Sunday, April 29, 2012

Fritz Peterson: Who needs a coach?

This week’s guest article is from former All-Star and 20-game winner Fritz Peterson. After the self-coached Bubba Watson won the Masters tournament earlier this month, Peterson reflected on his own experiences with coaching during his major league career.

“I don't need a coach.”-- Bubba Watson 4/8/12

“I didn't either.”-- Fritz Peterson 4/11/12

In golf, you are out there all by yourself. As a pitcher you are the only one out there on the mound. The type of pitch you throw is ultimately up to you even though your catcher can suggest a pitch he thinks you should throw. The ball is in your hand until you let it go at the end of your delivery. Bubba Watson chose his clubs at the Masters last Sunday and even though his caddy may have made suggestions, it was ultimately Watson's decision. On April 8th, 2012 it was Watson that walked off the course after the second hole of the playoff against Louis Oosthuizen with the green jacket.

Fritz Peterson / Baseball Alamanac

Who needs a coach? After Watson's father showed him the basic fundamentals of the swing and the grip, Watson took it from there. After my father showed me the fundamentals of throwing a ball and having an idea of where each pitch should go, I was done, in essence, being coached. Everything I picked up over the years was from experimenting on my own, not from a coach other than my dad until I got into college. By the time I finished my major league career, I had six pitches I could use effectively. Since Thurman Munson only had five fingers he had to start backwards and use his little finger for my 6th pitch. Jim Bouton did teach me his palm ball which angered our pitching coach because Bouton had taught it to me and not him. Bouton was not “old school.”

The odd thing, especially in the major leagues, is that every team has a coach for everything, but in most cases they do more harm to the players than good. The majority of coaches think they have to justify their positions (jobs), so they dabble with their players, sometimes actually causing them to over think, which can negatively affect their performance.

I know! It happened to me in my first year with the Yankees in 1966. I was privileged to be one of the starting pitchers on the New York Yankees where I was surrounded by pitchers like Whitey Ford, Al Downing, Jim Bouton and Mel Stottlemyre. All of them were, or would become 20 game winners and all had been an All-Star at least once. Our pitching coach was Jim Turner, a wonderful hearty man from the “old school,” in his ways. New ideas were taboo. You just did things like they've been done from time immemorial. Turner was a sincere man and truly believed everyone should do everything the same way.

I got to the big leagues with only two pitches, a sinking fastball and a hard sharp breaking curve-ball. My strength was that I could get both of them over the plate where I wanted them to be 95% of the time. Mr. Turner, in an attempt to help me, suggested I throw my curve ball like Whitey Ford threw his. Since Turner was my coach, I tried it. It messed me up. It cost me my real curve-ball for a few weeks, until I got "my" curve-ball back. I wasn't Whitey Ford; I was Fritz Peterson.

The point is, at that level pitchers and hitters know what to do. Coaching (especially over coaching) can do more damage than it can help. Bubba Watson is Bubba Watson and he knows it. Now that he has a green jacket he will be able to be Bubba Watson for a long time if he chooses to be.

My friend, roommate, and author of Ball Four once told me that Johnny Sain was the perfect pitching coach. He said nothing. Instead, Sain befriended his pitchers like children of his own. He didn't mess with their mechanics. If I had been a pitching coach, I would have been just like Sain. By the way, Bouton was the only ex-player who attended Sain's funeral. He truly was Bouton's friend.

The rest of my career (11 years) in the big leagues, I did my own thing out there on the mound. I did it “my way,” like Frank Sinatra, and now Watson. Sure, I listened to my pitching coaches, but without them realizing I was doing it my way just the same. On top of that, I gave them credit in the press because I knew their intentions were good. What harm could that do? The coaches were going to be there anyway, looking good with their little notebooks and clipboards. Besides, we’re all there together trying to win games for our team. Watson is his own team. Leave him alone. He's having fun being Bubba Watson and that's the way it should be. Who needs a coach?

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Moose Skowron shares how he danced his way to first base

Moose Skowron at 2011 Old Timers Day / N. Diunte
Old Timers' Day for the New York Yankees this year is going to lose a bit of spice with the passing of Bill "Moose" Skowron. The slugging first baseman of four Yankee World Series championship teams died of congestive heart failure in Arlington Heights, Ill. He was 81.

I had the opportunity to interview Skowron in 2009 via telephone from his home regarding how he broke in with the Yankees. The link below contains some of the stories Skowron shared about coming up through the Yankees minor league system and how he came to play first base.

Click here to read the Skowron interview.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Book review: Jim Abbott - Imperfect: An Improbable Life

Jim Abbott at signing for Imperfect
Jim Abbott stood in front of an eager group of preschoolers ready to talk about the tenets of his baseball career. Little did he know that the most challenging question was going to come from his four-year-old daughter Ella.

“She raised her hand and I had no idea what was coming,” Abbott said at a recent book signing in New York City. “She said, ‘Dad, do you like your little hand?’ That question took me back. I didn’t quite know what to say. We never called it my little hand at home. My whole life, I never thought about liking it.”

After a short pause to further consider her inquiry, Abbott reflected on what he learned from his deformed hand. “I looked at her and said, ‘You know what honey, I do. I like my little hand. I haven’t always liked it and it hasn’t always been easy, but you know what, my little hand has taught me important lessons that life’s not easy and it’s not always fair.’”

Abbott was at the Upper West Side location of the Barnes and Noble Bookstore in early April to promote his autobiography, Imperfect: An Improbable Life (Ballantine, 2012) which he co-authored with former Los Angeles Times writer Tim Brown

Click here to read more about Abbott's new book as well as watch video of his speech from a recent book signing.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Edgardo Alfonzo mulls a return to baseball in 2012

Edgardo Alfonzo was on hand Tuesday afternoon at Citibank in Manhattan, appearing as part of the outreach efforts of the New York Mets Alumni Association presented by Citi. Alfonzo beamed with pride while greeting the crowd of more than 200 people that came to visit the beloved infielder.

Click here to read Alfonzo's thoughts on a return to baseball in 2012, plus to see video of his interview.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Mets legend Edgardo Alfonzo to appear at Citibank in Manhattan on April 10th

Edgardo Alfonzo, the All-Star infielder for the New York Mets from 1995-2001, will be appearing as part of the New York Mets Alumni Association presented by Citi at the Citibank branch at 1155 Avenue of the Americas (between 44th and 45th streets) on Tuesday, April 10th from 12:00 to 1:30 pm.

The verstaile infielder played flawless defense at third base, second base and shortstop during his tenure with the Mets, earning a feature on the September 6th, 1999 cover of Sports Illustrated alongside teammates John Olerud, Rey Ordonez, and Robin Ventura with the title of, The Best Infield Ever. Alfonzo won a silver slugger award in 1999 and was named to the National League All-Star team in 2000.