Don Miller contributes to this section:
Pity The Poor Hitter!
Does anyone think there is anything more difficult in sports than hitting a baseball? All a batter has to do is swat at a sphere three inches in diameter with a piece of slim rounded wood. Geometrically speaking, one must connect almost perfectly to get a base hit; a line drive can only result if the line from the center of the ball through the point of impact to the very center of the bat is almost perfectly straight. The area in which the bat and ball meet squarely like this is not more than half an inch.
Ray Miller, ex-pitching coach of the Pirates, is not alone when he says he doesn't understand how anyone can hit. "It's hard enough to hit a golf ball," he said, "and it's not even moving." An eighty-five-mph pitch comes in from the pitcher's hand to home plate in a little less than half a second, so the batter has about a quarter of a second to decide where to swing. When put this way, hitting seems close to impossible, like eating soup with a fork or dialing phone numbers with your feet. The batter is able to accomplish the impossible because hitting becomes a trained reflex honed by hundreds of thousands of swings.
There are daredevil fans who would like the opportunity to turn around a fastball from one of the real flamethrowers--Nolan Ryan or Roger Clemens. I watched pitchers like this warm up from very close range when they were throwing in the nineties, just getting loose really, and I would tell these guys, "Believe me, you don't want to hit against pitchers like this, even with a lot of padding and a regulation pith helmet. In fact, I don't think you really want to play catch with them, either."
The other fantasy of the die-hard fan who imagines himself a big-league hitter is the chance to cream one of those soft, room-service, off-speed pitches. I remember watching the supreme knuckleball artist Hoyt Wilhelm warm up at Tiger Stadium in the bullpen down the right-field line, anxious to see the break of the best knuckler in the business. It just looked like an easy toss, and I supposed you really had to be standing at the plate trying to hit it to get a sense of the ball movement. Then Wilhelm made a little wave, and his bullpen catcher put on the mask, and took a deep breath. The catcher didn't catch any of the next dozen pitches, even with the special oversized pancake glove, although he managed to knock some down. The deliveries fluttered and sailed, hung, dropped and rose, and hit him all over his body, as if Wilhelm had the ball on some invisible string.
***This "Interesting Baseball Tidbit" comes from Bruce Shlain's "Baseball Inside Out" Pages 27 - 31.
Where are ye, Babe?
Harry H. Frazee was born in Peoria, Illinois, in 1880. He worked as a bell-hop at the Peoria Hotel, as a box-office man in a Peoria movie house, and as an advance man for theatrical productions, always showing great drive and ambition.
After the turn of the century, Frazee became prominent in theatre and boxing
circles. He produced several successful plays, including No, No, Nanette, and
financed and built the Cort Theatre in Chicago. In 1915 he promoted the Jess
Willard-Jack Johnson heavyweight championship fight in Havana. He also managed heavyweight champion James J. Jeffries.
In 1916 he purchased the Boston Red Sox, which he owned for seven years,
during which the team won two world championships. Following the 1919 season,
he sold Babe Ruth and other players to New York. In 1922 his wife was granted a
divorce after Frazee was found guilty of misconduct with actress Elizabeth
Nelson, a star in one of his productions. In 1929, with New York Mayor Jimmy
Walker at his bedside, he died of Bright's disease.
The opening paragraph of his Boston Traveler obituary read: "Funeral services
will be held tomorrow for Harry Frazee, who sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees for
***This piece of baseball history was taken from David Cataneo's "Baseball Legends
and Lore", Pages 10 & 11.
Why is the pitching distance 60' 6"?
Unlike the 90 feet between each base, a divinely inspired distance first introduced in 1858 and not since altered, the pitching distance has bounced around more times than Al Hrabosky. Initially there was no rubber, but rather a six-foot-square pitching box, much like today's batter box. The front line of the box was a mere 45 feet from the center of home plate, a distance made more palatable by the rule that allowed a batter to "call" his pitch, either high, low or fair (approximately waist high). In 1881 the front of the box was moved back to 50 feet, and in 1887 the box was shrink further and batters were told to forget calling for pitches. In 1893 the pitcher's "plate" or rubber was moved to its present distance of 60' 6". It has been theorized that the proposed distance was 60' 0", but an architect or groundskeeper misread the distance as 60' 6". You make the call.
The height of the mound was set in 1903 at no higher than 15 inches, but after the 1968 season, when the pitching was so dominant, the mound was reduced to a mere 10 inches. The strike zone also shrunk that year, and the current rule, ignored by everyone including umpires, still states that it is from the letters to the knees.
As we all know, MLB has gone back to the pre-1969 strike zone after 32 years. Although they have done nothing about the pitching mound height, I think this is a step in the right direction. The whole thing was an over-reaction to the season St. Louis Cardinal pitcher Bob Gibson (1.12 ERA) had that year. Please let me know your thoughts on this.
***This piece of "Basball History" comes from Jim Charlton's "The Who, What, When, Where, Why and How of Baseball", page 55.