I had my first experience as a Little League coach last year....
well, to be completely accurate it was Tee-ball, not actual Little
The team's head coach was an older gent who was reputed to have
considerable success coaching high school and college players.
he was pretty up front from the get-go that he knew what he was doing,
because he knew "more about baseball" than I did. His words, not
He didn't know my name, but he knew that he knew more.
is no big deal because there are certainly enough people out there who
So I was a bit surprised when his first practices focused entirely on
hitting the ball the Tom Emanski way. No fielding or throwing,
just swinging the bat at underhand pitches. His method was also a
bit of a surprise to opposing teams' coaches. You might be asking
yourself how did they know that he didn't teach the kids anything about
fielding or throwing? Because
anytime the other teams' kids hit a ball, every player on this team
would run after
it. They not only ran after it, imagine a grounder rolling into
field, followed by a dog pile of five-year olds culminating in a epic
worthy of Frazetta painting as to who would get to throw the ball
into the infield. It's really cute to watch on video, but not
quite as satisfying when these are the kids you are trying to teach how
to play baseball. It got so bad that opposing coaches
started setting these kids up at their positions and teaching them
responsibility the balls in play were.
I don't doubt this guy knows a lot about baseball, especially about
teaching baseball. But what is
abundantly clear is that what he knows about baseball is limited to
kids who are at least high school age. Teaching five year olds
most basic elements of the game was not his forte. For one, the
ball is on the tee so they don't really need to have perfect hitting
mechanics. Let them have the fantasy of hitting like their
favorite players, whether it be Albert Pujols, Gary Sheffield, Julio
Franco or Craig Counsell. Their crazy batting stances didn't
prevent them from becoming major leaguers. Cal Ripken had a new
batting stance just about every other day, but he managed to be a
pretty good hitter. Secondly, even with light aluminum bats
most five year olds don't
have the forearm or wrist strength to control a bat even if they did
the proper form. However, throwing mechanics might be good to
Knowing where and how to position oneself to get a groundball
taking one in the face would be good to know. Knowing which base
throw to might be good to know. The infielders knowing that they
have to run after any ball hit to the outfield because that's what
are for... that too would be good to know. But most importantly,
at them for not knowing things that should have been taught them in
certainly won't do anything to cultivate their enthusiasm for the game,
is really the only thing one should be concentrating on with five-year
But that brings me to something that probably doesn't get much play in
the media, particularly now with all the news surrounding Phillies
manager Charlie Manuel. That thing is that every major league
really good at some aspect of managing. Being a major league
is not just about knowing who to pinch hit for or knowing how to do a
switch. It's as much about things that happen off the field -
egos, building confidence, mediating disputes - as it is game strategy.
For example, Bruce Bochy is notorious for making poor game decisions.
used to love to hit and run with the pitcher at the plate and a catcher
standing at first. He's also famous for experimenting with his
set-up in April to find out who he can trust in different situations,
going on autopilot for the rest of the season regardless of how well or
poorly a reliever is performing. That said, there probably isn't
manager who does a better job of managing a clubhouse over the course
a season and no manager gets more respect from his players for the way
treats them. For that, no manager gets more effort form his
Buck Showalter is well known for the discipline he brings to a team.
Some players, perhaps a lot of players, need that kind of order
their lives. But after a while that can wear a little thin on
men earning millions of dollars. Eventually they need someone who
will just let them play. That's why two teams won World Series
year after Showalter was fired. After Buck taught them how to
they just needed someone to let them.
But back to Manuel... radio host Howard Eskin has been extremely
critical of Manuel's managing style. And to be honest, there's
plenty to be critical about. But Eskin's criticism is that the
Philly players aren't exerting enough effort. That's the last
thing the Phillies are struggling with. In fact, it's such an
absurd argument it's almost laughable.
Last year the Philles not only had the league MVP, but Chase
hit .300 with 30 homers (something only five other second basemen have
done), Jimmy Rollins hit 25 homers, scored 100 runs and stole more than
30 bases (something only three other shortstops have ever done) and had
a centerfielder practically run through the outfield wall going after a
flyball. When you have guys running through walls and doing
that only a handful of people have ever done in the game, effort is not
What is the Phillies problem
is a manager who doesn't know how to manage a pitching staff and who
doesn't think particularly clearly during critical
points of the game. For a team that has enough talent to win it
that's a bad combination. I'm sure there is a managerial
that would be perfect for Manuel, maybe with a young team that needs
to teach them the right way to play the game. Whatever it is,
has strengths as a manager even though they aren't obvious to anyone
the organization. He just needs to find the right situation for
skills. Philadephia isn't it. Eskin has the right solution,
the wrong reason for it.
Even though he had a rough outing, there's no reason to demote Rick
unless the Marlins think he has lost confidence. His stuff is
good to be a really good major league pitcher. The Mets got to
Thursday because in the third inning he got predictable with his
of the blame should be put on Miguel Olivo), he started overthrowing
got almost no help from Josh Willingham in left field, who with the way
reads the ball off the bat, is obviously a catcher playing the
In the third the trouble began when Willingham played what should have
been either an out or a hard single by Jose Reyes into a triple.
striking out Beltran, Hurk didn't want any part of Moises Alou who had
his fastball hard in the first inning to score a run. So he
him to put men at first and third. No big deal. Next was
Delgado, whom he had caught looking at a nasty hook in the first.
time around, Delgado was looking for it. Olivo kept calling for
but VandenHurk was reluctant to go to it again. He finally
and Delgado's patience paid off with a double to the wall. He
had David Wright down in the count and could have put him away had he
used his change to get a groundball, but he was overthrowing badly at
point and couldn't get anything over for a strike. Wright drew a
which brought up Shawn Green. Again, Vanden Hurk could have put
hitter away easily had he just taken a deep breath and resumed pitching
of throwing. Green got a ball over the heart of the plate and
it over Willinghan for a double. After he hung a change to Ramon
Castro, he finally regained his composure to strike out Jose Valentin.
His strikeout of Beltran in the third, the second time he had gotten
was a thing of beauty. In the first inning, he got him looking on
low fastball but once Beltran saw other Mets hitters going down on that
nasty curve, he was sure he was going to see it his next time up.
Olivo kept calling for it, but VandenHurk kept working his
fastball up instead
and got Beltran swinging at pitches well above the strikezone.
he taken a deep breath, trusted his instincts and gone with a high
to Delgado instead of the curve in the third, he probably would have
the inning with no damage instead of 6 runs. Chalk up this bad
to growing pains. VandenHurk has very good instincts for setting
hitters and once he has enough confidence to shake off the catcher and
what he knows is the right pitch, he'll be terrific.
I'll be the first to predict it - Alex Rodriguez will hit 70 homers
this year. He's having a monster season so far and I think it
will continue all season long unabated. That guy has taken more
unfair abuse from the New York media and fans than anyone deserves and
he's channelling three years of frustration onto the field. It's
just a shame that fans so underserving will get to see this historic
season. Last time I was
in New York I asked a cabbie why he though the Yankees didn't win the
Series last year. He blamed ARod. Not the pitching, or any
player or even acknowledged the possibility that the Tigers might have
the better team. No, it was ARod's fault. The baseball gods
dismayed that their greatest creation has been so under-appreciated and
they are blessing him with a season for the ages.
Just to be clear how amazingly good he is, even though he won't turn 32
years old until late July he will finish this season with more than 500
home runs (probably as many as 525) and maybe as many as 1500 RBIs and
runs scored. In five more years he should be a slam dunk to be
700 career homers. That still puts him six years younger than
Bonds is right now but in roughly the same spot on the all-time home
list. Also in five more years he should be passing 2200 runs
and 2200 RBIs. That means by the time he is 38 years old, there's
very real chance that Alex Rodriguez will not only be the all-time home
king, but also the all-time leader in runs scored and RBI... and
will still have several years left to play. This is the guy that
fans booed and the New York media labeled as an underachiever.
how bad it would be if the stink of steroid use was hanging over him
way it is with Bonds.
The great Frank Deford compared ARod to Wilt Chamberlain recently,
amazing talent that was overly-criticized and under-appreciated.
without much question, was the greatest basketball player who ever
There are arguments for others, but none of them come close to
his individual achievements. He averaged more than 50 points a
for a season, led the league in scoring seven times, rebounds eleven
and even assists once. He's the only man ever to average more
40 points a game for a season and he did it twice. He holds five
the six best seasons ever for scoring average and six of the top seven
seasons for rebounding. His worst season rebounding ranks 36th
all-time; only seven other players have ever recorded more rebounds in
season than Chamberlain's worst season. The NBA started recording
shots as a stat because of him. The primary criticism leveled at
is that he didn't win nearly as many championships (2) as the
that he should have. The problem, however, is not with
but with his opposition in the playoffs. Seven times in his 14
career, his teams lost to the Boston Celtics, a team that had six of
NBA's top 50 players of all time; Michael Jordan never played against a
that had more than three. Neither did Bill Russell, who was
the leader of those great Celtic teams but also a beneficiary.
Chamberlain faced the competition either of those guys did, he
would have had many more rings. Chamberlain was still one of the
players in the NBA when he retired, averaging 43 minutes
points, 18 boards and better than 4 assists per game in his final
Did hating Goliath run Chamberlain out of basketball prematurely?
Will ARod also reach the same conclusion? Maybe. So
we please not make the same mistake with ARod that we did with
and just appreciate the talent while we're seeing it?
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