Here is the second excerpt I promised from Geoffrey Stokes’ “Pinstripe Pandemonium.” This one involves hitting, and there was nobody on those old Yankee teams who thought, taught, talked, and lived hitting like Lou Pinella. (One of the greatest images I have of Pinella–and I don’t remember where I first read this–is of him standing up in his wife’s bed in the middle of the night, looking in the mirror, practicing his stance. I wonder if a cigarette was ever dangling from his lips as he inspected his form.) So without further ado, here is Sweet Lou:
In this league at least, the really successful hitters guess a lot. I know that once I’ve seen a pitcher three or four times–certainly once I’ve seen him for three or four games–I have a pretty good idea what he’s going to do in certain situations. That’s why a batter loves to see the count at two-and-oh or three-and-one. You know the guy out there’s gotta throw it over the plate, so you zone the ball. You decide ahead of time where he’s gonna put it–low, high, inside, outside–and what kind of pitch he’s going to throw, and you narrow your strike zone to that pitch. If it’s somewhere else, let it go by; he’s still gotta give you one or two more chances to hit the ball. But if it’s there, you’re ready for it. That’s when you get your extra-base hits, and that’s when you get pitchers in trouble, because once you’re on base, he’s got to pitch a little differently. He doesn’t want the big inning, so he’s going to pitch a little more cautiously. What you’ve done is you’ve taken some options away, made him a little more predictable, and if he gets behind the next batter, then he’s really in trouble.
There are a lot of good pitchers in the league–there aren’t any bad ones, that’s for sure–but there’s only a handful of great ones. Those are the guys who can either challenge you and get away with it–put it right in your zone and dare you to hit it–or the ones who consisntenly outguess you, who always have you lookin’ at the three-and-one strike. But even with them, you’ve gotta make your own guess and get ready for a ball in your zone, because once or twice a game, even those guys are gonna lose their rhythm or try to do too much with a ball, and if you’re not ready, that’s a real lost opportunity. The only real difference between the good pitchers and the great ones is that the great ones don’t yield to the situation around them. They’re kind of self-contained, and they’re gonna make you hit their pitch, not yours.
End of lesson. Thank you Mr. Stokes and Mr. Lou. Pitchers and catchers in three weeks.