This is a problem that will occur at all levels of the game. You’ll find a coach who will insist that it’s his way or the highway, and there’ll always be one who doesn’t say boo to the pitcher, and when the two tenets, beliefs, what have you, come into conflict with each other who is it who’s caught in the middle? The pitcher, of course. And when either or both don’t know their elbows from third base…big trouble.
The Yankees had to contend with this situation once. Back in the late 1940s there was a pitcher named Fred Sanford who used to pitch for the St. Louis Browns. He wasn’t a bad pitcher, just had the misfortune to pitch for the lousiest team in baseball, but he had something, and so the Yankees acquired him in a trade. And then the trouble started. Sanford had a pitching motion best described as herky-jerky, and it didn’t matter that he was getting the batters out. Pitching coach Jim Turner didn’t like it. Third-base coach Frank Crosetti (and how did he, a former infielder, get mixed up in this?) didn’t like it either. That motion offended the esthetic sensibilities of both coaches, and therein lay their mistake. They wanted Sanford to have a smooth, Spalding Guide-perfect motion—and so they started futzing around with him. They screwed the pooch, was what they did; they got the poor guy so confused he didn’t know which end was up. They ended up destroying him; when they got through with him he wasn’t a good pitcher any more, and by the end of the 1950 season he was traded to another team. Esthetic sensibilities, my Aunt Fanny!
Now we look at another situation. One Saturday morning Ed Lopat—a key member of the Yankees’ Big Three rotation and one of the finest pitching coaches anyone could ever hope to work with—was conducting a workshop for some high school pitchers at a playing field near Yankee Stadium, and I was watching. And immediately there was a problem—there was one kid, a high school junior, who was obviously having some serious issues with his pitching, and his problem was that his coach was what Lopat later referred to as “a child’s garden of misinformation”. This high school coach had as a basic premise “My way or the highway”, and he was in conflict not only with the kid but also the kid’s parents. This kid was being forced to throw over the top, straight overhand, when it was obvious that this was not his natural delivery; he had no idea where his release point was because the high school coach was feeding him conflicting information; he wanted to experiment with a couple of breaking pitches and the coach kept telling him no—blah blah blah. This kid was so confused and exasperated he was seriously thinking about giving up on the game! Lopat, who among other things had a reputation as a first-class troubleshooter, decided that the first thing to do was to clear Junior’s head. He did so and got to the root of the problem—that high school coach (who fortunately wasn’t present at the workshop for whatever reason) not only didn’t know his elbow from third base but also kept on feeding the kid all that misinformation! So Steady Eddie talked quietly to the kid and set him straight on some things—and he told him not to pay any attention to that coach. At one point Lopat made a sudden motion with his hand and said, “And this is what you do with a mosquito!” I had to laugh at this notion of a know-nothing coach being squashed like a bug.
(The kid left the team and transferred to another school with a baseball coach who had some sense in his head.)
Lopat’s basic premise was that every pitcher has a natural motion, and what he would do was work with that pitcher and show him or her how to make the most of it. He knew that I was a natural sidearmer—he had seen this when he was teaching me how to throw a good slider—and he worked with me and showed me how to take full advantage of it. And because I was interested, wanted to know and was willing to work at it, he had no reservations about teaching me some very advanced stuff he felt I needed to know—and he helped me become a better pitcher than I had been before. He knew his elbow from third base, and then some.
This may have been an extreme case—but every so often one will run into something like this, and it’s at those times that being polite doesn’t work; you have to take matters into your own hands! 8)