Results tagged ‘ Bob Turley ’

Pitchers Warmed Up…Where?

Veteran baseball people were barely done scratching their heads at the sudden rush to declare Opening Day starters in February – to tentatively hint at a violation of the mix of superstition and inchoate fear they call “tradition” – when injury claimed a pitcher who was merely scheduled to start the Spring Training opener.

Adam Wainwright may not only miss pitching in this Cardinals’ camp; he may not experience Spring Training again until 2013. The ligament damage near his elbow is profound enough to shelve him until sometime during the ’12 season, and could have as big an impact on a team and a franchise as any such injury in recent history, maybe since Sandy Koufax’s retirement put the Dodgers into a funk that lasted eight seasons. Not only does it neuter a Cardinal team that fell behind Cincinnati last season, and Milwaukee last off-season, but it could even impact the team’s ability and willingness to commit huge money to Albert Pujols next off-season.

The larger question pertains to the feeling that these injuries happen more now than they did ‘in the past.’ This question itself has been around long enough to become a baseball tradition of sorts. Surely they don’t happen that much more often. Koufax quit before his fragile elbow might have snapped like a twig. Don Drysdale retired in mid-season just three years later. 1958 Cy Young winner Bob Turley blew up a year later. And countless careers ended as did Mel Stottlemyre’s: with a run in, a man on, and nobody out in the top of the 4th at Shea Stadium on June 11, 1974 (he’d come back for two more innings two months later, then pitch a little the following March, but his rotator cuff was gone).

But the reality is that more pitchers today are warned in advance of these potentially career-ending events. Wainwright isn’t necessarily a victim of some awful turn in pitching mechanics, but rather the beneficiary of greater understanding of their impact, and far greater options in terms of repair. Given how little pain he reported, if this ligament issue had sprung up in Spring Training 1911, he would’ve tried to pitch through the pain, because contrary to today, his livelihood depended on not resting an injury. He might’ve struggled to an 11-12 record this year, had constant pain, started ’12 0-3 and wild as anything, and gone to the minors, never to be heard from again.

Still there is the nagging suspicion that we are doing something to our pitchers that makes Complete Games chimerical dreams, and the four-man rotation and the nine-man staff as comically antiquated as the horse-and-buggy. Denny McLain spent August 29, 1966 – as The Sporting News merrily noted – “struggling to a 6-3 decision over the Orioles…McLain allowed eight hits, walked nine, and struck out 11.” He threw 229 pitches. Two seasons later McLain started 41 games (and won 31 of them). Three years later, he started 41 games (and won 24 of them). The other stat – 51 Complete Games in the two seasons – was not repeated not because of arm problems but due to a suspension for associating with gamblers (the arm problems came a year later).

We know pitchers no longer “save” anything for the 9th Inning (that went out with Jack Morris; it used to be true of the top 25 starters in each league), and that without a fastball in the high 80’s you will now never get signed, and unless something else about you is spectacular, even that will only get you a career serving as the Washington Generals to the Harlem Globetrotter Prospects in the minors.

sc0014e7b6.jpgBut I have long wondered if one tiny change of rituals might have contributed just enough to the wear-and-tear on pitchers to have actually made a difference. The ritual is represented by the smiling fellow at the left, Galen Cisco, the long-time pitching coach who hurled for the Red Sox, Mets, and Royals from ’61 through ’69.

On August 7th, 1964, Al Jackson of the Mets gave up three runs in the first inning. The next day it was two off Cisco; a day later, one off Tracy Stallard in the first. Then came two consecutive scoreless firsts, followed by a doubleheader in which Jackson surrendered one in the first of the opener and Stallard three in the first of the nightcap. Finally on August 15th came the deluge: six first inning runs off Jack Fisher. So as they sent Cisco out to start on August 16, manager Casey Stengel and coach Mel Harder did something radical.

Cisco promptly retired Tony Gonzalez, Dick Allen, and Johnny Callison, and an ecstatic Lindsey Nelson told his Mets radio audience: “Galen Cisco, who warmed up in the bullpen, where there is a mound, in an effort to be better prepared in the top half of the first inning, gets them out in order!”

Your inference is correct. In 1964, starting pitchers did not automatically warm up in the bullpen. When I first heard this old tape I was flashed back to the summer of my tenth year, and the newfound joy of seeing a doubleheader from behind the screen at Yankee Stadium. There, in my mind’s eye, are the starters in the nightcap, Stan Bahnsen of the Yankees and Joe Coleman of the Washington Senators, warming up, on either side of the plate, throwing to catchers whose butts are pressed up against the backstop.

Years ago, Cisco, by then pitching coach of the Phils, insisted to me that he had been no trailblazer, and he had warmed up in the bullpen before August 16, 1964, and that other pitchers had, too. But I know I saw Elrod Hendricks, wearing a mask, warming somebody up long before a game at the new Yankee Stadium, dating it no later than 1976. I was on the field and I had to walk all the way around he and his pitcher. I photographed Goose Gossage throwing, and throwing hard, to somebody in front of the visitors’ dugout in New York that same summer, and it was four years later that I got trapped in a space beyond the third base camera well at Shea Stadium because Scott Sanderson and another Expo twirler were airing it out, pre-game.

Somewhere in the twenty year span of the ’60s and ’70s, the idea that relievers warmed up in the bullpen because they had to “get ready fast,” but starters should warm up from a rubber just on the foul side of either the first or third base foul line, changed into what we see today: everybody warms up in the pen, before, during, or after a game, and again between starts.

Ever had a workout with a trainer? Or just a well-led class at a gym? From yoga to weights, if the guy or gal wants to punish you, they’ll have you do whatever you’re doing, on an uneven surface. Incline or decline, it’s tougher if you’re not on flat ground. To really burn you, they’ll even have you stride downwards or upwards as you lift that weight or try to balance on one foot.

This is not offered as an explanation for all of the woes of the modern pitcher. But a warm-up pitch thrown from a mound is a distant cousin of a pitch to Pujols with two on and nobody out in the 5th. A warm-up pitch from the flat ground is a distant cousin of…playing catch. In short, if Denny McLain had 229 pitches in him on one day in August, 1966, he didn’t use up 20 or 30 or 50 of them before they played the Anthem.

Maybe that’s why Casey Coleman of the Cubs is really one percent likelier to get catastrophically hurt (and 90% likelier to not throw a Complete Game) than his dad Joe did that night in the Bronx (WP: Coleman, 7-7. CG. 11 K, 2 BB, 2 H, Time: 2:37).

Just a thought.

 

 

Hall Of Fame…Coaches?

As the Hall of Fame induction looms, something I heard on a Cardinals’ broadcast the other day inspired me to hit the books. The gist of the discussion, which was dead serious and included not even a hint that the view might be a little skewed by some homerism, was that while there weren’t any coaches in Cooperstown, and there was no mechanism for electing any, obviously Dave Duncan would be elected, and just as soon as possible.

This is not to dismiss the idea. Far from it. I’ve always thought coaches were under-appreciated, and the first bit of research (and vanity publishing) I ever did was when I realized there were plenty of records of players and managers and umpires, but as of 1973, there wasn’t even a list of coaches anywhere. I spent a week in the Hall of Fame library that summer jotting down, by hand, all the data I could find.
I’m a “coaches guy.”
I’m just not sure Dave Duncan is the first choice to go to Cooperstown, even among just the pitching coaches, even if a side exhibit were to open honoring just them (and maybe scouts as well – that’s far more overdue). The problem, obviously, is evaluation. What constitutes a great coach? Number of .300 hitters coached? 20-game winners coached? Is it more esoteric? Does Duncan get a plaque because he managed to keep Todd Wellemeyer in the majors, and turned around Dave Stewart and Dennis Eckersley? Should he be elected solely because Kent Bottenfield, winner of 46 career major league games, went 18-7 under Duncan’s tutelage in 1999?
The bigger issue, of course, is how much is the tutelage, and how much is the talent? These aren’t exactly hunks of clay out there, being shaped by a sculptor. If coaches ever do go to the Hall of Fame, certainly SABR-metrics will probably be able to prove a coach’s impact on a staff, or a batting order, but subjectivity will be a huge factor. And what of the proverbial “bold print” data that form the shorthand of research into a player’s success relative to his peers?
This, finally, gets me to my scratch-the-surface research. Which men have coached the most Cy Young Winners? Which have coached the most World Series Champions? There are a few surprises, and though the leaders in the latter category do tend to become weighted in favor of the Yankee dynasties, there is some insight to be had.
First, the Series winners. There are a few caveats. The “coach” is largely unheard of in baseball until the early years of the 20th Century. Managers inevitably ran the team from the third base coach’s box (Gene Mauch did this well into the ’60s in Philadelphia, and Tommy Lasorda tried it as a slump-buster in the ’90s), and a pitcher or non-starting player would coach from first. Gradually the New York teams began to experiment with somebody to help the manager out – 19th Century stars Duke Farrell with the Yankees and Arlie Latham with the Giants in 1909. The Yanks clearly weren’t sold on the idea. Farrell did not coach in 1910, but came back in 1911. They then eliminated the position entirely until 1914.
The “pitching coach” was even later to evolve. Wikipedia erroneously lists Wilbert Robinson as John McGraw’s pitching coach from 1903 through 1913 and credits him with all manner of successes. In point of fact, contemporary records show Robinson managing in the minors in 1903 and 1904, playing in Baltimore as late as 1908, and running the family saloon there. He clearly helped McGraw instruct pitchers in spring training, but did not join the Giants full time as a coach until 1911.
It seems that the first World Series winning team with a coach dedicated to supervising and instructing pitchers was McGraw’s 1921 Giants, with the immortal Christy Mathewson doing the honors. But even then Matty’s health was failing and just how much time he really did the job is speculation at best. Nick Altrock might have been the nominal pitching coach of Washington’s only World Champions in 1924, but he was better known for comic antics in the coach’s box. The first true pitching coach on a World Series winner might in fact be ex-catcher Cy Perkins with the 1932 Yankees. It was still a novelty; the 1933 World Champion Giants had no pitching coach, nor did the 1945 Tigers.
In any event, the leaders by World Series wins are as follows:
7 – John Schulte, Yankees, 1936-1947
7 – Jim Turner, Yankees, 1949-1958
5 – Mel Stottlemyre, Mets, Yankees, 1986-2000
4 – Mike Gonzalez, Cardinals, 1934-1946
3 – Johnny Sain, Yankees, Tigers, 1961-1968
3 – Joe Becker, Dodgers, 1955-1963

The others with as many as two? Duncan (1989 A’s, 2006, Cards), Galen Cisco (1992-93 Jays), Ron Perranoski (1981, 1988 Dodgers), Larry Shepard (1975-76 Reds), Wes Stock (1973-74 A’s), Dick Such (1987, 1991 Twins).

Two notes on the above. You may or may not want to give Stottlemyre the 5th Series. He had to leave the team to undergo intensive treatment for multiple myeloma in September, 2000, and the pitching coach duties were assumed by Billy Connors. And whereas Turner was the embodiment of the modern pitching coach, Schulte, as late as the 1947 World Series program, is described more informally as “the man who readies the pitchers.”
The Cy Young Winning coaches are a little more diverse. The usefulness of the data also suffers from the fact there were no awards before 1956, and only one for both leagues until 1967. Nevertheless they provide some insight:
6 – Leo Mazzone: Glavine ’91 ’98, Maddux ’93 ’94 ’95, Smoltz ’96
4 – George Bamberger: Cuellar ’69, Palmer ’73 ’75 ’76
4 – Dave Duncan: Hoyt ’83, Welch ’90, Eckersley ’92, Carpenter ’05
3 – Joe Becker: Newcombe ’56, Drysdale ’62, Koufax ’63
3 – Bill Fischer: Clemens ’86 ’87 ’91
3 – Ray Miller: Flanagan ’79, Stone ’80, Drabek ’90
3 – Claude Osteen: Carlton ’82, Denny ’83, Bedrosian ’87
3 – Johnny Sain: Ford ’61, McLain ’68 ’69
3 – Rube Walker: Seaver ’69 ’73 ’75
The others with two apiece: Rick Anderson (Santana ’04 ’06), Mark Connor (Johnson ’99 ’00),  Billy Connors (Sutcliffe ’84, Maddux ’92), Roger Craig (Jones ’76, Hernandez ’84), Bobby Cuellar (Johnson ’95, Martinez ’97), Art Fowler (Lyle ’77, Guidry ’78), Marv Grissom (Chance ’64, J. Perry ’70), Cal McLish (Fingers ’81, Vuckovich ’82), Billy Muffett (Gibson ’68 ’70), Lefty Phillips (Koufax ’65 ’66), Mel Queen (Clemens ’97 ’98), Dave Righetti (Lincecum ’08 ’09), Ray Rippelmeyer (Carlton ’72 ’77), Mel Stottlemyre (Gooden ’85, Clemens ’01), Carl Willis (Sabathia ’07 Lee ’08).
There’s one scorer’s judgement required here. In both 1977 and 1978 Art Fowler gets partial credit. The first year saw Sparky Lyle’s Cy Young season, as well as what might have been the first full-time Bullpen Pitching Coach, in the Yanks’ Cloyd Boyer. In ’78 Fowler exited at mid-year along with manager Billy Martin, and Clyde King coached Ron Guidry the rest of the way.
Obviously the two lists barely coincide. Schulte’s career was over before there were Cy’s, and though he coached in the majors all but two years from 1949 through 1973, Jim Turner coached only one winner (Bob Turley in 1958). The men who fared the best on both lists seem to be Joe Becker and Johnny Sain. Consider Becker for a second. How does the team that hires you as pitching coach in 1955, the Dodgers, proceed to win three World’s Championships and three Cy Youngs through 1963 – and then when you come up empty in 1964, they
fire you? Becker went to St. Louis in 1965 and the Cubs in ’67 and did pretty well with Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins in those places, but evidently not well enough.
Lastly two intriguing facts which figuratively fell off the book shelf while the research unfolded. Two Cy Young winners have gone on to be pitching coaches for Cy Young winners, and if that’s not a good new trivia question, I don’t know what is. The answers are Warren Spahn (1957 winner; coach for Gaylord Perry in 1972), and Bob Welch (1990 winner, coach for Randy Johnson in 2001).
That fact in turn led to this one, which suggests Hall of Fame berths for pitching coaches may not be that great an idea. Johnson won four of his six Cy Youngs with the same team, yet with three different pitching coaches in three consecutive years: Mark Connor in 2000, Welch in ’01, and Chuck Kniffin in ’02
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