March 1, 2018
Most of you already know that I consider myself an authority on basketball coaching. After all, I did publish a book titled Basketball Coaching 101(Amazon) – and that, by definition, makes me a basketball expert. Well, I have some news for you: I’m also an authority on baseball . . . and Modesty is not my middle name.
I became a baseball fan around 10 years of age. Not just a fan. A Yankee fan! I lived and died with them. Charlie (King Kong) Keller, Joe Page, Joe DiMaggio, Mickey Mantle, etc., were my heroes. I remember paying 60¢ for bleacher seats and sitting on hard wooden benches for a doubleheader in torrid heat… and loving it. I then became a Yankee hater and a Mets fan, and have remained a Met fan since the team’s inception. And during this time, I have watched thousands of games on TV (rarely going to Shea or Citi Field). The net result? You guessed it. I am now a baseball authority and qualified to provide meaningful instructional analysis on the game.
But what does meaningful instructional analysis mean? Simply that I can provide those involved with baseball at any level – manager, coach, player, front office personnel, etc., – with suggestions on how to enhance and improve a team’s ability to win games on the field. That being said, here are tidbits drawn from my baseball file on 10 different categories: infielders, outfielders, catchers, pitchers, batters, base runners, coaches, managers, general managers, and (of course) owners.
Each of the four infielders, but shortstops in particular, should be aware of the speed of the both the batter and runners on base. The infielders should play deeper, particularly the second baseman, if the batter is a slow runner; I would even advise playing on the outfield grass. The shortstop and second baseman should also be aware of a batters tendency to pull curveballs or fastballs and adjust their position on the pitch. The two should also communicate on who will cover second in steal situations.
Much of the above for infielders also applies to outfielders. Outfielders presently play too deep, particularly the left and right fielders. The outfielder should think and be aware of all the possible scenarios that may arise if the ball is hit to the outfield, particularly with men on base. The scenarios would vary depending on the number of outs, the score, and the inning.
Catchers should know the strengths and weaknesses of the pitchers and all the opposing batters he will face. Knowing the disposition of the umpire calling balls and strikes would also help; e.g., does it help complaining on balls and strikes, etc.? Knowing the speed of runners on base is an absolute must. Many catchers today provide encouragement to the pitcher. I think there can be more of this. There should be more face-to-face discussions, e.g., put the ball over the plate and definitely don’t walk a batter. I believe the catcher should be the field general and run the defense. He should also be aware of all the points raised earlier for infielders and outfielders, as well as pitchers. Finally, a high I.Q. catcher is a definite plus. He should dish out instructions to outfielders, infielders, and the pitcher on what to do if . . . e.g., a double steal, a ground ball to the right side, etc.
It goes without saying that pitchers must have an idea of each hitter’s prowess. Some can’t hit curveballs. Some can’t hit fastballs. Some like it inside, and others don’t. Some of their preferences change with pitch count. Runners on base have to be carefully monitored. He should be aware of the likelihood of a steal. He should also know beforehand what to do on a bunt or a comebacker with a man (or men) on base. His own pitching limitations is a concern; it’s no secret that starting pitchers weaken in the latter innings. Although much of what will follow applies to starting pitchers, it also applies to relief pitchers. Since the mound is approximately one foot above ground level, a 100 pitch outing (plus bullpen, warmups, etc.) results in a pitcher effectively walking up a 20 story building; this may explain, in part, why pitchers do not perform as well later in a game. Older pitchers should seriously consider minimizing movements off the mound and, for goodness sake, try not to walk batters – put the ball over the plate and take your chances. I would replace any pitcher who walks a batter late in the game if ahead by more than one run. Finally, pitchers should try to avoid 3-2 counts with runners on base and 2 out.
Batters need to be aware of the strengths and weaknesses of both the starting pitcher and relief pitchers. How often does he throw fastballs? Does he prefer pitching inside or outside? Does he hold runners on base? Does he tire in later innings? Does he throw strikes on the first pitch? Does he change his pitching approach when behind the count? These questions need to be considered. But the batter also needs to realize that a walk is just about as good as a single. Batters need to consider changing their batting philosophy when behind in the count. More importantly, a batter should NOT be swinging for the fences in the last inning when trailing by more than one run with nobody on base; the objective should be to get on base, and the easiest way to accomplish this is via a walk. Keep in mind that home run swings significantly reduce one’s ability to check a swing on a pitch that is outside the strike zone…thus reducing the probability of a walk. Finally, batters (as well as base runners) should HUSTLE at all times; hell, you are exerting yourself less than ten minutes per game.
The coaches usually remind the runners of the scenario at hand but the runner must also be alert. On a single to left field, he should run top speed and ALWAYS consider going to second base since he is in a direct line with the left fielder’s throw to second base. Any throw to the left or right of second base should serve as a green light to consider going to second base. While on base, he should ALWAYS be prepared and consider taking an extra base if the catcher doesn’t field the pitch cleanly. He also should practice sliding techniques whenever possible.
Coaches play the least significant role of the major players. Nonetheless, they should provide encouragement and support while on offense. Most importantly, they should know the limitations of the players on base and the strengths/weaknesses of the outfielders (but to a lesser extent of infielders).
For the most part, managers are overrated. And, most overmanage. Some are liabilities. Some are major liabilities, e.g., Terry Collins (in particular) of the Mets and Joe Girardi of the Yanks. The manager’s main job is to instill the basics to the entire team. Practice makes perfect and relays, double plays, bunting, and hitting to the opposite field should be practiced regularly. I would require each batter to hit to the opposite field when confronted with a defensive shift to one side. Players also MUST understand that a walk is just about as good as a single…and sometimes a double. I would have every batter prior to every game draw a red or black marble out of a hat. Those who draw a black marble would be required to take the first pitch, or when the count is 2-0, 3-1, or 3-0. Red marble selectors can do as they wish. However everyone must take on a 3-1 count with the bases loaded and two outs. Some of the above can be altered during late innings. The manager also needs to realize that when a relief pitcher comes in and gets a batter out that he has not thrown two pitches but probably fifty pitches when bullpen and warmup throws are counted. Since these additional pitches can take their toll, managers need to give consideration to their sometime reckless indiscriminant use of relief pitchers. Finally, he should require (with NO exceptions) every batter RUN out every ground ball or fly ball. One added point: He should not select cronies for coaches and I would allow my bench coaches to occasionally serve as manager for certain games.
Most general managers (GMs) are not too bright and not capable of making intelligent baseball decisions. Most of the GMs are just like many of the players and coaches. There are a handful (not many) who know what’s going on. Few of the players have college degrees, unlike some football players. Joe Girardi is a graduate of Northwestern (in my opinion, the most prestigious university in our country) and he has repeatedly demonstrated an inability to make sound, rational baseball decisions. In any event, the GM needs to know both the capabilities of his players and those that are on the market. It’s a given that the GM should work closely with the manager; his cronies must not come into play in any of his decisions and actions.
They are in the baseball business for either or both of the following reasons: ego and/or to make money. He should understand the meaning of risk. He should also understand the meaning of optimization. He should also understand how risk and optimization affect each other. Bottom line: he has to make intelligent decisions from a risk and/or optimization prospective when it comes time to hiring, firing and managing his business; as with both managers and GMs, he should not hire cronies.
Note: I have attached two recent photos of the 1969 World Champion New York Mets legendary third baseman Ed Charles celebrating his 83rd birthday. Unknowingly to us, the 1969 Mets batboy was also in attendance; his presence added to the festivities. Ed also reminisced about growing up in Florida and preseason games. He’d track down baseballs in the outfield, get someone like Joe DiMaggio to autograph the ball, and then sell if for $5.00 – a windfall profit in those days.
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