Hooking the Rubber


#1

Now there’s a phrase that I haven’t heard in a while - “Hooking the Rubber.”

What does it mean?

It mean allowing your spikes to catch the edge of the pitcher’s rubber with the cleats of your pivot foot - usually to get more “umph” while pushing off the rubber.

Recently, a youngster down the street was told to do so by his high school coach, or some adult acting as a coach on his high school team. The youngster asked why and how come, especially because he can’t maintain any control now using this suggestion.

There’s a ballpark within walking distance of my home, so I met him and his father on the field after a game had finished. I noticed right away that he took the mound, “as is” without as much as fixing the condition of the mound. There right in front of the rubber was a deep hole and the landing area where the stride foot would plant was another larger hole. That hole down the front of the mound was way off line to home plate.

As the youngster showed me what his coach wanted him to do, I asked him how confident he was starting off, without really going through his motion. “Not really all that confident, coach,” was his response. When I asked him what he did before, he said he just stood in the hole in front of the rubber and took things from there.

I suggested that he go back to his coach, or whoever instructed him to do what he’s doing now, and bring up the hole in front of the pitcher’s rubber. Ask him what he would suggest then?

I was surprised that neither the youngster nor his father seemed to grasp the situation of stepping in-n-out of a hole, nor did they grasp the difficulties of working off the leading edge of the rubber - by hooking the rubber, that was at least 8 inches off the dirt surface of his pitcher’s mound.

In any event, regardless of what kind of coaching one receives, if you’re going to accept a pitching surface that’ll do nothing for you, ask your coach why bother in the first place?


#2

Most coaches never stepped onto a pitcher’s mound beyond 12 years of age. So many games I watch where the mound is never repaired. Often a coach will scuff up the dirt with a rake, drag it into the two holes, stomp on it a few times, give it a light rake to make it look pretty and walk away. Before the home pitcher finishes warm ups, the holes are back. Some of these holes represent weeks of improper mound repair.

Everyone who knows me, knows this to be true that when I coach, I fix the mound the night before or get to the park a few hours ahead and pack those holes, depending upon how much time I have between work and having to get to the field. If I’m coaching the evening game, I repair the mound again at the end so it has a chance to set up before the next day’s games. Even when I’m not coaching, if my son is scheduled to pitch, the mound will be perfect before the game. I have taught him how to repair the mound to hold up to at least half of a game, even if it has been neglected. He calls us “The pitcher’s mound flash mob.”

Unfortunately, I’ve also had to teach him how to pitch on absolute crap mounds.

Towns and leagues put so little effort into maintaining the mound, everyone should just give up and get a portable mound and drag it out there. It would be much safer, on average. If they did get portable mounds, I fear they would probably still “cheap out” and get a mound that is too short and doesn’t allow for full strides.

The complete apathy is appalling.


#3

One of the things ( oh there were many) that I had to deal with as a Cross-Checker, was giving my appraisal of a guy that had to work off junk… absolute junk. Mounds that were made of sand, baked clay that turned to dust, maintenance crews with no budget, vandalism and troublemakers galore, public ambivalence, pitching rubbers sticking 12 to 17 inches out of the dirt on a slab of concrete, and so forth. What really got me was the “that’s not my job” mindset of the coaching world that would stand there, inning after inning, and watch there charges go through pure agony.

Separating real ability from the impressions that the pitching surface sent up was a nightmare. Here in the Northeast, these mounds are a pure fantasy in the world of coaching and managing the sport. The only plus side to any of this - if I can call it a plus side, was that I got really good at separating the influences of poor pitching surfaces from the real ability of who it was that I was watching. Now I will say this, on some of private and college fields, this was a different story. Money and dedication where two elements that did justice to not only the man working the day/night, but a fair appraisal of his work did everyone justice.


#4

Sooo are you suggesting that “hooking the rubber” is a bad thing, OR that it’s just not that useful IF the mounds aren’t in ideal condition? I’ve heard of this style of delivery, Pedro Martinez, Sandy Koufax among others in the Dodgers organization used to do it and a good bit of people i’ve heard about actually do suggest hooking the rubber. It’s funny that you brought this topic up because I was just going to do so. I know that all mounds aren’t the same, and sometimes they are in terrible condition but let’s say that the mounds that someone pitches off are in good condition and maintained well, what would be ones take on “hooking the rubber”?


#5

I’m going to answer your question this way - so just give me some space to do so.

I really dislike it when I ask someone a question, only to be given generalities and the like. But, in this case, I’m going to do so, at first.

Any pitching surface that’s a mess to work off of, is just that - a mess. In my opinion, any given method of doing this or that, off of junk, is wasted on the attempt to work through said method(s) and come to some conclusion that’s both meaningful and worth the exercise in repeating.

You mentioned in your remarks about a mound that’s in ideal condition. Any mound that’s worked off of, in the later innings, soon has less and less quality. That’s a given. “ideal” is subject to all kinds of moans and groans, subjected to who’s asking who. But in the real world, workability is the gravity that draws a reasonable mindset for responding to your question, and that reasonability is what I’m going to assume from here on.

I’ve coached those pitchers that have grabbed the leading edge of the rubber with their cleats to literally “launch” themselves, while others preferred not to. I found it to be a matter of personal choice, or, one of instruction based on where and when that coach/instructor came form in his career. Some pitchers have a terrible time adjusting to any system or method that their coach believes is “for their own good.” I never worked that way. I always took what the man brought to the field with respect to “as is” and worked form there.

If a mound is workable and the method suits the pitcher, I say go for it. It’s more of a quality issue(s) with respect to personal comfort and repetitive performance more that anything. So as far as your choice of go-or-no-go, select a mound that you believe is reasonable and workable FIRST. Then use the delivery posture that you’re use to and establish a baseline of :“feel” and results. In other words… how are you doing now before changing anything. Then go to this Hooking the Rubber thing and see if you add any worth to your presence. Just remember, you must use the same deliberate aggressiveness - or not, that you used without this method to give you a realistic comparison of the before and after.

Now if you’re going to work of a piece of real junk- don’t. Your apprehension will force to you do things that aren’t natural to your appraisal process and your decision making. Don’t worry about asking … “how will I know coach?” Trust me, you’ll know immediately, without question, and that’ll be that.

Ok, so you’ve decided to go this route of Hooking the Rubber, and the surface that you’ve tested this new method works out to your favor. Now think, if you go to a field where the mound is junk, and this new method doesn’t exactly work out the way you expected - are you gong to go back to your old ways? If so, what should you be expected to deal with? Can you adjust back and forth from one method to another? Will this adjustment take away a certain pitch or pitches in your inventory? Will you require more days rest and recouping if you have to go back and forth between methods? What else will be waiting in the wings?

If you have a coach who understands what I’m trying to get across, sit down with him and hash it out. See if what you’re about to do is worth doing, and why?

sunagod76, I honestly want to do justice to your question because it’s a serious question and I believe your insight is mature enough to go into some depth - if you want me to. Did I answer your question completely?