MEMOIR: MUIDATS REGIT
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.
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:
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
ALL DRINK TO THE DEPTH OF A CLOWN
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
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 BaseballProspectus.com, 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
"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
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.
BASEBALL WITH KAZUHIRO YAMAUCHI
Just be the ball. Be the ball. Be
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
"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
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
"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,"
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
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,
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."
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
Be the ball...
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
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 AccessMyLibrary.com
has Baseball Digest articles, free of
charge, online going back to April of 2000.