Jeff Kallman on the OL' PERFESSER

Brett Bull talks with YAMAUCHI



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Thirty years ago this summer, I fell in love with baseball. On June 28, 1976, I sat down to watch Mark Fidrych take the mound for the Detroit Tigers. He was pitching against the hated Yankees on ABC's Game of the Week, and I had no idea what I was about to get into. For this kid, all of eight years old, in a strange new town, moved out of a home with a big yard and into a tiny box apartment on the campus of Central Michigan University, with a newly divorced mother, watching this guy Fidrych go through his motions left me forever mesmerized. I'd never played ball, never owned a glove or a bat, never even played catch. Frankly, I don't even know why the game was on. But as soon as I saw it, saw Fidrych take his quick tosses, heard the crack of bat and ball, saw the darkened shadows of Tiger Stadium, I wanted to learn more immediately. And learn more I did.

There could be no question that the star of the 1976 season was Mark Fidrych. Nicknamed The Bird, after Sesame Street's Big Bird, kids adored him. When I first tuned in, Fidrych was already a phenomenon, his goofy caricature appearing on t-shirts, his mug on the cover of Rolling Stone, Sports Illustrated, even the crazy kids magazine, Bananas. Tall and lanky, Fidrych had a friendly mug and a mess of curly blonde hair, and a slightly beakish nose. He never looked mean and aggressive there on the mound, and he always had a kind word for his fans, especially children. He spoke to his ball, smoothed the mound, blew gum bubbles in the dugout, cheered on his fellow players, and waved hello to the rest of the guys on the diamond before each game. With every pitch, he would bob up and down and up and down. In spite of all this, the guy moved fast: looking back at a tape of that fateful game, you'll see Fidrych going into his crouch, bobbing and firing in an instant—all things I would later do as a flamethrowing tennis-ball pitcher against the side of the apartment complex.

Fidrych could get away with these antics because he was great that year. I have his numbers forever burned into my memory: winner of the 1976 Rookie of the Year Award; 19 wins and 9 losses; 24 complete games with 4 shut-outs; a 2.34 ERA in spite of just 97 strikeouts (he walked 53 and gave up only a dozen homers). His 19 wins represent over 25% of what the Tigers put in the lefthand column, and drew over 600,000 fans for his 18 home appearances. The Bird was entertaining for everyone: non-baseball lovers enjoyed his shenanigans and purists could always expect a great contest. In the thirty years since, there's not been another player like him in any sport.

Living in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, a good three hours from Detroit, I obviously didn't have access to Tiger Stadium. So my Grandmother and I would sit in the evenings listening to Ernie Harwell and Paul Carey call the games on her little JC Penney radio. Fortunately, I had a trinity of kind women teaching me the fundamentals—my mother, grandmother and aunt Mary—rather than the competitive hero worshipping instruction most men get from most fathers. These ladies taught me the valuable lessons that could, and should, be gleaned from sports. Grandma taught me to look for promising signs of the future, to be patient and pay attention to the subtle talents of rookies and future prospects, a good thing considering how bad the Tigers were in the late 70s. Mary acquainted me with the names of many of the players on every team and their personalities on the field. And my Mom caught pitch after pitch when I fancied myself a hurler. Even my Dad, no doubt wondering whose failed gene was manifesting itself in his son, helped clip out box scores and applied a Fidrych iron-on decal to a t-shirt I wore for days on end.

The 1976 Detroit Tigers were unlike any club in Detroit history and perhaps baseball history as well. This was good—being a child of divorce and hardly athletic, the '76 club couldn't have been more appropriate. Consider this line-up of kooks, oddballs, and genuinely great ballplayers:

The Tigers, a team firmly planted in the middle of the pack, found themselves with three starters in that year's All-Star game—more than any other team. Along with Fidrych, and leading off in center field was Ron Leflore, a young guy whose career began two seasons earlier in maximum-security Jackson Prison. I read Leflore's biography Breakout at age ten with its detailed descriptions of young Ron servicing prostitutes at the tender age of twelve, doing drugs, making spud juice in prison, and then some. He was the league leading basestealer and enjoyed a thirty game hitting streak in 1976.

Rusty Staub was the other starter. Le Grand Orange was a thick-bodied, red-haired right fielder who, if memory serves, tripped and fell chasing a ball in the first inning of the midsummer classic. Staub went on to have a very good year, belting 15 homers, with a .299 batting average, a .386 OBP and a .433 SLG. Frankly, it was refreshing for this clumsy youth to witness a sports hero make such a gaffe.

There was John Hiller in relief, a guy who had suffered not one but three heart attacks in 1971 and returned two years later to become, in Rob Neyer's mind, the best pitcher in '73. All anyone ever talked about were those damned heart attacks.

Manager Ralph Houk, the old general, and made somewhat famous by his inclusion in Jim Bouton's Ball Four.

Milt May, backup catcher who is credited with smacking baseball's millionth home run.

Aurelio Rodriguez, who that season ended Brooks Robinson's sixteen year consecutive gold-glove streak, all the while being one of the worst hitters ever to stand at the hot corner. Christ, the guy was an automatic out, with a .267 OBP and .325 SLG—and '76 was his best year by far. He is also famous for accidentally being left off his own baseball card. A Topps photographer mistook the batboy for Rodriguez. That, along with his inability to hit, endeared this all-field, no-hit, bumbling boy to him for a long time.

In September, there was a surprise: my Grandmother had four tickets to see the Tigers play on the last home game against the Yankees. Of course, Mark Fidrych was scheduled to pitch.

We spent that entire weekend at my Grandmother's house outside Saginaw. The game was scheduled for a Sunday, September 26. As evening rolled around, we were packed off to sleep on my Grandma's old green davenport. While my brother fell right off, I stared out past the windows to the tall pine trees swaying and groaning about a coming storm until well after midnight.

When we woke at six, I was discombobulated from a fitful sleep. The first sight of that day was heartbreaking: it had obviously been raining for hours, as there were already giant puddles in the driveway. But I told myself not to worry as Detroit was 3 1⁄2 hours away, and the game began at 1:30, an eternity. Detroit was almost to Ohio, for God's sake, it couldn't rain that far! So we piled into Grandma's maroon American behemoth automobile, her smoking like the proverbial chimney, and off we went.

I had never been to Detroit before, but had heard an earful from my friends. Apparently, black people were going to shoot us dead as soon as we stepped out of the car. The city was always on fire, and there were no cops at all. Everything was falling apart, like downtown Saginaw, only worse, much worse. When, on the prior Friday, my third-grade teacher said "Have a good time—and be careful!" I believed the stories about this violent circus would be true.

The entire way both Grandma and my Aunt Mary had been listening to WJR, Detroit's powerful AM radio station. Lawrence Welkian music and boring newscasts had been mumbling from the box all day until, about fifteen minutes outside of Detroit, the gravelly voiced announcer stated that the day's game had been cancelled. Not postponed, not to be played the next day, but finished, over. Fidrych would pitch in Cleveland the next day, weather permitting, and all ticketholders were subject to a full refund.

I was stunned. Rain could cancel a ballgame? It couldn't rain this far, much less ruin a major league baseball game—they showed those things on TV, after all.

My Grandma must have known this was coming. Later, I learned that there was nothing but negative weather forecasts the whole way. Still, she soldiered on, and when the game was finally called, she announced, "Well, we've come this far, might as well see Tiger Stadium."

Now I returned to my original elation, believing that the team actually lived in Tiger Stadium, so I'd still get to see the Bird.

We finally passed under the rusty 8 Mile Road overpass and beneath the tiny, state-issued green sign that read "Detroit, population 1 million" or so. The freeway seemed to sink into the ground, and the segmented concrete made a rhythmic clickety-clack, as though we were on a train. My heart beat faster, all the more so when Grandma told us to lock the doors. Did thieves actually run fifty miles an hour? Staring up at the rows and rows of abandoned old homes, neon lit bars, gas stations with strange names and the handpainted billboards of black politicians with pink lips or thick-necked Polish councilmen with long names, I was amazed.

As we drew closer to downtown, the freeway rose over the city, and the tall, wasted buildings hovered over us, their spires hidden in the low clouds. There were more odd billboards, signs for The Detroit Free Press, Stroh's Beer, and Vernor's, my favorite pop. There was the Wonder Bread bakery and the GM Building. Mary wondered if we were lost.

Eventually, 1-75 curved and the elephantine structure of Tiger Stadium jumped out at us. It was hardly what I imagined: it looked like one of those white wooden stables at the Saginaw County Fair, only misshaped. We took the stadium exit, which led us by the abandoned train station. The Ambassador Bridge peeked above the sooty rooftops. We drove around the ballpark, and Grandma kept muttering "I hope we didn't drive all this way for nothing…" Finally, there was an open gate and a bored guard, smoking and looking up at the clouds. She pulled up, slipped on her plastic rain bonnet, and dashed through the rain. After a moment, she bolted back to the car. "He's going to show us the stadium!"

We walked to the gate and the guard smiled. He was an older black man with rough hands who smelled good—like Grandma's cigarettes. We followed him into the darkness, the girders shooting this way and that above us. I asked him, "Where's Mark Fidrych?"

He looked at me, then cackled. "Fidrych? Hell, that cat's probably halfway to Cleveland now!" They both laughed, and I could have spit on the both of them.

We were led through the cavernous hallway, and I remember thinking how ugly the whole place was—I was furious and the stadium was definitely not what I thought it would be. But then he took us through the left-field gate, past the batting cage and into the outfield. Before me was the most beautiful grass I had ever seen, one dark shade of green crisscrossing a lighter shade that met the blue tarpaulin that covered the infield. Surrounding this were the thousands of green wood seats rising up into the shell of the stadium. The rain roared as it fell from the rooftop and onto the seats below. It was like we were under water. The penumbra in the seats was black and gray and dark green and infinitely mysterious. My eyes followed the tall netting behind home plate, up to the radio and television booths, up over the white roof where yellow pennants, with the names of every ballclub in plain black lettering twisting and snapping in the rain. Between them was the great blue neon letters that read Tiger Stadium—only it faced the street, and was backwards from my vantage point. The blue cast a bent halo around the words that spelled, in my own private Latin—Muidats Regit.

In my daze, I had wandered out into the field, and was soaking wet when Grandma called me away. The guard patted my back. "Have a safe trip, now," he said. "I'm sure you'll see Fidrych someday." With that, we drove back home.

The Tigers went nowhere that season, finishing a distant fifth place. And Mark Fidrych's career was over almost before it began. He wrecked his arm and was gone, the following season a tremendous disappointment, even though his numbers were good: 6-4, 2.89 ERA, and 42 strikeouts in a third of the innings of the prior season. There were rumors he'd torn up his ankle leaping over a fence—a Fidrych-like injury if ever there was one. But really he had been worked too hard and his arm was wrecked. Now he lives on a farm in rural Massachusetts, supposedly just as happy-go-lucky as he always was.

I managed to watch him pitch in 1980, in the first game of a double-header celebrating the retiring of Al Kaline's number 6. Fidrych was bombed, giving up six runs in four and 2/3 innings, but by then the pain of his short career was pretty much a given. The Tigers, of course, won the series in steamroller fashion eight years later and were themselves pummeled three years after that by the Twins. Since 1993, they've been an unbelievably miserable team to endure.

I write this now trying to apply a salve to my hurt feeling about baseball, despite a surging Tigers team. Steroids, stadiums, strikes—these things drain my soul, as I'm sure they drain yours. Over the years, baseball has also served as a necessary tonic when family life has become painful, when politics seems ruinous, and standing in a faceless Dome is even a relief when you're feeling lonely and miserable. It doesn't do, I suppose, to ever want those old times back, to pray to whatever God you pray to that there could be a bit more humility on the part of the ballplayers, a bit more goodwill and concern for the people who watch the game. To make things like they were in 1976. Those times are gone. But one of the great joys of baseball is precisely this personal connection we have with the past—do football and basketball fans retreat back to old seasons when things are grim? I doubt it. And while Tiger Stadium still stands, its darkened sign seen only by the saplings growing in the abandoned bleachers, like Twain's Connecticut Yankee aching for his love lost to time, you can never quite go back, and, fortunately, you can never quite forget.

—Peter Schilling Jr.


It is what people forget of Warren Spahn's observation "I played for Casey before and after he was a genius" that illustrates our dilemma in assessing Stengel objectively, the blank that Steven Goldman, in his imperative new book, Forging Genius: The Making of Casey Stengel (Potomac Books, $24.95), fills in, and it only begins with the rest of Spahn's commentary. Spahn "also said that no one knew baseball or cared more passionately about the game than Stengel," Goldman writes. "Perhaps that's why Stengel never pointed out that he was the only manager to work with Warren Spahn before and after he was a great pitcher."

Goldman's volume says, essentially, that it is long past time that we got sick and tired of a particular Stengel stereotype: that he was the class clown who lucked into managing the greatest baseball team of all time when anyone with a body temperature and a blood count could have done it. By slipping the meat of his baseball mind's development between the wheat bread of his hiring by, and first spring and season managing, the New York Yankees, Goldman serves up a crow sandwich to those who persist in believing, with apologies to Branch Rickey, that design was the residue of Stengelese luck.

"What does it do to a man," Ed Linn wrote in due course, in the Saturday Evening Post, "to know that he can do his job better than anybody else in the world—to know in his heart that he knows how it should be done—and not only be denied the opportunity but to be looked upon as a garrulous fool?" To Goldman, based upon the evidence as it is, the answer was (is) self-evident.

"It hurts badly. Casey Stengel neither gave in to that pain, nor believed his critics. When wounded, he fought off feelings of bitterness by laughing outwardly. He used his time in the wilderness to better his own understanding of his profession and himself, regroup, and attack again."

Goldman's will stand as the definitive analysis of Stengel as a baseball mind and manager, the way Robert W. Creamer's Stengel: His Life and Times has stood as a pure biography. One of the crew at, the crew which suffers no fools gladly and refuses to let a good story get in the way of the facts, Goldman could hardly resist having a crack at Stengel, especially considering the Smithsonian-size archive of documentary evidence available to re-examine and re-analyze. But when the facts of the Ol' Perfesser get in the way of the good stories (and you can count on one hand how many bad stories snake up from Stengel's ghost), he looks better and his critics look ridiculous, and they will have Goldman to thank and blame for putting it in one place.

"The only thing we knew about Casey," young third baseman, future cardiologist, and future American League president Bobby Brown said, "was what we'd read in the papers. That he was eccentric, that he was kind of a baseball clown . . . no one realized the depth of his baseball knowledge." Even after he finally had the team that could execute the depth of that baseball knowledge, a lot of people barely realize it. In 1949, it was ignorance as smugness, Goldman writes:

"That spring, the Yankee players were all about entitlement. They were pros, the children of (Joe) McCarthy, smarter than (general manager George) Weiss, and more dignified than Stengel. Unable to see the forest for the trees, they missed the decline of the team as it fell down around them . . . somehow avoiding the unpleasant truths that McCarthy was drinking himself out of a job in Boston, (Lou) Gehrig was dead, (second baseman Joe) Gordon was gone, and the three outfielders (Joe DiMaggio, Tommy Henrich, Charlie Keller) had left their youthful health and vigor in the decade of the 1930s."

In the same decade in which those Yankees' youthful health and vigor was left, Stengel was trying to make a collection of Brooklyn Dodgers, whom their owners had thrown together with little rhyme and less reason, beyond saving dollars at every turn (the Dodgers of that time were bedeviled by the heirs of Charlie Ebbets and Steve McKeever, heirs who couldn't even agree on what they agreed upon), into a baseball team. He went on to try to make a team out of a group of Boston Braves likewise bedeviled by shortsighted (and short-dollared) owners and having something else in common with the prior Dodgers: the very few good players Stengel was allowed were smothered by the very bad players that dominated the team.

The very quality that made Stengel a survivor is the quality that made him so puzzling when he, of all people, was hired to take over the Yankees for 1949. Goldman offers one very intriguing suggestion: Stengel's fearlessness toward finding and provoking laughter even in the middle of the murky months in Brooklyn and Boston provoke people to judge him far worse—and without justification—than they have judged, for example, the records of men who have been called geniuses in spite of abundant evidence to the contrary.

The Ol' Perfesser had played for several less-than-contending teams himself, and a few less-than-acute managerial minds, before his comparatively brief but edifying late-career turn with John McGraw's New York Giants, in the final period of McGraw's greatness. What he learned from McGraw about baseball is legend enough, but Stengel was never content to be a mere McGraw disciple. He developed, advanced, and refined McGraw's teachings into his own philosophy and style, from platooning and percentage play to teaching and pacing his players, from surviving inflated or overbuttressed egos (Stengel in Goldman's hands comes out better in the much-recorded "feud" with mythic but fading Joe DiMaggio than the "legitimate" histories have allowed). The cynics snorted at Stengel's major league managing record when the Yankees hired him, but they ignored at their peril that Stengel won when he had the players who could execute, his favorite single word for playing the game correctly. He had also managed minor league teams in Milwaukee and Oakland in a pair of minor leagues (the old American Association and, even better, the old Pacific Coast League) that were major league in everything except name, and he won with them. (Goldman's is perhaps the single best analytical telling of Stengel's success with the Oakland Oaks.)

The story of Stengel's bending and shaping the 1949 Yankees from a question mark to a thriller of a pennant winner needs no retelling here, and Goldman's analysis of just how he did it is as good as it can ever become for a pocket examination. But in the middle of all that, there comes the exclamation point to the Stengel story, which Goldman acknowledges in the breach. His analysis ends prior but the idiosyncratic Mickey Mantle—supposedly Stengel's trump card down on the farm, after the stupefying 1949 success—proved mostly unwilling to be taught, and he was almost (underline that) lucky that his outsize talent compensated for it. And if there was one side of the Stengel myth that is absolutely true, it was that the old man wanted something in hand with pennants that his old mentor McGraw had (see Mel Ott): one player above all that he could make into a monument to everything he knew and hoped to teach about baseball.

He did have that player, and from the moment he opened his first Yankee spring. It took Ott himself, then managing the Giants, but sending the Yankees a message that $50,000 was theirs for the taking if they'd agree to sell that player off the Newark farm, to awaken the Yankees to the fact that there just might be more to this kid than his caricaturable looks suggested. The kid's name was Yogi Berra.

What deposed Bucky Harris began, Stengel took up and finished. Because Yogi has become so beloved (if to some extent manufactured—but only some) a character as time has passed, he isn't seen as Stengel's monument on the terms of Stengel's definition. But Stengel saw the rest of what the Yankees almost missed. Seeing and raising Harris a score, Stengel saw a kid whose talent should have been obvious, whose hunger to learn should have been nurtured even further (and, when Bill Dickey was coaxed into coaching Berra on the fineries of catching, it was), and whose courage to laugh through the cruel abuse he took over his looks and his awkward way with words was almost as poignant as it was telling. More than anyone before him, Stengel made it possible for Yogi Berra to play baseball the way he and Stengel each believed it should be played.

The result is a Hall of Fame catcher against whom everyone to follow him must be measured, no questions asked, of course. But it was also a powerful argument that Berra—whose least appreciated ability was his ability to turn pitchers who never had winning records elsewhere into pitchers who pitched over their own heads as Yankees—may have been the single greatest team player in the history of team sports. In the hands of any other manager, Berra might have become merely useful, maybe a good hit-suspect defense catcher, maybe even a by-the-numbers Hall of Famer based almost entirely on his hitting for his position, but not quite close to what he actually did become. Yogi Berra probably deserves a re-examination more than anyone who has ever played the game, and we have Casey Stengel to thank for that.

Maybe Berra struck Stengel with a kind of shock of recognition. If it took Berra a bushel of guts to laugh his way around the stupidity with which he was handled at first, it must have taken Stengel a ton to laugh his way through being blamed more readily for mediocrity than he was credited for success. It takes superhuman ignorance to frown at Stengel's Yankees and presume it was a freak accident that rudely interrupted the mediocrity to which providence had plighted his true troth. It will be difficult to read even Goldman's kind of evidentiary analysis without bursting out laughing—this is Casey Stengel, after all—but it will be impossible to read it and conclude ever again that Stengel was just the luckiest man alive from 1949 through 1960.

—Jeff Kallman


Just be the ball. Be the ball. Be the ball...

During his playing days, Kazuhiro Yamauchi measured five-foot-nine and weighed 170 pounds—a modest frame by today's baseball standards for a power-hitting leftfielder.

Instead of brawn, he relied on concentration to lead him to 396 home runs, a lifetime .295 average, and one MVP award during his 17-year career that began in the early 1950s.

"From when I was a rookie, I imagined the ball being hit before the pitch was delivered," explains the seventy-three-year-old from his office in Nakameguro, Tokyo.

This method, which he calls "image training," took him all the way to the Japanese Hall of Fame in 2002.

"I was good because I had strong concentration," he says.

As a player, manager, and coach, Yamauchi has emphasized bat control and a steady eye, in addition to a keen focus, as the keys to hitting. This old-school approach might seem simple but it has earned him the reputation as one of Japan's premier hitting technicians.

Every player has his own hitting theory, explains Yamauchi. But the general hitting philosophies of Japan and the big leagues are quite different.

"Willie Mays," says Yamauchi, "had a compact style that allowed him to not only try for home runs but also hit for a high average. On the other hand, Mickey Mantle swung the bat in a big, sweeping stroke to hit home runs."

With each, though, the key was timing.

Yamauchi, who began his career with the Orions franchise before continuing on to the Hanshin Tigers and Hiroshima Carp, clearly remembers many years ago when a sports writer asked an American player during the "hero" interview, which customarily takes place on the field after a game in Japan, what type of pitch he had hit during a key at-bat. All the slugger could offer was that he hit a nice pitch that came over the plate.

"The player didn't care if it was a fastball, curve, or slider," Yamauchi says in amazement. "Timing was the most important thing to him."

Timing is vital to Yamauchi, too, but only in a relative sense. Bat control is first.

Players in Japan often wait at the plate with the bat gripped just below the chin, elbows in tight against the sides. As the pitcher winds and completes his delivery, the batsman will drop and raise his hands just slightly.

The major difference, explains Yamauchi, begins once the bat starts moving through the hitting zone. "American and Latin American players don't use their front shoulder," says Yamauchi.

As exemplified by Ichiro Suzuki, the Japanese hitter will straighten his leading elbow and drag the bat with his front shoulder, trying to adjust to the pitch location by moving his arms and bat together.

Dubbed the "just meet" swing in Japan, it contrasts mightily with the corkscrew twists that often sent Mickey Mantle and Reggie Jackson to their knees.

Yamauchi lead the Pacific League in batting in 1957 (.331). He collected four Pacific League RBI titles and two home run crowns in the late 1950s and early '60s. He made the "Best Nine" team, an end-of-the-year collection of each league's best players, ten times. His Pacific League MVP award came in 1960, a campaign in which he belted 32 home runs, drove in 103 runs, and batted at a .313 clip.

"I simulated how to hit every pitch," he says of his mental practice routine in his playing days, "whether it be a fastball, curve, or change. So when I dug into the batter's box, I was able to move and swing naturally... and knock the ball into the bleachers."

Experience and practice eventually allowed him to break down a pitch's trajectory. He realized that he could determine the type of pitch once a ball was three to 4 meters from the plate. Within the two- to 3-meter range, he decided whether to swing or not.

In 1960, Yamauchi's intense focus on hitting resulted in one of the more bizarre plays in the history of Japanese ball. With the bases loaded, a full count and two outs in the eighth, and his Daimai Orions trailing 3 to 1 to the Toei Flyers at Tokyo's Komazawa Stadium, Yamauchi swung and missed at a low-and-inside pitch, Yamauchi's admitted weakness.

When the ball slipped past Flyers catcher Junzo Ando to the net, a dejected Yamauchi trudged toward the dugout, his head down and forgetting that he should run to first.

"Go back to the bench, Yamauchi!" heckled the Flyers manager.

But the Orions players screamed otherwise. "Go! Go to the first base!"

By then, Ando and the rest of the Flyers had assumed the out was conceded. And with the runners moving on the pitch, it was the Flyers' best chance; at least two runs would have likely scored if the out was not deemed to have already been recorded.

But given that a force-out at the plate was not made and Yamauchi not tagged, the umpire didn't make a call. So Yamauchi collected himself and headed down to first. He soon came around to score as well when the confusion continued to engulf home plate. The Orions wound up victorious, 5-3.

After the conclusion of his playing career in 1970, Yamauchi dabbled in managing and coaching throughout the 1970s and '80s.

"Stan Musial told me," he remembers, "that Japanese hitters do not understand their own strike zone. Not the zone in rulebook, but the one in which the player can hit within easily. He said American players focused on that zone. I was a young boy then and didn't understand the meaning."

He does now, and it is something he tries to impart on his disciples, one of which included Ichiro during his initial years with the Orix Blue Wave.

"Ichiro didn't know what I was talking about during his first year," Yamauchi says of the difficulty in realizing that such a zone is critical. "But he told me he understood by the second."

Yamauchi, who today sells sports-related products through his company Eight Yamauchi (named after his jersey number), believes that a hitting coach must correct peculiarities in a player's form while not altering his hitting style. This is as true for a contact hitter like Tony Gwynn as it is for a thumper like Mark McGwire.

But after the pitch has started its approach to the plate, it is up to the batter to put the bat on the ball.

"I can only give advice," Yamauchi says. "I cannot demand that a player do one thing or another. It is up to his feeling and instinct."

Be the ball...

—Brett Bull

NOTE: This article originally appeared on Sake Drenched Postcards and is used with permission. Tomotada Yamamoto and Natsuki Fukuda contributed to this article.


Books and books and books abound, as do the many, many articles on drugs and Barry Bonds. Most of these are awful, and next month (I promise) we'll have our annual Summer Readings Issue, which will include, at the very least, Mark Lamster's wonderful Spalding's World Tour and Stew Thornley's definitive Baseball in Minnesota.

In the meantime, Brad Zellar is back to writing about the Twins almost three times a week, but who knows how long that will last in the face of such abysmal baseball? And Twins Geek is also back, running the fabulous GameDay program outside the Metrodome.

Also interesting: Forbes has a great article on how much baseball teams really make, and has Baseball Digest articles, free of charge, online going back to April of 2000.


Movie of the Week

Castro's Curveball

by Tim Wendell

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