WHEN I'M KING of the World . . .
The archaic practice of pitchers long-tossing will come with a Surgeon General's Warning: "Throwing a baseball more than 200 feet on flat ground may be hazardous to a pitcher's long-term arm health." Long toss is for outfielders and middle infielders who must make long and accurate relay throws.
Long toss is not for pitchers. If you still go out and toss a baseball around once in a while, or play in an Over-28, 35 or 45 Sunday morning league, try a little long toss - 200 feet is fine, but 150 is OK if 200 is a little too challenging. Take a little crow hop if you have to. Pay attention to just one thing: Take note of the release point required to throw a ball that far and how much lift - that's lift, not drive - you need from your lower half to throw it that far.
Now, remember that release point and walk to the mound. Throw the ball to the plate using exactly the same release point. Oh, clanked it off the top of the backstop, right? That's what long-tossing professional pitchers emulate when they long toss - throwing a series of balls that would clank off the top of the cage had they been atop a mound.
Tommy John once was an enthusiastic long-tosser. Until his ulnar nerve ruptured one game in 1974 and he underwent the then radical surgery that bears his name. He was 13-3 at the time. John didn't pitch again until 1976, when he was 33. Everybody thought his career was toast. Who could pitch with a jury-rigged tendon borrowed from another body part? But he went 10-10 with a 3.09 ERA. Then amazingly, he was a stunning 20-7 and 17-10 for the Dodgers. Yeah, he sealed the deal in Game 4 of the 1977 NLCS, outpitching Steve Carlton in the rain. It got better. The Yankees signed John as a free agent and he unfurled 21-9 and 22-9 seasons, averaging about 275 innings in each.
And when he came back from his signature surgery, Tommy never threw another baseball with purpose unless it was off a mound. To a catcher. Making sure his mechanics were just so, even on days when he was pitching at no more than 85 percent. He treated the middle of the plate as if it didn't exist. His catcher sat on the corners, or inches off them. He did what Leo Mazzone's stable of future Hall of Famers would do a few years later.
"People marveled at how Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine were able to paint those corners pitch after pitch, start after start," John was saying one day during spring training in a fascinating interview on MLB's XM radio channel. "It became second nature, muscle memory. They would throw off the mound to a catcher every day, pitching to spots, even when they were just getting loose. And no long toss. It's self-defeating."
Mazzone's Braves staffs pitched off the mound every day, one starter after the other. Not all-out, but all focus and all business. All that regimen produced was 14 division titles in Atlanta, four ERA titles, six Cy Young Awards and nine 20 game winners.
When I'm King of the World . . .
The joyously smoky baritone of Harry Kalas belting out "High Hopes" after a Phillies win will be balanced by the mirror-shattering thunder of Dallas Green bellowing, "It's too early!" after a loss.
During 1980's roller-coaster ride, the manager spent the first third of the season growling it was just too damn early to get worked up after a couple of losses or cocky after a couple of wins. Big D spent the final third of the season with the distemper of Captain William Bligh dealing with the HMS Bounty's future mutineers - Larry Bowa playing a superb Fletcher Christian. So never confuse too-early with almost-too-late . . .
Cliff Lee was brilliant in his Mariners debut, the beloved lefthander's coming out party against the Rangers coinciding with Charlie Manuel's staff being folded, spindled and mutilated. Then, another Roy Halladay gem followed yet another meltdown by pummeled protege Kyle Kendrick. During his excellent spring, when he looked like he was trying to be the mirror image of Halladay, I was going to nickname Kendrick "Baby Doc." Glad I held onto that thought.
But it's not too early to do some comps on the prospects who brought Lee and Halladay here and created the necessity - Ruben says - of dealing Lee to replenish the talent-famished minor league system.
Last week, Tyson Gillies, obtained in the Lee deal, homered off Kyle Drabek, lead prospect in the Halladay trade. Drabek is 4-1 with a 3.49 ERA. But I think he's closer to Brett Myers than to Doug Drabek. He'll pitch in the big leagues as a No. 3 or 4. But he competes, which puts him closer to his dad.
The fleet Gillies has raised his average to .235, but has yet to steal a base. Michael Taylor (.235) is scuffling through his traditional slow start. But 12 of his 23 hits were for extra bases.
Phillippe Aumont is 1-1 at Reading with a 4.63. He was pulled from a six-inning no hitter - hello pitch count, our old friend - then was awful in his next start. Catcher Lou Marson was sub-Mendoza Line for the Indians, but has shown a recent pulse. J.C. Ramirez is in and out at Clearwater. Carlos Carrasco has been OK in Triple A. Teammate Jason Donald is batting .326 playing mostly second base. Catcher Travis d'Arnaud is batting .328 at Class A Dunedin.
None of them will ever be Cliff Lee or Roy Halladay.
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