Thursday, July 02, 2009
The Man On The Mound
Tonight is the 46th Anniversary of one of the greatest pitched games in Major League Baseball History. On July 2nd, 1963 at Candlestick Park--two eventual Hall Of Fame Pitchers--Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn--BOTH pitched into the 16th inning of a scoreless game. The San Francisco Giants' and The Milwaukee Braves' hitters were baffled most all night by two super human performances. Although official records never recorded the actual final tallies--it's safe to assume both Marichal and Spahn each threw over 200 pitches in that amazing game.
200 Pitches each when 100 is considered the basic maximum these days.
Now that's Being The Man On The Mound.
Juan faced 59 Braves Hitters--Warren 56 Giants.
Only The Great Willie Mays solved the riddle that evening in The City By The Bay by homering with one out in the bottom of the 16th off Spahn to end this game that took four hours and 10 minutes to complete.
Could you imagine ANY manager or pitching coach allowing ANY of their pitchers to finish 16 complete innings these days? Not on your life--especially when One Complete 9 Inning Game pitched by most any hurler in the game is less likely each subsequent year. There were 136 Complete Games pitched in the 2428 games played in The Major Leagues in 2008. And 19 of those were hurled by just two guys--C.C. Sabathia and Roy Halladay.
By comparison--in 1963--there where 865 complete games thrown in 718 less Big League games played. Of course, there were only 20 teams then--30 today.
Sure, the game has changed, the roles modified. There is now the long man out of the bullpen, the set-up man, and the closer. Only since 1969 has The Save been an official statistic. But over the past nearly 50 years it appears that young pitchers are babied more and rarely taught to finish what they start. The goal being--just give your team the so-called "quality start." (six innings-three or less runs allowed)
Well that's not good enough for us--not even for Hall of Famer Don Sutton. Two years ago, we recall he told The African Queen and I that this development was one of his biggest disappointments in the game today. "...its like telling a kid if you get all “C’s” throughout your High School Career, you are a great student. That’s BULL!!." And added that baseball is "setting the bar low."
It shouldn't be this way, but it's become that way. Baseball has turned it's back on pitchers going the distance.
"We are raising kids to be content with going 5 or 6 innings," Sutton said back then. "And, (with) twice as many injuries as ever before. So, in my mind—it ain’t working.”
No it's not--just take a look at Our Washington Nationals as a prime example.
Like most of baseball, Our Washington Nationals have fallen under the same guise. From 2005 through 2008 DC's Team threw a total of 7 Complete Games--none in 2007. Now some will claim that low figure is a direct result of not having quality pitching talent on the mound to perform such a duty. Well, in 1963, The Washington Senators were an abysmal 56-106 (a final tally Our Washington Nationals might challenge to reach in 2009), but The Senators' Starters completed 29 games that awful season. None of whom finished with a winning personal pitching record.
Expansion, more teams, expanded rosters--has little to do with the issue. The players are bigger, stronger and more athletic than ever. It's how the game is taught today. Specialty players are the norm. High salaries and Free Agency demand you protect the product, but it doesn't make it right. The fact remains that every team in baseball lowers the expectations of their starters, hinders development--by not teaching their pitchers to get themselves out of the very jams they got themselves into--in the first place.
Bring in the reliever at the first sign of trouble. If it takes three more to get those three outs in the inning--so be it--mind games over ability.
In 1963--Marichal & Spahn battled each other and their facing hitters until the winning score was eventually won. Each didn't want to come out of the game. Each was seasoned enough to work under pressure. Each was unafraid to make a mistake--knowing they had the experience to work themselves out of trouble. Juan and Warren used their own mind games to sharpen their abilities.
Sort of like how Livan Hernandez still pitches today. "Livo" is far from a top flight pitcher anymore, but he has no worries--play ball--get the outs. Few hurlers are this gutsy today.
Hopefully, Our Washington Nationals are slowly moving more toward this more tried and true direction. Nearing the halfway point of 2009--Washington's Starters have now completed three full games. And New Pitching Coach Steve McCatty has said from his very promotion to The Big Club, he wants to see his starters go deeper into the games, take more responsibility for their actions. And in doing so--relieve the pressure on an already worn out and overused bullpen.
No--no one is expecting John Lannan, Jordan Zimmermann, Scott Olsen, Ross Detwiler, Craig Stammen and even Shairon Martis to go out and pitch a full 16-innings--but they should be trusted more and more to finish what they start. Now, is the time to learn about being The Man On The Mound. Now is NOT the time to just be hurlers whose day of work consists of six or seven innings and be satisfied with handing YOUR GAME OVER TO SOMEONE ELSE.
Let's break the mold with our young talent.
Certainly, Lannan, Zimmermann, Olsen, Detwiler, Stammen and Martis all need to pitch a serious amount of quality and successful years to come anywhere close to the career efforts of Juan Marichal and Warren Spahn. But if these six starters seriously look back at this one terrific ball game 46 Years Ago Tonight--they would come to understand that Pitching in The Major Leagues is more about your own confidence in succeeding--at any time--in any situation. Not letting someone else take away what you have so rightfully earned.
There is no better season than this one currently playing out for this young staff to educate/learn/experience how to better fend for themselves. All six need to understand--Starting Pitching is about taking the ball, toeing the rubber at from the very beginning and being The Man On The Mound.