Hey, Pustulio—nice to hear from you again.
You say you’ve had both types of instructors. It reminds me of an old poem about six blind men who encounter an elephant. One of them takes hold of the trunk and says the elephant is like a rope. Another one grabs a leg and says the elephant is like a tree. And—well, the upshot of the whole thing is in the last two lines of the poem:
"Though each was partly in the right,
"They all were in the wrong."
None of them ever grasped the true essence of the elephant.
In psychology, as in just about everything else, there are enough theories to fill a warehouse. Ed Lopat, in his years in the minors before coming up to the White Sox in 1944, had made an exhaustive study of pitching and pitchers, and he was very interested in the mental and psychological aspects of pitching. He and I had many long talks—I used to call them “curbstone consultations”—and he talked not only about getting inside a batter’s head to confuse, discombooberate and generally mess up the latter’s timing and thinking; he also would get inside my bean from time to time to explore my mental processes out there on the mound. His approach to this angle was best described as common-sensical; he would check out a pitcher and determine where s/he was coming from and what would be the best way to enable him/her to reach his/her full capacity. Let me give you another example of how he would work.
When Allie Reynolds joined the Yankees in 1947 he was more of a thrower than a pitcher. He had a fast ball that often exceeded 100 miles an hour, but he was wild and didn’t have all this stuff together. When Lopat came to the Yankees at the start of the 1948 season he did what regular pitching coach Jim Turner couldn’t do. He saw where Reynolds was at, and one day he just sat the Chief down and talked to him about repertoire—about stuff. What he said was: “Take four pitches—a fast ball, a curve, a slider and a screwball. Now throw each one at three different speeds, and you have twelve pitches. Next, throw each one with both the losng-arm and the short-arm delivery, and you have twenty-four pitches.” He didn’t say what would happen if one threw each pitch at three different arm angles, overhand, three-quarters and sidearm, but later on I did the math and I came up with 72 pitches—and it may have been a lot more. In any event: Exit the fireballing thrower whose fast ball exceeded 100 miles an hour. Enter a very, very fine power pitcher with finesse, whose fast ball exceeded 100 miles an hour.
Steady Eddie told me once, when we were discussing the elements that went into the making of a good pitching coach, that he seemed to have a steadying influence on the rest of the pitching staff—that he could keep them relaxed and on an even keel. As he said, “It’s what I do”, with no pretense. Maybe he didn’t have a degree in the stuff, but he operated on a combination of common sense, instinct, keen observation, and what seemed to me to be a sixth sense—an eerie ability to spot a problem, zero in on it at once, and usually find a solution right away. In working with him I picked up on these elements, and more than once I thought to myself, "What an incredible pitching coach he is."
Where he picked up his working knowledge of hypnosis and how to use it, I’ll never know, because I decided not to push the matter—I figured, let it be his secret. But he knew several different approaches, all of which had one thing in common—they were aimed at taking the pressure off and giving a person a chance to relax and let his/her mind rest and become more receptive. As he put it, “The best definition of hypnosis I’ve ever run across is this: it’s an altered state of consciousness characterized by super-concentration and super-relaxation.” And how he would use it—whether it be to resolve a problem such as the one I had, or impart some important information, or just help a person clear his/her head—I remember that from the very beginning, even when he wasn’t using it, he made me feel comfortable and kept me relaxed and receptive to the information, advice and instruction I was receiving from him. And he would tailor his approach to the particular makeup of the pitcher he was working with—he individualized it, not like some psychologists et al. who were basically sticks in the mud! So, the point is, when you know what you’re doing with it you’ll find it very useful indeed.
And he knew what he was doing, all right. I remember that he had a very calm, pleasant and matter-of-fact speaking voice with a particular undertone in it that would just grab and hold the attention of the person he was talking to. Even when he was just explaining to another pitcher about things like focus—or pitch sequences— or getting through a rough patch—there was that element, which I have never seen in any other pitcher or pitching coach. Or heard. He really had me in the palm of his hand, and he helped me make the most of what he told and showed me. They just don’t make pitching coaches like that any more!
You take the best of what you hear or learn, put it together, and come up with your own ideas, your own conception, of what this is all about.
"Well, I’ve run on long enough. You have a lot to think about, and as I said—look into it. And don’t lose that knuckleball!!! 8) :baseballpitcher: