Did you know that Warren Spahn was not the first one to say that hitting is about timing and pitching is about upsetting timing? I believe that particular statement was first voiced by the great Cleveland Indians pitcher and pitching coach Mel Harder.
Anyhoo—one day Ed Lopat asked me how I was doing with holding runners on base, and I told him that this was where I might have a problem, first because I was righthanded and second because I had very little occasion to work from the stretch, at least as a starter. He said, “Relax. Don’t worry about it. You know, you’re not out there to set records with pickoff moves. You’re there just to hold runners close to the bag. You can throw over there once—maybe twice—just to let the runner know you know he’s there. And go after the batter—he’s the one you have to get out.” And a week later, the next time we met, he worked with me for a couple of hours on this. We worked with phantom runners that day, and then on another occasion he had some guys on hand to play baserunner so I would have real live ones to practice with.
The snap-throw developed into a good pickoff move for me.
And speaking of creatures of habit—do you remember Mike Garcia? He was a big righthanded power pitcher known as the Bear, and he pitched for the Indians, and he gave the Yankees more trouble than the rest of the Tribe’s pitching staff put together. But he was a creature of habit. He always would start off a batter with a fast ball low and inside. Never failed. And one night it caught up with him. The Yanks and the Indians were to play that night, and someone went looking for Johnny Mize who was going to play first base for the Yanks. Couldn’t find him at first. Finally Big Jawn was located in the Yankees’ locker room—practicing golf swings with his bat. When asked about that, his laconic answer was “Garcia’s pitching tonight”.
And when Mize came to bat with two men on base, Garcia’s first pitch to him was—yep, you guessed it, a fast ball down and in. And Mize was ready for it. He golfed that pitch way back into the right-field stands for a three-run homer and a lead which the Yanks never relinquished. You can be sure that cured Garcia of his habit once and for all, because for the rest of the game Mize never saw a fast ball from him.
In a way I was a creature of habit—I had a habit of winning games…and that’s a nice habit for pitchers to get into.