrosmattingly 2Mark McGwire 2 Albert Pujols 15Good Swing 1Matt Kemp 15Hanley Ramirez105yasiel Puig 1josh_hamiltonChris Davis 4Roy Hobbs 2michael-jordan 3Barry  Bonds 92001-10-05-bonds homerun-follow through

What is it that Barry Bonds did consistently right, that most, if not all, other batters do only sporadically? The answer is the following:

He established a strong low center of gravity as the ball was release by the pitcher.

He greatly diminished the movement of his head and eyes (with short, subtle stride).

He waited patiently for the ball to get to him while he quietly lowered his hands to begin an unobtrusive rhythm of his arms.

When the ball got to his hitting zone, 4 things happen simultaneously:

  1. The front foot planted quickly and firmly—front leg began straightening.
  2.  Front shoulder shrugged upwardly, while back shoulder and elbow drove downward (hands, while staying behind back shoulder, presented a flat bat as the body was torquing  and addressing the pitched ball).
  3. Back bent knee drove forward and down, as hips turned rapidly
  4. The shoulders followed the hips in rapid succession with arms extending through the contact of the ball.

From contact, through the straightening of arms, through the follow through, the shoulders were continuously flowing, until they (shoulders) had changed positions (back to front and vice-versa).

Bonds -stanceBarryBonds_bat flatBarry Bonds HRBarry  Bonds 9

There has been no greater practitioner of “perfect-timing” in  consistently hitting a baseball than Barry Bonds.

Coming Soon: Part 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Power and Efficiency from Momentum and Perfect Timing – Part 1

Power and Efficiency from Perfect TIMING

“Perfect-timing” is a matter of combining momentum with vibrational-alignment in space to  “focus” precisely with place and time! In all of Professional sports, especially of the individual variety like tennis, golf, swimming, boxing, bowling, skiing, skate-boarding, etc., the sportsman fine-tunes his craft to such a degree that most casual observers do not recognize the exact mechanism by which “perfect-timing” for each specific movement is accomplished. In this year’s U.S. Open in Tennis (2014), even the most unrefined spectator could notice that Roger Federer’s timing was anything but perfect for his first two sets against France’s Gael Monfils. Even the commentators were implying that Monfils was controlling the Match with almost flawless precision while Federer was mishitting most of his usually masterful strokes, and headed for a dismal defeat. What was it that redefined the match in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th sets to enable Federer to regain his precision-timing, and for the most part Monfils’ to lose control, and lead to Roger’s “thrilling” victory, and Gael’s agonizing defeat?

Perfect-timing begins with the mind of the Elite Athlete. The understanding of what needs to be done, and the determination and intent to allow his body to follow-through with Confidence is almost always the most contributing factor for superlative and “timely” performance.Ali 3

Nothing depicts “perfect-timing” in sports better than a slow-motion sequence of movements by a boxer as he delivers a devastating “knock-out” blow to the chin of his opponent after countering his adversary’s “right or left-hook” and immediately applying a quick and precise “right-cross” of his own. And no one was better at “counter-punching” than Mohammed Ali (formerly Cassius Clay). Not known primarily as a power-puncher, he still managed to knock out most of his opponents with his quick and precise application of focused intent at an instant soon after his attacker tried to apply a strike, or after he himself had delivered a feint jab.

Muhammad-Ali-1MuhammadAli5ALI 8MuhammadAli7

It’s hard for a “normal” person, whose reflexes cannot be compared to the quickness of Ali’s, to recognize the incredible “timing mechanism” that is involved within such a nanosecond of time. Even ring-side announcers often attribute such imposing characteristics of a “rapid-fire” boxer as that of having “fast-hands”. All they seem to be able to see is the glove-in-hand as it strikes the unfortunate face of a recipient of “focused intent”. Most casual observers hardly notice that the speed and power of the punch does not emanate merely from the pounding fists.

Anyone watching a boxer, or even an actor portraying a fighter, shadow-boxing to the lens of a camera, is usually fascinated by the quickness of his movements as he sets forth a series of rapid fire punches from various angles depicting a flurry of potential blows that would strike an opponent. But anyone, with a little training, could replicate that scene and feel the confidence of that surreal experience, just enough to get his “ass-kicked” if he took the temptation too far. Sylvester Stallone’s fictional “Rocky Balboa” looks pretty good as he shadow-boxes atop the steps of a Philadelphia landmark, but his counter-punching prowess will always be limited to the “Silver-screen”. It’s not how quick or fast you seem to be; it’s how quick you are to respond in the proper fashion to a given stimulus, at the correct and precise time.

Power-punching in boxing and “Power-swinging” in Baseball mean nothing if the focus of precise timing is not in alignment with purest intent. As powerful as Sonny Liston was when he encountered Cassius Clay, he couldn’t hit Clay if he cornered him in a telephone booth. Cassius’s quick reflexes and counter-punching ability left Liston waving at the air as he was being pummeled to the canvas by flurries of furious fists, the tidal-wave of which emanated from his fast footwork, and powerful torquing action of hips and torso.

muhammad-ali 12muhammad-ali13muhammad-ali6 muhammad-ali 11

A Professional baseball player with even a cursory understanding of “Batting Technique” can simulate what would be considered “the perfect swing” while he is “shadow-swinging” in the on-deck circle. But when he gets into that “rarefied cubicle of variable distinction” his purpose now transforms from a single-dimensional component to the challenging variables of myriad proportions. For a batter the quintessential question is, “how do I put my perfect swing into play at precisely the “right time” as the pitcher is doing everything he can to off-set my “perfect-timing”? A batter who guesses “fast-ball”, and receives a “fast-ball” has a perfect opportunity to produce his “perfect swing”, and perhaps launch a prodigious blast. But, of course, his figuratively “perfect swing” does not mean that he will make “perfect-contact” with the ball, but at least he was afforded the opportunity for optimal expression of maximum muscular function while simply “fouling” the pitch back. The “timing” was there, but something in the “technique” was lacking.

A boxer who discerns his chance for a “counter-punch” to obliterate his opponent, and then fails to apply that finishing touch because of something lacking in his technique, will certainly regret not taking advantage of his rare opportunity. (Monfils had distinct opportunities in the 4th set to “finish-off” Federer with either of two “match-points”, but failed to facilitate the bodily rhythm and precision timing to coordinate the proficiency to put Roger away – he lacked stamina and will – Focus!)

The Major-League pitcher in the previous scenario will recognize his good fortune, and certainly not repeat a pitch without altering its location or the velocity. To which, the batter will almost certainly fail to replicate his “perfect-timing” and be caught off-balance and perhaps “punched out”.

Within the context of its everyday regimen, Baseball is first a one-on-one confrontation (Batter vs. Pitcher) like Boxing (normally without pugilistic intent and public vilification).

Perfect timing without proper technique may afford a preliminary sense of efficiency by consistently contacting the ball, but without ostensible power. And, proper technique, without an ability to effect the perfect timing, might make a good first- impression to casual onlookers, but without good-timing, that beautiful swing will go for naught.

Sporting News MLB Baseball CollectionTed Williams - swingTedWilliamsShortSwing2Carl_Yastrzemski 2Yaz-3Yas100934860.JPGhankaaron 1
Bonds -stancebonds - contact 2Barry Bonds HR

Coming Soon: Part 2

“The Stride” : Totally Impertinent to a Productive Baseball Swing!

The first metaphysical component to the perfect swing of a baseball bat is the ability to inhibit one’s own personal proclivity to attack the oncoming pitched ball with direct linear force. The psychological tendency to meet an attacker head-on, with equal force, in order to counteract an over-powering momentum, most often imposes an obliteration effect that can prove unproductive in either direction.

The batter, when encountering the power of a 90 to 100 mph fastball, does not want to be intimidated by what could be an overwhelming force of speed. So he seems magnetically drawn in the direction from which the ball is coming, to offset somewhat the intent of the oncoming projectile. Figuratively, attacking the ball is attacking the opponent (pitcher) who threw it. The linear movement in the direction from which the ball is coming can give only an illusory sense of contrived confidence and facilitation to deploy a resourceful counterattack. Since the first incidence of an actual counterattack cannot proceed until the front foot plants itself to the ground, the airborne foot only creates a factor of vulnerability to the batter whose visual acuity is already substantially distorted by any movement of the head and eyes that automatically occurs as the body lunges forward.

All Big-League pitchers either consciously or unwittingly ascribe to the famous quote attributed to Hall of Fame Pitcher, Warren Spahn: “It is the objective of every batter to establish an unobtrusive rhythm of momentum in order to ‘time’ and hit the pitched ball with maximum efficiency; while it is the Pitcher’s goal to upset that rhythm so the batter has difficulty in ‘timing’ the pitch and hitting the ball with ‘authority’”.

It is incumbent upon every batter to establish a rhythm in order to gain a sense of momentum to counteract the force of speed and power elicited by the throwing action of the pitcher’s body and arm before he can effectively initiate his swing. The most common prelude to any batter’s swing (professional or non-professional) is the usually-accepted “stride”. This stride can be utilized in a fashion either linear (straight-forward) or eliptical (front knee kick).Mickey Mantle 1Mickey Mantle 2RodriguezAlex 1

In the two photos of Mickey Mantle (above)it can be observed that he sometimes took a stride of about 2 feet, and was quite a notable bats-man who struck out a lot. Within the 50 or so years since Mantle and other former Baseball dignitaries graced the Major-League playing fields, new theories for greater batting prowess have evolved that would try to lessen the margins for error in swinging the bat, to diminish the strike out rate that the “long-stride” seemed to perpetuate.

The “high-leg kick” (like A-Rod, above) was an attempt at stabilizing the “head-from-moving” while still providing enough rythmic momentum to initiate the batter’s timing mechanism. The front foot would not stride out (as Mantle’s did) but simply relocate to the point from which it began. And, from there the action of swing could be initiated while the head and eyes remained relatively stable.

The swing itself cannot begin until the front foot has planted into the ground. And there have been many times when a batter’s foot was still in stride as the ball was in a position to be swung at. Or the foot was urgently planted a lot earlier than appropriate for swinging at the pitch. In either event the batter’s timing was adversely affected by the “stride”, from which he was too early or too late. Also, the stride, whether linear or eliptical, moves the body, which moves the head which contains the eyes which would see the ball (as clearly as possible). The only solution from which to eliminate or diminish substantially the “margin for error” that depreciates a batter’s vision and timing  effectiveness is the “No-Stride”.

If a batter would “not-stride” he would eliminate the most detrimental margin of error in the complicated network of proficient “bats-man-ship”—seeing the ball with optimal acuity. Even if the distance and abruptness of the stride are negligible, keeping the head and eyes perfectly still is virtually impossible while the body is traversing any number of vertical planes. A single degree of movement would negate the level of efficiency to that same extent and nullify perfect acuity. If a batter could entertain the prospect of hitting .400, he would certainly have to reduce the margins of error with regard to all aspects of mental and physical procedures, of which optimal seeing is a top priority.

The problem that all batters face is their own reluctance to understand that the stride is not necessary for applying a forceful front foot plant just prior to the swing itself. It is merely a matter of mental and physical conditioning to attain the proper foot-plant to negotiate the swing. First, mentally recognizing the good prospect of the “non-stride”, then physically practicing the reaction-time sequence of maximum effort and movement ultimately will acclimate the batter to a higher proficiency level.

The “non-stride” entails a number of components that, if not considered equally important to each other, affect the integrity of the batting mechanism. But to understand the legitimacy of the non-stride is the first step in patiently conquering the .400 barrier.

Without a stride the batter can be assured of the best possible visual acuity for tracking the in-coming pitch.

The following conditioning sequence will facilitate a habit-forming regimen to accommodate the essential training needed to begin the conquest of stagnant hitting deficiency.

4-STEP HITTING DRILL: (This should be done without a bat first, then with a bat after total DSC_0119DSC_0120DSC_0121DSC_0122DSC_0123coordination has been mastered.)

 

Step 1 – Assume a position of maximum strength and balance. Get as low a stance as to not feel too uncomfortable, with feet spread at the distance of your normal stride. (Remember, a low stance gives you a natural advantage of a smaller strike zone as well as a fundamental posture for stronger and quicker movement. If you understand the value of this “principle,” any physical discomfort you seem to have with a low stance will diminish as your body becomes acclimated through repetition and positive results.) Then begin the repetition of the entire hip-shoulder “weight-transfer,” step by step. Repeat five attempts focusing on the straightening of the front leg, by pushing down hard on the front foot with the feeling of pushing your body backward. If the body does actually fall backwards, off balance, your back foot and bent knee are not doing what are required of them.

Step 2– Focus on the action of the back leg. With a low stance, as you assume that the transfer of weight is imminent, drive the back bent-knee forward with force, rotating from the outside of the big toe of the back foot. Focus on maintaining a bent back leg during the simulation, but be conscious of the other three stages (especially the front leg).

Step 3—Focus on front shoulder action. As front foot is planting, be focused on how forcefully you can shrug and pull the front shoulder up and backward. If the movement feels weak, it’s probably because the hips did not initiate the action.

Step 4—Focus on back shoulder and elbow. When the front shoulder shrugs, the back shoulder (with elbow) automatically lowers. The muscles of the Pectoral (in chest) and Latissimus (in back) areas drive the elbow down and forward ahead of the top hand. The hand is thus in a palm-up position to force a flat bat through the ball. So focus on the backside of the upper body coming through. But be conscious that the front side seems to be initiating the action.

After these four steps have been mastered, use a bat and go through them again, using a batting tee until mastery is attained. After that, go through the same procedure, this time combining step one with step two, and step three with step four, making it a two-step drill. (Then, step two with step four, and step one with step three.)DSC_0125DSC_0126DSC_0128DSC_0129DSC_0130

Remember, you are working to see how fast you can complete the entire action “perfectly”. Only perfect practice will make perfect, so perform the drills at full speed with the expectation of reacting faster as the mechanics of the swing are perfected. Eventually you can move the tee to cover all the areas of the strike zone. Remember also, to assure that the head not move, refrain from taking a stride—you really don’t need it anyway if you perfect the “four step” drill.

Also Remember: When assuming your stance, always have the front foot pointed at a 120 degree angle (or slightly less)to the pitcher, not a 90 degree angle (or less) which many batters assume because they have been told that it will keep their front hip and shoulder from opening too quickly. The front foot, at a 120 degree angle, will allow the weight transfer during the swing to be more accommodating to the front knee, ankle, and foot joints. While, at 90 degrees or less, the tension on the front foot, ankle, and knee can have a dire affect on the ligaments and tendons while the body is twisting and turning on its rotating axes. Harold Baines and Ryan Howard can attribute their knee and ankle problems, as well as their erratic batting proficiency, to the extremely awkward front foot positioning in their stances (and plant). Just look at the front foot positioning of outstanding hitters such as Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio, to validate the proper transfer of weight during the swing.Ted Williams (feet in stance)joe-dimaggio-s-legs-in-batting-stance-at-home-plate

 

Coming Soon: Perfect Timing is Key to Perfect Batting!

 

 

Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay: Why do Two Illustrious Careers have to End Prematurely?

Why did Nolan Ryan’s career last 26 years, a time that allowed him to set countless records while staying  relatively free from injury? And why is it that Roy Halladay and Justin Verlander seemed to have been headed for Baseball immortality but suddenly sidestepped “legendary” expectations?

All 3 of the aforementioned pitchers were outstanding athletes, who sustained their great physical conditions with vigorous and energetic work habits. All of the above applied to their lower bodies what could be said as “proper mechanics” for pitching. But, of the 3, only Nolie took advantage of proper “Upper-body” mechanics to facilitate the most effortless, efficient, and powerful delivery of the pitched ball.

It is only a matter of subtle margins of error that separate the great from the greater or greatest, especially when it comes to longevity and freedom from injury. Two schools of opposing thought would insist that a thrower of a baseball has either, “a limited amount of repetitious competitive throws, and then decline is a certainty”; while the other would say that, “when the margins for error are reduced to the barest minimum with a technique of proper mechanical precision, a thrower could expect to  repeat the throwing action of a 5 ounce baseball to his maximum intensity indefinitely while his body and arm are conditioned to offset the effects of mental and physical fatigue”.

The following photos of Justin Verlander and Roy Halladay are perfect depictions of at least one “margin-of-error” that undoubtedly contributed to their relative declines in pitching prowess over the years.  Attributes to their successes were the unrelenting “work-habits” both espoused, in order to keep their bodies and arms in shape over the relatively long careers at the tops of their game. Unfortunately for both, the mechanical technique, that each had fostered and attributed to his relative success, is the actual “weak-link” in the otherwise masterful display of pitching dominance that finally ended with undue strain to the shoulder.

Roy_Halladay1Roy_Halladay3verlander2Verlander1

To borrow a quote from my Book, The Principle of Baseball…, the “axiom” that fits perfectly for both of these magnificent athlete-pitchers is: “The farther away the ball moves from the body, as the arm is preparing to throw it, the heavier the weight will be to the strain of the shoulder (and elbow). As the ball is being prepared for its launch from the thrower’s hand it should remain as close as possible to the ‘Body-Proper’, while the arm is ‘whipping’ itself to the forward thrusting position. (Nolan Ryan is the best exponent of this ‘principle’.)

NolanRyan 13Nolan-Ryan 1Nolan-Ryan 3Nolan Ryan 8nolan-ryan 5Nolan Ryan 4nolan-ryan 15

The weight-bearing excess that both Halladay and Verlander have displayed over the years has finally taken its toll, and while it is probably too late for Halladay to make a “come-back”, it is certainly not too late for Verlander to change his delivery and eliminate that one particular “margin-of-error” that would contribute to a severe reduction of his former premier pitching status.

Anyone with a “sense” of mechanical propriety could not but notice the excessive weight-bearing strain on the shoulder of Roy Halladay in the following two photos:

Roy_Halladay2Roy_Halladay5 Verlander’s delivery is identical.

But, look at the less weight-bearing position of the bent-elbow positions of Nolie, Randy Johnson (who, by the way, was tutored by Nolan), and Curt Schilling:

Nolan Ryan 2Randy J 15Randy J. 13C.Schilling 12

 

That’s All I Have to Say ’bout That”

 

 

 

The ONLY Practical Way for M.L.B. to Eliminate the “Bean-Ball”!

mean baseball face

My favorite television station is MLB. It is on almost continuously when I am at home. I enjoy the commentary of all the “main-players”, Greg, Brian, Matt, Tom, Kenny, Harrold, Dan, Al, Joel, Billy, Sean, and of course Heidi and other outstanding female analysts (Where have Mitch and Alana been?). And Bob Costas is certainly appreciated, leading the  discourse in “Round-Table” discussions and private interviews.

It is always interesting to me when the topic of any discussion borders on “unbecoming behavior” that is either justified by the staff’s ex-ball-players and vilified by non-ball-players, or categorically criticized in specific situations by x-ball-players and unquestionably condemned on principle by the “non-jocks”. There is no discussion that comes under higher scrutiny and vigorous discussion than that area of Baseball mystique known as the “bean-ball” – the deliberate intent of a pitcher to administer to a batter the bludgeoning effect of his best “fast-ball” to any part of the batter’s body, without any conscious concern for the well-being of that person’s body nor the possible affect the damage could have on the career of the afflicted player. The “jocks” on the Staff almost always contend that “It’s” just part of the Game, but, under any particular circumstance, will amend their bias with a softened response, for fear they will be thought of as ultra-insensitive to the public outcry that most certainly would not agree with them.

The analysts like Greg, and Brian, Jon, and Matt who empathize with the most typically “cautionary” fans (especially kids) find that any degree of flagrant “un-sportsman-ship” as totally disrespectful, not only to the the Sport of Baseball itself and Its common (but sometimes unwitting)representative(s), but to “man-kind” in general. The “new-wave” Sports Connoiseur of this modern era is becoming more appreciative of the active role that Major-League Baseball has taken to assure that both the fans and players are not denied their inalienable right of unopposed security at ball-games whenever and wherever it is conceivably possible. When fights break out (often because of pitcher/batter altercations)pac_1, M.L.B. administrators are quick to penalize the most blatant of personnel aggressiveness. Those culprits displaying the most offensive of battery attacks are severely reprimanded. “Sucker-punches”  and other blatantly violent actions are particularly frowned upon. But, even this “un-sports-man-like” behavior still persists because the reactions don’t usually have a direct impact on the outcome of the game. So, the Game goes on, and no solution seems to be fast-coming to stop the “bean-ball”. The cavalier attitude that many players and x-players seem to posture is hard to fathom by other more-sympathetic ex-players, and “analysts” who  would never knowingly place themselves in a position of being hit (anywhere on their bodies) by a hard, 5-ounce, round projectile traveling at a speed between 90 to 100 MPH. It’s not easy for “sane” people to understand some aspects of the “hard-nosed” baseball mentality. Are those individuals who think the “bean-ball” should remain as part of the game simply CRAZY, or just plain STUPID? Has it become so ingrained in their collective psyche, that the prospect of being bludgeoned by that blunt instrument so beloved by countless participators of the art of surviving close encounters, that the joy of overcoming the pain and tissue-damage is worth it? Walk into any baseball locker-room as the players are dressing into their uniforms and accessory equipment and you’ll see bumps and bruises, fresh or festering, that are reminiscent of bad-hop grounders or incidental mishaps from grazed pitches innocently gone awry. The most striking, of course, are those deeply darkened bruises that sink into the lower reaches of bodily tissue that stem from being hit deliberately by a 95 mile an hour fastball. The bodily flesh of “Big-Papi” and Andrew McCutchen would certainly bear witness to such atrocities. Bones have been broken or chipped, concussions have occurred, rib-cartilage has been separated, Star athletes have been disabled, and still M.L.B. has not found a platform from which to mount an aggressive curtailing of such fierce and unrelenting indignities to the Sport of Baseball.

Greg, Brian, Matt, Jon, and “others” are constantly implying that the Game has changed and is continually changing for the better. And it appears that their patience and passive resistance to ossified “baseball mentality” will ultimately prevail as the “old-school- dinsaurs” are replaced by the clarity of enlightened and hospitable thinkers. The “Bean-ball” has always been part of the Game; but there is no legitimate reason for it to remain. No one really wants it. The problem is that no one can figure out a reasonable and responsible way to get rid of it. The well-respected and recent Hall-of-Fame inductee, Tony LaRussa recently inflamed the issue by justifying the actions of the Arizona Diamond-Backs’ deliberate attack on Andrew McCutchen because of what accidentally happened to the Diamond-backs Paul Goldsmidth. His main point was that it made no difference as to pure intent, but that both players were side-lined indefinitely. Most people are incensed by what might be construed as to his callous indifference to the “Rightness and the Wrongness” in the individual cases. Not even Tony’s litigious expertise will vindicate his argument to public opinion. But his main point must be considered deeply. Any pitcher, who insists on coming in tight to a batter, may simply accidentally hit a batter (like Goldsmidth). Even the Diamond-back pitchers do this. It is impossible to regulate. So a real practical solution seems impossible!  Right!

Nothing is impossible in Baseball. And the MLB Commissioner’s Office has the ultimate power to  implement rule changes that can improve the quality of play, and every aspect of the Game. It has utilized this power many times already. The ONLY-ONLY-ONLY way  to stop this prevalent and “most-egregious” and  disrespectful act of “Baseball-Vengeance” is to allocate to a batter, who is struck with direct force  by one of a pitcher’s fastest thrown balls (not change-ups, curve balls, Knukle balls), 2 bases and not just 1 base.

The reason that this will stop the “bean-ball”, and even the accidental mishap, is because it will put the actual game in jeopardy, and not merely the bats-man. The pitcher without pin-point control is going to think twice about coming inside. The team who still harbors a sense of retribution is going to have to wait until his team is either winning or losing by 10 runs in late innings in order to feed its archaic sense of satisfaction. If a batter is wearing “batting armor” on his elbow or arm, and it is obvious that he incurred no bodily injury, or if the ball simply grazed any other part of the body, then the umpire would award the batter one base only. It is a simple accommodation to a batter and a team. There is no legitimate reason for not enacting this kind of rule. Also, recently our celebrated analysts have been discussing ways that stimulate the hitters in Major-League Baseball to enhance there batting prowess. This rule would certainly afford batters a little more confidence, and at least marginally improve their productivity. Run production should increase – with bases loaded, a solidly hit batman would drive in two runs. Even with no one on base, a hit bat-man is placed in scoring position. Is any defensive team willing to risk such a scenario. Even the Diamond-backs would find themselves contemplating the consequence. Hopefully their Organization will not pursue a way to circumvent the intent of the “Law”.