There are no “Bad-Hitters” in Major-League Baseball: Part 1 of 2

Chris Davis 2Shawn Green 3Bonds -stanceSporting News MLB Baseball Collection

Every position-player in Big-League Baseball is, or has been, a “good-hitter”. This season (2014), as of July 19th, Chris Davis of the Baltimore Orioles has established his batting average of .200 as the lowest in Major League Baseball. Does that make him a “bad-hitter”? Just last season, he was vying for the American League M.V.P. Is he doing things at the plate this year that are completely different from last season? Not really! He is the same powerful left-handed hitter with a fluid and beautiful swing and picturesque follow-through that made his debut with the Orioles last season. Chris Davis 1But the pitchers last year, who had not familiarized themselves with his “margins-for-error” (except on rare occasions), let him claim dominion in their one-on-one confrontations.

This year, Davis’ same “margins-of-error” are still present, but someone has informed the other teams’ pitchers how to exploit that deficiency quotient to their advantages. (He still managed to hit 15 or 16 H.R.s, so they haven’t been perfect in their applications.) When Chris actually begins his swing at a pitched ball, he is down low, and his body facilitates the movement of hips, shoulders, hands, bat with majestic beauty and form.

Chris Davis 3Chris Davis 4

Unfortunately, all the preliminary and inessential movement that precedes his swing are what contribute greatly to his current batting deficiency.Chris Davis (Stance)

Since “margins-of-error” include mental as well as physical habits that detract from mechanical efficiency for batting prowess, both the pitchers’ and his mind-sets have been rearranged to favor the pitchers. Last year, his mental inclination to “look away” for both fast and breaking pitches (since his “open-stance” had him moving or leaning toward the plate), and respond quickly to a fast-ball on the inside or over the heart of the plate, proved itself as an effective strategy to compliment his positive physical attributes. This year, as the pitchers have found the “chinks” in his armor, his mental alertness is not as keen to detect the pitchers’ tendencies to “jam” him inside after they’ve induced him to foul both fast and breaking pitches away. His rhythm has been confused to the point of pulling the outside pitch for easy ground-balls to an over-shifted right-side of the infield, and is striking out on balls in the dirt. In his right mental attitude, he waits more patiently on the pitch moving away from him and goes with the pitch to the left side of the field.

Chris Davis could be the next “Barry Bonds” without steroids, C.Davis 7Barry Bonds 11just as Shawn Green Shawn Green 2could have been the next “Ted Williams”. ted_williams_ bat route

Chris has the raw-strength and majestically powerful swing of Bonds, while Shawn displayed, to a degree, the “splendid” finesse and wiry, slender grace and batting elegance of Williams. Unfortunately, at least one is harbinger to that inauspicious epithet of “greatness forlorn”. In Shawn Green’s day, Baseball didn’t have acute access to the Saber-metric approach to evaluating all the subtle accommodations to batting (as well as pitching) proclivities, so Shawn had a somewhat illustrious career until the “Book” came out on his simple deficiencies.

When he finished his career, after the Dodgers, in 2007, at age 34, he was still the same physical (and mental) specimen that he had been for years, strong, wiry, and potentially potent – His lone foible, his unwillingness to  change his approach to the pitched ball. He insisted (until the end) on Standing Tall, in Open-Stance, while gliding toward the plateShawn Green 3, even with all pitchers now jamming him with inside fast-balls, and catching him off-balance on soft pitches away. He could have been the Next Ted Williams!TedWilliamsShortSwing3

 

Coming Soon: Why Shawn Green wasn’t the next Ted Williams, and how Chris Davis could be the next Barry Bonds (without steroids)!

Major-League Batting Crisis? – 2014

According to M.L.B. Round-Table, Harrold, Tom, Bob, Al, and Michael Young have decided that Major-League hitters are experiencing a horrific decline in batting proficiency, and batting averages, slugging percentages, and run production, and prolific strike-outs are the evidence of this profuse deficiency. Our astute analysts are at a loss however for the cause of and the solution to the dilemma. Many speculative theories were brought to the table, but none were convincing enough to attach any credibility to the apparent conundrum. Lowering the pitching mound, or giving the batter 4 strikes, or allowing a particularly good hitter the opportunity to bat out of turn in the late innings to allow his team a better chance to score base-runners that would likely not be driven in by a lesser hitter, are not practical alternatives to naturally improving the offensive capabilities of all players on the team. Basically, all Major-League batters are “good-hitters”, but simply not consistent. On any given day, they look like potential “H.O.Famers”.Kemp Front AnkleBut more often they do not!Matt Kemp 2

It would be better for hitters if they had only 2 strikes, rather than 3 or 4. strike-outToo many hitters watch a first pitch fast-ball (the only pitch in a sequence they could have hit) be called for a strike, and then swing at balls in the dirt to strike out, after fouling off a few. Why give them 4 strikes? So they can take the first 2 pitches? And make a game last even longer? Rather than let any good hitter bat out of turn, it would be more reasonable to add a rule to allow a second Designated Hitter (once both Leagues have the standard D.H.) to bat for anyone (a “regular”), in the 7th, 8th, or 9th innings (and rest of the game), who may be having an unusually “bad day” at the plate. (Matt Stairs might have enjoyed longer career.) All this predicated, of course, on Pitchers not objecting to the additional burden placed on them.

It’s only a matter of time before the “dinosaurs” of the past glory will be replaced by the initiators of present and future ingenuity. The “Designated Hitter” was only the first in a series of innovative consequences to creative thinking that has heightened the prospect of enhancing the flavor of the game. Inter-league action, and Three-Division Play have subsequently stimulated increased fan-interest (and record-breaking attendance), and the ultimately exciting Pennant Races.

Baseball’s intelligentsia could do a better job with regard to rule changes that would not only improve the game’s image, but also increase the fans appreciation for its innately concise and productive allurement. Past attempts to pick up the Game’s pace have failed in a substantive way. Fans want action, not just a means to hurry-up the game. The “Big-Whigs” are missing the point by forcing the batters and pitchers to hurry-up, and allowing less prep-time. Also, enforcing the “high-strike”, to force batters to pop-up or strike-out, is not what the fans want to see. Let’s speed up the game in areas that have real downtime. Intentional walks, hit-bats-men, and pitchers working the batter carefully to the “full-count” are three areas that defeat the whole premise of fan-appreciation, and add to a batter’s inefficiency.

Nothing is more boring, especially to the fan, than watching a pitcher intentionally walk a batter on straight pitches. Not only that, but imagine how a fan feels, after having paid 30 Bucks to see Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Ted Williams, Babe Ruth, etc, etc, and a pitcher intentionally walks them every time up. What a waste of money, as well as time, energy, and talent! The “old guard” calls it strategy. It’s like the “Stall” that intelligent people of Basketball got rid of long ago. The Intentional Walk has no place in modern Baseball! Just think about future Home run records if players like Barry Bonds had an extra 200 at-bats with which to work? How do you legitimately stop the Intentional Pass? Any player who is walked on four straight pitches should be granted two free bases, not one! Give the fans something more to cheer about, not Booo about! Then watch the increase in “Run Production”.

The “left” hand of the unacceptable intentional walk is the ever-repulsive hitting of the batter, by a pitch thrown at the speed of 90 to 100 MPH! Many times, it could be a few minutes before the game is resumed, after the injured player is either deemed able to continue, or is taken out of the game. Some times, fights break out and it might take a lengthy time to restore order and resume the game, under a hostile atmosphere, not conducive to good sportsmanship!

If the umpire detects such a pitch to have hit a batter “squarely” with a “fastball” (instead of just a graze or a breaking pitch), the batter should be given two bases! Just think about how fan-friendly those two rules would affect the game, as well as bring out the best of the players. Batters can substantially reduce the “intimidation factor” that every hard-throwing pitcher has had in his arsenal, and the psyche of every batter will be restored to facilitate better hitting prowess.

With regards to forcing the batters to swing more, what would be wrong with changing the strike-ball ratio to two strikes you’re out, and three balls you walk? Now, so many batters take the first strike. Then, they’d be more inclined to swing at the first strike they see (like in batting practice). This way there would be fewer pitches thrown in a game. Games would go faster, but with minimum down time (more action), and pitchers might be able to better preserve their arms. This could have the effect of improving defensive readiness; thus the potential for outstanding plays by ever-alert fielders is considerable. (It is most unlikely that strike-outs will occur as readily as might be expected because batters will no doubt foul pitches off.) And batters would be more ready  to swing and hit the pitched ball.

All it takes is a little ingenuity to reinstate the Game of Baseball to its former status of untainted Glory (as we kids played it). These rules will help:

  1. Constructively speed up the pace.
  2. Two strikes, and you’re out.
  3. Three balls, and you walk to first, unless consecutively, then to second base.
  4. A squarely hit bats-man with a “fastball” receives two bases.
  5. Make the D.H. universally accepted in both leagues (who wants to see the pitcher bat—nowadays, he can’t even bunt properly, and he could hurt himself – e.g. Kevin Brown, A.J. Burnett, and countless others. bunting14 (Burnett)Bunting16(Burnett3)(And perhaps a second D.H. in late innings.)

If our “slow-to-respond-to-change”  Baseball Purists feel that these antics are still too premature to consider as respectable alternatives for improving M.L.B.’ current lack of offensive productivity, then perhaps the practical application of scientific reasoning to improve the aptitude of many of our current crop of hitters should be given utmost consideration in order to reduce the batting deficiency-quotient now presenting itself to Major-League Baseball and its Billions of fans. In all of my essays, the standard principle I employ to improve the batting proficiency of those players struggling in the doldrums of slumps or general inefficiency is to “reduce the margins for error”. A “margin for error” would simply be any physical or mental habit that, in some seemingly innocuous way, would detract or distract a batter from thinking or acting in a manner that would normally allow a natural flow of mechanical efficiency in swinging a bat to make solid contact with a pitched ball.

The five most obvious (ostentatious) deterrents to efficient bats-man-ship are:

  1. A High Stance (especially when “opened”)
  2. High Hands and Bat
  3. The Stride (or leg-kick)
  4. Hands held below the bat-handle
  5. Intimidation of Hard-Throwing Pitcher

As most ardent sports enthusiasts already know “hitting a baseball effectively is the single-most difficult act to perform in all of Sports”. Why? No other individual sport-skill encompasses the variety of challenging variables that a batter has to “put in order” to be a proficient “hitter.” Along with physical attributes of strength, flexibility, quickness, balance, and coordination, as well as the mental accoutrements of courage, confidence, determination, and fortitude, the proficient bats-man must ascribe to a technique of proper mechanics that facilitates the most probable means for making solid contact with a pitched baseball in what is considered an acceptable proportion of his “at-bats”.

In professional baseball, batting averages ranging from .300 to .399 are considered high quality hitting, with an annotation of “superlative” attached to those that exceed the .350 mark or flaunt with the barrier of .400. But most ball-players fall far short of consistent .300 – hitting prowess. Natural athletic ability does not seem preponderant in determining batting proficiency at the highest level. All batters seem to have their own individualistic style for expressing their highest hopes of masterful bats-man-ship.

There does not seem to be a standard approach (“techne”) that would be considered fundamental to the purpose of maximum efficiency in hitting a baseball. Some players stand tall; others crouch low. Some hold their hands and bat high, while others hold them low. Players address the “plate” in either an open, closed, or even stance. Most batters take a stride, either away, toward the plate, or toward the ball. They tend to push off the back foot while straightening the back leg as the weight is either trying to stay back or lunge forward. Some hitters think that maintaining even shoulders while swinging will facilitate a “level swing” for effective line-drive contact. Others perceive that by swinging downward onto the front part of the ball, the bat will effect a “back-spin” on the ball that will allow it to carry through the air longer and farther. Some batters cock their wrists back for extra power, and consider themselves “wrist-hitters” when they exhibit fast hands while rolling the bat through the ball quickly. Some batters maintain loose hands and wrists while they are swinging so that relaxed muscles will propel the bat more quickly through the strike zone. And still others (like Babe Ruth) squeeze the bat tightly, from start to finish, and rely on the speed and strength of the turning body to impact the bat onto the ball with a force to counteract the speed and power of the pitch. And some batters place the bottom hand below the handle of the bat while others “choke-up” on the bat at various levels.

From the contents of the preceding paragraph, is it possible to delineate the characteristics that might lead to the creation of what could be considered the quintessential professional bats-man? The answer is NO! Ten pronounced characteristics mentioned in the foregoing illustration enumerate the “margins of error” that exacerbate the promising intentions of all prominent prospects for batting excellence:

  1. A “Tall” stance creates a large and easy strike zone for the pitcher, as well as proposes a line of vision for the batter’s eyes that transcends countless horizontal planes in following the flight of the ball to the plate. Chris Davis (Stance)The eyes that will see the pitched ball most clearly are those that come as closely as possible to the level of the ball in flight. Also, the taller the stance, the higher the center-of-gravity, the weaker and slower the body’s action, the lesser the prospect for a most effective swing, especially at a low pitch.
  2. When the batter’s hands and bat are held above the shoulders and head, he unwittingly has created for himself a higher center-of-gravity, which for all practical purposes diminishes the leverage by which the maximum speed of the body can be facilitated in turning the hips and shouldersAlbert Pujols 8. A low stance, with bat and hands held Albert Pujols 14simply at the level of highest strike, facilitates the fastest body action and appropriates the greater chance of getting slightly under and behind a low pitch. If Matt Kemp would simply lower his hands and bat, his swing would be considerably more “level” rather than “horse-shoe” in nature.Kemp Stance 7His and Pujols’ bodies are in perfect, low stances.
  3. Of the three stances, the open-stance is the most deleterious to proficient batting because it tends to force the batter to stride toward the plate and therefore makes him vulnerable to hard inside pitches when he is looking outside. Then, when he hesitates while looking inside, off-speed pitches away make him off-balanced. (Chris Davis of the Orioles is finding it difficult this season- standing tall, open, and striding.) Because the stride itself is moving the body, along with head and eyes, the movement toward the plate compounds the distortion aspect of the moving pitch.
  4. Any stride at all is a major contributor to batting dysfunction. It is useless expenditure of energy whose purported function of initiating momentum is overrated. It becomes counterproductive to optimal visual acuity, as the head and eyes move also. If the hips move forward with the stride, the integrity of the swing itself is compromised by the dislocation of the body’s “vertical axis”. Maximum power is impossible to generate while the vertical axis is not constant.
  5. Pushing off the back foot while striding gives the false impression of producing power to initiate the turn of the hips during the swing. In fact, the push-off impels the back leg to continue to straighten, the effect from which restricts the turning of the hips to their maximum. The optimum hip and shoulder actions occur only when the back bent knee maintains its same bent position as it rotates through the entire hip rotation. (ala Barry Bonds)BarryBonds_bat flatbonds - contact 2
  6. The stride and the push-off may force the body to “lunge forward” to try to counteract the “magnetic pull” of the in-coming fastball. Strike-out 3However, off-speed pitches will force the batter to hesitate by gliding forward on a bent front knee, affording no balance, nor power to swing because of the disintegration of the vertical axis, and premature turning of the hips. The hips should always be ready to turn quickly in a “turnstile” fashion, both sides in opposite directions, on the same horizontal plane, with the vertical axis intact.
  7. Parallel shoulders, while striving for a level swing, is a misconception of the ideal of good intent. If the shoulders stay level throughout the swing, at the presumed contact point the top hand will be forced to roll over the ball because the hips and shoulders have reached the limits for forward movement, and the arms will extend to keep the momentum. However, if the front shoulder is in a “shrugged” up-position, and the back shoulder lowered with a driving back elbow, the bat and ball will meet as the palm of the top-hand is facing upward. The horizontal rotation of the hips and bent back knee preclude any possibility of an upper-cut swing, as long as the front upper arm is in contact with the chest.Barry Bonds 4
  8. Swinging downward onto a downward moving pitched-ball is more often counterproductive to efficient bats-man-ship than it is productive. michael-jordan 3The pitcher is on a mound almost a foot above the plane that the batter is on. Every pitch is moving downward into the strike zone. If a batter with good eyesight and good coordination strikes downward onto the pitched ball, his athletic ability will probably enact solid contact a high percentage of times. Solid contact in those instances will result in balls hit on the ground. (Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield are examples of such a hitter.) The “best of hitters” is not merely one who makes solid contact with the ball. But rather, he is a batter whose body mechanics facilitate the action of the swinging bat to contact and continue through the ball at an angle that provides for a straight (non-hooking or slicing) and ascending “line-drive.” The “Art” of hitting a baseball could certainly be defined in the context of describing the ideal hitter– “He is one whose bat most consistently contacts and drives through the ball in a manner that facilitates a straight and ascending “line-drive”. Barry Bonds 17(To hit the ball in any other manner would be to miss-hit it.)
  9. “Cocked-wrists” may deceive the batter into thinking he will have a stronger swing because of the extra action he expects to have at the “contact–point”. The extra action is counterproductive because the timing mechanism to produce a synergistic display is unreliable at best. Also, neither “cocked forward” nor “cocked backward” is the strongest position for the wrists to be in. Straight and stiff is the strong position of hands and wrists for swinging a bat, as it is for a Karate punch. What would happen if you punched a “bag” with wrist and hand cocked in either the forward of backward position? Right! Remember, the power of the swing comes from the body. But if the hands are not in their strongest position on the bat at contact, the ball will impact the bat more effectively than the bat will impact the ball; and the pitcher will win that battle.
  10. Relaxed hands to begin and tight hands to finish through the “contact point” is a good rule to follow. With continued “loose-hands” through the “contact”, the ball controls the bat. But if a tight grip occurs at “contact”, the ball will sound and feel like a golf- ball. The bat should be gripped with the strongest part of the hand, not in the fingers.
  11. The two greatest hitters in Baseball history never held their hands over the bat handle’s knob. williams.bat (1)Ted Williams' gripBarryBonds_bat flat barry_bonds_1992_piratesBut all current “wanna-be” power-hitters think that they get better leverage to hit the ball better and farther by draping their last fingers over the knob. Hanley Ramirez 7yasiel 2Baseball is a game of “inches”, in general. But with regard to  hitting a baseball, “micro-measures” would determine the microscopic “margins for error” that distinguish the elite hitter from the ordinary. The unscientific hitter doesn’t realize that the extra weight at the upper end of his bat, as he is swinging (especially at an outside pitch), is the very reason he consistently fouls “his-pitch” straight back or to the “off-side”when he could have hit it squarely had his hands been slightly up on the bat handle. How often does a “good-swing” go for naught as the “bat-head” is simply too far under the ball as the bat is angled too sharply toward the ground. A higher percentage of solid contact will occur when the bat is more parallel to the ground Mark McGwire 3williams.batthan when it is more perpendicular. yasiel Puig 1(A batter in a high stance is more apt to swing at low pitches with an exaggerated “perpendicular” slant to his swing while the bat of a batter in a crouch will be more “parallel” to the ground)

 

The “Premier Batting Principle” is based on the perfect application and integration of following components:

1. Balance and stability of the stance.

2. Security for undisturbed visual acuity.

3. Self-contained power source.

4. Balance and stability from start to finish of swing.

 

A low center of gravity can be established by spreading the feet to the width of one’s normal stride, and bending the knees as low as can accommodate comfort and quickness. This strong base affords the batter the fastest possible reaction time for a twisting body to respond to any variation of pitched balls. One of the most prominent features of a low stance is the obvious advantage the batter has with the establishment of a smaller strike zone.Bonds -stanceBarry Bonds 2Barry Bonds 8Barry  Bonds 9

 

With the low-wide stance, the batter is in an “ultra-stationary” position, from which to view the pitched ball with a minimum of distortion. Joe Morgan1As a tennis player, receiving serve, is bent over and down as low as he can, to see the speeding ball on as close to a parallel level to the eyes as possible, so the batter, in a low stance, views the pitched ball with most clarity.Tennis 1

 

With the body already in a stable and powerful position, from which to initiate the action of the swing, the only preliminary movement needed by the batter, as the pitcher is delivering the ball, is to brace himself (or “gather”). From there he awaits the arrival of the ball into the striking “zone.” The gathering simply implies that the body is twisting or coiling slightly in the direction toward the catcher, bringing the hands to a position just beyond the back shoulder, making ready to spring forward as the ball comes to the plate. The “coiling” is initiated by the front knee turning inwardly off a pivoting big toe. Sporting News MLB Baseball CollectionWhile the back foot is anchored flat, the weight of the body is centered from the upper abdomen to the ground directly between both bent knees. The hips and shoulders follow the backward rotation of the twisting torso (the body never leaning backward with any concentration of weight on the back leg – the “buttocks” looks to be sitting on a high stool). The entire action of the backward twisting and subsequent forward explosion in the opposite direction, as the swing takes place, occurs while the head remains stationary and the eyes still, focusing on the ball.ted_williams_ bat route

 

After the swing has been completed, every part of the body will have rotated around and under the “fixed” head. TedWilliamsShortSwing2Ted Williams' follow throughThe height level of the batter at the end of the swing should be the same as it was at the beginning. Stability and balance at the end is as important as at the beginning. This order procures maximum efficiency for the sensitive guidance system which the eyes and head provide to the forces of the body.

Coming Soon: There are No Bad – Hitters in Major-League Baseball!

Is the Team Equal, or Greater, than the Sum of Its Parts? Part 3 of 3

The Game of Baseball is the ultimate in sports activity! To all participants, players or fans, its unique simplicity conveys a human drama, and then reveals and resolves the contrasting complexities that would elicit trauma from life’s uncertain circumstances.“Could mere human contrivance order such preciseness, from the tri-hedral dimensions of the field of play, to the definitive specifications and range of intricate function for the designated participants?” Socrates (from Plato and Socrates: Baseball’s Wisest Fans – by John F. Paciorek)IMG_1217Socrates and Plato

In Baseball the singular concepts of individual and collective (team) excellence are intertwined masterfully. And the team that embodies such synergistic essence and complies with the highest standard of personal and collective excellence produces a “Championship” quality. The proficiency of each player on offense and on defense will determine his individual worth. And the excellence towards which he strives for himself and his team will endear him to his mates and adoring fans. As each player accomplishes his own mastery, the team itself should be beneficiary to the product of a collectively successful enterprise. And each player should also become beneficiary to the collective worth of the team.

The genius of Baseball is in its ability to promote individual excellence while cultivating the collective aspiration to a noble goal. This dual purpose can only be applauded for enhancing the prospect of continuous, enthusiastic hope by all participants, both active and vicarious. Every individual player is innately humbled by an awareness that his own vain and tenacious effort for personal glory pales in comparison to the satisfaction of attaining the triumphal exhilaration of a “Team” victory. When the team wins, against an overwhelming performance of an opposing pitcher, the “prickly” sensation of a batter’s hitless night somehow doesn’t seem so abrasive. And conversely, the magnificent individual effort of one man (pitcher, in this instance) gives no solace to the individual or his team if the greater goal of victory was not forthcoming.

In Baseball, the adage, “one for all, and all for one” rings true in the hearts and minds of these “9-25 Musketeers”, with their collectively idealistic sense of purpose. It would be difficult to exalt any particular fielding or batting position above another, in rank or prestige, for it is incumbent upon each to perform suitably as various game circumstances present themselves. A quote from A Course in Miracles reads as follows: “If different abilities are applied long enough to one goal the abilities themselves become unified, and a unified goal is accomplished”. The essence of metaphysically inspired thought would more than imply that “the Whole (Oneness) is greater than the sum of individual parts”.

Early in this essay the author denoted that those categories in which there are noticeable differences in abilities are: Batting and Pitching. What is it that would determine the highest level of consistent proficiency for which every player and team would certainly aspire to attain?Barry&TedNolanRyan 16Masahiro-Tanaka 3

Ted Williams said it best for all of us who have ever played the game of Baseball, as well as participated in other forms of athletics, “hitting a baseball is the single-most difficult thing to do in all of sports.” No other individual sport-skill encompasses the variety of challenging variables that a batter has to “put in order” to be a proficient “hitter.” It takes physical strength, flexibility, quickness, and timing, as well as the mental attributes of courage, confidence, determination, fortitude, for even the least skilled professional to “stand-in” against a 95 M.P.H. fastball, 85+slider, and a variety of “off-speed” multiples.

Now, to become a consistently outstanding hitter, an individual must develop all the aforementioned characteristics, as well as ascribe to a technique of proper mechanics which facilitates the most probable means of making solid contact with a pitched baseball. And, of course solid contact would have to involve more than just striking the ball squarely with the bat! A player could hit the ball squarely off the bat, and merely hit a bouncing ball or even a hard ground ball to an infielder for a sure out. And sometimes he could hit a ball squarely, and launch a towering “pop-up,” or “hook” a wicked foul-ball.

However, the “consistently-good” hitter” is not merely one who makes solid contact with the ball. But rather, he is a batter whose body mechanics facilitate the action of the swinging bat to contact and continue through the ball at an angle that provides for a straight (non-hooking or slicing) and ascending “line-drive.” The “Art” of hitting a baseball could certainly be defined in the context of describing the ideal hitter– “He is one whose bat most consistently contacts and drives through the ball in a manner that facilitates a straight and ascending “line-drive.”(To hit the ball in any other manner would be to miss-hit it.)

Just hitting the pitched ball is not that difficult to do; hitting it with authority is what is difficult! Because of the myriad challenges a batter has to surmount while encountering the diminutive, ballistic (and frequently volatile), compressed, spherical projectile, most dispassionate and well-rounded athletes would agree that making solid and forceful contact with a bat to a pitched ball takes extraordinary, and nearly uncanny, skill.

The best hitters in Baseball either consciously, or unconsciously, ascribed to sound basics principles in their batting application. But even they should aspire to diminish the substandard quotient for presumable batting excellence, by eliminating those margins for error which plague every erstwhile (but ignorant) proponent for exceeding the 40percentile range of batting efficiency.

Two basic ideas have to be present in the thought of every batter as he contemplates the proper batting technique. First, he must fully realize the fact that every pitch is moving in a downward trajectory. baseball_flightAn intelligent approach to the ball would obviously have to incorporate body movement that would facilitate the flight action of the bat to be one in a slightly upward direction as it is contacting the ball on a line as close to 180 degrees as possible. Ted Williams - fundamentalsted-williams-science-of-hitting2Ted Williams - fundamentals 2Second, optimal viewing of the pitched baseball is achieved when the batter’s head is still, and eyes remain as close as possible to a parallel level of the ball, as the swing is taking place.Since it is impossible for the batter’s eyes to be at the exact level of any pitch within the strike zone, maintaining a low stance not only provides a batter with a more advantageous accommodation for the umpire’s strike-zone, but also affords him an optimal viewing angle from which to more accurately detect the nuances (speed and direction) of the incoming ball.

There are three basic components to the practical application of the principle of effective batting: (1) Balance and Stability of Stance; (2) Security for undisturbed visual acuity; (3) Self-contained Power source.

A low center of gravity can be established by spreading the feet to the length of one’s normal stride, and bending the knees as low as can accommodate comfort and quickness. This strong base affords the batter the fastest possible reaction time for a twisting body to respond to any variation of pitched balls. One of the most prominent features of a low stance is the obvious advantage the batter has with the establishment of a smaller strike zone.

With the low-wide stance, the batter is in an “ultra-stationary” position, from which to view the pitched ball with a minimum of distortion. As a tennis player receiving serve, a catcher receiving a pitch, a shortstop receiving a throw from catcher, and a first baseman receiving low throws from infielders are bent over and down as low as they can, to see the speeding ball on as close to a parallel level to the eyes as possible, so the batter, in a low stance, views the pitched ball with most clarity.

Although Mr. Williams was nearly perfect in his understanding and application of the principles governing the absolute definition of batting prominence, he was not altogether unflawed in his actual approach to an impeccable demonstration. The closest exponent of the perfect batting technique was Barry Bonds, who, in obvious ways, superseded the brilliance that Ted Williams embodied.Sporting News MLB Baseball CollectionBarry Bonds 3

Barry Bonds was capable of hitting 100 home runs and batting .400 or more, because he was closer to flawless technique than anyone who has ever played the game. His strength was incontestable, his athletic ability was indisputable, his timing was nearly impeccable, and his stance, approach to the ball, and fluid mechanics were incomparable. In the few areas in which Ted Williams appeared lacking, Mr. Bonds was pronouncedly adept (especially in his adaptability to strike at the low pitch, and hitting the ball with power to the opposite field).Barry Bonds 4

What was it that Barry Bonds did consistently right, that most, if not all, other batters do only sporadically? The answer is 5 separate things. They are the following:Barry Bonds 3thBarry Bonds 2Barry Bonds 10Barry Bonds 8Barry  Bonds 9Barry Bonds 6

  1. He established a strong low center of gravity while waiting for the ball.
  2. He greatly diminished the movement of his head and eyes.
  3. He waited patiently for the ball to get to him while he quietly lowered his hands to begin an unobtrusive rhythm of his arms.
  4. When the ball got to his hitting zone, 4 things happened simultaneously:

a. The front foot planted quickly and firmly—front leg straightened

  1. Front shoulder shrugged upward, while back shoulder and elbow drove downward (hands, while staying behind back shoulder, present a flat bat as the body was turning to address the pitched ball).
  2. Back bent knee drove forward and down, as hips turned rapidly
  3. The shoulders followed the hips in rapid succession with arms extending through the contact of the ball.
  4. From contact, through the straightening of arms, through the follow through, the shoulders were continuously flowing, until they (shoulders) had changed position (back to front and vice-versa).

 

If ever there was an “ideal” to emulate, as advised by Aristotle’s Nichomachian Ethics, and to form a generic “designation” for a universal application for batting a baseball, it would have to be Barry Bonds. Consistency of batting effectiveness (efficiency in striking a baseball) had never been more highly demonstrated than by Barry Bonds, in the 2001season, as well as in 2002—2004. Throughout his Major League career, accolades were heaped upon him for what seemed like a remarkable consistency for slugging the ball better than anyone else, at least in the 1990s.

It was neither strength, nor natural ability, which allowed Barry to stand out as the greatest exponent of Batting Excellence the Baseball World had ever seen. It was his masterful application of the basic fundamentals of Principle that afforded him the facility to near impeccable demonstration. He was the only hitter who came to the plate, and looked as though he should get a hit every time he swung the bat. I’m sure that even Shakespeare would exclaim, WilliamShakespeare-Picture1“O thou, Faithful Consistency, but by any other name, thou art Barry Bonds”. – And Einstein would concur!Einstein 2

Aristotle pointed out, that, “in order to begin a study of anything that would lead to the highest understanding and demonstration of its universal verity, one must behold an example of a closest facsimile to the ideal estate, study its admirable characteristics, and extrapolate from its obvious functional proficiency a common entity by which a generic standard could be discerned, duplicated, and possibly expanded upon. Excellence in any field of human endeavor is achievable to anyone willing to devote a ‘heart and soul’ effort toward mastering the definable concomitants to successful enterprise”.

All that, having been said, perhaps to enhance Aristotle’s injunction as to a generic standard of visible perfection, the Bible’s encryption would elevate the essence a little more: “Mark the perfect man and behold the upright, for the end of that man is Peace”.

The lack of collective commitment, in order to serve personal aggrandizement, usually renders the highest universal achievement unaffordable. A complete success would have to entail the fruition of the whole. One who would be a true leader of a team is he whose exemplary physical and mental composition complies with the exact nature of “team spirit”. He would be the embodiment of those qualities that would inspire others to appreciate the intrinsic need for compatibility and cooperation, in order to achieve a collective goal.

Barry Bonds definitely had the personal attributes (as did Alexander the Great) to inspire his teammates to their highest collective glory! And he also appeared to have certain characteristics that would have inspired others to emulate his greatness. But, in order for him to have realized his ultimate goal of capturing the World Series Crown, he would have had to thoroughly understand that each member of his team was as integral a part of that fabric of unity as he was. The tension of the finely knitted team fabric must not exceed the delicate bounds of generously enthusiastic applause and constructive criticism within a framework of genuinely compassionate camaraderie.

Any team, on which there is the preeminent presence of such a figure as Barry Bonds, is an automatic contender, and “front-runner”, for winning the World Series, as long as such a “figure-head” fulfills his multi-inspirational role of “leader”. Anything short of full commitment on his part would diminish the team’s chances for ultimate accomplishment. The Crown was already on Barry’s shoulders! It’s too bad that the catalyst for Maximum Success didn’t rest comfortably within the intelligence, courage, and personal fortitude that should have been encased between his crown and shoulders.

If the 2002 San Francisco Giants Team had 7 or 8 other batters who could hit like Barry Bonds, maybe there would not have been a need for a substantive “bonding” element to unify them into a cohesive band of “patriotic warriors”. S.F. Giants Team 2002But “they” didn’t, and suffered the consequence. The L. A. Angels, on the other hand, were a team comprised of good but not outstanding players, and no individual equal to the premier status of Barry Bonds. David Eckstein 1Yet, an intangible element of cohesiveness attended to their every fortuitous circumstance, and the “Whole” of their teamwork was proven greater than the sum of their individual parts – IT became the 2002 World Series Champion.David Eckstein 2Angels 2002

Applying Aristotle’s Principle to Pitching, Nolan Ryan would be the “exemplar” for all prospective “mounds-men” to copy. Nolan Ryan (4 composite)Nolan Ryan Pitch form 2He is Baseball’s greatest pitcher because of all the records he set and his ability to stay healthy for so many years in order to set those records. His blazing fastball, “off-the-table” curveball, debilitating change-up (in his advanced years), his “tactical” control and his competitive spirit were the defining attributes of his incomparable mounds-man-ship. Nolan Ryan is at the top of list of outstanding pitchers in Baseball history because he either consciously or unconsciously fine-tuned his pitching mechanics to a point near-to-perfection better than any other pitcher (past or present). It was the ultimate use of proper “mechanics” that not only fostered the most economically sound use of his body to control and propel the baseball with maximum intent, but also secured an unusually long career.nolanryan - MetsNolan-Ryan 1200px-Nolan_Ryan_17Nolan Ryan Pitch formNolan Ryan 2NolanRyan 13Nolan Ryan 8nolan-ryan 5nolan-ryan 15

There were some Major League pitchers who were bigger and stronger than Nolan Ryan, and some of them threw harder than he did. Nolan and JR RichardsBut there are very few who have had the mechanical potential to experience his longevity and injury-less accommodation. Curt Schilling, and Randy Johnson (who was tutored somewhat by Ryan) had the best chance to “survive and achieve”. C.Schilling 3C.Schilling 12Randy J. 13Randy J 15The common denominator for all three of these masterful mounds-men is the simple fact that none of them straightens his pitching-arm as he begins and continues the action through the course of his delivery until after the forward momentum of the turning backside of the body catapults the shoulder, bent-arm and ball toward the plate. At that point, the arm begins a straightening process that quickly and briefly extends it forward with the follow-through. The leverage that the bent arm provides diminishes the weight imposed on the shoulder and elbow, thus fortifying their strength to implement function with speed, control and optimal force. The lighter the weight, the faster the shoulder will rotate, and the faster and more accurately controlled will be the ball as it leaves the hand of the pitcher whose total body mechanics are intact.

If every pitcher would study the scientific principle most suited to applying the proper mechanics for pitching, there would be less injuries and more effective performances in an already highly esteemed and formidable profession of Big League Hurlers. Maximum efficiency for a pitcher includes the following components: 1) Maximum velocity (95 to 100MPH); 2) Deceptive Change-up; 3) Fast breaking Pitch; 4) Impeccable control (strikes, but avoiding the center of the plate); 5) Endurance (100 to 140 pitches- 7-9 innings); 6) Longevity (injury-less-enabling 15 to 20 years of peak performance); 7) Base-stealing deterrent (quick move to plate – no wasteful motion). Even Nolan Ryan did not possess the last attribute, but he could have.

All of the preceding components can be easily attributable to every single, able-bodied Big League pitcher of the modern era, if each would first subscribe to one critical facet of a primary pitching principle that differentiated “Nolie” from every other pitcher. The axiom would read as follows: “the farther the ball moves away from the body, as the arm is preparing to deliver the pitch, the heavier the weight will be to the stress and strain of the elbow, shoulder and torso” (not to mention “to the speed” of the throwing action).(FILE) In Profile: Masahiro TanakaMasahiro+Tanaka 16Japan v Australia - WBC 2013 FriendlyTANAKA 31

All seemingly conflicting forces predicate their individual successes on separate and independent interests. There is a “single” entity, whose ultimate and universal pursuit of “excellence”, could/would incorporate all the separate and distinct facets of “Being” into a legitimate and recognizable configuration of “sameness”, and ameliorate all sense of contradiction and conflict!  Only the unadulterated essence of “Spirit” and Its own universal application of “goodness” has the inherent capacity for lawful exercise of Truth in a world seeking solutions of/with/for peace.

The ultimate goal of a “great” Team would be to establish a realistic sense of “Sameness”, the spiritual essence of which proves the “Truth of Harmony’s Perfect Oneness”. In Spirit we are all the same; the differences in form should be insignificant because they conceal the sameness of content that is found in everyone’s mind. But, in what would be considered the “present sense” of things, some individuals seem advanced beyond their teammates, therefore putting themselves in the more noticeable positions of prominence in regard to garnering the more “prestigious” assignments in the field (as well as batting). But those players currently mired in the mediocre stages of development, if faithful (as a “mustard-seed”) to the course of action that soundly promotes a genuine enhancement of technique, will soon supersede their present ineptness with graduating states of comprehensible prowess.

Infinite Patience of an Absolute Faith will produce the “immediate effect” of what Einstein would have wanted to realize in his own goal for his “unified field theory”. But his “short-sighted- finite perception-in-matter” couldn’t establish the “insightful” true perception that reveals what the “miracle” displays by means of “mindful-forgiveness”. To envision for yourself all the attributes of a “big-league” player, even though those traits are not yet evident to “outside” observation, and arduously but hopefully to put forth a “heart and soul” effort to fulfill the destiny of your inner reality with “perfect-practice”, you cannot but raise yourself to new and greater heights of glory. There is no end to what the mind can imagine. Even Einstein exclaimed, “Imagination is more powerful than Knowledge,” for he knew there was a major difference between the “dream” and one who lives his dream. So put your mind to “Good-use” and see your true potential, and realize its fulfillment. Don’t be merely a “forgetful hearer”, but a “doer” of the Principle – “law of liberty”.

Beyond strength and natural ability, “mechanics” is the most crucial aspect for all the “field-designations” within the singular Field of Baseball ( It is mechanical correctness that determines maximum proficiency for batting, throwing (including Pitching), fielding, as well as running – to attain one’s own best level). Mechanical understanding of how one’s  body can be manipulated to exact the maximum force necessary to control the batting, throwing, and fielding of the baseball with optimum efficiency and power should be foremost in the mind of any player desiring to achieve his own best effort. And there are aspects of running that take into account the mechanical advantage that understanding and application foster for those who would improve speed and agility.

Anyone wanting to be the best he can be in any or all things he participates, must first find out the “principle” which facilitates the surest, quickest, and easiest way to function properly in the enterprise. To seek first the kingdom of Goodness is to apply the “Absolute Principle” at the foundational level upon which all other general principles metaphysically connect. But, a building is only as strong as its weakest link.

If your building is not as strong as you want it to be, then find its weak link. It is your right to experience maximum success. Don’t, for an instant, settle for anything other than perfection. But expect the highest results of achievement as you go through the process “most” reasonably adaptable to the “Absolute Principle.”

Coming Soon: Major-League Batting Crisis? – 2014

Is the Team Equal, or Greater, than the Sum of Its Parts? Part 2 of 3

The decade of the 80s would prove to be the justification for the Hope the 70s presented, for under Lasorda’s leadership Team-Dodgers won World Series’ in 1981 and 88, 4 pennants, and 8 divisions championships. And there is no reason why the Dodger players of the 80s would not have rendered the same admiration and honor to Lasorda as they did in the 70s.Dodger Stadiumdodgers1988

Another hallmark acclamation to the inspiration not found merely under the auspices of common Team Credibility was the episode considered by many as “The Miracle” at the 1988 World Series. The following are excerpts from my essay describing the subtle nature of heroic proportion (October 6, 2013):

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 Kirk Gibson did on October 15, 1988…

In late 1987, Kirk 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… 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 modest 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…

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… And 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.

In Game One, the “As” held a 2 run lead until the Dodgers scored again in the 6th inning. 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.Vin Scully8Vin scully6

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…  And Kirk realized an inexplicable surge of unwarranted confidence streaming through his consciousness. “But what could I do?” would have been the common query 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.Eckoak1988

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 his 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…T. Lasorda 7

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?”

 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. 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…

 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…

 Gibson’s impotent yet “frisky” at-bat posed a conundrum whose immediate solution never materialized. So, for Eck, there was only one direction in which to proceed! Gibson 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. 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…

 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 to flare a base hit that might tie the game. But in Eckersley’s mind, a game-ending out is all Gibson’s “gunna” get!

With the count 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.

Kirk looked toward the mound, then stepped into the “Box”, knowing he had all the information he needed. 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”, “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…dennis eckersley

“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…

 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. 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. Kirk Gibson - Watching ballKirk Gibson HOme Run TrotGibson2The 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 kirk gibson3after the subjugated leather-bound projectile did indeed traverse the height of the outfield fence for an uncontested, historic “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 might not have 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…Kirk Gibson - Rounding 3rddennis-eckersley-After HR

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”, but also glorified the presence of an intangible element of team unity that simply enhances the prospect for understanding that “the Team is greater than the sum of its parts”.   Vin Scully10(Tommy and Joe)Los Angeles DodgersKirk and Tommy (1988)

Coming Soon: Part 3 of, “Is the Team Equal, or Greater, than the Sum of Its Parts?

Is the Team Equal, or Greater, than the Sum of Its Parts? Part 1 of 3

Is A Team Equal to the Sum of Its Parts?

At first flush, it would seem natural to accept from Physical Science the commonly thought and applied axiom that states, “The whole is equal to the sum of its parts”. And a casual spectator or an ardent sports fan is usually in agreement with the notion that the team that amasses the most physically talented players has the best chance to win the most games and the championship of the sport for which it is assembled. But sometimes factors governing both “compatibility” and “incompatibility” enter the picture, and without “rhyme or reason”, the team with the most physical potential does not win as often as expected, bashbros2and the team without the so-called “super-stars”David Eckstein 1 sometimes wins the championship, or comes awe-fully close. Even teams with the usual positive compatibility factors are not assured of the complete success that would be expected of them, possibly due to injuries, or perhaps the subtle and insidious lack of understanding of what truly constitutes a mental attitude that would preclude all or any thought of failure. If your team is merely thought of as “equal” to the sum of its physical parts, it is not going to be as good as it could be. If built upon the basis of mortal imperfection, that team cannot effectively challenge the indefensible elements of worldly inconsistency (sands of Time and Space). As physical man is merely the outer extension of the larger portion of himself, what and how is it that each individual can perform at an optimum level of competency – beyond the resistance of mortal limitation?Deltoid_muscle_animation4

In Physics, a unified field theory is an imagined “ideal” that would allow all that is usually thought of as separate fundamental forces and elementary particles to be written or applied in terms of a single field and to ultimate into a “unified-equal- experience”. The term “unified field theory” was coined by Einstein, who attempted to unify the General Theory of Relativity with Electromagnetism which in turn would proceed to incorporate four seemingly distinct forces into One: “strong interaction, weak interaction, electromagnetic interaction, and gravitational interaction”, and eventually provide a practical application. From a solely “material-basis” it is impossible to form a cogent, unified theory from which to incorporate a singular harmonious effect because it appears that innumerable causes are influencing each other in contradictory ways to effect conflicting purposes.Einstein 4coaching 4mean baseball face

On a Universal level, all the components that make up the Whole physical world are the constituents of varying degrees of evolution and are derived from a Source completely “non-physical”, but none-the-less  whose essence projects and extends Its Intent for Infinite expansion into perpetuity. And in modest micro-cosmic order, the body of that which is identified as man is a singular “unit” of function, but composed of trillions of individual cells whose harmonious vibrational unity and cohabitation affects the optimal functionality of the entire organism. And what is it that determines the common frequency of vibrational communication within the cellular network to assure the Organism of perfect health and functionality but a seemingly “remote” and intangible Source from whose infallible intelligence can best direct and control the operation of life with inexhaustible and impeccable precision.willie-mays 4

On any team, it is generally conceded that “teamwork” is a primary consideration when evaluating the team as an efficient and proficient “Unit”. The real essence of that factor of compatibility from which any challenging situation may be reduced to a solution through cooperative endeavor is teamwork! Compatibility is a substantive alliance between two or more distinct entities to promote harmony. Cooperation is the only feasible means to procure and establish an effective sense of Teamwork!

Therefore, as it would be insufficient to say that “the whole is equal to the sum of its parts”, so it would be as imprecise to say that the “team is equal to the sum of its parts”, simply because the “sum-total” of all the constituents included within that whole, although integral to the verification of its Physical Completeness, does not account for the intangible and invisible essence from which the Whole derives the integrity of its own intractable adhesion, cohesion, and attraction. For, “that which is seen is not made by that which does appear.” Therefore, “the Wholeness of the Team is greater than the sum of its parts.”Unified-field-theory-picture

Now! In a professional Sport, as Major League Baseball, how is the Team “greater than the sum of its parts”? In examining this question we must first be certain not to misconstrue the ideal premise by implying that any individual can become expendable for the “good of the team”. A “sacrifice” bunt simply enhances the credibility of the “bunter” as an “integral” part of the team. Even a “sacrifice” ground-out to the right side of the infield to move a runner from second over to third is a selfless act appreciated and applauded by teammates as well as admired by the “opposition”, while the batter receives no augmented recompense to his batting average.

Even if a team executes perfectly the fore-mentioned strategies 100% of the time, it is highly unlikely that it will garner championship status, if that is all that the players have to offer. But it is equally as unlikely that a team capable of such proficiency in one area of the game could not be as capable in other areas. Once it is mentally affirmed that the Team is greater than the sum of its parts, how can this “imagine ideal” be made practical? When, and how, is it that the team is “greater than the sum of its parts”? When it (Team of players: individually and collectively) ceases to abide in the mental miasma of “imperfection”, and takes on the responsibility of “Perfection”, or at least to start from that Precise Premise – for Perfection is not only the goal, but also the “starting point” from which to attain its manifestation. Therefore, in order to discern the quality of the “complete” Team, it must first be determined what the qualities of the individuals are that comprise the quality of Completeness that constitute the Whole Team. (A popular “spiritual – hymn” beckons all to, “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with ME”. In order for Peace, or Wholeness – Completeness, to occur on the Team, it must begin with ME. The completeness of the Whole is predicated on the completeness of the individual(s). Each player plays an important role in completing the Whole, but will do so only if he understands how to facilitate his own completeness and enhance an expanded essence to the integrity of the Whole.strike-outstrike-out 10

If each player on “the” team was 100% attuned to the prospect (frequency) of Perfection, he would presumably perform his actions on the ball field with 100% proficiency. Since it is improbable that this degree of perfection would be likely to occur in our present realm of general relativity, what would be the “actual” probability if each player would at least contemplate the possibility of such degree of competence? His performance rating would be in direct proportion to his mental alignment to positive expectation of success. Strike-out 3If success is not evident in the face of momentous failure, this would be cause to ask, “wherefore didst thou doubt?” (This is the point at which a Big League team would need the services of a “meta-physician” to assist the temporarily “unsuccessful” player regain the confidence in asserting his significant right to be successful.) SEE ESSAY: Vision, Mechanics, Confidence – (Important to the art of consistent hitting is Confidence, an intangible element acquired through an absolute faith in the principle from which a batter bases his ability to produce the stroke that can be applied consistently in any given hitting situation no matter how the speed and subtleties of the ball are effected).

From a defensive skill-set, it would be very difficult to differentiate between the levels of skill of the “best” players at every position of all the teams in the Big Leagues! Fielding 2Rafael+Furcal+Los+Angeles 2infield 14infield7Fielding 1Those categories in which there seem to be noticeable differences in productivity rather than inherent fundamental abilities are: Pitching and Batting. With all defensive attributions seemingly equal, the team with the best pitching and hitting would be logically considered as having the best chance of winning. Randy J. 13NolanRyan 16But even in this scenario, if those best of pitchers and batters fail to be at their best in timely situations, it won’t matter if their individual statistics are the best in the league, and the team fails to win consistently, that team probably will not attain its ultimate goal of “Championship”. (Why was the overwhelmingly powerful “Goliath” not successful against the seemingly puny “David” when all physical evidence pointed to his presumably insurmountable advantage? “There is a spirit in man, and the inspiration of Al-mighty gives ‘them’ understanding.”)

Is it possible for a team to win the Championship, whose batters and pitchers are not categorized as the best in the league? It’s possible, but highly improbable, even if their fielding stats are high! Unless, of course, their hitting, pitching, and fielding prowess was at their best and most consistent in the most timely of situations! Could such a team merely be “lucky” most of the season? Not likely! And certainly not the best way for any Big League Team to hold expectations for success in the long-run. Consistency has always been and always will be the standard for which to be successful on the Major-League level of play (as well as in any endeavor in which Principle is consistently applied – in thought and action). But what is it that would determine the highest level of consistent proficiency for which every team would certainly aspire to attain?

Before defining the elements that would enhance the process of “Team-Building” in this modern baseball era, let me provide a practical anecdotal experience (or two), about which I had the pleasure of writing earlier:

Of all sporting activities (to watch and play) Baseball is still my favorite, even now-a-days, when its particular “rah-rah” fashion to evoke a pure spirit of camaraderie has waned somewhat. In the past, it would have elicited from all teammates, individually and collectively, an inspirational band of communication that connected all to each other in a common bond until the ultimate decision for victory or defeat was imminent.

As the game was played from childhood through adulthood, the constant chatter amongst teammates, on the field, or in the dugout, was reminiscent of the reverberations that stimulated the livelihood of all kindred creatures, from Humans to Meerkats. jeter18What’s missing in the Big-Leagues now is a collective reverence for the repetitious banter of inspiring incantations that continuously summon mind’s heart to display the emotions of passion, exuberance, and courage that will somehow manifest the jubilation and ecstasy that proceed from triumphal endeavor. Certainly this “irreverent” display is never to be witnessed in the stoic, immobile, or sometimes volatile demeanor of most contemporary “dugout” leaders. Traditionalist views of John McGraw and Connie Mack portray contrasting temperaments that elicited either fear or beneficence from the minds and hearts of the players attached to those regimes. But from where does true inspiration come? It should and will eventually come from within each intrinsically “motivated-inspired” player. But until such time, perhaps an exemplary figure whose embodiment characterizes the source from which well-being emanates will inspire his colleagues to supersede their present attributions and expectations!

On Saturday, June 28th, 2008, the Dodgers hosted a luncheon (and game afterwards) celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Los Angeles Dodgers, and commemorating the heroic players of the 1970s. My brother, Tom, was one of those players.Tom Paciorek2 His words, about what playing for the Dodgers meant to him, echoed the sentiments of other players present, including Steve Garvey and Bill Russell. In short, they all offered respect and great appreciation for the man at the helm of each of their careers, the man who was, and is still the epitome of what the Dodgers, and Baseball itself, mean to Los Angeles and much of the World.T.Lasorda6T.Lasorda5T.Lasorda4

There is no one who has evoked the childlike spirit of inexhaustible exuberance, no one who embodied the ingratiating extent of joyful anticipation and exhilarating expectation of successful culmination than Tommy Lasorda. T. Lasorda8“YOU’VE GOT TO BELIEVE” that every ounce of positive energy comes from the very Soul that created the Universe. And “YOU’VE GOT TO BELIEVE” that “I” am the very exponent of that Universal Source of Energy, the exemplification for all who find their way into the jurisdiction of my “realm of enthusiasm”. “YOU’VE GOT TO BELIEVE” that you too can generate unrestrained enthusiasm of a genuinely righteous Cause for success and victory.Tommy Lasorda3

It would behoove all Organizations to follow the “Lasorda” example, for his “yoke is easy, and his burden is light”. His great appreciation for the opportunities he had been given had only inspired him to give more of himself, and to demonstrate that he had even more to give.T. Lasorda 6

If you ever have been within the visual and audio range of Tommy Lasorda, as a player, spectator, or fan, you must have been impressed with the positive energy exuding from his very presence. If you were an opponent, you may have felt enraged, however unwittingly, over the inherent “edge” any of his teams held over yours because of their incontestable advantage, the synergy due to his unfair alliance with the “gods” of majestic vibrational harmony. “You’ve got to believe” is a standard reference point from which all players should start their day with all the enthusiasm they need to further appreciate the opportunity to live life with inexhaustible energy.T. Lasorda 7

Before the game on that Saturday, all the players of the 70s were introduced on the field, and received their just applause from an admiring crowd. But when the last dignitary walked onto the field of Dreams, a thunderous roar of Appreciation went out to the most beloved Dodger of them all –Tommy Lasorda, whose humble gratitude always goes out to the “Great Dodger in the Sky”.Tommy Lasorda1

Coming Soon: Part 2 of, “Is the  Team Equal, or Greater, than the Sum of Its Parts

 

Batting Prowess: What it takes to be a Consistent Major League Hitter.

Ted Williams - Power&SpeedTed Williams' follow throughTedWilliamsShortSwing3

Ted Williams said it best for all of us who have ever played the game of Baseball, as well as participated in other forms of athletics, “hitting a baseball is the single-most difficult thing to do in all of sports.” No other individual sport-skill encompasses the variety of challenging variables that a batter has to “put in order” to be a proficient “hitter.” williams.batIt takes physical strength, flexibility, quickness, and timing, as well as the mental attributes of courage, confidence, determination, fortitude, for even the least skilled professional to “stand-in” against a 95 M.P.H. fastball, or 85+slider. When all the off-speed multiples are added in, one might wonder why the Defense Department doesn’t make “Batting 444″ a pre-requisite for the highest combat-training courses.

Now, to become an outstanding hitter, an individual must develop all the aforementioned characteristics, as well as ascribe to a technique of proper mechanics which facilitates the most probable means of making solid contact with a pitched baseball. And, of course solid contact would have to involve more than just striking the ball squarely with the bat! A player could hit the ball squarely off the bat, and merely hit a bouncing ball or even a hard ground ball to an infielder for a sure out. Michael jordan 1michael-jordan 3And sometimes he could hit a ball squarely, and launch a towering “pop-up,” or “hook” a wicked foul-ball.Matt Kemp 16Matt Kemp 10Matt Kemp 2

However, a “good hitter” is not merely one who makes solid contact with the ball. But rather, he is a batter whose body mechanics facilitate the action of the swinging bat to contact and continue through the ball at an angle that provides for a straight (non-hooking or slicing) and ascending “line-drive.” The “Art” of hitting a baseball could certainly be defined in the context of describing the ideal hitter– “He is one whose bat most consistently contacts and drives through the ball in a manner that facilitates a straight and ascending “line-drive.”(To hit the ball in any other manner would be to miss-hit it.)Sporting News MLB Baseball CollectionTedWilliamsShortSwing2

Ted Williams must have been speaking for the Superlative degree when he made his famous, yet arguable, declaration that “Hitting a baseball is the single-most difficult thing to do in all of Sports”. Just hitting the pitched ball is not that difficult to do; hitting it with authority is what is difficult! Because of the myriad challenges a batter has to surmount while encountering the diminutive, ballistic (and frequently volatile), compressed, spherical projectile, most dispassionate and well-rounded athletes would agree that making solid and forceful contact with a bat to a pitched ball takes extraordinary, and nearly uncanny, skill.

The best hitters in Baseball either consciously, or unconsciously, ascribed to sound basics principles in their batting application. But even they should aspire to diminish the substandard quotient for presumable batting excellence, by eliminating those margins for error which plague every erstwhile (but ignorant) proponent for exceeding the 40percentile range of batting efficiency.Joe Morgan1Cincinnati Reds v Houston Astros

Two basic ideas have to be present in the thought of every batter as he contemplates the proper batting technique. First, he must fully realize the fact that every pitch is moving in a downward trajectory.An intelligent approach to the ball would obviously have to incorporate body movement that would facilitate the flight action of the bat to be one in a slightly upward direction as it is contacting the ball on a line as close to 180 degrees as possible. Second, optimal viewing of the pitched baseball is achieved when the batter’s head is still, and eyes remain as close as possible to a parallel level of the ball, as the swing is taking place.Since it is impossible for the batter’s eyes to be at a parallel level with any pitch within the strike zone, maintaining a low stance not only provides a batter with a more advantageous accommodation for the umpire’s strike-zone, but also affords him an optimal viewing angle from which to more accurately detect the nuances (speed and direction) of the incoming ball.

There are three basic components to the practical application of the principle of effective batting: (1) Balance and Stability of Stance; (2) Security for undisturbed visual acuity; (3) Self-contained Power source.

A low center of gravity can be established by spreading the feet to the length of one’s normal stride, and bending the knees as low as can accommodate comfort and quickness. This strong base affords the batter the fastest possible reaction time for a twisting body to respond to any variation of pitched balls. One of the most prominent features of a low stance is the obvious advantage the batter has with the establishment of a smaller strike zone.

With the low-wide stance, the batter is in an “ultra-stationary” position, from which to view the pitched ball with a minimum of distortion. As a tennis player receiving serve, a catcher receiving a pitch, a shortstop receiving a throw from catcher, and a first baseman receiving low throws from infielders are bent over and down as low as they can, to see the speeding ball on as close to a parallel level to the eyes as possible, so the batter, in a low stance, views the pitched ball with most clarity.

Although Mr. Williams was nearly perfect in his understanding and application of the principles governing the absolute definition of batting prominence, he was not altogether unflawed in his actual approach to an impeccable demonstration. The closest exponent of the perfect batting technique was Barry Bonds, who, in obvious ways, superseded the brilliance that Ted Williams embodied.Barry&Ted

Barry Bonds was capable of hitting 100 home runs and batting .400 or more, because he was closer to flawless technique than anyone who has ever played the game. His strength was incontestable, his athletic ability was indisputable, his timing was nearly impeccable, and his stance, approach to the ball, and fluid mechanics were incomparable. In the few areas in which Ted Williams appeared lacking, Mr. Bonds was pronouncedly adept (especially in his adaptability to strike at the low pitch, and hitting the ball with power to the opposite field).

What was it that Barry Bonds did consistently right, that most, if not all, other batters do only sporadically? The answer is 5 separate things. They are the following:Bonds -stanceBarryBonds_bat flatBarry Bonds 11Barry Bonds 12Barry Bonds 8Barry  Bonds 9Barry Bonds Follow throughBarry Bonds 1

  1. He established a strong low center of gravity while waiting for the ball.
  2. He greatly diminished the movement of his head and eyes.
  3. He waited patiently for the ball to get to him while he quietly lowered his hands to begin an unobtrusive rhythm of his arms.
  4. When the ball got to his hitting zone, 4 things happened simultaneously:

a. The front foot planted quickly and firmly—front leg straightened

  1. Front shoulder shrugged upward, while back shoulder and elbow drove downward (hands, while staying behind back shoulder, present a flat bat as the body was turning to address the pitched ball).
  2. Back bent knee drove forward and down, as hips turned rapidly
  3. The shoulders followed the hips in rapid succession with arms extending through the contact of the ball.
  4. From contact, through the straightening of arms, through the follow through, the shoulders were continuously flowing, until they (shoulders) had changed position (back to front and vice-versa).

 

If ever there was an “ideal” to emulate as advised by Aristotle’s Nichomachian Ethics, and to form a generic “designation” for a universal application for batting a baseball, it would have to be Barry Bonds. Consistency of batting effectiveness (efficiency in striking a baseball) had never been more highly demonstrated than by Barry Bonds, in the 2001season, as well as in 2002—2004. Throughout his Major League career, accolades were heaped upon him for what seemed like a remarkable consistency for slugging the ball better than anyone else, at least in the 1990s.barry_bonds_1992_piratesBarry Bonds Pirates 1992 (2)Barry Bonds Pirates 1992Barry Bonds Pirates 1992 (4)

It was neither strength, nor natural ability, which allowed Barry to stand out as the greatest exponent of Batting Excellence the Baseball World had ever seen. It was his masterful application of the basic fundamentals of Principle that afforded him the facility to near impeccable demonstration. He was the only hitter who came to the plate, and looked as though he should get a hit every time he swung the bat. I’m sure that even Shakespeare would exclaim, “O thou, Faithful Consistency, but by any other name, thou art Barry Bonds”. – And Einstein would concur!

Coming Soon: Is a Team Equal, or Greater, than the Sum of Its Parts? Part 1 of 3

Baseball Running

Running in Baseball:

Kid running 5baserunning8 (Baby2)rickey-henderson 6Robinson

Most athletes love to run! It’s the most productive way to get things done in sports. In Baseball, running the bases is one of the most fun and exciting parts of the game. paciorek runningSome runners are faster than others, so you might assume that the fastest are the best base-runners. As is the case in superior outfield-play, exceptional speed is a definite asset, but it doesn’t assure one of being an outstanding base-runner. The “good” or “great” base-runner is he who is determined to make something positive happen when he makes ball-contact at the plate or is already on base. His is a totally “greedy” attitude, from which resonates the obvious message that “to him belongs sole possession of each and every base he makes the effort to encounter.” When he hits a routine grounder which he immediately senses is playable by a fielder, he is already in full-sprint, hoping for even the slightest hint of a miss-play that would afford him the base by default. Fielding 3In some situations, when a fielder knows of the intensity of such runners, his thought becomes preoccupied with that aggressiveness and rushes his own actions with a resultant error. (Pete Rose and Bryce Harper are the finest examples to emulate.)

When players do the same things every day, all day long, throughout a long season, there comes a natural tendency to assume a certain mental posture on issues that seem common-place or routine. On the professional level, every player has been thoroughly “schooled” to appreciate the fact that nothing is routine — anything can happen, so expect the unexpected. When a batter hits a “routine” ground-ball to the short-stop, and just jogs to first-base because he expects the fielder to make the play and throw him out, he will no doubt incur a sharp rebuke from his coach and teammates alike if the fielder momentarily mishandles the ball and the runner is out by “a hair.”

When the “superb” base-runner receives a “base-on-balls,” he sprints to first base! Why? For the purpose of directly warming and readying his body for the new prospective confrontations (especially if he is a base-stealing threat)!

When the “great” base-runner strikes a ball for what is an obvious base-hit (to any outfield position), he automatically assumes there is a chance for two bases, and his first step out of the batter’s box is with that intent. As he is rounding first base at full stride, he is listening for his coach’s direction as well as visually contacting the outfielder and making an immediate judgment as to continue “in flight” or stop and “get-back.” If the outfielder “bobbles” the ball, the “great” runner could advance if he doesn’t lose any momentum in the process.baserunning2(round 2nd)

The “ever-aggressive” base-runner is constantly studying the pitcherRicky 6rickey-henderson 6(for clues to steal bases) as well anticipating the contact point of bat-to-ball, after the pitch, to get the best possible “jump” in order to advance, break up a double-play, or “get-back” on a “pick-off” or “line-drive. When the batter gets a base-hit to left-field with a runner on first base, the runner moves quickly to second, always anticipating an outfielder misplay. Very seldom is there a chance for the runner to advance to third, unless a “giant” mishap occurs. But when “it” occurs the great one capitalizes on it. There is always a greater chance to advance to third when a base-hit occurs to right-field or center-field.

A good base-runner never needs assistance from the third-base coach unless the ball is behind the runner, where he cannot see it. On a ball hit to center-field, the runner moving to second sees the ball in front of him. He therefore needs to decide for himself whether or not he can make it to third. Any hesitation at all will make the difference in “safe” or “out.” If a runner is on second, the runner from first must be sure the other runner is going “home.” On a ball hit to right-field, the runner on first has to be aware of five things before he can intelligently assess his chances of making it to third-base. First, he must know his own running-speed capability. Secondly, he must interpret the speed with which the ball will be getting to the outfielder (based on the quality of the hit– hard line-drive, hard ground-ball, or bouncing ball that just made it through the infield. Also, the position of the outfielder — deep or shallow?) Thirdly, he must recognize if the ball is hit directly at the outfielder, or to his right or left. Fourthly, he must know the strength and accuracy of the fielder’s arm. And finally, he should be familiar with the general disposition of the fielder (does he hustle?). These five calculations must be made at full running speed within a few seconds, but must always be preceded by a conscious thought of their possibilities. Obviously, quick thinking is equally as important as “quick feet,” in base-running of this nature. It is related that Babe Ruth was extremely adept at base-running where precision judgment of this type was required.Ruth_Babe Running1

Scoring from second on a base hit to the outfield involves the same thinking process, but relies more on help from the third-base coach. On a hit, the runner must anticipate being “sent” by the coach, and round the base at full speed, but be ready to stop if the coach abruptly changes his mind. With less than two outs, the runner gets his best “jump” on hard ground balls down the line, ground balls to the second base-man, low line-drives through the middle, and high line-drives over the shortstop or second base-man. The runner has to hesitate, with less than two outs, when the ball is hit on the ground to the third-base side, low line-drives (in the direction of a fielder), and most balls hit in the air directly toward or close to an outfielder.

When a runner is on third base, he is in a prized offensive position, especially with no outs, and can’t afford any mistake that could squander a scoring opportunity. He could score on a base-hit, fly-ball, passed ball, wild-pitch, “suicide-squeeze,” ground ball to “short or second” (if they’re playing back), or “steal-home.” Therefore, the runner must secure a “posture” that will prevent being “doubled-off” on a line-drive, as well as prepare to respond quickly to one of a few unique opportunities to score. With no outs early in the game, the short-stop and second base-man are probably playing back, while the third and first basemen are even with the bag. Any grounder to first or third, the runner will hold unless he’s quick to detect a slow “squibbler” to the far right or left of the pitcher, or a high bouncing ball off the plate, and his walking (side-shuffle) lead would allow the necessary momentum to race “Home.” A routine grounder to short or second almost automatically scores the runner, unless the ball is hit hard in a “low liner” that forces the runner to hesitate momentarily while the fielder catches the ball off the ground. When the runner hesitates, then goes, the fielder could have a play at the plate.

With one out, the runner is more aggressive. His “walking lead” covers more ground as the pitcher releases the ball. At contact, if the ball is hit on the ground, the walking momentum gives him the “jump” that will secure a score if the ball is routinely hit to second or short, or a possible score if hit slowly to first or third. Anything hit hard in the air, his first instinct is to “get-back.” If the ball is hit moderately-to-deep in the outfield, the runner will “tag-up” and score. If hit to “shallow out-field,” the runner should go part-way, anticipating a base-hit (then score quickly) since he couldn’t score on a “tag.” When “tagging,” the best of runners knows that the body doesn’t ever respond as quickly as the mind dictates, so he takes off a split second before he sees the outfielder catch the ball. This way he will be off the bag the instant the catch is actually made, thus getting the best possible “jump” on the throw.

Adept base-running calls for constant alertness, high energy, and masterful judgment. “Base-stealing” entails all three of the preceding qualities, but also includes the additional characteristic of honing the mental and physical reflexes to instantly detect and react to the first impulse that the pitcher expresses which indicates he is throwing either to the plate or to the base.

The runner must first assume the same posture that he normally does when he is leading off the base, or he runs the risk of “telegraphing” his intentions. A low center-of-gravity is requisite in order for the body to be in position to get the quickest possible jump on the pitch. When the moment to respond occurs, the runner’s feet are spread comfortably, with the right foot slightly below the left and toes pointed slightly toward the on-coming base. When the explosive burst of the first step occurs, this position makes it easier for the body to transition into running directly toward the base. It allows the hips to “open” quickly and the sprint to begin.Rickey-Henderson-1

When the runner detects the pitcher’s commitment to the “plate,” his shoulders have just “shrugged” gently upward to brace the arm sockets to facilitate quick arm action as the “burst” begins. Two things happen simultaneously at this point. The bent right leg (from buttocks down to the foot) braces itself for the first power-stride after the initial turn-pivot-thrust of the left side of body. While the right side “braces,” the left side of the body turns forcefully inward, led by a darting left shoulder along with hip and knee rotating inwardly off a pivoting left foot. At this point the body is now in a classic sprinter’s position already taking off.

The initial thrust of the left shoulder puts the bent left arm slightly ahead of the body, ready to be pulled backward as the left leg strides forward from the powerful backward thrust of the right leg. As the first stride is taking place, the body remains low for quick, but short, steps. As the body gradually rises, the strides become longer as momentum facilitates the increase of speed.

With the body now in full flight and the base coming closer into view, the runner has to decide when and how to “slide.” Very seldom does a runner not-slide in a stealing situation. To avoid injury, it is wise to predetermine “I will slide.” Therefore, he needs only to decide when and how he’s going to do it, head-first or leg-first.

bryce-harper-sliding 1sliding 10There is debate over whether it is more effective to slide head-first or legs-first. The answer is determined by the position of body as the runner approaches that critical point when the decision is imminent. When a runner gains momentum rapidly, and his upper body is still leaning forward when he reaches the “critical” stage, he is probably in a better anatomical position to slide head first, since it would take too much effort to transition to a lower body thrust for the feet to go first. The extra effort would slow him down.

However, if the body has gotten to full stride and is upright with the feet ahead of the torso, then the “leg-first” slide seems more efficient. Most people do agree that the head first slide is more hazardous to the runner’s well-being, since head, neck, fingers, arms, shoulders, as well as back come into greater jeopardy as compared to the leg-first technique. So, it is probably wiser to learn to become a proficient “leg-first” slider.sliding 1sliding 7sliding8(Ricky Henderson, Lou Brock, and Joe Morgan are the prime examples from whom all ardent students of the Art of Base-running should learn their trade!)

Coming Soon: Batting Prowess!

Infield Prowess:

Infield-Play

infield 18infield 10Rafael+Furcal+Los+Angeles 2infield 9

 

The three major components in effecting the proper technique for fielding a   baseball on the infield are these: balance, vision, and power. As play is initiated, fielding readiness implies being in a low balanced position, eyes focused on the point where the ball would contact the bat, and the body responding to that instant with preliminary movement to brace himself in anticipation of the ball being hit to “him.” If it becomes evident that the play is “his,” the preliminary action sets the stage for a quick sequence of smooth, rhythmical, ballet-like movements that follow, in preparation for engaging the on-coming ball, as well as completing the play to its entirety.

An infielder establishes stability and balance to perform his task when his center of gravity is low. His ability to see the ball most clearly is determined by the extent to which his eyes are on a parallel level to the ball, and the degree to which the body and head maintain a stable vehicle for proper focus. Power is generated most effectively with the body in a stable, balanced position, from which all movements can be produced most speedily, and with a minimum strain to accompanying body parts.

Fielding 6Furcal 7San Diego Padres v St. Louis CardinalsFurcal 10

If the outfield can be a lonely place to play, the infield is just the opposite in that there is a more heightened sense of camaraderie as well as imminent expectation. Players are in close proximity to each other. They talk to one another. They communicate more easily. They don’t seem to have a great need to be highly creative; they usually have more action than they want or can handle. Rather than having to be “fast” runners, their effectiveness is determined by how “quick” they are in a confined area. They don’t cover vast territory, but must be extremely adept at moving laterally with quick bursts to handle “bullet-like” projectiles with the courage, confidence, and   agility of a “mongoose.”

Furcal 8Furcal 11Fielding 5Furcal 10

“Ballerina-like” footwork and the hand and finger dexterity of a heart surgeon typify the common physical characteristics of a professional infielder. There is one quality that no infielder can be without—Courage! All infielders have it. It’s never a case of one having more than another. It is only a question of whether or not he’ll “muster it up” consistently, on every ball hit, as evidenced in the occasional “Ole.”

The best infielders use every conceivable means to gain an advantage over the ferocious ground-ball that would like to “eat them up.” Fielding ground balls properly involves a physical procedure which runs contrary to every human instinct to self-preservation—to lean forward as low as possible to the turf while a hard hit grounder is approaching your position. It’s like going nose to nose with a rattlesnake. Now, the procedure is sound because it allows the fielder a sure tracking view from ground level.

Fielding 1Fielding 3Furcal 4Fielding 2

A tennis player returning a serve, and a batter attacking a pitched ball, understand the value of seeing the in-coming object on a parallel level. But an infielder has the added dimension of coping with the traumatic possibility that the ball could easily pop up and “bite off his nose,” loosen some teeth, or cause irreparable damage to his prospects for video endorsements.

Third and First basemen hold down positions referred to as the “hot corners.” Playing “even” with their respective bases, these two infielders are closer to the batter than any one besides the pitcher and catcher. But only the pitcher is subject to more hazardous ballistic encounters with a baseball than the third and first basemen. Since there are more right-handed batters in all of Baseball, then presumably a third baseman would be in possession of the hotter of the “hot” corners. But in general, the sense of “imminent responsibility” is the same, especially when the first baseman “holds” the runner.

While the choreography involved in fielding ground-balls amongst infielders is generally the same, there are subtle differences in “prep-time” (stance, as pitch is being delivered) between the “hot-corners” and “middle-infielders.” Time and speed are always of the essence. For obvious reasons, to be able to respond quickly at the “corners,” those fielders assume a “tunnel-vision” mentality, positioning their bodies with a low center of gravity with eyes focused at the point where the bat is likely to strike the ball to force it in their directions. The low positioning of the body is for heightened anticipation that the ball will be hit on the ground where the eyes are able to make more acute visual contact. Anything other than a solidly hit “grounder” is a welcomed sight to any infielder. The adjustment to “lined-drives” and “pop-ups” is minimal, hence nothingmuch to fear. However, much applause is heralded by all onlookers after a leaping or lunging third or first “sacker” spears a wicked “lined-shot.”infield 12jeter 16

The shortstop and second baseman can assume a more relaxed posture as the pitch is being delivered because they are farther away from the batter and have a panoramic view of the entire infield, which facilitates a surer sense of how the ball will come off the bat. If the ball is hit to either player, he quickly assumes the characteristic fielding position, body lowered and “face to the ball,” then glides through the ball while preparing to engage the “throwing mechanics.”infieldplay 3infield play5jeter 8

The rhythm which all infielders develop when learning to “attack” the infamous batted-ball is a defensive-mechanism established to preoccupy thought from petrifying with fear the mind of the inanimate body. It’s like reverse psychology! The more fearful you are, the more you must look to be fearless. Animated body parts unconsciously convey this message. No one is totally fearless, but a sense of confidence does much to deny fear its manifestation—hesitation, misjudgment, over-anxiousness, mental and physical error.

infield 19Confidence is enhanced as one becomes assured of his ability to counteract the undermining element that elicits fear. Quick reflexes of head, neck, and hands are the usual defenders against the perpetrator of fear on the infield—that little bolt of “white lightning.”

Being hit in any part of the body by a thrown or batted baseball is not an experience that most individuals anticipate with relish. In fact, there are many instances where prospective players of the “game,” from “little-league” to “college-ball,” decided to “hang-em-up” after being hit too many times (or even once). An outstanding 250 pound line-backer on a prominent college football team, who never hesitated taking on 300 pound line-men or powerful running-backs (or even a “Mack-Truck”) stopped playing baseball in high-school because he couldn’t get over the thought of being hit by that little white, 5 ounce, leather-bound projectile.infield 14jeter 11No sane person would intentionally subject himself to the continuous prospect of physical abuse unless there was a sense of tangible hope for lessening the chances of undesirable engagement. The only legitimate solution to “the dilemma” is a “skill-development” progression that affords an “inoculatory-effect” by decreasing physical intensity and promoting a build-up of resistance to the initial, overwhelming, mental effect that the image of the “Hard-Ball” projects.

Little-leagues” have increased enrollment recently by prudently affecting the density of the ball used at their lowest levels of play, to protect their youngest prospects from experiencing the debilitating trauma of hard-ball contusions that could curtail their desires to continue to learn the game. This “inoculation period” enables the players to develop the initial skills with less trepidation, and hopefully become proficient enough to counteract the effects of higher intensity in the future. Since “Fear” is what ultimately impedes progress of every sort, any tool that would lessen its effects could only be thought of as positive and promoting a better, more healthful learning environment for any of life’s endeavors (fielding ground-balls and batting included).

Ultimately, if you’re going to play Baseball you have to either overcome or cope with the fear of “ball-contact.” The “Seasoned—Veteran” has learned to “shrug it off” as merely part of the game that his sharply defined reflexes can help him cope with most of the time. The “Metaphysically-astute Veteran” seems to be able to overcome the physical trauma by denying that it has any affect on him by showing his disdain with stoic indifference.

At this point of considering the means to establishing optimal fielding prowess it may become evident that playing the game of Baseball at the highest level may not be for everyone. But the opportunity to get to that point and realize what it really takes to become a “big-leaguer” is a valuable lesson for which to hold enormous pride and appreciation for having gone through one of life’s human gauntlets that will no doubt serve one well in any of the future encounters with never ending elements of conflict.jeter 5

jeter1jeter 2JETERjeter-4

 

Coming Soon: Baseball Running!

Fielding Prowess: Outfield!

“Fielding”

Knowledge of the intricate, and the understanding of elements that sustain a natural order, make it possible to simplify/clarify that which appears complex/difficult. The Principle of Fielding will awaken in every advocate of the game an easy and simple means to facilitate proper mechanics necessary to improve his/her play. Simplicity is the integration and coordination of life’s infinite array of variables within the realm of understanding. By observing, studying, and gaining an understanding of the minute details of the specific movements involved in the specialized aspects of “fielding”, an amateur athlete can gain a greater appreciation for what it takes to possibly emulate the performances of an out -  Rafael+Furcal+Los+Angeles 2Yadier 5Yankees v MarinersIchiro fielding 1standing player.

The only way to describe the best of ball-players at his position is that “he makes it look simple.” Although it is not really simple, abiding by a strict discipline of simple mechanics, the best players have perfected the techniques for their particular positions through arduous, repetitive labor, from which the human physical endeavor eventually appears effortless and instinctive.

Outfield Play

What type of player plays in the outfield? What are the qualifications for being a good outfielder? First of all, if a player is left-handed, and a fast runner, he/she is probably a good prospect for outfield! Fast, right-handed people are also good prospects for outfield positions; but they can also play infield. You don’t usually want to “waste” a speedy person at First Base, unless he has extraordinary skill there, or limited throwing capacity. An outfielder must be able to catch balls that are hit high in the air; and he must also catch them while he is running at full speed. So, if a player is a fast runner, and can catch fly-balls and “line-drives” while running full speed, and has a “good-arm,” he has a chance to become a very good outfielder, maybe a great one.

K. Griffey 3willie-mays 4clemente_fielding 2JOsh Hamilton fielding 1ichiro fielding 3Yankees v MarinersKEN GRIFFEY JR.Josh H.4

 

Everyone who is a professional ball-player, and is designated as an outfielder, has good speed, a “good arm,” and can catch balls that are hit in the air (as well as potential to hit for average or power). The subtle differences, that distinguish the great outfielders from the good ones, have a lot to do with certain physical attributes, such as arm strength and accuracy, as well as running speed, and a highly productive offensive capability. But, the most subtle characteristic that distinguishes the “greatest” from the “pack” is an intangible element resident in individual “temperament.”

The Outfield can be a lonely, boring place for a mind that lacks a special creativity. A player who always needs to be closer to the “action,” whose sense of alertness can be stimulated only by the prospect of imminent responsibility, would be better suited for “infield,” where fielding opportunities are more profuse. An outfielder doesn’t get that many chances during the course of a nine inning game, so he can’t afford to miss “any” opportunity to help his team. Selflessness is a key component to defining the ideal “outfielder-temperament.” He cannot hesitate to expend his energy, in any situation, even when the play is obviously not within his immediate vicinity. It is naturally expected of infielders to be under constant anticipation, when a ball is played, because of the close proximity to both the ball and the base runners. But the expenditure of energy by infielders is minimal because of the close proximity, as well as the highly motivating “imminent responsibility.”

When a ball is hit to right field, most people would think that there wouldn’t be anything for the left-fielder to do in that situation. Even in a “Big-League” game, a spectator will very seldom see the left-fielder do anything, unless that fielder happens to be one of a small percentage of players classified as “a-great-one.” Then the observer will have the opportunity to witness the creative response that characterizes the unique attitude of a great outfielder. In anticipation of the slightest chance that a mishap could occur, the left-fielder races toward the infield and positions himself in line with the throw coming to second base from the right fielder. Maybe once in 200 chances will he be involved in an errant play, but he still responds in the same manner. It would be unconscionable that a mishap should occur and he didn’t back-up the play. On every ground ball to third base or short-stop, the “great” right-fielder is always racing toward the first base dugout hoping to recover any errant throw that might get by the first base-man, to prevent an extra base for the runner. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does the “great one” is always ready. To the mind of every “great” outfielder there is something important to do on every play. It has been witnessed that, on a drag bunt toward third base with a fast runner on first, while the first and third basemen were charging, and shortstop covering second, that an ever-hustling left-fielder sprinted to third base and received credit for a put-out on the runner racing around second to third base, thinking no one was covering the bag. Anything can happen in Baseball, and the ever-thinking, creative mind of the “great” outfielder is always on the alert that “it” doesn’t happen “on his watch.” The baseball theatre is overflowing with dramatic possibilities for every situation. The “great” impresario of the outfield relishes in new and unrehearsed circumstances while the non-energetic “daisy-picker” wallows in the mental miasma of tacit mediocrity. Thus the Outfield is only a dull place for the dull mind.

To reiterate, selflessness, high energy, and ingenuity characterize the excellent outfielder. Many are called, but few are chosen, or rather willing, to become supreme in that domain. Most would presume that all “that” work would have a detrimental effect on their hitting, so they opt to merely get the job done “well-enough” so as not to embarrass themselves. Every good team has at least one great outfielder. A great team usually has more.

How and where does someone become a great outfielder? The only place to prepare to be “great” is on the practice field, both before the season begins and in pre-game batting practice during the season. Ideally the “Great One” had the good fortune of being trained properly from his youth by a knowledgeable coach. Rare!

Although the primary tool to outfield greatness is one’s mental attitude, he still has to apply himself physically to accomplish the tasks for which he is acclaimed. Two specific and crucial tasks that every outfielder tries to accomplish and for which the “great one” is most consistent in performing are: throwing out runners trying to advance to another base, and making the great running catch that everyone in the ball-park thought was a sure hit. Both situations have a common element that all outfielders aspire to develop, but only the great ones seem to have perfected, that of getting the “jump on the ball.” Some of the fastest runners in Baseball could hardly be classified as “great ones” even though their speed certainly would have qualified them as eligible prospects. “The man who gets to the ball the fastest is not always the fastest runner.” Getting the “jump” is a skill that takes practice. The only way to perfect this sensitive skill is through patient and “perfect” practice. (You can’t do it by having someone hit “fungoes” to you.) The prospective “great one” plays his position and fields balls off the bat that have been pitched, either in batting practice or in games.

Batting practice allows for more chances in shorter time. Simulated games allow for a truer sense of reaction to the pitch thrown and batter’s response. The most astute learner will apply himself with the same intensity in batting practice as in the game until this procedure becomes more than a continuous learning situation, but an established insight and infallible instinct.

What exactly is “getting the jump on the ball”? The answer is, “. . . the quickest-possible physical response by the fielder to the ball hit off the bat.” Such response is heightened by the fielder’s pre-disposed ability to “read” the type and direction of the pitch as well as the disposition of the batter to hit such pitch. The greatest of the “great” have the uncanny knack for “taking off” seemingly before the ball is hit. To catch the ball after having gotten the great jump is a marvelous feat to behold. But the added dimension of running, catching, and then throwing a runner out at second, third, or home-plate livens any arena with gasps and exhilarating chants from awestruck fans and colleagues alike.Ichiro fielding 1Ichiro fielding 2Ichiro 4

When a runner is safe or out “by a hair,” there is usually one reason, the outfielder did or did not get to the ball as fast as he could have. All things being equal (all outfielders having the same speed, strength and accuracy of arm), there is no doubt that the time in which the fielder got to the ball and scooped, positioned himself, and threw within the same continuous motion determined the outcome of the play. An outfielder is not born with this type of talent. He can only acquire it through hard work. In batting practice and game-situations, he must vigorously approach every ball hit to him through the infield as one in which he “must” throw the runner out at the “plate.” He cannot practice starting fast then slowing down as he approaches the ball.

Only “Perfect” practice makes “Perfect.” He must strive to attain the most proficient “knack” for “scooping” at full speed, then manipulate his body to be able to throw powerfully and accurately (he doesn’t have to throw the ball each time—just get the body in position to throw). Half-hearted efforts will never help to attain the full status of “the great one.” It had been witnessed that a “once great” outfielder who, for all extensive purposes, had lost a major portion of his arm strength but was a master at charging ground balls hit through the infield with a runner at second base, was so adept at this facet of his trade that, since he was so close to the infield when he picked up the ball, no third base coach felt confident to send the runner, even though “they” all knew he couldn’t throw. The beauty of Baseball is that anyone can develop any of the specific skills of the game through hard work. And mental adroitness can enhance the sense of greatness even in those individuals without the best of natural ability.

Coming Soon: Infield Prowess!

A Star is “Born” in High School!

Although the Star Athlete (Ball-player) is born in High School, he/she is “conceived” in formative years and is nurtured by parents and preliminary advocates to a point where the germination process is about to be concluded and left in the hands of a supposedly competent  and respectable practitioner of higher mentoring – The High School Coach.Coaching 1Coaching 2jeter18

When the gestation period is over, and the rising star is about to make his illustrious debut into the clamoring “cosmos” of high school sports (baseball),  he’d better be prepared to encounter the visage of either a benevolent and “self-effacing” master of “Allowing,” Coaching - Adams2or a “tyrannical” dictator of inflexible personal intent. coaching 3Or maybe something in between! coaching 9In any case, such prospect’s first characteristic demeanor must be one of “appreciation” for the opportunity to participate on the “team” – if he expects to make a positive mental impression upon the coach he expects to impress with his physical attributes. The High School coach is of great value or he is a detriment to a star athlete’s quest to become a Big League player.

The greatest value of a high school baseball coach is two-fold:

1. To create an environment, physical and mental, that would afford himself and his team the best opportunities to perform at their highest collective level.

2. To allow each player on the team every opportunity  to pursue the course of action best suited to his individual abilities in preparation for exerting his maximum effort in achieving highest acclaim possible for the prospect of eventually becoming a professional ball-player.

Since I believe that any athlete who is good enough to make his High School Baseball Team has done so because of his love of/for the game, and has dedicated himself thus far without the benefit of expert instruction that could further enhance the achievement of his object of excellence, such an individual should continue to strive toward his ultimate goal of playing professional baseball.

In the seemingly unified “Field” of Baseball there are a multitude of “field-oriented” designations that comprise the scope of the ultimate baseball experience. These designations are aspects integral to the developing of an individual baseball player as well as defining the quality of the team on which each player performs. The designations for which all prospects to baseball success must apply themselves are the following:

  1. Throwing
  2. Fielding
  3. Batting
  4. Running

For each of the preceding “field-designations” there can be listed specific categories about which certain techniques for applying skills are incorporated relative to the “position” at which the particular player is performing his primary function. When a casual spectator wanders onto, or near, a “sandlot” field or park, and witnesses the action of a group of “ball-players” throwing a baseball, he doesn’t usually think too intensely on the proficiency level of those “throwers” of the ball. But an astute aficionado of the game of Baseball would surely recognize even the mechanical facilitation of a good throwing arm from a poor one, and the relative impact it would have at the fielding position of the thrower.

Each of the nine defensive positions on the baseball field has its own criterion for a range of competency to determine the proficiency of throwing effectiveness by those aspiring to maximum fielding prowess.  A player must be capable of throwing at least at the “minimum” range of competency, in order to marginally succeed at his given position. But what determines “full-competency” in throwing a baseball?San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinalsjeter 13

Beyond strength and natural ability, “mechanics” is the most crucial aspect for all the “field-designations” within the singular Field of Baseball ( It is mechanical correctness that determines maximum proficiency for throwing (including Pitching), batting, fielding, as well as running – to attain one’s own best level). Mechanical understanding of how one’s  body can be manipulated to exact the maximum force necessary to control the “throwing, batting, and fielding of the baseball with optimum efficiency and power should be foremost in the mind of any player desiring to achieve his own best effort. And there are aspects of running that take into account the mechanical advantage that understanding and application foster for those who would improve speed and agility. For the purpose of initiating discussion on implementation of a “rationale” for coaching and building a successful baseball team, let’s begin with the mechanical correctness in throwing a baseball.

Throwing a Baseball

Nothing happens in a baseball game until after the first pitch is thrown. Throwing a baseball, then, seems to be a very important part of the game. In fact, Pitchers (and Power-Hitters) are considered the most prominent characters in the game. The ability to throw the ball hard and far evokes a mythical aggrandizement from which legends are made. What is it that enables one individual to throw harder and farther than another? Are some people blessed with natural ability to throw better than others? It’s hard to say when and how an individual developed certain physical characteristics associated with strength, or whether he acquired some unusual pre-natal condition that facilitated an accentuated leverage point, to produce a greater aptitude for throwing! But two things are certain: it has been observed countless times, that the seemingly “gifted” athlete cannot reach his/her full potential unless the proper body-mechanics are employed; and the “not-so-gifted” sometimes attains a higher level of success with intellectual astuteness and the utilization of proper body-mechanics.

It is common to evaluate a player’s throwing ability by saying, “. . . he/she has a strong or weak arm.” It is incorrect, though, to assume that the power of the throw is determined by the strength of the arm. The main power source for throwing is the “Body.” The arm provides only a fraction of the power. From the coordinated precision of the movement from the feet to legs, to hips, to torso, to shoulders, to arm(s), wrist, hand, and fingers is the ultimate power registered in the “perfect throw.” Obviously, the player with the stronger body and arm, who applies the mechanics perfectly, will be more effective than the weaker player.Tanaka 4Nolan Ryan 8

The stronger the body the greater the possibility for a strong throw, as long as the application of the proper mechanics for movement of shoulder(s) and arm come into play. Unfortunately, the stronger the body the greater is the vulnerability to injury of the shoulder and elbow if the application of proper mechanics is not enforced. If the power generated by the body is complete, the torque action of the twisting hips and torso could be too great for a shoulder and arm ill-prepared to deliver the final dimension of the throw. If the shoulder is not locked into a position of stability, to launch the (bent) arm and that (5-ounce) ball forward at the precise time, the strain of having transported the spherical object from the point of origin to destination could have a deleterious effect on the accompanying extremities. The weight of a 5-ounce object doesn’t seem like it should have any major affect on the throwing apparatus of a strong, well-conditioned athlete. But if you think about the strain one feels in his shoulders, while merely extending the arms outwardly, away from the body, and sustaining that position for a period of time, you could see how any additional weight would accentuate the strain. Even more stress would be added, if you realize the extra force exerted on “those joints”, by the weight of the moving arm and ball. “The farther the ball moves away 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 into the forward thrusting position. (Nolan Ryan and Masahiro Tanaka are the best exponents of this “principle” as pitchers. Ichiro Suzuki is the best example as an outfielder. Raphael Furcal and Derek Jeter and Robinson Cano as infielders! And Yadier Molina, from the catching position!)Ichiro 1Yadier 2

The coordinated action of the entire body (right and left sides) provides the power for the correct arm movements to occur rapidly (and safely), and thus sustain a whip-like action to move through the “throw” like a wave of tremendous force.

On the Major League level of play, very few “Big-Leaguers” throw with flagrantly improper mechanics. Those who do, suffer the consequences, and the ill-effects are usually seen in Pitchers (but not exclusively), because of tendencies to improperly apply pressure to the ball in order for it to deviate from the customary “straight-line”. Outfielders and First – base men, whose primary focus is batting, sometimes relax their attentions to fielding and throwing technique. Throwing skills have been refined to a high level by the time a player makes it to the Major League, so the manager or coach doesn’t usually need to monitor any player’s throwing mechanics, unless a pitcher is finding himself in need, or if a catcher, outfielder, or infielder is frequently on the “D.L.” with a “bad arm”.

Therefore, at any other level of baseball, from sandlot to minor professional leagues, a manager or coach needs to constantly monitor the throwing apparatus of the players he is trying to develop. No young (or old) player can advance to the highest level if he cannot throw properly. In fact Hall-of-Famer, and two-time National League MVP, Joe Morgan, would never have even advanced to the “Big-Leagues” if he hadn’t made a considerably conscious effort to improve his “throwing” in the “Minors”.

The “Coach” at the lower levels (Sand-lots High School, and College) who aspires to lead a high-quality team must institute, establish, and reinforce a teaching/learning framework for individual development that includes a motivational apparatus for self-learning and graduated improvement. He can initiate this self-motivating course of action by first orienting his “students” in what Aristotle referred to in his Nichomachian Ethics.Coaching Adams1Coaching - Adams2

Aristotle pointed out, that, “in order to begin a study of anything that would lead to the highest understanding and demonstration of its universal verity, one must behold an example of a closest facsimile to the ideal estate, study its admirable characteristics, and extrapolate from its obvious functional proficiency a common entity by which a generic standard could be discerned, duplicated, and possibly expanded upon. Excellence in any field of human endeavor is achievable to anyone willing to devote a ‘heart and soul’ effort toward mastering the definable concomitants to successful enterprise”.

Is throwing a baseball composed of a generic component to which all prospective players could and should strictly adhere in order to properly promote the development of the correct mechanics? The most productive “throwers” of the ball, from each outfield and infield position are they whose technique is almost identical in their respective positions (at least in the “Big-Leagues”). When an infielder is making his toughest play (one that entails his longest possible throw), he will instinctively position his body and administer his arm action in a manner similar to all Big-leaguers under similar circumstances. The most conclusive example of perfect proficiency in throwing from the outfield is that illustrated by Ichiro Suzuki in his “rookie-season” as the Mariners were playing the Oakland “A”s. On a base hit to Right Field, a speedy runner from first was racing his way to what he thought was going to be an “easy safe at third”. Instead, because of the magnificent display of body-control and mechanical throwing efficiency, Ichiro “gunned-down” the exasperated runner with a perfectly straight, accurate, and powerful throw—the recounting of which has been displayed on T.V. Sports Stations and Videos ever since.Ichiro fielding 1Ichiro 1Ichiro 5

Speed of “range”, competency to receive, quickness to release, strength to deliver, and accuracy to direct the ball (to the intended base) are integral in determining the optimum effectiveness of the fielder – the latter three relative to the precise dynamics of throwing mechanics. For a short-stop to make “that” throw from “deep-in-the-hole”Fielding 6San Diego Padres v St. Louis Cardinalsjeter1jeter 13, or an outfielder from right-field to third base, absolute, correct technique is mandatory. IF he doesn’t come up “throwing over the top”, but rather side-armed, the ball will likely not be there on time (unless for an extremely slow runner). The “closest distance between two points is a straight line”. Therefore, “over-the-top” will facilitate a straight line, while “side-armed” will produce a horizontal/vertical arc that will likely allow the runner to be safe! From a close distance, a short arc is acceptable only if the infielder has no other recourse when he’s charging a slow hit ball, but to throw immediately from below as his hand touches the ball.

A coach who would portend to all his “students” that they are legitimate prospects with “Big-League” potential is more likely to get their full attention and cooperation to and with his deployment of a sound system of fundamental skill development than would a coach whose motivating proficiency will leave some without hope and willingness to aspire to any high level. Too many players at the High School and College levels “Know” that they have “no chance” of becoming a “Big-Leaguer”, so why are they even on the team? Most often it is because they have always been “pretty-good”, but either never had a “good-coach” to correct their “mechanical deficiencies”, or they were too stubborn to listen to that “good-coach”. Consequently, some coaches of mediocre teams have “stock-piles” of unmotivated students whose lack-luster performances are due to the fact that they cannot put their hearts and souls into what seem like nothing more than “High-School-Harry” heroics with merely a varsity letter for which to look forward.

In College the only difference is that some of the recruited High School “Blue-chippers” who turned down modest “Bonus-Money” from professional organizations are again the ones blatantly catered to with “pompous” disregard for fringe players who languish in virtual obscurity, left with only the “fallen scraps” from their masters’ table. Once in a while a “gutsy” individual is able to take advantage of limited opportunities and builds his own “resume” of consistent, team-oriented success until he proves to be “no-fluke”, and subsequently rises above the “crème of the crop” and provides a legacy to himself. But he probably would have had to do it himself.

The Best of coaches is he who does not “Cater” to “any one”, but rather to the collective sense of team-oriented “individual” development for all. In most (if not all) High School Programs, there is not found a single individual who looks like a “Big-League” player looks when he is playing catch to warm-up before practice or game. Before each inning, while fielding ground balls from the first base-man, hardly ever is the infielder simulating the movement and throws of the professional ball-player. All because he doesn’t have a clear picture of a “Big-leaguer” in his mind! That “amateur” doesn’t see or feel himself as a “Pro”! Why? Because he hasn’t reinforced his skills in the practice of simulating the actions of his “idol”- his “Hero”! Each aspiring “student-of-the-game” must become an astute observer to Aristotle’s admonition:  “one must behold an example of a closest facsimile to the ideal estate, study its admirable characteristics, and extrapolate from its obvious functional proficiency a common entity by which a generic standard could be discerned, duplicated, and possibly expanded upon. Excellence in any field of human endeavor is achievable to anyone willing to devote ‘a heart and soul’ effort toward mastering the definable concomitants to successful enterprise.” A requirement for all prospective “super-stars” of the “Game” should be to sit-and-watch at least parts of two “big-league” games a week. “The-Coach” can easily tell who would be the dedicated players on his team! Some prospective players that I have encountered never watch baseball games, on T.V. or at the ball-park, yet they want me to help them become “good” ball-players! What or who is their “reference point”?

After the “good” coach excites all of his players with the prospect of each becoming a star-performer because of their individual drive and determination to be the best they can be, and their innate capacity to develop, along incremental lines of progress, those skills necessary to emulate the “greatest” of players at each his own position, then he challenges them to methodically and arduously simulate every action of that “big-leaguer” when he and his partner are warming up at practice, before a game, and in-between-innings. Eventually, the positive “germinating” effect will “kick-in” and he, like a “body-builder” faithfully following his daily-regimented routine, will one day recognize a noticeably enhanced characteristic-attribution.

The ultimate goal in the mind of the “great” Coach would be to establish a realistic sense of “Sameness”, the spiritual essence of which proves the “Truth of Harmony’s Perfect Oneness”. In Spirit we are all the same; the differences in form would be insignificant because they conceal the sameness of content that is found in everyone’s mind. But, in what would be considered the “present sense” of things, certain individuals seem advanced beyond their teammates, therefore putting themselves in the more noticeable positions of prominence in regard to garnering the more “prestigious” assignments in the field (as well as batting). But those players currently mired in the mediocre stages of development, if faithful (as a “mustard-seed”) to the course of action that soundly promotes a genuine enhancement of technique, will soon supersede their present ineptness with graduating states of comprehensible prowess.

Infinite Patience of an Absolute Faith will produce the “immediate effect” of what Einstein would have wanted to realize in his own goal for his “unified field theory”. To envision for yourself all the attributes of a “big-league” player, even though those traits are not yet evident to “outside” observation, and arduously but hopefully to put forth a “heart and soul” effort to fulfill the destiny of your inner reality with “perfect-practice”, you cannot but raise yourself to new and greater heights of glory. There is no end to what the mind can imagine. Even Einstein exclaimed, “Imagination is more powerful than Knowledge,” for he knew there was a major difference between the “dream” and one who lives his dream. So put your mind to “Good-use” and see your true potential, and realize its fulfillment. Don’t be merely a “forgetful hearer”, but a “doer” of the Principle – “law of liberty”.

The student who has the dedication and yearning to be the best he can be will gain respect from others for his uncommon “work-ethic”, but he will not be congratulated, acclaimed, and rewarded unless he “proves his worth”. The Coach can be his “way-shower” and gently guide him along the “Path to Stardom”, but cannot do the work for him. The coach cannot always tell him every little thing to do. After his initial indoctrination into the “Art and Science” of “Perfect Practice” it is up to the student to take the initiative to strengthen and perfect his “enterprise” with tirelessness and consistency as well his own creative ingenuity. The coach may provide venues for promoting individual growth and development, but since there is no limit to what one’s mind can imagine, the student is invited to think “outside the box” and supersede even his Hero’s or his Coach’s expectations.

In Baseball, “Size” is not the determining factor for the success of an individual, whether for throwing or hitting a baseball. It is not a freak accident that Pitchers like 5 foot 8 and 9Billy W. 13 Billy W.13Billy W. 19Kimbrel 4Kimbrel 1inch Billy Wagner and Craig Kimbrel throw the ball as hard as 6 foot 3 inch and 6 foot 10 inch Nolan Ryan and Randy Johnson! Randy J.5And 5 foot 8 inch Joe Morgan and Jimmy Wynn could hit balls as far as guys almost twice their size. Size does not determine strength, but “correct mechanics” and reinforced thought and muscular integration with the synergistic movement of body-parts does produce the most energy for rapid motion as it is converted to power. (A similar analogy would be that of a Karate master applying the “focus” to his punch or strike.)

Aside from the apparent size differential, the four pitchers mentioned above have one   thing in common: When they begin their power thrust with the turning upper body (including the shoulder and arm) after the bent legs have initiated the power drive of the twisting hips, the throwing arm has already been locked into place at a position of at least 90 degrees in order to assure the fastest possible forward rotation of the shoulder to allow a quick moving arm to assist the wrist, hand, and fingers to propel the ball at maximum speed. Therefore, the principle throwing criterion mentioned earlier comes into play, namely: “The farther the ball moves away 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 into the forward thrusting position. It is only reasonable to presume that a bent arm throughout the entire action prior to the throw would be the most efficient means of facilitating a rapid, powerful, and “safe” shoulder thrust, since there would be less weight to transport to the “launch”.

It is widely accepted, from the “Big-Leagues” to “Sandlots”, that on the Infield the Third Base-men and Short-stops (I wonder how they got that name?) have to have the stronger arms because of the longer distance they most often throw the ball. Second Base-men and First Base-men don’t usually have to make as long a throw. But, obviously, it is to a Team’s best interest to have good – arms at all infield positions because of the few (and sometimes critical) times when a strong throw could mean the difference in a “safe” or “out, win or loss. In the Outfield, the Center-fielder and Right-fielder usually have more long throws than the left fielder, but the best possible outfield would be comprised of equal arm-strength for the same obvious reasons as well as to be able to inter-change positions at any time.

All mental facility and “character” being equal, the “Unified Field Theory-Experience” as applied to Baseball Throwing would essentially mean that all players in all 9 defensive positions would have the “same” ultimate power and accuracy in their throws no matter what their respective sizes are, based primarily on equal understanding and application of the principle of the “infallibly scientific art” of correct throwing mechanics. This phenomenon, if feasible, would be a comforting delight for any manager or team, for the prospect of interchangeable parts could be practically beneficial. However, the arena in which more differentiation of skill is noticeable is in the “designation” of “Fielding”. If all the players on a team could throw equally well, that condition may not necessarily transfer over to the “Art of Fielding”, either in the infield or the outfield. There have been infielders who began their Big-Leagues careers playing Short-stop (like Robin Yount), then moved to Center-field. And Center-fielders (like Bill Russell) who moved to Short-stop! Catchers (like Troy Percival and Jason Mott) who became Pitchers, while a catcher (like Craig Biggio) became an All-Star Outfielder and Second Base-man. Correct throwing mechanics (as well as batting skills in some cases) kept them “in the game” until they found the position best suited for them. Now, is there a “generic” component that would foster the development of all prospective team players to be equally adept in “fielding” all positions with the “same” proficiency?

Coming soon: Fielding Prowess.