Author Topic: Out to Launch  (Read 660 times)

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Offline EasyAce

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Out to Launch
« on: January 18, 2019, 04:52:40 PM »
Today's hitting coaches trying to deprogram the launch anglers would probably love to show them evidence named Maris and Aaron.
By Yours Truly
https://throneberryfields.com/2019/01/18/out-to-launch/


Roger Maris and Hank Aaron–both broke ruthsrecords; neither cared how the ball
left the yard as long as it did leave the yard.


One of the more scurrilous arguments I can remember from the 1961 hunt to break ruthsrecord (so help me, that’s how they pronounced it then) involved Roger Maris’s “legitimacy.” Not just over whether a “true Yankee” should be “allowed” to break the single-season home run record (like the import from the Red Sox who set it in the first place) but whether Maris was a “legitimate” power hitter.

The big beef was over Maris’s kind of power hitting. He looked like a muscular ex-Marine, but he hit booming line drives into the seats instead of the parabolic punts for which Babe Ruth and, in due course, Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays were renowned in his time, and for which sluggers to come (Harmon Killebrew, Frank Howard, Dick Allen, Dave Kingman, Mike Schmidt, Darryl Strawberry, and company) would be held in awe likewise.

Joe DiMaggio once said hitting the other way wasn’t real hitting. The power argument is somewhat similar, and just as foolish. There were even those who thought Hank Aaron was an illegitimate successor to Ruth on the all-time home run list because a) he never put up a Huge Season; and, b) Aaron, more or less like Maris, hit the high line drive far more often than he hit the big, jaw-dropping, neighbourhood-threatening, ICBM-like launch.

The man’s lifetime averages per 162 games show that just about every season Aaron played was a Big Season. He averaged 37 home runs, 113 runs batted in, 185 hits, 31 doubles, 107 runs scored, and a mere 68 strikeouts per 162 games. (That, by the way, folks, is eighteen less than the Babe.) In other words, Hank Aaron’s average season was anyone else’s career year.

Maris wasn’t that kind of great except for the three Yankee seasons in which it looked like he was coming into his own on his own terms, including the year he broke ruthsrecord. (Whatever else you’ve heard or read, the real reason for Maris’s post-1962 decline was injuries.) But he had that one thing in common with Aaron, and people were actually foolish enough to hold it against him, too. As if it mattered more how the ball flew over the fence than that it flew there at all.

They used to accuse Maris of taking advantage of Yankee Stadium’s fabled short right field porch. As if they expected a lefthanded hitter with any kind of power not to. As if they forgot (assuming they knew) that Yankee Stadium was designed and built specifically to accommodate Ruth’s own lefthanded power. The stadium argument recessed occasionally during the more frequent argument over the Marisian liner versus the Mantlesque punt.

Which would be, today, the so-called launch angle argument. The passel of hitters checking in at the plate looking for something at which to swing on an uppercut before looking for something to hit at all. The passel of hitters that includes plenty with power enough who seem to think, without being able to say it that way, that they’re supposed to be Mantle and not Maris. Mays, not Aaron.

In today’s game Roger Maris and especially Hank Aaron would be the poster children for arguing against the launch angle, and they’d have the statistical evidence to back it up. Even passing Ruth on the all-time home run list, Aaron didn’t swing with a swooping uppercut, and the ball didn’t fly as if aiming for the Delta Quadrant.

And, as put by Chili Davis, former outfielder, former Cubs hitting coach, hired for the same job by the Mets practically before he’d had time to chill after the Cubs executed him, “certain players . . . are going to have to make some adjustments because the game has changed and pitchers are pitching them differently. They’re not pitching to launch angles and fly balls and all that anymore. They’re pitching away from that.”

Whatever you thought about Bryce Harper’s peculiar walk year, when he spent most of the first half looking completely unable to hit though ironically producing big enough when he did hit one, the real key to the turnaround that began shortly before the All-Star break was Harper returning to the batting style that first established him. He forgot about launch angles, with which he became pre-occupied coming out of spring training, and remembered about making contact, any kind of contact.

Harper’s first half slash line was .214/.365/.468. His second half: .300/.434/.538. His first half batting average on balls in play: .226. His second half: .378. He hit eleven home runs in the second half compared to 23 in the first half, but it’s probably very fair to suggest that if he hadn’t become a little enamoured of launch angles coming out of spring training he might well have hit the same number of home runs on the season (34) but he’d have been a lot more comfortable and productive all around at the plate.

Davis comes up again because of John Harper’s report that his execution as the Cubs’ hitting coach may have been instigated by the team’s two top stars, first baseman Anthony Rizzo and third baseman Kris Bryant. Harper says Cubs president Theo Epstein had no intention of pinking Davis until Rizzo and Bryant put the squeeze on. “He caved,” one unidentified source said of Epstein. “He’s not happy about it. He thinks it’s BS that the players complained about Chili, but he wasn’t going to stick with his hitting coach just to make a point.”

Davis admitted he had a tough time connecting with some of the younger Cub hitters, including Rizzo and Bryant, without mentioning them by name. And the Cubs’ bats went quiet enough in the second half to force them into a 163rd game just to make the wild card game, and to show nothing in those two games but two runs scored in 22 innings in their own hitter-Friendly Confines.

Rizzo is known to be his own hitting coach regardless of who actually has the job, a near fanatic about refining his plate approach on his own. Bryant, however, is known to be obsessed with launch angling, something instilled in him early by the private hitting instructor who also happens to be his father.

Rizzo started 2018 moderately before finding a groove around May; Bryant battled against a combination of shoulder trouble and pitchers figuring out he was so locked into launch angling that he was meat against rising pitches, likely to either strike out or hit catchable flies.

Davis wasn’t the only hitting coach who couldn’t get it into his charges’ thick skulls that launch angling doesn’t work for everyone swinging a bat. Dave Magadan—former sweet-swinging infielder turned hitting coach—has a new job because of it. The Diamondbacks, like many teams who can’t figure out why the bats turned to papier mache, made Magadan a 2018 scapegoat. The Rockies snapped him up post haste.

“I never want guys hitting the ball on the ground, especially to the pull side,” Magadan tells Harper. “I want them driving the ball into the gaps. But to just want to hit the ball in the air … if you’re not [Aaron] Judge or [Giancarlo] Stanton or J.D. Martinez, you’re just going to fly out a lot to the big part of the ballpark when pitchers with velocity and high spin rates are pitching up in the zone. I had a guy last year who tried to be J.D. Martinez, and we finally had to have an intervention with him. It wasn’t until he was sent back to Triple-A that he realized it didn’t work for him, and he got back to hitting line drives.”

Bryce Harper didn’t have to go to Triple-A to fix himself last year, but Magadan’s point is taken well. And Magadan respects Davis, with whom he worked in the Red Sox organisation when Epstein still ran their show. “We’ve talked a lot about hitting,” the former Met infielder says. “He knows the swing and he knows the psychology of players, so I was surprised to hear about some of the stuff in Chicago, but sometimes you just don’t connect with players. I see him doing great things in New York.”

There will always be hitters who can send satellites into orbit at the plate. There will always be hitters who don’t have to launch satellites to leave the yard. (There’s also at least one Mike Trout, who does it both ways; some of his home runs cruise into the seats on a high line, and some blast off as if it’s destination Milky Way.) Things probably haven’t been helped when you turn on the television to watch a game and the broadcast graphics people start hanging up the launch angles of every ball hit over the fence.

When Maris was put through the psychological wringer chasing Ruth’s single-season home run record, the criticism that seems to have stung the least was how he cleared the fences. It may have bothered him that Joe and Jane Fan him an interloper. (Yankee fans and otherwise; stories abounded about fan abuse Maris incurred on the road that season, too.) It may have haunted him that he had reason to suspect his own team would have preferred Mantle and not himself chase and break ruthsrecord.

But he knew in his heart of hearts that he didn’t have to hit the ball into earth orbit to hit for power. He had 133 home runs in three seasons, including the record-breaking 61 in ’61, to prove it. He respected and admired Mantle without thinking he had to do what he couldn’t do. Aaron surely had his baseball models, too, but he, too, never seemed to care how the ball flew out as long as it flew out at all.

Imagine Maris and Aaron in today’s game with Davis or Magadan as their hitting coaches. (The late Marvin Miller once asked rhetorically if a visitor could imagine Sandy Koufax as a free agent. Now, imagine Maris [before the injury bug] or Aaron likewise.) Imagine Davis or Magadan showing the rest of the team’s hitters Maris or Aaron and saying, “These guys don’t give a damn about launch angles, and they’re hitting damn well while still hitting home runs like it’s going out of style. What does that tell you?”

Now, imagine today’s hitters looking at Davis or Magadan after that exhibition, by the two men who broke ruthsrecords, and saying, as the phrases went once upon a time, “Who are these fools and what planet were they exiled from?” But where will those fools turn when they exile themselves so deep into the tank they’ll need an elevator to return?
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Offline rustynail

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Re: Out to Launch
« Reply #1 on: January 18, 2019, 05:09:11 PM »
Very informative.  I really like that picture of Maris.  Thanks.

Offline goatprairie

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Re: Out to Launch
« Reply #2 on: January 19, 2019, 12:09:45 AM »
During his 61 hr season, Maris actually more homers on the road than at Yankee Stadium with the short porch by a total of one....30 hrs at YS and 31 on the road. That meant that most of Maris's hrs were most likely rising line drives rather than rocket launches. In short, Maris received little help from YS's short right field fence.
I remember seeing a hr hit by Boog Powell at the Twins old  Met Stadium in '65 that looked like the Twins first baseman might have been able to snag. Instead, the ball, a line shot, kept rising until it reached the right field bleachers  eventually winning the game for the Orioles.

Offline EasyAce

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Re: Out to Launch
« Reply #3 on: January 19, 2019, 01:29:37 AM »
During his 61 hr season, Maris actually more homers on the road than at Yankee Stadium with the short porch by a total of one....30 hrs at YS and 31 on the road. That meant that most of Maris's hrs were most likely rising line drives rather than rocket launches. In short, Maris received little help from YS's short right field fence.
The distance of Yankee Stadium's right field porch was accommodating to lefthanded power hitters no matter whether they hit Maris-style liners or Mantle-style punts. The height of the fence wouldn't have impacted him. (Neither, for that matter, would the right field fence in Fenway Park which was also pretty short in height.)

You might have thought that Griffith Stadium would have more impact against Maris because of his style of hitting, thanks to its high right field wall that was a mirror image of the Green Monster. But---that wall was seven inches shorter than the Monster, and Maris's liners often flew just high enough to clear it. In fact, in one four-game stretch against the Senators in Washington that August, Maris hit a home run each in all four games, including both ends of a doubleheader. And all four were hit to right and over that wall.

The ninnies of 1961 looked for just any reason to denigrate Maris in 1961.

Offline goatprairie

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Re: Out to Launch
« Reply #4 on: January 19, 2019, 10:46:50 AM »
The distance of Yankee Stadium's right field porch was accommodating to lefthanded power hitters no matter whether they hit Maris-style liners or Mantle-style punts. The height of the fence wouldn't have impacted him. (Neither, for that matter, would the right field fence in Fenway Park which was also pretty short in height.)

You might have thought that Griffith Stadium would have more impact against Maris because of his style of hitting, thanks to its high right field wall that was a mirror image of the Green Monster. But---that wall was seven inches shorter than the Monster, and Maris's liners often flew just high enough to clear it. In fact, in one four-game stretch against the Senators in Washington that August, Maris hit a home run each in all four games, including both ends of a doubleheader. And all four were hit to right and over that wall.

The ninnies of 1961 looked for just any reason to denigrate Maris in 1961.
I remember all the mavens and lords of baseballl got together and bemoaned the fact that someone like Maris might break Ruth's record.
Commissioner Ford Frick even came up with the infamous rule that Maris had to break Ruth's record in 154 games or it would have an asterisk after it.
By making that insane decision Frick then logically would have to invalidate EVERY! statistical record that was set after the 162 game season was established.
But wait. They'd have to go back and invalidate every record that was set after the 154 game season was established from the  earlier seasons of less than 154 games.
In short, Frick and the others who supported him in his decision were out of their minds.
If the record (or any other statistic) was set during a 300  game season, it would still be the record for most whatevers during a season.
For the record, I remember earnestly wishing Maris would break the record even though I wasn't a Yankee fan. In fact, I intensely disliked the Yankees (Braves fan). But I liked Maris and Mantle.

Offline EasyAce

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Re: Out to Launch
« Reply #5 on: January 19, 2019, 01:06:41 PM »
I remember all the mavens and lords of baseballl got together and bemoaned the fact that someone like Maris might break Ruth's record.
Commissioner Ford Frick even came up with the infamous rule that Maris had to break Ruth's record in 154 games or it would have an asterisk after it.
By making that insane decision Frick then logically would have to invalidate EVERY! statistical record that was set after the 162 game season was established.
But wait. They'd have to go back and invalidate every record that was set after the 154 game season was established from the  earlier seasons of less than 154 games.
In short, Frick and the others who supported him in his decision were out of their minds.
Elmer Fudd Frick had a definite dog in the hunt---he'd once been a ghostwriter for Babe Ruth and the two became close enough friends that Frick was actually at Ruth's bedside before the Babe died in 1948. Frick didn't even address the season length issue viz the single-season home run record until 17 July 1961. It was New York Daily News writer Dick Young who suggested that what Frick only called a "distinctive mark" for the record books become the infamous asterisk. (Young was one of the writers to whom Maris was a surly interloper; Maris's lone ally in the New York sports press of the time was the New York Post's Milt Gross.) Other than some of the baseball writers covering the Maris-Mantle chase, about the only Lords of Baseball who actively tried to interfere with Maris were the Yankees themselves; manager Ralph Houk was pressured occasionally by the front office to tweak his lineups in order to give Mickey Mantle more chances to hit them out and Maris fewer. (Mantle's hip abscess late in the season put paid to his chances, but contrary to some mythology Mantle actually encouraged his teammate to chase ruthsrecord to the finish.)

Except for something nobody actually knew at the time: Commissioner though he was, Frick actually had no authority to make that decision. Major league baseball had no officially designated record book then or until they first gave the job to Total Baseball in the 1990s. Even Frick himself, in his eventual memoir, wrote that there was no asterisk in any official record, though he still couldn't resist sticking the needle in about the 154-game season versus the 162-game season. It took a much later commissioner, Fay Vincent, to dispel the asterisk myth by, essentially, ruling that something which never existed legitimately should be removed having been imposed by a previous commissioner who denied it existed in the first place. Vincent's ruling---in which he said there was but one single-season home run record and Maris then owned it---came in 1991.

If you watched Billy Crystal's affectionate if sometimes inaccurate telling of the Maris-Mantle home run chase, 61*, you remember the final scene, Maris hitting one out and fading away as he headed up the first base line, in an overhead shot, with longtime Yankee Stadium announcer Bob Sheppard intoning, "Roger Maris died---never knowing---that the record belonged to him." Maris himself once said, several years after his career ended, "They acted as though I was doing something wrong, poisoning the record books or something. Do you know what I have to show for 61 home runs? Nothing. Exactly nothing." Yet when Edward Kiersh interviewed him for Where Have You Gone, Vince DiMaggio, published two years before Maris's 1985 death of lymphatic cancer, Maris said emphatically, "I've got the record, and that's all that counts." (The most memorable part of Crystal's film was really the astonishing physical resemblance actors Barry Pepper and Thomas Jane had to the Yankees they portrayed---Pepper played Maris, Jane played Mantle.)

What the press and the public of the time further ignored, on the assumption they knew, was that when Ruth himself first set a single-season home run record, he'd broken a major league record of 27 set by Ned Williamson of the 1884 Chicago White Stockings (eventually known as the Cubs)---when the season was only 112 games.

In 1927, Ruth had 690 plate appearances and 540 official at-bats in hitting 60 home runs. (He walked 137 times, too.) In 1961, Maris had 698 plate appearances and 590 official at-bats hitting 61 home runs. (He walked 94 times. Incidentally, Ruth in 1927 struck out 89 times to lead the American League in both walks and strikeouts, while Maris in 1961 struck out only 67 times while not leading his league in either walks or strikeouts.) But, since Elmer Fudd Frick was so hell bent on the record meeting or falling within a certain time frame, let it be said that Ruth hit his 60th home run in his 689th plate appearance while Maris hit his 60th in his 684th appearance---and Frick was unaware of that little detail.
« Last Edit: January 19, 2019, 01:26:23 PM by EasyAce »


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