What's Right--and Wrong--with Baseball, as Seen from the Best Seat in the House
by Mark Hyman and Jon Miller
Buy it from Amazon from Barnes & Noble
Thirty years ago, baseball was more a seasonal job. At least, the players saw it that way. Brooks Robinson once told me his one regret about his Hall of Fame career was that he didn't keep himself in shape during the off-season. Every winter, Brooks said, he'd put on ten or fifteen pounds, then spend most of spring training trying to shed the weight.
Now, trainers and conditioning coaches monitor players year-round. These health professionals are highly skilled; many have advanced degrees in specialties ranging from nutrition to physiology. Back in Brooksie's day, the main job of the trainer was to give a decent massage.
Stronger, better-conditioned players have forced adjustments throughout baseball. One of the most important is that pitchers have had to rethink the way they get hitters out.
Al Jackson, a fine pitching coach and, before that, a pitcher on the original expansion "Amazin'" Mets of '62, once told me about pitching in the horseshoelike Polo Grounds, home of the Mets for their first two seasons. No ballpark was as oddly shaped: 279 feet down the left-field line, 258 feet to right, and a cavernous 483 to dead center.
But in those days, Al said, everybody tried to pull the ball. So, to be successful at the Polo Grounds, a pitcher had to keep the ball away from the hitters to make them hit the ball straightaway, to the big part of the ballpark. The porches in left and right were so absurdly short, he said, that if a hitter pulled the ball he could get a really cheap home run -- and send the pitcher to an early shower.
Today, Al went on, that style of pitching wouldn't work at the Polo Grounds. Nowadays, hitters lunge into the ball and take the outside pitch the other way instead of trying to pull it. Today's power hitters would take that outside pitch and flick it into the short porch in the opposite field at the Polo Grounds, he explained.
"Jon, you can't believe how much stronger these guys are than when I played," Al said.
I was happy to hear Al say that. Hey, I'm happy whenever I hear an old-timer say something complimentary about baseball players today; it doesn't happen often. Many ex-players are very stingy with their praise of current players, which is too bad -- too bad for them because it tends to paint them as sour old men, but mostly, it's too bad for the game.
Copyright © 1998 by Jon Miller and Mark Hyman. Excerpted with permission.