With the Red Sox and Mets grabbing the local headlines this week, and the Yankees chillin on the back burner, I’ve been thinking about books devoted to the Bronx Zoo Era for the past two days. One of the better, yet lesser known ones is, “Pinstripe Pandemonium” a slim record of the 1983 season written by Village Voice reporter Geoffrey Stokes. That season had plenty of infamous Yankee turmoil, but Stokes’ book stands out for it’s thoughtful passages on Don Baylor, Steve Kemp, and Goose Gossage. Here is the Goose talking about the nature of his job:
“Sometimes, after a bad loss, I’m amazed that I can go out there the next day and do anything at all. But fortunately,” he grinened, “there’s this gorilla in me that just takes over.
“Of course,” he added, returning to the subject of rhythm, “when it does, somebody’s gotta keep it on a leash. I don’t care how fast you throw; if you throw nothing but fastballs, there are hitters in this league that are gonna catch up to you. Somone’s gotta slow me down.
“But that’s hard for a cather to do. If I’m gonna get beat, I want to get beat on my best pitch, not on some off-speed thing that’s just supposed to set the fastball up. But what happens is, I get out there, and I throw a ball at ninety-five miles an hour easy, so I just gather up my strength and try humming the sombitch at a hundred. I’m out there, and I feel that with just a little more effort, I could throw the sucker right through the catcher–and maybe halfway through the umpire, too.
This got me to thinking about the possibility of the Yankees aquiring Kyle Farnsworth to set up Mariano Rivera, a move I’m dead set against. The truth is, nothing upset me more in the 2005 playoffs than watching Farnsworth pitch to Luke Scott in the eighth inning of Game 4 of the NLDS (and I didn’t have any particular rooting interest in the game). Staked to a five run lead, the hard-throwing Farnsworth worked to Scott with two men on and one out. He blazed a fastball past Scott for strike one, then missed outside with a breaking pitch. I don’t recall if it is a slider or a splitter that Farnsworth throws; regardless, it is a wicked pitch but not nearly as effective as his 95 mph+ heater. Especially to the inexperienced Scott, who was late on the next pitch, another fastball. There was no way Scott was going to catch up to the gas.
So what does Farnsworth do? With a five run lead he throws three consecutive breaking balls to the outside part of the plate, in an attempt to be cute. Trying to posterize Scott I suppose. Again, his breaking pitch is very good, but it’s his number two pitch. When the count went 2-2 a feeling of dread and loathing overcame me. This clown is going to keep going to his second best pitch, isn’t he? After Scott walked to load the bases, Lance Berkman sliced a fastball over the left field fence for a grand slam. I thought I was watching “Bull Durham” the big league version. Farnsworth got the next man out, freezing Morgan Ensberg with a breaking ball. But the damage had been done. In refusing to go with his best pitch against a weak hitter, Farnsworth got burned and cost his team dearly. He also displayed the difference between a great competitor like Goose and a mentally weak one.
Gossage continued to Stokes about the trouble with trying to overthrow:
“The thing is, it doesn’t go as fast, ’cause my asshole’s tight. It’s pretty hard to throw a ball with one hand around your throat. And when that happens, even before everybody’s turning around to watch the fuckin’ home run, it affects the team. It’s like your kids; when they see fear in your face, they get afraid too, even if they don’t know why. In the clubhouse of at the hotel, everbody’s got his own personality. But when I’m out there with runners on second and third, one out, and a one-run lead, I’m responsible for the whole team.”
…”The only thing about [closing] is you can’t take it home with you. It’s not like I’m a starter and I have to think about it for five days, have to spend my time saying ‘Damn, that was a stupid pitch.’ Except for the playoffs or the Series, there’s always tomorrow. You know, it’s like hunting. ‘Some days you eat the bear, some days the bear eats you.'”
While we’re at it, here’s a bit on how the other half lives. Again, from Stokes’ book, 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.
The book is a worthy addition to the Yankee bookshelf, especially for those of you who are interested in those messy years of the early Eighties.