We’re just starting out in the game of spreading new ideas (or, in this case, very old ideas long forgotten). What’s clearly against us is that we have no history in professional coaching. What’s clearly in our favor is that we have no history in professional coaching.
The guy who first insisted that doctors should wash their hands before delivering babies was put in a lunatic asylum. Our ideas, too, will have a “lunatic” quality to those who have come of age in baseball’s rigid orthodoxy: “Never hit off the front foot, get that elbow up, don’t spread your hands”… “Come straight over the top when you pitch, don’t step out toward the foul line, stride off the rubber as far as you can.” The trouble is that these seasoned warriors will also tell you, if you’re a bit shorter than average and hoping to crack the starting line-up or the pitching rotation, “Son, why don’t you consider soccer?”
Now, I’m over sixty-five years old now, and I have a mildly arthritic foot. I also have a Personal Pitcher that claims its golf-sized wiffle balls, when fired from a distance of 25 feet, allow the hitter the same reaction time as a 90 mph fastball. I hit line drives off this thing from 16 to 18 feet–and I do it using Old School methods. Okay, so the machine needs recalibrating… but still, I can tell that release-to-plate time is about the same as what I see in Big League games on TV. So how is a worn-out nobody like me able to have any degree of success at all in such circumstances? It’s obviously the song, not the singer (to cite an old proverb).
In other words, the skills I practiced for forty years as an academic researcher have allowed me to unearth practices essentially lost to us–rarely hinted at even in the few grainy, highly posed photos of over a century ago. I form theories based upon such photos, upon the very occasional newsreel, upon accounts recorded by observers (often annoyingly florid ones authored by sportswriters), and upon whatever remarks I can glean from the ancient “stickers” themselves. Then I test those theories (see The Lab). Finally… well, there is no “finally”, because I’m forever taking my results and returning to the drawing board in search of effective modifications.
How many professional coaches do that? All of them ought to… but in my experience, they present as a selling point the dubious assertion that they already know everything and don’t need to refine any of their lessons. The rest of us just need to shut up and take notes from our guru!
My son pitched four years of college ball, the last two at a D-II university. As a senior, he set the school record for appearances. He measures a hair under 5’9″ (okay–maybe several hairs). How many coaches do you think told him not to plan on playing in college during all those years of travel ball and high school? He made fools of them all by throwing sidearm and developing a killer slider.
We can’t guarantee your success: nobody can do that, in baseball or any other facet of life. Even hard work isn’t enough–not if you’re only working hard but not smart. What we can do here, perhaps, is offer a few suggestions that will allow you to channel your work in ways that make you a special player. Don’t try to out-do the big boys at the game that they play so well just by being big. Learn a way into the game to which their height denies them easy access–but which makes you a natural. Work hard after you get your head straight!
My wife and I retired to twenty-five rural acres in North Georgia, where I am working hard on growing fruits and nuts that could get us through hard times, if need be. I’m especially interested in producing foods high in antioxidant, because our toxin-soaked modern lifestyle would really profit from heavy consumption of these cell-restorers. While doing almost all of the labor involved in this enterprise with manual implements–the shovel, the hoe, the mattock, the axe, the swing-blade, and so on–I surprised myself with how well several Deadball hitting techniques played into maneuvering such tools effectively. The batsmen of yesteryear didn’t have gyms, and many of them were indeed advised against weight-lifting. That doesn’t mean, however, that they didn’t grow up performing complex tasks demanding thoughtful, balanced use of physical strength. They knew all about farm work (the Waner brothers), moving heavy barrels (Babe Ruth), driving teams of horses (Napoleon Lajoie), and many another such chore that teaches economy of motion and synergy.
My respect for these men increases with each year that passes. They have been my teachers. I would never lightly dismiss anything they said just because I happened to have before me, live and loud, another coach who “knows everything”!