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A Sense of Who You Are

Bob Klapisch has covered baseball in New York since the heyday of the Mets in the 1980s. He is a columnist for The Bergan Record and a contributor to ESPN. Now in his forties, he continues to play semi-pro baseball. Yesterday, he contributed a terrific post about playing ball to The Baseball Analysts. Klapisch’s article has some keen insights into the pysche of ballplayers, and it is nice to see him write something longer, and more personal. But Klap isn’t just a guy who loves to play the game, at heart he’s a pitcher, and they are a breed apart:

From Little League all the way to Cooperstown, there’s a fraternity convened by the adrenaline rush of throwing a baseball. Bret Saberhagen once told me, “Nothing matches making a hitter swing and miss. It’s the greatest feeling in the world. Guys who retire, they spend the rest of their lives looking for it, but once you stop pitching you never get it back.”

…So why do I keep pitching? Probably for the purest reason of all – it’s what I do, at least when I’m not writing or helping feed the kids. To stop now would mean tearing away layers of psychological flesh. I guess I’m afraid of what’s underneath. Middle age, maybe.

I sent the article to Pat Jordan, the veteran journalist and former pitching prospect for the Braves. He replied:

The allure of pitching is about being in control and playing God. Nothing happens without you. You control the game, good or bad. also the feeling of ball off fingertips and your ability to make it spin and do things is exhilarating. I love to throw a baseball. The feeling of artistry and power in making a ball approach the plate with the speed or curve that I dictate is unrivaled in anything else I’ve ever done, including writing. I was born to be a pitcher, but taught myself to be a writer. I was an artist on the mound, but, alas, am merely a craftsman, like a brick layer, in front of a typewriter.

Which brings me to another thought. Why do the best jock-turned-writers all seem to be pitchers? Jordan, Jim Brosnan, Jim Bouton. Glenn Stout pitched in an over-30 league for years. What gives? Michael Lewis was a pitcher when he was in high school, Rich Lederer was a pitcher back in his playing days, and Will Carroll was too. Bouton thinks that it “may be that pitchers spend a lot of time sitting around.” What do you think?


1 Fred Vincy   ~  Sep 2, 2005 6:44 am

1.  Same reason most managers were pitchers or catchers -- those are the most intellectually demanding positions.

2 NetShrine   ~  Sep 2, 2005 7:15 am

2.  I think, as a result of having the "W' or "L" assigned to their head, the pro-pitcher is more sought out by the media - - and, because of this extra and repeated exposure to the process, they are more likely to join them.

You know the drill, hang around drug dealers long enough and you'll start selling the stuff yourself eventually too.

Whereas a position player needs to have that "red light" fever from the start to be drawn to it.

As far as non-pro's like Will and Rich, well, I'm not sure there's something there. Tons of kids pitched in Little League and H.S.

That's like saying "I wonder why most ax murderers were pitchers when they were young" - the pool of people who pitched as a kids is so large that you can play that wonder-game on just about any occupation.

3 bp1   ~  Sep 2, 2005 7:24 am

3.  You also gotta wonder how many of today's superstar position players were pitchers in high school or college. I know in my high school, the pitcher was the best overall player.

Heck - Giambi was a pitcher in High School. I don't see him taking up a career as sports writer after he hangs up his spikes, however.

Look at the Yankee pitchers and imagine who could turn a phrase as a paid writer. Leiter? For sure. Pavano? Uh - no. Wright? I don't think so. Brown? Maybe. He's certainly not dumb. I would imagine his writing would be a bit on the Lupica side. Mussina? Sarcasm to the nth degree.

How about our position players? I bet Bernie could be a good writer, but more of a book type than a "gotta get this piece done by midnight" beat writer. Any other position players have that spark? They're not dumb guys, by any stretch.

Interesting discussion.


4 Ben   ~  Sep 2, 2005 7:31 am

4.  I can't claim to have been a great pitcher or a great writer, but i do see the connection. For me, pitching is an expression of faith in the fluidity of time and space. There is really no begining to the wind up, because the pitch has already been selected in my head, and the rest is follow-through. Pitching is fluid, whereas batting is static and reactionary. I love both. Batters need to stay in the moment, but when I pitch I need to be beyond moments, feeling the continuity, otherwise my mechanics get screwy.

The same goes for writing. It is ultimately an act of faith, because there are so many mechanics to get hung up on, so much puncutation, that to write that first draft at least, I have to let it fly and keep my focus on the result. That's the way it is for me anyway. The rest is practice, practice practice,

There's also the solitude of the mound and the solitude of the desk. It takes a peculiar egg to want to do all that living on their own, connected to other people only after their deliver.

5 NetShrine   ~  Sep 2, 2005 7:38 am

5.  It takes a peculiar egg to want to do all that living on their own, connected to other people only after their deliver.

Well said Ben - dead, solid, perfect.

6 Ben   ~  Sep 2, 2005 7:46 am

6.  I think A-Rod would be a good writer. He's very deliberate and practiced and intelligent. I'm not sure if I would like his style, a little on the Bill Clinton side of over-explanation I would bet.

going back a few years, Cone would surely make a good writer, New Yorker think pieces.

7 Peter   ~  Sep 2, 2005 8:09 am

7.  I think Mariano would make for a good writer, although I'm not sure I can see him actively pursuing that route.

8 Loogy   ~  Sep 2, 2005 8:11 am

8.  Same reason most managers were pitchers or catchers -- those are the most intellectually demanding positions.

What's so intellectual about squatting for nine innings and give your pitchers the finger...errr...pitch signs and have the guts to offend the pitcher when the manager asks you who he's doing ? Most catchers turned managers don't have any more success. Even Torre is mostly just "stay out of the way" and let the star players play.

9 Loogy   ~  Sep 2, 2005 8:12 am

9.  That looks confusing
The 1st para. didn't italicize.

10 jervo   ~  Sep 2, 2005 8:13 am

10.  The pitcher is the only player who gets to be creative. Everything else that happens once the ball leaves the pitcher's hands is reflexive and instinctual, muscles moving on their own accord. It doesn't surprise me at all that pitchers would make good writers, musicians, or whatever - the pitcher is the only guy who gets to create something out of nothing.

11 Cliff Corcoran   ~  Sep 2, 2005 8:20 am

11.  Just to correct the assumption that most managers are pitchers and catchers. Catchers, yes. Pitchers, no. Outfielders, yes. Scroll down for the chart in this post by our very own Mike Carminati


12 ChuckM   ~  Sep 2, 2005 10:35 am

12.  I think cathers have the most control of a ballgame, although less so than in the older days. At least that's the way I felt, and played both positions. Johnny Bench never let a pitcher shake him off, if he did, he would go to the mound and yell at him. By controlling the location and type of pitch thrown, you're controlling the pitcher and to a lesser degree, the rest of the fielders simply by the way they have to shade the batter...

13 Fred Vincy   ~  Sep 2, 2005 11:56 am

13.  Wow, Cliff. I was totally off base on the pitchers as managers thing. Maybe it was watching Bob Lemon at a formative age....

14 Schteeve   ~  Sep 2, 2005 2:23 pm

14.  All the conjecture about the pitcher's psyche seems a pretty good explanation of why pitchers would NOT want to be managers. As a manager, you don't control execution.

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