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Miscellaneous articles supplementing my book Youth Baseball Coaching

Posted by John Reed on

Complete rule on how many bases runners get on a throw that goes out of bounds

My book only has part of the rule abotu this. Here is the complete rule

(g) Two bases when, with no spectators on the playing field, a thrown ball goes into the
stands, or into a bench (whether or not the ball rebounds into the field), or over or
under or through a field fence, or on a slanting part of the screen above the
backstop, or remains in the meshes of a wire screen protecting spectators. The ball
is dead. When such wild throw is the first play by an infielder, the umpire, in
awarding such bases, shall be governed by the position of the runners at the time the
ball was pitched; in all other cases the umpire shall be governed by the position of
the runners at the time the wild throw was made;

APPROVED RULING: If all runners, including the batter-runner, have advanced
at least one base when an infielder makes a wild throw on the first play after the
pitch, the award shall be governed by the position of the runners when the wild
throw was made

[submitted by Daniel Kirchheimer]

McCarver advice against mechanics coaching during games

Wise words from Tim McCarver during a May 2011 Fox broadcast:

No good coach ever talks [to a player] about mechanics during the game...whether you're a pitching coach or a batting instructor.

Joe Mauer’s hitting machine

In Youth Baseball Coaching, I said that I seemed to get much better as a hitter as a result of throwing a rubber baseball up on a barn roof and hitting it when it came down. The 6/29/09 Sports Illustrated has a big article about .400-hitting Twins star Joe Mauer. It had this paragraph:

His father, Jake Jr.,…rigged up a contraption that would drop balls through a coffee-can-and-PVC-pipe device, leaving time for only a quick, short stroke. By the time Muer was a senior at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul, his swing was so pure that he made contact nearly every time he swung (he, in fact, struck out only once in high school), though with little power at first.

I’m not sure exactly what that looks like, but it sounds a lot like my barn roof, which still stood in the alley behind 168 Hanley Street in Harrington, DE when I drove through there in September, 2008.

Sports Illustrated article on ’The Art of the Steal’

Baseball Prospectus says a hitter’s batting average goes up .015 when there is a base stealing threat on first base (at levels where runners can take a pre-pitch lead). There is also a slight improvement in power hitting, that is, the batter hits for more bases.

A stolen base increases expected runs by .25 but getting caught stealing reduces expected runs by .64. That means you have to succeed about 75% of the time to warrant stealing.

Counter measures include stepping off, holding the ball for a long time on the mound before pitching, slide step.

Teams film opposing coaches to try to spot “tells” that reveal as early as possible whether the pitcher is throwing to the plate or the base.

Since they take more time to et to the plate, off-speed pitches are better to steal on than fast balls. Pitchers’ fear of throwing off-speed pitches with a good base stealer on base is why batters hit better.

AP confirms my claim that left-handed bating is better
Jim Salter of the Associated Press wrote a story that ran in the San Ramon Valley Times on 7/10/08 on the left-handed advantage in baseball. He got the Baseball Hall of Fame to run some stats on the issue. He could have gotten that from my book Youth Baseball Coaching way back in 2000. The nine no-one-can-deny advantages of left-handed hitting are listed and discussed on pp. 157 to 163 in the second edition of Youth Baseball Coaching.

Tiger Woods changed his swing—knowing it would make him worse first but later, better
Page 153 of the book More Than You Know by Michael J. Mauboussin says Tiger Woods got his coach Butch Harmon to help him revamp his swing. He got worse in the short term, but better in the long term.

From 7/97 to 2/99, he only won one Tour event. In the spring of 1999, he said,

Winning is not always the barometer of getting better.

He then won 10 of the next 14 events in 1999. He subsequently became the first golfer to be reigning champ in all four majors simultaneously.

The same “get worse before you get better” rule is true of baseball batters’ swings, which is why changing them is an off-season-only activity.

Great new book: Moneyball by Michael Lewis

Coaches should read the new book Moneyball by Michael Lewis. It tells how the Oakland Athletics manage to pay just $500,000 per victory—the best in the Major Leagues—while poorly managed teams like the Rangers and Orioles pay $3,000,000 per victory.

Basically, the A’s focus on numbers like the ones I push in my book Youth Baseball Coaching. They ignore players who look the part, but do not get on base when they bat or have a good strikeout to walk ratio when they pitch.

Stats Web site Sports Illustrated told of a great stats Web site for baseball people in their 12/16/02 issue:

Youth pitching arm safety

My local paper had a good article on youth pitcher arm over-use injuries. Some points:

No sliders

47% of youth pitchers have throwing arm pain

a pitcher should not touch a baseball until all pain goes away

cause is too many pitches or trying to throw breaking balls

fatigue causes poor mechanics which, in turn, causes injuries

start throwing twice a week around Thanksgiving; by Christmas, throw 100 pitches three times a week until season

train with 3- to 5-pound weights

no pain medicine before pitching; only after

every increment of 10 pitches above 25 (about one inning) increases the likelihood of arm pain by 6%

rest after pitching days as directed by Little League rules

fastballs at age 8; change-ups at age 10; and no breaking balls until age 14 [Seems to me a change-up is OK at any age]

get professional training on mechanics

BESR mark required

Starting with the 2003 season, all high school baseball bats must have a maximum Bat Exit Speed of no more than 97 MPH and meet a moment of inertia requirement. The manufacturer must print a marking on the bat stating that it complies..

Coach base-running article

There was an excellent article on base-running for girls softball in the May-June 2002 Coach magazine. It applies to boys baseball as well (although girls apparently cannot take a lead which means that aspect of the article only applies to 12 and under Little League.)

Little League World Series

I just saw the final of the 2001 Little League World Series. Japan did a great job of defense, including base-running defense. The U.S. champ lost two base runners to pickles in the final.

The final play included one of my pet peeves about Little League coaches: hitting the cut man. The winning run was going home in the bottom of the sixth inning. The left fielder threw the ball home. It would have been a close play at the plate. But we never got to see that play because the pitcher cut the ball for no apparent reason. That is the coach’s fault, not the kid’s.

In my book Youth Baseball Coaching, I said you generally should never cut the ball in Little League unless you plan to change its direction—that is, throw to a different base or straighten out an off-line throw. In this case, the throw was on line and needed to go to exactly where it was thrown—home. The cut saved the runner from having to beat the tag. That should have been drilled by the U.S. team. If it had been, the pitcher would have ducked and let the ball go through to the catcher, who might have made the game-winning tag. Instead, we saw possibly the game-losing cut off.

Failure to put foot on first

In a game before the final, I saw the first baseman fail to put his foot on the base before he caught the throw from an infielder—twice. On two successive plays, the runner was safe because the same first baseman did not have his foot on the base. The TV announcers made a bunch of excuses for the first baseman, how these Little Leaguers are still learning the game and all that. Gimme a break! This is the Little League World Series. I don’t think I have ever seen that happen twice in one inning at any level, let alone in the Little League World Series. You learn to put your foot on the base before the throw in tee ball! I cannot fathom how a kid could get to the Little League World Series without having learned that long before.

Throwing and base running errors on one play

In another game before the final, I saw a runner go from second to third on an overthrow to second that went into left field. The left fielder was in his original left field position, He had never moved in to back up second as he should have. My half-size field drill would have ensured that the left fielder was where he should have been and gotten to the ball sooner.

But there were two more errors on the play. The left fielder threw the ball to second as the runner was rounding third. That is absolutely incorrect. The left fielder should have thrown home or run the ball into the infield. The other mistake is that the base runner who was rounding third did not go home on the throw to the wrong base. My teams drilled approaching a base while an outfielder deliberately threw to the wrong location. We usually threw to the pitcher’s mound because that was the most common mistake. We also sometimes drilled approaching second when no one covered third to teach our runners to look for an open base to run to. In other words, had I been the coach of that Little league team, that runner would have broken for home the moment he saw the left fielder throw to second instead of home. He would have done so because we would have drilled exactly that earlier in the season.

Danny Almonte

In general, I am disappointed in the level of play in the Little League World Series. The Japanese defense was excellent, but most other aspects of the Series were surprisingly mediocre. The number of errors seems like you would see in a regular Little League majors game. In some games, the number of strikeouts was ridiculously high. Obviously, the age limit alone is not adequate to keep players who are physiologically too mature for Little League—the Bronx pitcher Danny Almonte being a case in point. Little League needs a speed limit on pitchers. If you throw faster than a certain number of miles per hour, like 70, it’s a no pitch. Otherwise, we are going to continue to see 16-strikeout games (out of 18 total batters) and perfect games.

Almonte threw 77 miles per hour. That’s too fast when his release point is only about 40 feet from the front edge of the plate. At 77 mph, a baseball travels 113 feet per second. That means it takes only .37 seconds to get to the front edge of the plate. A 90 mph Major League pitch travels 132 feet per second so it takes .39 seconds to go the approximately 52 feet it has to go. Major League teams are international all-star teams with the best athletes from three or four continents. A Little League World Series team is just the best kids from one 20,000-population territory. They cannot be expected to hit a ball in less time than a Major League pro adult.

Sports Illustrated has an affidavit from the birthplace of Danny Almonte—Moca, Santo Domingo—saying he was 14 years old, not 12 as required by Little League Baseball rules. Figures. So he didn’t mature early. He was born early.

Blame the adults?

Everyone has put 100% of the blame on the adults involved in the Almonte incident. What’s up with that? The kid is 14, not 4. I am a former 14-year old. I have three sons, the youngest of which is now 14. I have also coached many 14-year olds. They are old enough to know right from wrong, to know what cheating means.

True, it is tough for a 14-year old to go against his parents wishes. But I wonder if Danny Almonte is as obedient about eating his vegetables, cleaning his room, and doing his homework as he is about joining is father in a conspiracy to commit fraud. If he can refuse to eat his vegetables, he can refuse to participate in a conspiracy.

A member of Danny’s team was asked if he thought Danny was a victim. Through clenched teeth he said, “No. He knew how old he is.” In response to the same question, my fourteen-year old said, “He knew what he was doing.” I agree with the 14-year olds. In addition to his father and league president, Danny Almonte should also be banned from participating in the Little League seniors or Big League programs.

Great pitcher?

A number of commentators have said lying about his age was wrong, but that Danny Almonte is still a great pitcher. How do we know this? Seems to me no one will know how good a pitcher he is until he throws from a mound that is 60'6" away from the plate against kids his own age.

This whole Almonte incident has annoyed me greatly. A lot of people were afraid to question the situation early on because of fear of being labeled racist. People in the New York Dominican community seemed not to want to know the truth. The only group that seems to have done precisely what they should have are the Dominican government officials who were forthright and prompt in response to inquiries.

Suspicious opposing teams that paid private investigators were criticized. I would not criticize them for investigating, only for wasting $10,000 on an incompetent private investigator. They probably should have just made a few phone calls and sent a few letters. Even after they got caught, Almonte and his father still continued to lie. (His mother fessed up.)

This crap has been going on for decades in Little League. When I played in the 1950’s, I remember parents of large players taking their birth certificates to every game.

In The Little Team that Could, Steve Burroughs said the Philippine players who beat them for the World Series title were obviously overage. That World Series champion team later lost their title because they also violated the geographical limits and sent a quasi national all-star team in violation of the rules.

Little League world headquarters let Taiwan win year after year with what it now appears was a national all-star team. Taiwan beat our local San Ramon Valley Little League in one World Series. Our local team apparently benefitted from our league having far too many kids and far too few majors teams. They were forced to split into two leagues after they won the national championship.

Taiwan no longer participates in the World Series, apparently because Little League said they would check more carefully in the wake of the Philippines incident. I think the repeated success of the Toms River, NJ Little League is extremely suspicious. One of my New Jersey readers told me Toms River, like my local league, was forced to split into two leagues after their World Series success.

Little League says they do not have the budget to check the birth certificates of 3,000,000 Little Leaguers. Fine. How about just checking the birth certificates of the teams that make to to the final 16 teams? The knowledge that that would be done would discourage would-be cheaters. Because of comically lax enforcement over decades, the Little League World Series is probably the the most dishonest nationally televised tournament in all of sports. How ironic that the Little League World Series, of all things, is one of the few sports events that Vegas probably won’t take bets on—too much cheating.

Requesting time out

Two of my pet peeves about recent baseball behavior are Little league batters constantly holding their hand up in the umpires face to indicate they are not ready yet—and base runners at all levels requesting time every time they slide to brush themselves off.

Memo to youth batters: Stay out of the box until you are ready. When you get into the box, get ready promptly. Knock off all the extraneous shifting and foot shuffling. If you really need a time out—usually because the pitcher is deliberately delaying throwing the pitch to make you tired, request a time out with your mouth, not your hand. Then wait until the umpire grants the time out before you step out of the box. Do not assume that he did. In a recent Little League World Series game I saw on TV, a batter “called” time out and stepped out of the box. The umpire ignored him. The pitcher threw a pitch and the ump called it a strike, even though no batter was present. The batter acted like the ump and pitcher had gone crazy. The call stood.

Somebody needs to explain to youth batters that the ump is in charge of time outs, not the batter. Batters may request one, although if I were the ump, I would tell the manager of these kids who constantly have their hand up that I generally will ignore them. I would also tell the opposing manager that.

Major League and lower level base runners have gotten into the habit of calling time out every time they slide. How about you just stand on the base and dust yourself off? Or don’t dust yourself off at all? These time outs are completely unnecessary. Baseball was remiss in letting this ritual get started. Baseball is the only sport I know of where teams get unlimited number of time outs. As you would expect, the number of time outs requested is expanding to fill the number of daylight hours. In a recent Major League game, a guy slid in safely to second and requested time out. The base ump did not see the request and did not grant it. The runner strolled around off base and the pitcher threw to a middle infielder who tagged him out. Stupid.

Memo to umps: Just say no to unnecessary time outs—especially in leagues where another game is scheduled on the same field after this game.

Deliberate strike out on passed ball at teenage level

Here is an email I got from a reader. Sounds like a great idea to me.

Not sure how I stumbled into your page Youth Baseball Coaching news by John T. Reed, but there's some interesting stuff on it. I've had a thought for what I think would be an intelligent batting maneuver, and I was wondering what you thought of it. The situation: no runners on first base or runners on, but two outs. Two strikes on the batter. Pitcher lets loose with what is clearly going to be a wild pitch or, at least one that the catcher can't get to. The batter swings with no intention of connecting with the ball and then runs to first. I've seen plenty of times when it would make sense to do it, but I've never seen anyone try. I think it would be a great idea. thanks for any comment, rob winant

New book called Teaching the Complete Baserunner by Gary Pullin and Stu Southworth

I consider myself a student of baserunning, but I was learning new stuff before I got ten pages into this book. The authors are extremely thorough and describe their approach in both words and diagrams. Highly recommended. Published by Kendall/Hunt Publishing company.

Number-of-pitches rule

“I think you somewhat misstated the Little League pitching frequency rule's effective pitch count limit, however. Granting that the average Little League inning may last 25 pitches (I couldn't believe a 6-pitch inning I saw last week), the rule is that if a pitcher goes more than three innings he has to rest three days. That's *one pitch* more, not a whole inning more. So to rewrite your paraphrase on p. 222, wherever it says "100", substitute "76". That's a little better.” Bob Estes
"Minor League" manager, Somerville, MA

Catcher control of cut man

Here is an email I got from a reader: You say that the catcher should direct (position) the cut off man on a throw from the outfield. How can the catcher line up the cut off man from home plate? The player on the base receiving the throw is in a much better vantage point to align the cut off man with the base. Don't you agree? Shouldn't the second baseman receiving a throw from left align the cut off man with the base? Makes more sense to me.

Reed response: Of course the baseman at the target base controls the cut man. I didn’t say the catcher controls the cut man on throws to any base other than home. I thought that was obvious. On a throw to second from the outfield, a middle infielder who is at second controls the cut man. On a throw to third from the outfield, the third baseman controls the cut man. On a throw to home from the outfield, the catcher controls the cut man. Remember, the purpose of cut man is to change the direction of the ball, not to relay it to the base it was already heading for.

Fake catch by Lou Piniella

The 3/19/01 Sports Illustrated had a great story about what Yankee owner George Steinbrenner called “the single greatest play a Yankee has made in all my years with the team.”

The Yanks were winning a 1978 one-game playoff game with the Red Sox 5-4 with one out in the ninth. Piniella was having trouble seeing the ball from right field because of the sun angle. He had almost lost a pop in the previous inning. With Burleson a base runner on first, Remy hit an easy fly to Piniella. Piniella could not see it, but pretended it was no sweat. Burleson went part way. The ball landed five feet in front of Piniella, who fired it to third. Burleson was only able to get to second. The next batter, Rice, flied out deep—a play that would have scored Burleson from third on the tag up—tying the game.

The Yanks went on to win when Yaz popped out. This was also the game famous for Bucky Dent’s home run.

‘…less instruction is better at the younger levels’

Oakland A’s Athletic director Keith Liepmann says, “I think less instruction is better at the younger levels. That’s why a lot of times the Dominicans are easier to work with. They haven’t had a lot of instruction.”

An article by C.W. Nevius in the 12/10/00 San Francisco Chronicle said, “The real shocker is that, with all the camps, clinics and instructors, the results may be lackluster at best. If the American system was such a success, the Dominicans should be lifting weights, working on bat mechanics and playing carefully organized tournaments supervised by parents. Instead, they have a simpler plan. They just play.” (30% of the players in the Oakland A’s organization are Dominican, this in spite of the fact that the Dominican Republic only has 5.6 million people.)

This reflects my approach in part. I recommend spending little or no time on batting mechanics, batting practice, grounder fielding, and a number of other things. I do advocate training on other aspects of the game, but not what I call the Zen aspects. In those, imitate the Dominicans. Just play.

I would be in favor of working on batting mechanics and so forth if it worked. In Youth Baseball Coaching, I said my experience and observation is that it does not work. Mr. Nevius appears to agree.

Throwing from right behind runner at first

On page 76, I wrote about the right fielder throwing behind the sole runner to the catcher at first. On this trick play, the first baseman deliberately runs out toward right to make the runner think there is no one at first. A reader says it’s better for the pitcher to sneak over to first. He is less likely to draw the attention of the first base coach and the catcher can back him up. Also, the pitcher has a better glove for catch and tag. The reason I didn’t think of this is I got the play out of books written by Major League or college coaches. Those guys won’t even let the pitcher catch a pop fly let alone tag a runner out at first.

Ted Williams on hitting

The 9/00 Scholastic Coach has an article called “Ted Williams talks hitting.” Some comments reinforce my book, which was heavily influenced by Williams.

“Mickey Mantle was power personified… But he wouldn’t concede a thing with two strikes, and you’ve got to concede with two strikes.”

“[The best hitter in the mid ’90s was] Frank Thomas…extremely selective…superior eye…He combines the strength of Jimmie Foxx and the patience and smarts of a Tony Gwynn.”

My book Youth Baseball Coaching emphasizes waiting for a good pitch to hit on the first two strikes, then using a very short swing or bunt with two strikes. Those techniques are quite coachable in the short span of a youth-baseball season. What most youth coaches try to do—teach fine points of mechanics—is a waste of time during a season that only lasts 40 hours (practice time).

Carlos Delgado on pitch selection

The 8/28/00 Sports Illustrated has an article on Carlos Delgado, a Major League player who has a chance to be the first since Carl Yastrzemski to win the Triple Crown (league best in batting average, RBIs, and home runs). Delgado has been in the Majors for a number of years. What’s so special about this season? “…Delgado has shown remarkable improvement in his pitch selection. For the first time in his career, he was walking (95 times, second in the league) more than he was striking out (82).

“I’ve learned if they want to walk you, let them walk you. I’m not a gifted hitter. I’m not a natural. I’ve had to work at it.” This is the main point I made about hitting in my book Youth Baseball Coaching. It’s not how you swing, but what you don’t swing at that matters most in hitting. Furthermore, how to swing is extremely hard to improve during the brief course of a youth season. But what to swing at can be taught in weeks.

Jaramillo: Placebo or genius?

That same issue of SI has a brief article about “Jaramillo’s magic.” Rudy Jaramillo is the hitting coach of the Texas Rangers. Gabe Kapler, and other Rangers attribute improvements in their hitting to Jaramillo. Is he a magician?

I doubt that anyone is a real magician. More likely he is another example of a phenomenon I described at length in Youth Baseball Coaching—a human placebo. I suspected that once celebrated hitting instructor Walt Hriniak was another human placebo. A placebo is a useless medicine or procedure that is presented to the patient as an effective or possibly effective cure. The most common placebo is a sugar pill that is given to patients who are either told it is an effective cure or that they are part of a test in which it may or may not be the new drug being tested. Placebos also take the form of surgery in which nothing is done but cutting the skin and stitching it back together and other forms of therapy.

Placebos have proven to be amazingly effective throughout medicine. I have found them to be amazingly effective at improving the various aspects of baseball performance that rely heavily on the subconscious mind, namely, pitching/throwing, fielding grounders, and hitting. If you give a kid a legitimate tip, in my experience, he will often improve dramatically overnight. I improved my own hitting dramatically overnight after reading tips in books or elsewhere and trying them. Unfortunately, I have also found that the placebo effect wears off fairly quickly (in weeks).

Jaramillo told Kapler to add a leg kick to his stride. His hitting improved dramatically immediately thereafter. I suspect that concluding this is what did the trick is a logic fallacy known as post hoc, ergo propter hoc (after which therefore because of which). It also fails to consider that this was really the placebo effect. I do not think there is any evidence that adding a leg kick will improve everyone’s hitting. Advocates of the Jaramillo-as-magician theory would say that he has a unique ability to perceive individual problems and to prescribe individual cures that only work for that hitter.

If you believe that, it will probably work, even if it’s not true.

2000 Little League World Series tournament

I watched some Little League World Series regional games recently. One Eastern regional player wore wire-rimmed glasses while batting with a helmet that had no face mask—a blatantly unsafe act. In the Western regional game, one player wore safety glasses while batting. Good for him—although a face-mask helmet is the only acceptable protection while batting. The safety glasses should be worn when fielding.

I was pleasantly surprised to see far more bunting. I am not a bunt fan so much as I hate striking out and Little League World Series games are one strikeout after another. However, the bunting was awful. They rarely bunted fair. They often failed to pull the bat back on a ball. One reason seemed to be that they held the bat in front of their bodies instead of over the plate while waiting for the pitch, then jabbed at the ball. They are supposed to let the ball come to the bat.

It is hard to tell from TV, but I thought almost every single Little League World Series player swung a bat that was much too heavy for him. If you doubt me, here’s a suggestion. Videotape a Major Leaguer swinging a bat in a game. Then do the same with a Little League World Series player. Get two TVs and two VCRs and replay the swings simultaneously. I predict that you will see a gap between when the Little Leaguer’s body starts moving and when he bat starts moving and you will see the Little Leaguer arch his back like an Olympic hammer thrower. Neither of these defects will be evident in the Major Leaguer’s swing.

Tom’s River, NJ was apparently in the early stages of the Little League World Series tournament again. That’s about the fourth time in the last six years or so. In my book and in an item below, I said that Tom’s River’s perennial success at getting to the Little League World Series indicates to me that that organization probably has too many kids in their program, or is guilty of worse violations. Coaching alone cannot get you to the Little League World Series. It takes talent. The only way one organization can have more talent than the vast majority of other teams year after year is if they are getting around League rules that are aimed at ensuring parity between teams and leagues.

Make it Doris Day

On page 15 of Youth Baseball Coaching, I said it was important that you imbue your players with the spirit embodied in Patti Page’s song “Que Sera, Sera” (Whatever will be, will be). While watching one of those TV infomercials where they sell a collection of oldies, I learned that it was Doris Day who recorded “Que Sera, Sera.”

Larsen’s windup in the perfect World Series game

In Youth Baseball Coaching, I mentioned the fact that Don Larsen threw his perfect World Series game, the only one in history, entirely from the stretch. Today, I saw a TV interview of Yogi Berra, who caught that game, and they showed a clip of the last pitch. That one, at least, was thrown from the full windup.

More home runs because weaker pitches mean more C-3’s

The 7/17/00 Sports Illustrated has an article about the dramatic increase in home runs in Major League Baseball in recent years. They mentioned the usual suspects: a more tightly wound ball and players who are stronger due to weight lifting and dietary supplements. But they place most of the blame on expansion. The big increase in home runs traces back to 1993, the year the Major Leagues added expansion teams Miami and Denver. That expansion brought up to the Majors 72 pitchers who previously would have been minor leaguers. Five years later Phoenix and Tampa were added bringing even more minor league pitchers up.

What do weaker pitchers do that makes it easier to hit home runs? They throw a higher percentage of hitters’ pitches than stronger pitchers do.

The previous big home run year—1961—when Maris set the record of 61 HRs and Mantle chased him—was also the first year after a league expansion.

I cite this to further prove my point that waiting for a good pitch to hit is extremely important to batting success.

No one-sport children says American Academy of Pediatrics

On page 223 of Youth Baseball Coaching, I said it was bad for children to specialize year round in one sport. Now the American Academy of Pediatrics has issued a policy statement in the 7/00 issue of Pediatrics saying the same thing for children under age 12. AAP says such specialization causes both physical and psychological damage to children. Physical problems include overuse injuries. Psychological problems include stress, eating disorders, and burnout. The new policy was prompted in part by the book Little Girls in Pretty Boxes by Joan Ryan. It details training methods of young gymnasts and figure skaters.

Tom’s River split up

On pages 5 and 6 of Youth Baseball Coaching, I noted that my local San Ramon Valley Little League won three national championships, but also that they had too many kids within their boundaries and that when that was corrected, they had much less success in post-season competition.

On page 6 I said, “…I know nothing about Toms River, NJ except that they got to the Little League World Series tournament three times over a period of years. Knowing what I do about youth baseball, I find that suspicious on its face.” On 4/30/00, I gave a football coaching clinic in Saddle Brook, NJ. One of my attendees is from a town near Tom’s River. He told me that Tom’s River Little League, like the San Ramon Valley Little League, was recently forced to split into two leagues.

A guy wrote me in May of 2003 saying this was wrong. He says the league that went to the World Series repeatedly was Tom’s River East American. He says Tom’s River East did split into American and National leagues, but that the split was before any of their Little League World Series appearances. When our Little League was forced to split, they allowed kids who were in majors to stay on their old team so the kids drawn from the overly large pool did not all wash out of the league until three years after the split.

Maybe the Little League World Series is nothing more than a tournament involving teams that are violating Little League’s number-of-players-per-league rule. Perennial winners, like Taiwan, the Philippines, San Ramon Valley, and Tom’s River all seem to be drawing their players from an overly large pool in the years of their success.

If Tom’s River did not benefit at all from having an overly large pool of players, what is their secret?

Maximum pitch count

In Youth Baseball Coaching, I rejected Little League’s maximum-number-of-innings rule for pitchers and said it should be replaced by a pitch-count maximum. The 5/28/00 issue of my local daily paper, the San Ramon Valley Times, had an excellent article on pitching injuries. Commenting on a Stanford pitcher throwing 167 pitches in the 1999 College World Series, Oakland Athletics’ general manager Billy Beane said, “A guy should never throw 160 pitches—not even in the big leagues. Not ever, not ever.” In general, the A’s limit their pitchers to 100 pitches.

The paper quoted one of the top high school baseball coaches in my area, Rick Steen of San Ramon Valley High School, as saying he still feels guilty about letting one of his stars go 120 pitches in a 1980 game.

Contrast those comments with what I said on page 222: “When I coached at the 9-10 year old level, I only allowed my pitchers to throw 50 pitches a day. The kid who threw a complete game [6 innings] victory against my team in 1992 probably exceeded 150 pitches that day.”

Pitching only from the stretch

I quoted coaches who said to pitch only from the stretch in Youth Baseball Coaching and seconded their motion. Major League pitcher Rob Nen, who can throw 100 miles per hour, only throws from the stretch or set position even when no runners are on base. He struggled in the Majors until pitching coach Larry Rothschild changed his mechanics to stretch only.

Great pitching book

The Louisville Slugger Complete Book of Pitching is great, as is their hitting book. The best pitching book I have ever seen. I hope they do one on fielding and one on baserunning.

In my book, Youth Baseball Coaching, I said to put the creases of your fingers on the stitches in the four-seam fastball grip. In the Louisville book, Doug Myers and Mark Gola say to put your fingerprints on the stitches. Try it both ways is probably the best advice.

On page 49 of Youth Baseball Coaching, I show a diagram of a four-seam fastball grip. Actually, that diagram is for a left-handed thrower. The “C” made by the seams should be closest to your middle finger because your middle finger is longer than your index finger. By putting the “C” nearest your middle finger, your middle and index fingerprints or creases will line up on the stitches. If the “C” is on the index finger side, one of your two fingers will be off the stitches.

On page 192 of Youth Baseball Coaching, I said that a pitcher’s stride foot should land on his glove side of a center line and I have a diagram showing his toe pointing at the batter. Many other books and coaches say to do that. But the Louisville book makes a persuasive argument that the stride foot toe should land on the center line and point at the one o’clock (right-handed pitcher) position. (A left-handed pitcher’s stride foot would end up pointing at the 11 o’clock position.) That is, imagine your stride foot is landing on a clock face where 12 o’clock is the direction of the batter and 3 o’clock is toward third base. Another way to put this is your stride foot should be slightly closed when it lands.

Front of the plate or catcher’s mitt?

Reader Kevin Underkofler notes that it only takes .005 seconds for a 50 MPH pitch to travel from the front of the plate to the catchers mitt. He wonders if kids should be told to wait until it hits the mitt to take off on a steal in leagues where they cannot leave the base before the ball reaches the plate. Good point. If the ump is watching that closely, it would probably be good to wait until it hits the mitt. On the other hand, there is a perceptible difference between the ball being at the front edge of the plate and the mitt. Although the runner may not be able to get his muscles moving in .005, the sooner he starts trying to move his muscles, the sooner he will arrive at the next base. So I would continue to teach the runners to go on the balls arrival at the plate, not the mitt.

The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Coaching Youth Baseball

I just bought and read a book called The Baffled Parent’s Guide to Coaching Youth Baseball by Bill Thurston. He is the head coach of Amherst College. Amherst recruited my son for football in the fall of 1999 so we visited there and were impressed. I was not impressed, however, with this book. I underline the good stuff when I read a book. This book inspired me to reach for my pen less than almost any baseball book I have. And much of what I did underline was not new things I learned, but rather Thurston agreeing with one of my more unusual recommendations, like the maximum pitch count for 12 and unders.

Heaviest and lightest bat weights

From that same book, the heaviest bat ever was Edd Roush’s 48 ouncer. He made the Hall of Fame, batted .323 lifetime and hit 68 career homers. The lightest ever was Solly Hemus’s 29 ouncer. He hit .304 his best year and had 51 career homers.

8.3% left-handed

Surprisingly, I could not find a definitive answer to the question, “What percentage of people are left-handed?” when I wrote Youth Baseball Coaching. But I may have found it in Gutman’s book. In it, Rawlings says 1 of every 12 gloves they make is for left-handed fielders. That would mean 8.3% of people are left-handed, not 10% as I estimated in the book. All the more reason to bat left-handed.

Not just Billy Martin

I said youth baseball coaches should coach like Billy Martin (heavy emphasis on baserunning, bunting, etc.), because their players are generally weak, like his were some years. Turns out he was not the first to do that. It was also a hallmark of the Chicago White Sox “Hitless Wonders“ of the 1900s, the 1930s “Gashouse Gang“ in St. Louis, and the “Go Go“ White Sox of the 1950s.

Charlie Hayes

Add Charlie Hayes to the list of Major Leaguers who wore a face-mask batting helmet—after he got his jaw broken by a pitch.

Bat-weight formula

I am writing this item on 2/19/00. My book Youth Baseball Coaching is still at the printers. Have I found a mistake so soon? Not in my book. This entry is more of an errata or supplement to the book Keep Your Eye on the Ball by Terry Bahill. I recommended that book in Youth Baseball Coaching. In my local San Ramon Valley Times today, there was an article quoting Terry Bahill as saying that the ideal bat weight in ounces is

(4 + player’s height in inches) ÷ 3

I am about 71 inches tall so that means I should use a (4 + 71) ÷ 3 = 25-ounce bat. I used a 27-ounce bat, which most teenagers and adults consider light. The article said the formula meant that a six-foot tall Major Leaguer should use a 28-ounce bat. I don’t know how they arrived at that number. (4 + 72) ÷ 3 = 25.33, not 28. By this formula, you would have to be 80 inches tall to use a 28-ounce bat. That’s 6’8”!

By this formula, a 4’6” kid should use a (4 + 54) ÷ 3 = 19.33-ounce bat. That sounds about right for a kid. Nineteen ounces is the weight I advocated for a ten-year old. As an adult player, I generally used 27 ounces; occasionally 28. I tried 26, but 27 felt so light that I did not feel I was gaining any additional bat control by moving down to a 26. But I was losing mass. I would consider using a 26-ounce bat against a really difficult pitcher, like a former minor-league professional.

I am a big advocate of light bats as you read in my book. But even I am surprised at how light Bahill is advising here. On the other hand, he is an engineering professor at the University of Arizona, so I hesitate to disagree. He arrived at his formula through scientific testing.

Jupiter, FL’s parent-training session

On 2/15/00, the Jupiter, FL youth sports organizations required parents to attend a video on sportsmanship and sign an oath not to misbehave at games. Sports Illustrated’s Rick Reilly, himself a former youth coach, wrote a column about it in the 2/28/00 Sports Illustrated. One of the recurring themes of his column was that parents should shut up. That’s also a theme in my book Youth Baseball Coaching as well. Too many coaches think that coaching is talking. Actually, coaches should first try to find a silent way get their player to do the right thing. Talking should be a last resort because verbal instruction must always be translated in the brain into physical movement. If the kid can get the physical movement correct without having to first translate words, he will be much quicker and smoother.

I also suspect that Jupiter is overdoing it. In my experience, if the coach wants his parents and players to behave, they will behave. Parents and players usually only behave like jerks when the coach behaves like a jerk. Coaches have far more power over the parents and players than they realize.

Johnny Bench’s intentional-walk strikeout

On page 200 of Youth Baseball Coaching, I told how Johnny Bench was tricked into striking out because he assumed he was getting an intentional walk. “Mr. Baseball” (my college roommate Dick Steiner) has sent me additional info on that incident.

The Reds were up 1-0 in the eighth inning of the third game of the 1972 World Series. They had runners at second and third after a wild pitch ball three. The count on cleanup hitter Johnny Bench was 3-2 and first base was now open. Oakland manager Dick Williams theatrically pointed to the open base at first. Catcher Gene Tenace set up to receive an intentional-walk pitch. But Rollie fingers threw a strike. They then did intentionally walk Tony Perez. Dennis Menke hit a foul fly out to end the inning, but the Reds held on to win the game 1-0.

Additional recommended books

I have bought several baseball books since I sent Youth Baseball Coaching to the printers. One is the Jeff Burroughs book I just mentioned above. Another is Hit Your Potential, Mastering the Ted Williams Approach by Steve Ferroli. Ferroli’s book has some good stuff on treating an unexpected type of pitch as a pitcher’s pitch, regardless of its location within the strike zone. I like both books, but they are mainly the strong opinions of the writers. I prefer an approach which is rare in baseball books: the scientific approach. That’s where you come up with a theory then test it, for example, by doing it one season then not the next and comparing the results.

In Ted Williams’ Science of Hitting, he provides his own hitting statistics to prove he knows what he’s talking about. He also gives the stats for the Washington Senators, both just before and during his reign as manager of that team. The batting averages jumped way up after he arrived. Any such numbers are conspicuously absent from Ferroli’s book. He says, “This is the right way,” but never says anything like, “I started doing it this way in 1996 and here are the results.” Ferroli really obsesses about every little detail of hitting. That’s OK for some serious players and coaches, but it is a hazardous thought process for a youth coach. We only get 40.5 hours per season to teach everything, not just hitting. Ferroli takes you down a long, long road that youth coaches have no hope of traversing. You can and should extract a number of mental and other tips from it, but do not try to teach a youth team all the stuff that’s in Ferroli’s book.

I already recommended The Mental Game of Baseball by H.A. Dorfman and Karl Kuehl in Youth Baseball Coaching. Dorfman has since written another book: The Mental ABCs of Pitching. It’s excellent. As I said in my Web page mental game article, youth baseball is 90% mental. Books like Dorfman’s teach you how to coach that 90%.

The Louisville Slugger Ultimate Book of Hitting is excellent. It covers every aspect of hitting. Again, I must warn that it is aimed at the professional and would-be professional. Many of its points would be overload for a youth team. I am also mad at all the bat manufacturers for mislabeling bats as to the level for which they are appropriate. I believe bats labeled “Tee Ball” are too heavy for tee ballers and should be used by older players, who resist using them because of the “Tee Ball ” label. The same is true of bats labeled “Little League.” One author I recommended in Youth Baseball Coaching studied bat weight and found 20.1 ounces was optimal for a Little Leaguer. But they also noted that they could not find a single bat of that weight that was labeled “Little League.” All bats labeled “Little League” were heavier than 20 ounces.

If you coach a 10-to-12 team, one of the smartest things you could do would be to buy 19-, 20-, and 21-ounce bats for your team. Then erase the weight and the “Tee Ball” designation on the barrel of the bat. You may want to color code them with different colored grips. Never tell your players what they weigh. Then tell each kid which color he is to use. Allow no substitutes. I guarantee your batting and slugging averages will go up significantly compared to if you let the kids choose their own bat.

I am mad because I figure the bat manufacturers know far better than I that those bats are too heavy. But they seem to be pandering to the tendency of young men and boys to select an overly heavy bat because they are afraid that other kids will make fun of them if they use an appropriately light bat.

It’s Wilford

I misspelled the name of the actor who coached his baseball-playing grandson in Cocoon. It’s Wilford Brimley, not Wilfred.

Error-free catchers

On page 7 of the first edition of Youth Baseball Coaching, I said that Yogi Berra was the only catcher ever to have an error-free season. Mr. Baseball tells me I am mistaken. According to the Sporting News Complete Baseball Record Book, the only catchers ever to have no errors for a season in which they played more than 100 games were Buddy Rosar of the Philadelphia A’s in 1946 and Charles Johnson of the Marlins in 1997.

Yogi Berra had a fielding average of 1.000 in 1958. Berra only caught 88 games that year. So it doesn’t count in the records which are in two categories: 100 or more games and 150 or more games. Turns out there are eight catchers with fielding averages of 1.000 if you ignore number of games. I do not recall where I got the idea that Yogi was the only one.

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