Saturday, May 13, 2017

Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Sidearm Pitching: A Simple System

Sidearm Pitching: A Simple System

Forward - Why Sidearm?

When I first tried out as a pitcher in my over age 45 baseball league, I had been only pitching batting practice to my junior high players; I delivered pitches from every angle on the protractor. In my first game in winter league, I did the same. I must have hurled over 200 pitches. I found that my overhand fastball was less than overpowering. I thought I had my greatest success came throwing sidearm as I had in my two or three starts as a little leaguer. So I decided to stick with sidearm. My first pitch, the sinker, was built in to the delivery. The rest of the pitching arsenal I would have to create myself. This is my exposition of the system of pitching I developed. I think any sidearm pitcher will find at least some benefit to understanding my system. 

If you been around baseball in recent years you have may have a been told that throwing sidearm will injure your arm. Perhaps in future editions of this monograph I can add a detailed section on why that is not the case at all. In fact, sidearm is easier on the arm. 

OK, you take my word for it that sidearm is a safe way to throw, but now you are told that, yes, you may be an effective gimmick relief pitcher, but you will short circuit your development and never be a starter. Batters will quickly adjust to you and really hit you hard if they see you again in the same game. This I have also found to be untrue. I have thrown complete game victories; I find that batters often become more perplexed with my delivery the more they see it. Even batters who have gotten hits have reported that they hate to bat against my sidearm delivery. 

Section 1 The Windup

I use a no windup delivery. Most of the movements in a typical delivery do not help propel the ball toward home plate. With fewer moving parts, fewer things can go wrong. You will also tire less quickly because you are expending less energy. With no one on base, I look in for the sign, rock back on my striding foot, turn my pivot almost perpendicular to a line going toward home plate, then stride toward home while driving off my pivot foot. I start on the far glove hand side of the pitching plate, but where you stand on the pitching plate is a matter of personal preference. The pitching motion should be natural and relaxed while still exploding toward home plate. 

When runners are on base, I always pitch from the stretch. I start with the ball in my  throwing hand in my sinking fastball grip hanging at my side with the glove hanging on the other side. My pivot foot is in the almost perpendicular position I use to drive toward home plate. My striding foot is in front of my pivot foot, slightly offset toward the glove side.  I do not move my striding foot before the delivery. I simply bring my throwing hand with the ball together with the glove hand in front of me, hanging in a relaxed manner in front of me for the necessary moment of pause. I then step directly toward home while driving off my pivot foot to deliver the pitch. 

From either the wind up or the stretch I finish in a good fielding position facing home plate. My pivot foot comes down slightly ahead of where my striding foot lands, but I am still facing home, ready to field a batted ball. 

Section 2 The Sidearm Throw

Sidearmers at release have their arm in the same place, relative to their spine, as any other pitcher. Typically a pitcher will release the baseball at a point where, observed from directly in front (as a catcher would), a straight line can be drawn from the glove side shoulder through the throwing shoulder and on through to the throwing hand. This 180-degree angle may have some variation from pitcher to pitcher. The arm may diverge from the 180-degree line at a 5-degree, or so, angle either above or below the shoulder. I recommend the throwing hand below the shoulder line as the hand above the shoulder line (hyper-abduction) can damage the shoulder. 

If a sidearm pitch is not distinguished from a regular pitch by arm to shoulder line angle, then what makes a sidearm pitch? The answer is: the same thing that makes an overhand pitch - trunk tilt. An overhand pitch features trunk tilt toward the glove hand side, while a sidearm pitch features trunk tilt toward the throwing hand side, or zero tilt, which would be a Randy Johnson or Satchel Paige brand of sidearm. Extreme trunk tilt to the throwing hand side leads to a submarine style of sidearm. 

Some people find throwing sidearm very natural and comfortable. If you have spent time skipping flat rocks off a pond, you have thrown sidearm. 

Section 3 The Pitches

My system includes three basic pitches: a sinking fastball, a slider, and a change of pace. The sinker and the slider both have some variations according to speed, but I start all pitches from my sinker grip. I make small, undetectable grip changes mid-delivery or right before delivery to throw the slider or change up.  

The sinker grip is  a standard four seam grip. I use this grip because the natural sidearm spin is sideways toward the throwing hand side. Using the four seam grip allows for maximum speed and lateral or downward movement. At release, a slight bit of pronation, or turning the palm from facing home to facing down, can give more movement and protect the elbow joint. This pitch tends to ride in on same side batters, often resulting in weak handle hits or harmless pulled foul balls. The opposite side hitters, it is often thrown away hoping in induce an easy grounder to second base. To either lefty of righty batters, work the corners with this pitch keeping it low in the strike zone to induce ground balls. 

For the slider, I simply change my sinker grip by moving my index finger over to meet my middle finger. I may make a small adjustment of my thumb for comfort and to help impart the characteristic slider spin, a spiral. I believe my way of imparting spin to the slider is unique and also easier on the arm than other ways. I throw the slider with my palm facing up while I literally spin or twirl the baseball between my index and middle fingers and my thumb. Otherwise, the arm motion feels just like the sinker. This pitch tends to do the opposite of the sinker. It tails, sometimes radically, away from same side batters and toward opposite side batters. I have had success with it back as a ‘back up’ breaking ball to same side batters and thrown to outside corner. As always, work the corners for success. When the slider is really tailing, I have had success with it anywhere near the plate as a swing and miss or a called strike. The slider can also be used as change up. Simply ‘pull a string’ at release for a super slow, floating version that can have comical swing and miss results.

The change up is a very effective pitch and a rarity among sidearm pitchers. Starting again from my sinker grip, I simply shift the baseball slightly toward my palm so it is against the meaty part below the index and middle fingers while moving my thumb up to the side of the baseball. I hold the ball between my thumb and ring finger while my index and middle fingers are lifted just slightly off the baseball and held loosely. I deliver the pitch in the same way as the sinker. The index and middle fingers ‘roll’ across the baseball as it is released. The side spin imparted and slower speed make for a very effective pitch. 

The similar delivery and simplicity of changing grips means that you will not be tipping off your pitches.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Erk Russell's Four F Filosophy for Flag Football

Every player, I believe, begins the season with plenty of desire to play hard, play smart, and have fun. A coach has many important matters to attend to when a season starts. Perhaps not attended to is the question: Am I going to be fueling my players' desire to play or will I actually extinguish much of their internal fire for the game? The short answer: If you are an authoritarian, militaristic coach who relies on punishing mistakes with exercise, yelling, and filling practice with rituals which contribute virtually nothing to playing well in games, then you are a coach who is likely killing your players' desire to play. While there is no one way to coaching success, a more positive approach fuels the desire to play that every player has when the season starts.

Erk Russell's Four F Philosophy provides a framework for positive coaching:

1) Firm- Develop a sound philosophy and stick to it. On offense we run plays as quickly as possible without a huddle or a snap count. Our system is sound and yet contrarian. Running the option from a tight formation means that most opponents have little chance to prepare specifically for us. On defense we run a zone scheme that relies on all players filling their roles. We know that every play is not going to succeed, but if we firmly stick to our schemes, we will have success.*

 2) Fair – Every player contributes in every game. We do tend to specialize linemen, but all others play offense and defense. This gives players variety and gives tremendous flexibility to the coach. There are at least two players experienced in every position. As coach it is important to always encourage every player, as every role is important. When players make mistakes, reassure them and give them advice on how to do better next time.

 3) Fundamental – Talk, show, do, then repeat, and repeat. Practice is filled with doing what it takes to succeed: running plays well. Adjustments are made and pointers are given between plays. Keep it simple: We can attack any part of field on offense yet our system is simple; we use only one formation. We learn foundational plays without a defense in one week and then run them against a defense in the second week of practice. New plays or variations to current plays are added over the course of the season. We do not waste time on drills, especially “character building” drills. Character lessons are built into the nature of the game and require no special drills and certainly do not require extra punishments.

 4) Fun – Perhaps first among equals is fun. All games are popular primarily because they are fun. Killing the spirit of fun kills player desire to play, period. Players who know their roles and can play well while not having their time wasted on mindless, and sometimes punitive drills will be having fun. They will look forward to practice and games. They will be confident because they know what they are doing; they have done it many times. Enjoy the time with your players; encourage them, teach them, joke around with them sometimes. Everything should be done in the spirit of fun.

Fuel your players' desire to play. Do not be seduced by militaristic approaches where the answer to every problem is, in some way, to “get tough” with players. “Get tough” coaching is lazy, counter-productive coaching. Use Erk Russell's Four F Philosophy of Firm, Fair, Fundamental, and Fun to provide the positive experience every player deserves and will remember fondly, win or lose.

*I am in a constant quest for better ways to do things. I make most majors changes in the off-season. In season we make “adjustments” usually.

 Erk Russell Bio Courtesy: Release: 01/08/2008 Led Georgia Southern Football Team to an unprecedented National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I-AA record three national championships in the 1980's. Followed back-to-back championships in 1985 and 1986 with a perfect 15-0 title performance in 1989. Arrived in Statesboro in 1981 to restart a football program which had been dormant for 40-years and averaged 10.4 wins a year over the next eight seasons. Headed into first season in 1982 with walk-ons and enjoyed 7-3-1 record. Joined NCAA I-AA in 1984 and won 70 of 84 games in six seasons. Led Eagles to five postseason berths from 1985 to 1989, garnering three championships, one second place finish and one quarterfinal appearance. Won 37 consecutive games at Allen E. Paulson Stadium, including 1989 Championship game. Retired as America's winningest football coach with 83-22-1 (.788) record. Named Coach-of-the-Year on 19 occasions. Inducted into Georgia Sports Hall of Fame in 1987. Born July 23, 1926 in Birmingham, Alabama. Earned Bachelors and Masters degrees from Auburn, where he was last four-sport letterman in Tiger history (football, basketball, baseball and tennis). Spent 17 seasons as assistant at Georgia where his defensive teams were known as the "Junkyard Dogs".

Sunday, June 13, 2010

How To Watch Soccer: A Dumb Method for a Dumb Game

I have never liked soccer. I do not think my gym class in middle school ever got five minutes into a game of soccer before someone asked why we had to play this dumb game that does not allow you to use your hands. Everyone agreed and soon we were playing something similar, but sensible, like team handball. Like many Americans, you might be caught up in the mini-frenzy surrounding the latest iteration of the World Cup being played in South Africa.

If you have not watched a lot of soccer, you may be wondering how this game ever became popular in the first place. In the unlikely circumstance that you know any of their names, the players are still generally unrecognizable due to the wide camera angle required to cover the action on such an expansive playing field (a necessity caused by the relative lack of control that comes from using the feet to control a ball). If you have the patience to watch long enough to see a goal scored, you will likely be underwhelmed by its being scored on a penalty kick, a lucky carom, a shot off a player's head, or an embarrassing miscue by a goalie. "Quality" goals, where actual skill is rewarded, seem to be a rarity. The game appears to be a drawn-out series of mistakes, collisions, penalties, passes to no one, and balls going out of bounds.

Perhaps you have figured out that it is not that you just do not understand soccer, the problem is that soccer is indeed a dumb game. Any game where you cannot use your hands, your head is a ball-striking implement, and success is nearly impossible when the game is played properly just does not appeal to Americans used to games like football, baseball, and basketball where success is actually possible in the course of a well-played game. American sports actually have situations that unfold over the course of the game. This unlike soccer, where one minute of a game seems just like any other minute.

But you are still caught-up in the orgy of chauvinistic nationalism known as the World Cup--what to do? When I watched a player from Ghana get a bloody nose by diverting a ball kicked at point blank range with his face, an idea came to me. As I had been watching this game to ridicule the absurdity of the game, I thought why not turn watching soccer into a drinking game. What a perfect way to commemorate (and later forget totally) every dumb thing that happens in a soccer game.

Here are the rules:

Drink every time a player: falls down, hits a ball with his head, kicks a ball to no one.

Also drink every time the ball goes out of bounds.

If a kick to no one goes out of bounds, remember to drink twice.

Feel free add other drinking opportunities as the absurdity of the game unfolds before you. Although I think the above should provide the entertainment that a soccer game lacks as a sporting event.

N.B. This is humor (or an attempt at it), I do not recommend drinking games that include alcohol.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Catching With a Vintage Baseball Glove

I spent most of the baseball seasons from 1974 to 1979 either playing baseball, poring over my baseball cards, reading about baseball, or daydreaming about baseball. I thought back then that if there were any justice the universe, someone who loved baseball as much as I did would have to be a big leaguer some day. Well that did not happen but I continued on as a fan until I lost interest finally during the steroid era. Since I have had only a lukewarm interest in baseball for the last ten years or so, I from time to time quip that I have forgotten more about baseball history than most people know. I believe this to be literally true.

When my daughters expressed an interest in playing fastpitch softball recently, my interest in baseball was rekindled. As I played catch with my daughter I realized how much I loved and missed baseball. Not so much the modern game, where most players hideously wear their baseball pants down over their socks, but the game before the modern glove, say, before World War 2. I had been a Yankee fan for most of my life but I had always been captivated by the picture of the sliding Pepper Martin of the 1934 "Gashouse Gang" St. Louis Cardinals that hung on my bedroom wall. That picture captured the raw, hustling, and fun style of play I loved and tried to emulate as a skinny shortstop for the Thatcher Men's Club team of the Elmira Small Fry baseball league. So in my rebirth as a baseball fan, I decided that it was the St. Louis Cardinals for me. Again, I am not as much a fan of the modern team but of the 1934 World Series Champion team. My favorite player on the team is Joe Medwick. He was also Yogi Berra's favorite as a youth growing up in St. Louis.

The evolution of the baseball glove has always fascinated me. Just looking at an old glove that is so small and has not even got stitching between the fingers makes one wonder how those old timers caught a ball with those things. On the other hand, I was always contemptuous of the modern "peach basket" gloves that emerged during my youth and are still going strong. They just seemed like cheating to me. So I simply had to buy a vintage glove and try it for myself. I won a Joe Medwick autographed model on ebay. What follows are my observations on catching a baseball with a vintage glove.

My first observation is catching with vintage glove requires a more heightened level of alertness than a regular glove. Playing with a modern glove is fun but can be a pretty nonchalant venture. One needs to be on his toes and two hands should be used on every catch possible with a vintage glove or you will drop a lot of balls.

Next, vintage gloves can hurt. My hand swelled considerably after catching about twenty balls tossed underhand in to the air. This taught me that catching a baseball with a vintage glove was very much like catching a football: catch with two "soft" hands taking momentum off the incoming ball by easing it in toward your body and quickly get it into your throwing hand. If ESPN calls great fielding plays "Web Gems" because most great catches are made in the web of the modern glove, then great plays with a vintage glove should perhaps be called "Palm Pearls".

Finally, it is clear that there are balls that would be easy catches with a modern glove that will not be caught with a vintage glove. Chances that come in low to the backhand side are the toughest to deal with.

Catching and throwing a baseball is one of life's purest joys. There is nothing wrong with a modern glove, but every baseball lover should experience catching with a vintage glove. It is pure bliss.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

How I Rediscovered Swill Beer

Like many folks these days, I have in varying degrees incorporated red wine, coffee, tea, cocoa and even beer into my daily routine after reading about their health benefits. Concerning wine and beer, let it be said that I have never been a big drinker. I started trying to drink one beer like a porter, stout, or pale ale every day because I read that they had the most antioxidants; I did grow to actually like them, savoring them for their taste. This despite the fact that, as my daughter reminded me, I do not drink beer for the taste but for the health benefits.

My trip into porters, stouts, and pale ales led me into the fascinating world of craft brewing. Craft brewing, or micro-brewing, is a classic reaction to the kind of blandness that inflicts many mass-produced products. Mass production has always helped the common man; it also creates the opportunity for small time producers who can make custom, niche products often with "snob appeal".

To most craft brewers, mass-produced beers of Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller are "swill", unworthy of the beer connoisseur. Thus the craft brewing culture bred a new kind of beer drinker, the beer snob. The beer snob often claims to be able tell what kind of barley, hops, yeast, and adjuncts are used in a beer and render a verdict on said beer's worthiness. "Adjunct" is dirty word in the world of beer snobbery. An adjunct is some other grain, usually corn or rice, that brewers of swill use to replace some of the barley malt of the standard water, barley malt, hops, and yeast that make up beer. Use of adjuncts by craft brewers is a cardinal sin to many beer snobs.

I must admit to becoming a small time beer snob myself. I had sworn off any beer produced by Anheuser-Busch, Miller, or any huge brewer. I rationalized that these beers just did not have the taste or health benefits of the porters, stouts, and pale ales I was drinking at a rate of one bottle per day or less. However, I discovered a craft beer, Session Lager, by the small Full Sail brewery in Oregon that would become my bridge back into mass-produced swill.

American beer before Prohibition was dominated by the lagers of 19th Century German immigrants which had displaced the ales of early American times (many of the framers, like Washington and Jefferson, brewed their own ales). It was the German brewers who introduced the adjunct, usually corn, that would characterize American beer. Corn was introduced to tame the the flavor of the six-row barley available in America (German brewers had used two-row barley in Europe). American beer was always lighter in flavor and easier to drink that its European counterparts. Americans were hard-working and America has a hotter climate than Europe so this style, American lager, fit right in.

Prohibition destroyed the American lager. The beer produced after Prohibition, was even lighter. This was the "Western lager" of Coors, Anheuser-Busch, and Miller, the beer that the modern craft brewing movement reacted against and demonized as "adjunct-laden swill". Enter Session Lager.

Some craft brewers decided that pre-Prohibition American lager was not so bad and might be an interesting brew, if only to provide a nice summertime "lawnmower" beer. Session Lager is such a beer. It comes in cool 11-ounce retro stubby bottles. I picked up twelve on a lark and was enchanted. I decided that Session Lager was my new beer of choice. Ever cost-conscious, however, I began to eye the sub-premium swill at the end of the beer cooler like Busch, Milwaukee's Best, etc. with renewed interest. I remembered from my youngers days that of all the awful cheap beer I ever drank, Busch was the best. So I picked up some Busch beer. To my surprise, it wasn't much different than Session Lager. If fact, it was really just as good at two-thirds the price.

So here's my advice: reconsider the swill that you have abandoned. You may be surprised by American lagers that are perhaps more respected around the world than they are in America.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Hot Stove League 1933-34 Part 2

In the midst of our "Great Recession", we should be glad that things, so far, aren't as bad as during the Great Depression of the 1930s. For comparison, we could note that professional sports today are not nearly as bad off as the most popular sport of the Great Depression, big league baseball. However one thing today is much worse: the economic ignorance of the public.

For illustration of this ignorance, I point to the "vulgar Keynesian" notion that consumer spending drives the economy expressed in the absolutely absurd blog post of Washington Redskin Chris Cooley entitled, "Albert Stimulates" which renowned hot air dispenser Jim Rome gushed about . Cooley wrote a tour de force of banality with gems like: "NFL players and new NFL contracts are an fantastic way to stimulate the economy." and "Oh, and lets not forget our friendly car and home taxes - over [$]30,000 a year for me, fun times." Cooley actually celebrates the fact that half of his earnings are eaten by taxes!

Here are the wonders Cooley tells us the big salaries of professional athletes are doing for the economy: "Cars, houses, clothes, food, women, jewelry and all of it at a rapid pace." Lost on Cooley is that the money spent "lavishly" by athletes does nothing special for the economy. "Let's also consider what the market needs for any type of a bottom, or a rebound. Well I guess I can't consider myself enough of an expert to start to explain that but, I'm thinking if we could get someone to stop selling off all their shit and start buying back in I think we would have a start." Again, apparently lost on our oracle of the gridiron is that if someone is selling, someone else must be buying, "So if I was receiving a enormous contract this year I may figure it would be a great time to buy some 50 -75 percent off stock." For him to buy, someone must be selling off.

Cooley sums up his assault on clear thinking, "Huge contracts for athletes mean one thing. Shit tons of money will be poured back into our country. You think these guys are slow play investors who will sit on their money like a goose. Absolutely not, their money is being spent, no questions asked."

A far cry from economic ignorance illustrated by the pompous Chris Cooley, was the good sense displayed by sportswriters, team owners, and baseball players of the 1930s. While the New Deal administration of Franklin D. Roosevelt had largely bought into the fallacious idea that consumer spending drives the economy (this in spite of the fact that FDR actually campaigned against the outrageous spending of the Hoover administration which had also bought into the spending driven economy), many Americans, including baseball players and owners, understood that cutting costs, making sacrifices, and providing a better goods and services were the only way to survive the hard times.

Baseball actually faced financial difficulties, "A man can't go to a baseball game when he hasn't any money." said Commissioner Kennesaw M. Landis in 1933. Fortunately, while much of the rest of the economy was being regimented under the NRA's Blue Eagle (ala Mussolini's fascist program in Italy) to regulate wages (keep them artificially high) and production, baseball teams could be thankful that they remained free to cut costs and run their business without the interference of NRA bureaucrats.

With regard to salaries the great John J. McGraw said, "Salaries must come down...owners are losing too much money." Come down they did. Sid Keener of the St. Louis Times Dispatch reported that average salaries were down to about $7500 (about a 25% drop), still only a little lower than the peak salary for a great of an earlier time, Christy Mathewson, who made only $10,000. Salary cuts also caused something that may surprise today's sports fan. There was actual concern as to whether playing baseball was a better deal than some other line of work. But Cardinal GM Branch Rickey said that even at a salary like $6500, a player should be able to save $5000 a year. So after only a handful of seasons a player could have a nice nest egg set aside; Rickey said that the Cards had more men than they could use willing to play baseball. Superstar Dizzy Dean's wife told how she refused a wedding ring until after they had a house paid for "free and clear". In contrast, apparently following the Chris Cooley school of profligate spending, 60% of NBA players are broke in five years making salaries that dwarf those of 1930s baseball players.

Also to save money, rosters were cut from 25 players to 23; the eventual champions of 1934, the "Gashouse Gang" St. Louis Cardinals only carried 21 players for most of the season. Also to save salary cash, the 1930s saw many player-managers, who had little help running the club: Frankie Frisch of the Cardinals, Bill Terry of the 1933 champion New York Giants, Charley Grimm of the Cubs, Jimmy Wilson of the Phillies and Pie Traynor of the Pirates among others. Contrast to FDR and his "Brain Trust". Babe Ruth actually made more money in 1934 doing radio broadcasts sponsored by Quaker Oats than from his baseball salary. The Boston Red Sox for 1934 became the first team to offer profit-sharing with players to inspire them to win and thus draw more paid attendance. Most players understood the need to cut salaries. "Pepper" Martin of the Cardinals said, "Shucks, no one's interested in what they're paying want to know what kind-a year I'm going to give 'em...Pep'll be hustling, giving his best and trying all the time." I wonder if Chris Cooley and the spoiled brats of modern sports could say the same after taking a pay cut.

Owners also debated the merits of radio broadcasting. Some, like the Cubs and Pirates, allowed the broadcast of their games by radio while others did not, thinking radio broadcasts lost more business than they brought in. Owners hoped that the resumption of alcohol sales with the repeal of prohibition in 1933 would also boost business. Night baseball was considered (and vetoed) between 1933 and 1934 to allow more people to make it to the ballpark without interference with work hours. Another change, perhaps to enliven fan excitement, was the National League's adoption of the American League's livelier baseball.

The 1934 season was still a tight situation for baseball despite the cost cutting. In the Pittsburgh Press, Chester L. Smith made a series of suggestions to stem the tide of red ink: replace the male concession vendors with pretty girls, replace the megaphone announcer in many parks (like Sportman's Park in St. Louis) with a public address system, put all games on the radio, and sell beer at the ball park.

The major leagues survived the Great Depression without any direct help from the New Deal by attempting to run their businesses more frugally and offer a more entertaining product. Fortunately, owners were not hampered in their efforts by the kind blithe ignorance that had infected the government at that time and that now infects practically our whole populace.