baseball history, Deadball Era, footwork in the box, hand use in hitting, hitter reaction time, mental approach, opposite-field hitting, Uncategorized, weight transfer

Opposite-Field Doubles: The Reliable Generator of Offense

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Between constant sloppy weather and a nagging health problem, I haven’t had the leisure to create videos at last fall’s pace.  I greedily seized upon an occasion early last week, then, to make a record of the surprising success I was having right-handed with the rather complicated load I had mastered from the left side.  Though I’m a righty by nature (I throw and scribble manu dextra), I’ve been a much better hitter from the left box since early childhood.  When I call my Old School load “complicated”, therefore, I think it’s mostly so because, from the right box, I can’t readily get my feet and hands in sync.  My forward leg has to be very smooth in taking a little shuffle into the pitch (and, in fact, that forward leg is the right one from my smoother side).

Maybe I can make an indoor video (with the promise of another rainy week ahead) about the vital importance of coordinated foot and hand movement.  I don’t notice much discussion of that critical link.  The shuffling load, by the way, is a motion that we know to have been routine in Tris Speaker’s stroke—and I have seen filmed proof that it was used sometimes by Hall of Famers as diverse as Edd Roush and Babe Ruth.  It creates and channels momentum in a way that’s ideal for leading the hands on the straight, slightly downward attack into the ball that we promote everywhere on SmallBallSuccess.com as the essence of the line-drive swing.  To this day, it’s also not uncommon in cricket, a sport with which a nineteenth-century striker would have been far more familiar than are current sluggers.

Anyway… in smoothing out my right-side stroke more than I would have thought possible, I was obtaining so many sharp liners to the opposite field that I decided to start the camera rolling.  I captured a pretty good sequence.  The trouble was that I hadn’t quite thought out the theme of the video.  Me hitting right-handed?  Gee, what a thrill!  In my narration, I ended up stressing the importance of sticking with your repetitions in seeking to refine your game… and then, toward the end, I happened to babble for some reason that Napoleon Lajoie, Honus Wagner, and (a half-generation later) Rogers Hornsby all piled up huge tallies of doubles by doing what I’d just done.  (The first two immortals are #8 and #10 on the all-time list.)  That is, if you stand far from the plate as a righty and then shift emphatically forward into the pitch, so that you typically drive it on a low line up the middle or to the opposite field, you stand a good chance of placing a hit where the buffalo roam; not only that, but since your footwork sets you moving immediately toward first base, you get a headstart on rounding the bags and possibly going for third.  Wagner was also a triples machine, ranking Number Three all-time.  Even the not-so-speedy Hornsby and Lumbering Larry come in at #25 and #33 on the triples list.

I had stumbled upon a significant insight: righties who hit “oppo” tend to rack up lots of extra-base hits, though not necessarily home runs.  In fact, home-run hitters of the post-Deadball period typically do not add mountains of doubles and triples to their resume.  Mickey Mantle’s highest single-season total in doubles was an impressive 37, during his sophomore season; but his second-highest was 28—and this from a fellow who was among the game’s fleetest players in his early years.  Even Willie Mays, who admittedly sits among high royalty in career total bases, had one banner doubles year when he cracked the 40-ceiling (with 43, to be exact); otherwise, he reached 36 once and had four more tallies in the low thirties.  No, not bad… yet less than I’d expected.  Far less than the two-bagging success of Musial and Aaron, who weren’t as fast as Willie but perhaps used the whole park a little better.  (Musial logged nine seasons of over forty doubles; Henry’s career achievement in this regard owed something to his extreme longevity in the game.)

Ernie Banks topped thirty twice (34 and 32).  Home-run dynamo Rocky Colavito logged two seasons of 30 doubles and one of 31.  Roger Maris followed up his “61 in ’61” season with a career-high 34 two-baggers in 1962; except for that outing, he never surpassed 21.

What this says to me is that long-ball hitters, with their propensity to pull, are waving aside other extra-base hits to some extent and putting all their chips on Number Four.  Historically, the men who lead their league in doubles seldom have whopping totals in four-baggers; and indeed (to return to my main point), they tend to go with the pitch rather than pull it.  Wade Boggs and Tony Gwynn leap to mind from fairly recent campaigns.  Back in Deadball days, diminutive Sam Rice had ten straight seasons of more than thirty doubles—and I certainly can’t swear that he hit to the opposite field, but he was no powerhouse.

Speaking of “wallbangers”, Harvey Kuenn brings us back to the right side, and I do happen to know that he was considered a front-foot hitter who took pitches to all fields.  Harvey tallied over thirty doubles in six of his first seven full seasons, leading his league three of those times.  (It remains a mystery to me why such a stellar career suddenly went into such a steep plunge; anyone would have tagged Kuenn for Cooperstown after his first six or seven campaigns.)

On a whim, I looked up Julio Franco’s totals in this department.  At 407, he ties Ernie Banks—a surprising result, in that Ernie’s power was so superior to Franco’s.  And yet, I’m not surprised at all in the light of the foregoing discussion.  Banks was schooled in pull-hitting (by Ralph Kiner, among others) as soon as he arrived at Wrigley Field.  Julio was inevitably an oppo-hitter, with the bat cranked up far over his head like a scorpion’s tail (not the style, let me note, that we recommend at SmallBallSuccess).  I’ll always remember an All Star game when Tim McCarver, reacting in horror to Franco’s posture, remarked disparagingly that nobody could possibly get around on a fastball from such a starting line—and within seconds, as if on cue, Julio bounces a double off the right-field wall!  It never occurred to Tim that some hitters might want to be late.

Doubles win games.  They often clear bases, at least if the runner on first gets a good read and the hit is a genuine liner rather than a dying quail that leaves three fielders staring at each other.  Of course, they also put an additional runner in scoring position.  Superior to home runs?  Well, obviously not, from a purely arithmetic point of view.  But homers are generally pulled, good pitchers generally get the better of pull-hitters, and smaller players generally begin at a disadvantage in the long-ball game of hard pulling.  The oppo-hitter can wait on the ball, thus acquiring a better chance of putting good wood on it, and can also steer it deep into an alley where two fielders have to sort out handling it.  In contrast, the hard-pulled shot is likely to career off a near wall and straight to an eager throwing arm.  How many Mighty Caseys have we lately seen hanging out at first after their rocket careens straight to a corner outfielder off the 315” mark?

And don’t forget: the good oppo-hitter also has a headstart out of the box.  A lefty like Boggs (or our shuffling friend Speaker, the all-time doubles leader and also sixth in triples) plainly gets that jump-start; but it’s a rare thing from the right-side box, and those few who learned how to do it elevated their percentages quite a bit for making second… or third.

My video is posted here: Oppo-Hitting From the Right Side.  I listed it under “approach” in the video archive because, ultimately, that seems to me to be the most important lesson of the exercise: i.e., step into the box thinking “other way”.  I wish my thoughts before the camera had been just a little more orderly; but as the classic old baseball movie It Happens Every Spring conveys, you can make terrific discoveries from a messy soup in the laboratory.

baseball history, general health, off-season preparation, Uncategorized

Health: Diet and Common Sense

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The Grim Reaper’s shadow seems to fall heavily upon us just now.  There’s plenty of reason to believe that the single story bombarding us from every direction is at least somewhat manufactured.  (I’d be willing to bet that you’ve never yet heard the truth about Italy’s especially harsh experience of the coronavirus: how the Chinese bought several plants in the Lombardy region, where the vast majority of cases have occurred, and proceeded to import a hundred thousand of their own workers from—guess where?—Wuhan!)  Yet if we’re being played to some extent, exactly what is that extent?  Who can tell?

So you want to retreat, naturally, to some honest endeavor like sports, where sign-stealing is the worst fraud imaginable… and then you hear that sporting events across the board are being canceled.  The MLB has scrapped the last two weeks of spring training and pushed the season opener back a further two weeks: more time to brood and grow paranoid!

I have personal reasons (and, to me, much better ones) than an imported quasi-flu bug for thinking seriously about mortality these days.  My body betrayed me last month, and now I’m waiting around for Corona dust to settle so that I can convince the doctors to schedule a minor surgery.  I’ve been pretty good to my machine over the years, so I hope for full recovery by some time in June.  If I ever did anything that gives me pause now, it’s over-exposing bare face and arms to long hours of summer sun when I was “indestructible”.  I’m afraid we knew little about sun screen when I was twenty—or at least I don’t recall ever being warned about its advisability.  Ballplayers of my son’s age appear more aware of the risks and usually take appropriate precautions.  That’s good.

But why, oh why, do some of these same kids chew tobacco?  One boy I recollect from a travel team about ten years ago wanted his mom to rush out and buy some Skoal so that the scouts said to be attending a tournament would see the telltale circle projecting from his rear pocket.  Why have young people, especially in this game, still not gotten the message that tobacco kills?  My father and father-in-law both died of its long-term consequences.  They were “benignly” introduced to it during World War II by Uncle Sam, who wanted GI’s to have a way of chilling out when not under fire.  Why, though, do I continue to see a big-league stud here and there with a wad pushing out his lower lip?

Harvey Kuenn—1953 Rookie of the Year, owner of over 2,000 hits, 1959 AL batting champ, and manager of a Brewers team that almost won the 1982 Series (Harvey’s Wallbangers)—always had a big, juicy gob in his cheek.  He lost a leg to a blood clot and then, within a decade, lost his life to further cardiac problems: complaints not unrelated to tobacco use.  Bob Allison, co-starring slugger of some dynamic Twins teams in the Sixties along with Harmon Killebrew, would speak late in life to Twins recruits at spring training through a twangy, monotone replacement for his voice box, begging the boys not to stray down the tobacco path.  Yet still, after so many decades and so many painful deaths of good men, I see this suicidal behavior.

Playing hours a day under the sun already introduces a risk factor.  Why double up on the risk—why give the Reaper an extra shot at you with his scythe?  You’re not indestructible, believe me.  You seem that way now… but no one’s indestructible.  Not anywhere close.

Everyone on earth, but especially ballplayers, should strike up a close friendship with antioxidants.  They’ll assist you in resisting practically any physical deterioration under the sun—including the effects of too much sun.  Where do you find them in the food world?  Vitamin C, of course: oranges, tomatoes, cranberries, and also exotic picks like kiwis.  My information is that the humble kiwi packs about ten times the VC punch as an orange.  You often read of rare tropical fruits in the ingredients of energy drinks, but I prefer having the real thing on hand to wondering if I’m getting a significant dose of it.

Do your research.  Prickly pear cactus, surprisingly, are another antioxidant superstar. How in the world do you eat the thick, stiff leaves of these?  Peeled: I don’t recommend them with the spines on board!  You can buy them in most parts of the nation on the “Mexican food” aisle (labeled nopalitos).  Their slimy texture makes them pretty off-putting by themselves; but if you stir them into an omelet or tacos, they fade into the background while bringing out the taste of everything else.  True team players!

Gojis and blueberries belong on the list.  The former are quite bitter off the bush (and I have two very hearty bushes—they survive anything); the latter leave tiny seeds in your teeth.  Okay, so be a big boy.  Mix the former with something sweeter, and rinse your mouth out after eating the latter.

Maybe this is an old man’s shift… but I really don’t know why it would be.  I added seaweed pills (Seanol) to my diet years ago, and lately I have been including a new homeophathic on the market called Pycnogenol.  These are extremely powerful antioxidants.  Yes, we older types are more likely to be investing in such supplements… but maybe more young people would reach a healthy old age if they would consider doing the same thing.

Most of you know about broccoli and spinach… and, to be sure, they also have their diehard enemies in the “delectability” department, like goji berries and nopalitos.  A healthy guy might want to learn some Gordon Ramsay skills: some of these items, admittedly, need a little dressing up.  The age when men invited doubts about their masculinity if they knew their way around the kitchen are long, long gone.  I believe I may have married the last woman who knew a skillet from a saucepan.

I read an email literally minutes ago that promoted seasonings like ginger, turmeric, and garlic.  I don’t think any of these delivers antioxidants, specifically—but they underscore the previous point.  Nobody goes around chewing a garlic, or not in civilized company.  You consume such things by learning to cook: you stir them in.  My wife adds ginger to carrots, and I put the other two (along with onions, chili peppers, and curcumin) in taco meat.  Cinnamon has some great properties, too, that the young idiots who suffocated themselves a few years ago while “taking the cinnamon challenge” over the Internet presumably didn’t know.  For breakfast, I’ve lately been stirring cinnamon and honey in with peanut butter to make toast from twelve-grain bread.  It’s a little healthier than a Pop Tart!

Walking around chewing things… are you still hooked on that?  I hear that sunflower seeds are beneficial in some way, though they’re not my preference; and they’ve apparently nudged tobacco out of the MLB’s “spitting in the dugout” market, for which single achievement we all owe them a debt of gratitude.  Peanuts can give you a bit of a bellyache if you’re constantly working on a mouthful—but practically all nuts, of course, have some antioxidants to go along with their potent proteins.  Almonds are particularly recommended.

This is just me… but I like to chew a little baking soda after downing my morning tea.  (I picked the tea habit up in Ireland decades ago, and I’m now trying to stop over-caffeinating—it’s probably part of my prostate problem; but green tea is, by the way, another fine antioxidant.  I hate the stuff… but you can blend it with other teas that don’t taste like mowed grass.)  No more than with tobacco would you ever want to swallow a mouthful of baking soda: spit the stuff out after a minute.  But sodium bicarbonate was actually the best antibiotic going before penicillin.  It may have kept our great-grandfathers alive through contagions like… well, the coronavirus.  You don’t really think that they didn’t have such assaults on their health a century or two ago, do you?  Yet here we are: they survived well enough to produce us.  We could do worse than to study just how they did it.

Come to think of it… that’s my constant refrain on SmallBallSuccess.com.  It applies to a lot more than hitting a baseball.