Teaching baseball’s most basic – and overlooked – skills

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It’s true in baseball – true throughout sports – that the team that makes the least amount of mistakes will win the game.

So the goals of my youth baseball teams’ practices are to identify things we can do better and to figure out things that can go wrong in any particular game. We attempt to strengthen our weaknesses and take steps to prevent things that can go wrong.

Our teams spend roughly one-fifth of our practice time each season playing catch. That’s because the team that catches and throws the ball the best usually comes out on top. The secret to winning at the youth level is simple.We want each of our players to possess the ability to make a strong and accurate throw from any position on the diamond. Make the routine plays and you should come out on top.

Catching and throwing are the most basic – and overlooked – skills in baseball.

They are skills that need to be consistently emphasized.

Proper throwing mechanics improve a thrower’s velocity and accuracy, and diminish the likelihood of elbow or shoulder injuries.

The two coaches who have most influenced me in the development of our teams’ throwing program are Sean McDermott, the associate coach at the Univeristy of Illinois at Chicago, and Dave Rosene, the head varsity coach at Jones College Prep. I have borrowed heavily from both men and acknowledge that their influence has greatly contributed to our success.

Our catching drills are anything but casual. We play catch with a sense of purpose.

Our throwing drills stress efficiency which is the ability to accomplish a job with a minimum expenditure of time and effort. When machines don’t operate efficiently, their output is reduced, they become more expensive, and eventually over time will break down. Therefore the baseball player’s body must always work from rotational movement to linear movement in an efficient rhythm. We are striving to develop balance and coordination of the lower and upper body.

With the goal of achieving efficiency, we practice grip, arm action, and footwork over and over and over again.

The grip

We instruct our players to throw with a proper four-seam grip. Two fingers are placed over the top of the seams with the side of the thumb underneath the middle of the ball on a seam. The proper grip will enable the ball to get from Point A to Point B in a straight manner.

A player should work on perfecting this grip every time he pulls the ball from the glove.The ball should be on the fingertips and not the palm. When taking the ball out of the glove, the throwing hand thumb should be pointed down.

Image result for baseball wrist action drill
Performing the wrist drill.

The wrist drill

When the ball is brought back into the throwing position, the wrist should be cocked back. The culprit of many poorly thrown balls is a stiff wrist.

Players can practice proper wrist action by holding the throwing arm just below the wrist with the glove hand. The throwing arm should bend at the elbow with the forearm remaining vertical. Players will throw the ball with just the wrist and fingers.

Arm motion

Beginning with when the player removes the ball from the glove and ending with the follow through, the throwing arm should move in a circular motion. The size of the arc should be in direct relation to the distance of the throw. An outfielder’s arc will be greater than an infielder’s.

The Complete Pitcher's FREE Baseball Pitching Drills: The Knee Drill
Performing the ready, break, throw drill.

Ready, break, throw drill

This drill is performed on one knee. A player will start in the ready position.

When the coach says, “break,” the player reaches back with the throwing arm – elbow at ear level and fingers on top of the ball. The player’s shoulders, hip, and glove should be pointed directly at the target.

When the coach says, “throw,” the player releases the ball and follows through so that the throwing wrist lands on the opposite hip with the elbow resting on the upright knee.The player’s head remains upright.

Front shoulder

Shoulders should be pointed toward the target. After the ball is caught, the player should turn sideways and point his front shoulder in the direction of the throw.

Lower body

The lower body should be lined up in the same manner as the shoulders – directly at the target. The back foot should be perpendicular to the target and the hips should be closed and pointing in the direction of the target.

Once the ball is removed from the glove, the front leg should lift. The lead foot should land just before the throwing arm is ready to move forward. The landing of the front foot signals the arm to initiate the forward movement. A player should step toward the target with the lead foot., push off the back foot, and obtain throwing power from his entire body.

Once the ball is released, the turning of the hips and the transfer of weight over the front side should pull the rear leg up and around, enabling the player to finish in a squared-off position with both feet lined up perpendicular to the target.

The head

The head must stay in the center of the body throughout the entire throwing motion.

A steady head is essential for balance. In addition, the eyes must remain focused on the target, even after the follow through.

Rotation

The player must throw it across the seams with a “12-6” rotation so that the throw does not tail.

AROUND THE MAJORS

Photo of Danny DuffyThe Kansas City Royals avoided arbitration with Danny Duffy (right) by signing the 27-year-old left-hander to a  a $65 million, five-year contract. Duffy was 12-3 and set career highs in wins, starts and innings pitched with the Royals last year. … MLB. com repoirted that the Blue Jays and Jose Bautista were close to a deal that would keep the free-agent slugger in Toronto. … The Philadelphia Phillies and free-agent outfielder Michael Saunders agreed to a one-year deal worth $9 million. Saunders hit a career-high 24 home runs with the Blue Jays last year.

STATS OF THE DAY

Over the last three seasons, Danny Duffy has pitched 490 innings with a 3.29 ERA and has struck out 7.8 per nine innings – one of just 18 pitchers to reach that threshold over the same period.

The others:

Clayton Kershaw
Max Scherzer
Chris Sale
David Price
Corey Kluber
Jon Lester
Madison Bumgarner
Jake Arrieta
Cole Hamels
Felix Hernandez
Zack Greinke
Stephen Strasburg
Johnny Cueto
Gerrit Cole
Lance Lynn
Masahiro Tanaka
Tyson Ross

 

QUOTE OF THE DAY

“They said this day would never come. I will say to the Cubs, it took you long enough. I only have four days left. You’re just making it under the wire.Even I was not crazy enough to suggest that during these eight years we would see the Cubs win the Worlds Series. But I did say there has never been anything false about hope.”

  • President Obama during a White House ceremony honoring the world champion Cubs

PHOTO OF THE DAY

Image result for obama cubs

Menu biggest hit at Stella’s

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

As anyone who has been to a major league ballgame in recent years well knows, ballpark fare is no longer consists of just hot dogs, peanuts, and Cracker Jack.

A walk down a modern ballpark concourse provides fans with a plethora of food options. The traditional options remain, but concession items today reflect the more sophisticated palates of modern fans. Regional culinary favorites are showcased – such as Chicago-style hot dogs at Wrigley Field, bratwursts in Milwaukee, garlic fries in San Francisco, fish tacos in San Diego, and cheese steak sandwiches in Philadelphia.

Stella’s Restaurant and Batting Cages in Lyons, Ill., 12 miles southwest of downtown Chicago is a celebration of baseball’s recent culinary revolution.

Since it opened in 1986, Stella’s has provided ballplayers with the area’s only year-round batting cage facility that is open to the public. The indoor facility includes nine automated cages with baseball and softball options with pitch speeds ranging from 38 MPH to over 80 MPH.

cages

Adjacent to the batting cages is a full-service pro shop with a selection of bats, gloves, and other baseball equipment for sale, a modestly-sized dining room, and a small patio area.

Stella’s food offerings were fairly typical until Chef Robin Choi and his wife, Rhonda, took over kitchen operations last February. Robin, with 17 years of culinary experience and an extensive background in fine dining restaurants as a sushi chef, seemed overqualified and out of place for a casual joint like Stella’s.

“I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life making hot dogs and burgers,” Robin said. “I wanted to tie in some kind of concept and be a little more creative.”

Choi, a passionate baseball fan, visited ballparks throughout the country and was inspired to recreate many of the food items he enjoyed during his travels. He calls his cuisine “ballpark centric street food.”

stellas-counter

The food at Stella’s, once an afterthought, has now become the main attraction to many visitors.

My son, Will, and I are long-time Stella’s regulars but last year, on many of our visits, we didn’t even venture into the batting range.

“A lot of people come here to eat,” said Choi proudly.

Standard fare – like nachos, pizza puffs, and soft pretzels – are still available as are local favorites like Italian beef, Polish sausage, and corned beef.

But it’s the newcomers to the menu that distinguish Stella’s. And with most menu items priced under $7, it offers a family of four a culinary tour de force for less than $30.

Ordering at Stella’s is not an easy task. So many choices.

In the mood for sushi?

Spicy tuna rolls and California rolls are made to order.

Craving a taste of Miami on a frigid January day?

Stella’s offers “The Canseco,” a juicy pressed and toasted Cuban sandwich with generous amounts of Mojo-marinated pork shoulder, smoke ham, Swiss cheese, mustard, and pickles.

Or how about some Korean-style barbecue?

“The Texas Rangers Choomongousi” features barbecued steak topped with a cabbage Kimchee slaw, Siracha mayo, green onions, thin-sliced radishes and sesame seeds.

Other “ballpark specials” include:

  • The “MTL@CHI Poutine” tops french fries with cheddar cheese curds, chopped Italian beef, gravy, and giardiniera.
  • “Houston’s Fried Chicken in a Waffle Cone” consists of crispy buttermilk fried chicken thighs and mashed potatoes with salted maple honey butter in a waffle cone.
  • “The Phillies Schmitter” is a hot roast beef sandwich topped with grilled onions, grilled tomato, a seared slice of salami, Cheese Whiz, Swiss cheese, and a “special” sauce served on a potato bun.

It’s a winning lineup, for sure.

Stella’s is located at 3903 Joliet Ave,; Lyons, Ill. It is open from 10 a.m.-10 p.m. daily. For more information, call (708) 447-0405.

1969: Holtzman’s no-strikeout no-hitter

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

(Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on Agony & Ivy on Jan. 19, 2011.)

Whenever I watch footage of Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter against the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field on Aug. 19, 1969, I am struck by the smiles on the faces of the Cubs players as they mobbed Holtzman after the final out.

holtzman no-hitter.jpg

The sports pages of the Sun-Times on Aug. 20, 1969 reported the news of Ken Holtzman’s no-hitter the previous day against the Atlanta Braves.

Those players – who included Ron Santo, Don Kessinger, and Glenn Beckert – probably thought the fun was just beginning. Little did they know that Holtzman’s gem was the last good thing that would happen to the Cubs that incredible season. It was all downhill from there.

Santo smashed a three-run homer in the first inning off Atlanta starter Phil Niekro to account for all the game’s scoring, and Holtzman took it from there.

A stiff 15 MPH breeze was blowing in from the northeast and Holtzman took full advantage of the conditions. The 23-year-old left-hander walked two – Gil Garrido in the third inning and Bob Didier in the fifth – and struck out none. Of the 27 outs Holtzman recorded, 15 were flyouts.

The most memorable of those flyouts came off the bat of leadoff hitter Henry Aaron in the seventh inning.

“Should have been a home run,” Holtzman told Rick Talley in The Cubs of ’69 (Contemporary Books, 1989). “On any other day it would have been over the houses across Waveland Avenue. I remember the trajectory. It was one of those high ones headed for distant places, and I remember (left fielder) Billy (Williams) backing up into that corner in left field, just standing there with his right arm against the wall. He kept looking up and looking up, and he knew it was going to land on the sidewalk. The ball was suddenly suspended up there – it seemed like 40 seconds between the time it left the bat and the time it started coming down – and finally it just dropped down into Billy’s glove. Without the wind, that ball would have landed in Evanston.

“I’ll never forget the look Hammer (Aaron ) gave me. Let’s face it, when Hammer hits it, you know it’s gone. He had those wrists and that top hand coming through, and when he started into that trot, he knew. Well, he was almost to second base when he saw Billy catch the ball. He made a U-turn around second and ran about four feet from me as he came past the mound. He just looked at me, puzzled, quizzical, and I just looked back at him. Nothing was said. Nothing needed to be said.”

Bill Heath was the starting catcher for the Cubs that afternoon, but had to leave the game in the eighth inning when he took a Tommie Aaron foul tip off his throwing hand. Heath, who broke a finger and never played in the major leagues again, was replaced by Gene Oliver.

Felipe Alou popped out to the shortstop, Kessinger, to open the ninth and Felix Milan grounded out to third baseman santo for the second out. All that separated Holtzman from a no-no was the dangerous Henry Aaron.

“Ollie runs out to the mound and says, ‘You want to walk him?’ I say, ‘If he gets a hit, he gets a hit,’ ” Holtzman recalled.

As the crowd chanted, “We want an out!” Holtzman fell behind in the count. Aaron sharply fouled off a 3-and-1 pitch into the seats down the right-field line.

“Holtzman in a demonstration of real pitching class, challenged Aaron with that pitch,” Cubs TV broadcaster Jack Brickhouse noted.

Aaron fouled the next pitch back to the screen and then on Holtzman’s 112th pitch of the afternoon, hit a sharp grounder to the right of second. Second baseman Beckert, who was shaded toward the middle, was perfectly positioned. An obviously nervous Beckert fielded it cleanly and then seemingly took forever to make the throw to first baseman Ernie Banks to retire Aaron for the final out.

With the victory, the Cubs improved to 77-45 and maintained an eight-game lead over the second-place New York Mets in the NL East.

But that seemingly comfortable lead evaporated in an amazingly short period of time. Following Holtzman’s no-hitter, the Cubs lost seven of their next nine and their lead over the Mets was down to just 2.5 games by Aug. 27. The Mets passed the Cubs on Sept. 10 and pulled away to win the division by eight games. The Cubs lost 25 of their final 40 in the aftermath of Holtzman’s gem while the Mets went 33-11.

Holtzman’s fortunes down the stretch mirrored his team’s. He went 3-6 in his final nine starts.

For Cubs fans, it’s a whole new ballgame

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

It dawned on me while I was watching an NFL playoff game last weekend.

The “Most Years in Professional Sports Without Winning a Championship” graphic appeared on the screen. There were the familiar logos of the Cleveland Indians, Arizona Cardinals, Detroit Lions, Sacramento Kings, and Toronto Maple Leafs. But for the first time in television history, the familiar Cubs bulls eye logo of the Cubs was nowhere to be found.

As the Cubs attempt to become just the fourth National Leaguue team to win back-to-back world championships and the first to accomplish the feat in 41 years, there will be no more references to the “lovable losers; no more recollections of 1945 or 1908; and no more talk of curses or goats or black cats or Leon Durham or Steve Bartman or deceased relatives.

The focus will be where it belongs – on the present, on this team, and on these players.

For most of my life, there were always fleeting moments in which I questioned the time, money, energy, and passion that i put into following Cubs baseball. I always reassured myself with the thoughts of how great it would be when the Cubs finally recorded that final out.

Sometimes when I build something up in my head, it fails to live up to expectations, but the joy I felt as Kris Bryant scooped up a grounder and threw to first baseman Anthony Rizzo to retire Michael Martinez was as euphoric as I had hoped. it would be. It will continue to be a reference point for the rest of my life.

I understand that the nature of being a Cubs fan will never be the same and that the first championship will always seem like the most special, but I’m hoping last year was only the beginning of what I am confident will be a golden age of Cubs baseball.

The Yankees had their time, the Dodgers had their moments in the sun, the Cardinals have claimed more than their fair share of World Series trophies, and the Giants most recently have enjoyed a sustained streak of success.

Now, finally, it is our turn.

Around the majors

General manager Jerry DiPoto continued his very active offseason by acquiring left-hander Drew Smyly from the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for three minor leaguers. The 27-year-old Smyly was 7-12 with a 4.88 ERA in 30 starts with Tampa Bay last year. … The Oakland Athletics signed reliever Santiago Casilla to a two-year contract. Casilla, who spent the last seven seasons with the San Francisco Giants, had 31 saves last season but blew nine save opportunities. … Right-hander Zack Wheeler agreed to an $800,000, one-year contract with the New York Mets after missing two seasons because of a torn elbow ligament.

Photo of the day

Young fans perched atop a tree to watch the Cubs play
at Wrigley Field in 1932 (Vintage Baseball).

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Socks appeal: The colorful history of baseball hosery

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

For most of baseball’s history, socks were one of the most important uniform components.

But now, from T-ball to the major leagues, a part of the uniform that teams used to wear with pride has been reduced to a mere optional necessity. The downfall of baseball socks began in the 1960s and by the turn of the century, they had disappeared beneath baggy pajama-like pants.

Socks have made somewhat of a comeback in recent years, but to a guy like me, who appreciates structure and conformity, the state of sock style is an absolute mess.

Baseball teams experimented with a plethora of uniform styles during the sport’s infancy and by the team the game began being played professionally in the years following the Civil War, most teams had adopted military-style uniforms that featured long trousers that were held down by pant clips around the ankles.

Harry Wright, the manager of baseball’s first all-professional team, in Cincinnati, had experimented with several uniform styles but by 1869, finding that his players felt more comfortable and could move more quickly, he had adopted white or gray baggy knicker pants with long, wool red knee-high stockings.

The look, which became familiar to generations of baseball players and fans, became the team’s trademark. So much so, that “Red Stockings” had become the team’s nickname by the summer of ’69.

The Red Stockings, who went 65-0 in 1869, became a sensation. Photographs of the Red Stockings regularly appeared in newspapers from coast to coast. They traveled to play teams on the east coast, and thanks to the just completed Transcontinental Railroad, completed their undefeated campaign with a victory in San Francisco.

By the time the National League debuted in 1876, the Cincinnati look had become universal and a majority of professional teams were being identified by the color of their socks.

Wright’s team had relocated to Boston in 1871 and had continued to be called the Red Stockings. Charter National League teams also included the Chicago White Stockings, St. Louis Brown Stockings, Louisville Grays, Cincinnati Reds, and Hartford Dark Blues. Other nicknames that originated thanks to the color of hoisery in the late 19th century were the Detroit Tigers (the National League’s Detroit club in the 1880s wore black and yellow striped socks), the St. Louis Cardinals (cardinal red hose), and the Baltimore Orioles who had adopted black and orange striped socks by the 1890s.

The stirrup sock, the predominant look in baseball’s history originated in 1905 and had become baseball’s universal look – from sandlots to major league ballparks, within a few years.

Early in the 1905 season, Cleveland star Nap Lajoie was spiked by a sliding baserunner while covering second base. An infection set in and Lajoie missed most of the campaign with blood poisoning. At the time, since clothing dyes were not colorfast, it was widley believed that Lajoie’s infection had been caused by dye from his stocking seeping into his wound.

Soon after the nature of Lajoie’s injury spread, players began the practice of wearing white “sanitary” socks beneath their baseball socks. The stirrup was developed to allow players to better fit into their cleats.

Joe Jackson (from left), Ty Cobb, and Nap Lajoie wearing the early version of the stirrup sock.

Most of the early stirrups were solid in color, but striping at the calf level became popular by the 1920s. By the mid-1930s, the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals were wearing stripe patterns on their stirrups that would remain in vogue for the remainder of the century.

The styles of baseball hoisery, as well as the other components of the uniformremained fairly static from the early 1920s until the late 1960s.

By 1963, the days of Nap Lajoie were distant memories, and that year Kansas City Athletics owner Charlie Finley broke from baseball tradition by introducing gold sanitaries under green stirrups.

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Reggie Jackson wearing the Athletics’ gold sanitary socks in 1969.

Players had pretty much worn their socks the same way for mist of the game’s history but that began to change when Hall of Famer Frank Robinson joined the Orioles in 1966. Robinson popularized the practice of “high cut” socks. He would stretch his socks higher and higher so that more of his sanitaries showed. Robinson even went to the extreme of cutting his socks and adding fabric to extend the stirrups.

Robinson would tape the stirrups to his sanitaries so that they wouldn’t sag. He would put on his pants inside out. When he pulled up his pants, his socks would remain in place.

Frank Robinson sporting his long stirrups.

“You’re not allowed to cut your baseball socks,” Seattle Pilots pitcher Jim Bouton wrote in Ball Four, his diary of the 1969 season. “But if you don’t cut your socks, you’re nothing … The higher your stirrups, the cooler you are. Your legs look long and cool instead of dumpy and hot.”

Polyester double knits replaced wool as the fabric of choice in the 1970s and the length of stirrups continued to lengthen. It became fashionable for players to wear a 2-in-1, a sanitary socks with stirrups stitched into them.

Slowly and steadily pants got longer. Many players of the ’70s and ’80s showed just a bit of their 2-in-1s. George Hendrick, who played for several major league teams, went to the extreme of showing no sock with his pants length reaching his shoe top.

During his tenure as general manager of the Chicago White Sox, Larry Himes instituted a dress code that required players to show enough sock so that striping would be visible but the players rebelled and the mandate was soon discontinued. Today, the basic agreement forbids teams from dictating sock length.

By the 1990s, most players wore their long, baggy trousers to their shoe tops with some players like Barry Bonds going to the extreme of strapping their pants to their cleats. But there were a few holdovers. Prominent players of the era who still showed stirrup included George Brett, Darryl Strawberry, Jim Thome, and Chipper Jones.

In the modern era, more and more players have began to show their socks, but stirrups have lost favor to solid-colored baseball socks. Brendan Ryan brought new life to the Cardinals stripes. Curtis Granderson and Adam Jones hiked up their pants in tribute to Negro League pioneers.

Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen often hikes up his pants on Sundays to sport striped socks that he designed himself.

Curtis Granderson rounds first after hitting a single

Curtis Granderson

Teams like the Tampa Bay Rays, Seattle Mariners, Oakland Athletics, Pittsburgh Pirates, Orioles, and San Francisco Giants introduced striping, Andrew Toles became the first Dodgers player to feature striping on his socks since the 1930s. Jesse Chavez, while with Oakland, reintroduced the 2-in-1.

The problem is that the ankle portion of baseball uniform has become anything but uniform.Some players hide their socks. Others hike their pants to their knees. Some show stripes and other opt for solid hose. Some players feature stirrups and some don’t.

But at least one player doesn’t mind the variety of looks.

“I definitely do notice when guys on the other team wear (high socks),” Tampa Bay shortstop Brad Miller told MLB.com. “They look sharp. There’s a lot of good looks out there.”

Around the majors

The Washington Nationals announced on Twitter on Monday that NL Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer has a stress fracture on the knuckle of his right ring finger … ESPN reported that the Tampa Bay Rays have agreed to a contract with free agent outfielder Colby Rasmus who hit .206 in 107 games with Houston last year.

 

DiPoto’s audacity offers Mariners fans more than hope

In his book, The Power of Negative Thinking, Bob Knight expressed his disdain for the word, “hope.”

“Positive results don’t happen simply because we believe they’re going to happen,” Knight wrote. “Hope may spring eternal, but it’s a lot better to work and plan for something than just to hope for it.”

Simply relying on hope without taking proactive steps toward a goal places destiny into fate’s hands. It’s possible that had Seattle Mariners general manager Jerry DiPoto (left) stood pat, the Mariners could match or exceed last year’s success. But it’s just as likely that the team could regress. By taking bold action toward addressing some of his team’s most glaring weaknesses, DiPoto is taking the bull by the horns. For better or for worse, he is taking control of his team’s destiny.

The Mariners were among the most exciting teams in the major leagues last season, winning 86 games – including 15 in their final at-bat. They won nine games in extra innings, claimed eight walkoff victories, and smashed six walkoff home runs. Their 223 home runs ranked second behind Baltimore in the American League. They remained in playoff contention until the eve of the regular season finale.

Seattle features plenty of star power with the likes of Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz, Kyle Seager, and Felix Hernandez on its roster. But this talented core has a rapidly approaching shelf life.

Cano is 34 and Cruz will turn 37 on July 1. Hernandez (11-8, 3.82 ERA), who will turn 31 on April 8, is still an ace caliber pitcher but at 33 is on the downside of his career and no longer the doninant presence he once was. At 29, Seager is in his prime but will be on the down side by the time the sun sets on the careers of Cano, Cruz, and Hernandez.

By standing pat, the Mariners would have been hard pressed to equal last year’s success – especially because they reside in a loaded division. The Texas Rangers have claimed the AL West crown in each of the last two years. The Houston Astros took a step back last year after reaching the divisional playoff round in 2015. But with their dynamic group of young players, a bounce back is a distinct possibility. And the Angels, with Mike Trout, can’t be counted out.

The time is now for the Mariners, and with that in mind, DiPoto made his first bold move on Nov. 23 when he sent 23-year-old shortstop Ketel Marte and 24-year-old starting pitcher Taijuan Walker to the Arizona Diamondbacks in a six-player trade that netted him former All-Star shortstop Jean Segura and outfielder Mitch Haniger.

Segura will be 27 on March 17 but already has five years of experience under his belt. Segura played primarily at second base last year but in three years as the starting shortstop in Milwaukee, he averaged 16.67 errors and 646 chances. Marte committed an alarming 21 errors in 476 chances last year.

On Friday, DiPoto completed two trades. He sent another young pitcher, Nate Karns, to the Kansas City Royals for outfielder Jarrod Dyson, and a short time later, shipped veteran outfielder Seth Smith to the Baltimore Orioles in exchange for veteran starter Yovani Gallardo.

With the additions of Haniger and Dyson, DiPoto has upgraded the athleticism of his outfield. Haniger, Dyson, and the team’s other projected starting outfielder, Leonys Martin are quick and versatile. Each is capable of plying center field.

Dyson, Seattle’s projected leadoff man, had a .340 on-base percentage last year and has swiped 156 bases in a part-time role with Kansas City the last five years. The spacious dimensions of Arizona’s Chase Field are comparable to Safeco Field and last year, Segura – who is projected to bat second – turned in his best offensive season with a .319 average, 203 hits, 41 doubles, and 20 home runs.

Dyson and Segura should provide plenty of RBI opportunities for the middle-of-the-order sluggers – Cano, Cruz , and Seager.

There’s no debate that the Mariners’ lineup is better, but the jury is out on whether Gallardo will be a productive back of the rotation option to Walker or Karns.

Unlike Walker and Karns, the soon to be 31-year-old Gallardo has a track record with 108 career wins under his belt. But there is no sugar coating his poor performance in 2016. The right-hander walked a career-high 11.6 percent of the batters he faced and had a career high 5.42 ERA. He allowed 16 home runs in just 118 innings.

But Gallardo has won 10 or more games six times and his penchant for serving up home runs should be offset by moving from Camden Yards to the more spacious Safeco.

He’ll be worth a look.

Manny signs with Japanese team

Manny Ramirez, who last played in the major leagues in 2011, signed with the Kochi Fighting Dogs of Japan’s independent Shikoku Island League. In 19 major league seasons, Ramirez hit .312 with 555 home runs and 1,831 RBI.

Statland

Gallardo hasn’t played in the National League since 2014, but during his eight seasons with the Milwaukee Brewers, he proved himself to be a force with the bat. He has 85 career hits – 33 for extra bases including 12 home runs.

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Louisville Slugger: the making of an American icon

“I swing big, with everything I’ve got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can.”
– Babe Ruth

BY CHRIS REWERS
EDITOR

LOUISVILLE, Ky. – Since Babe Ruth was bigger than life, the 129-foot, 68,000-pound Ruth model replica bat – the “Largest Bat in the World” – that is displayed next to the entrance of the Louisville Slugger Museum & Factory is a fitting tribute to the legendary slugger.

The museum, which is located in downtown Louisville and celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, is a slice of Americana, a candid look at the manufacturing process of an iconic product, and a celebration of a batter’s essential tool.

In 2015, a record 314,149 attended the museum, making it one of Louisville’s most popular attractions.

The Hillerich Company, which remains family owned, opened as a woodworking shop in 1855. For much of its first three decades, the company specialized in manufacturing an array of products like bedposts, table legs, stair railings, porch columns, and butter churns.

All of that changed in July, 1884.
Photo of Pete Browning
John “Bud” Hillerich, the 17-year-old son of company founder J. Frederick Hillerich was an avid baseball player and fan who was a regular at Eclipse Park – the home of the American Association’s Louisville Eclipse. The younger Hillerich developed a friendship with Eclipse star Pete Browning (right) – AKA “The Louisville Slugger.” Browning, who was mired in a hitting slump, broke his bat one afternoon.

The broken bat was a traumatic event for the eccentric Browning, a three-time American Association batting champion. It’s likely that no hitter prior to Ted Williams obsessed over bats as much as Browning. The slugger, who liked to swing a mammoth club that was 37 inches long and weighed 48 ounces, named each of his bats – often times after biblical figures. He spoke to his bats and, believing each one only contained only a certain number of hits, retired them on a regular basis.

After the game, Bud Hillerich invited Browning to his father’s shop and handcrafted him a replacement bat to the slugger’s exact specifications. The next day, Browning collected three hits. His teammates immediately placed bat orders. The Louisville Slugger was born.

J.F. Hillerich didn’t see much of a future for his company in bats but his son was persistent. The reputation of the bats began to spread throughout baseball and a steady stream of visiting players continued to visit the shop and place orders. By the time Bud assumed leadership of the company in 1897, the Louisville Slugger was its primary product.

In 1905, eight-time National League batting champion Honus Wagner signed a first-of-its-kind exclusive endorsement deal with Louisville Slugger and by 1923, the company which by then was known as Hillerich and Bradsby, was the nation’s top-selling bat manufacturer.

Upon entrance to the museum, visitors are greeted by an impressive wall display featuring the autographs of thousands of players, past and present, who had their signatures burned into Louisville Sluggers – ranging from Wagner to present day stars like Joey Votto, Curtis Granderson, and Dustin Pedroia. According to the display, over 80 percent of batters elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame used Louisville Sluggers.

On display in the museum gallery are models of Ruth’s 42-ounce bat in which he carved notches for each of his 60 home runs in 1927; the 36-inch bat Joe DiMaggio swung during his famous 56-game hitting streak in 1941, a bat Williams used when he became the last man to hit over .400, in ’41; and the P72 model bat that was used throughout the Hall of Fame careers of legends like Robin Yount, Cal Ripken Jr., and Derek Jeter. There are life-size mannequins of Ruth, Williams, Jeter, and Jackie Robinson spread through the center of the room.

Visitors are given the opportunity to swing a Louisville Slugger themselves in on-site batting cages. Among the bats available for use are replicas of the models used by Browning, Ruth, Williams, and Mickey Mantle. The pitching machines can be geared to slower speeds for novices including children ages 6 and older or, for the courageous, can be jacked up to reach speeds up to 90 MPH.

But the main attraction is the 30-minute factory tour which gives guests a thorough demonstration of how more than 1.8 million bats a year are made. And it’s no demo. The sight of flying wood chips, the smell of sawdust and the sounds of machinery upon entry makes it clear that real work is being done.

Typically, the factory produces 3,000 full-sized bats per day. In peak production during spring training, about 5,000 bats are manufactured.
Our family’s tour last November, which concluded with the presentation of a souvenir mini bat to each visitor, included roughly a dozen people. Our guide, Larry, was friendly, informative, and paused regularly to answer our questions.

Larry gave us an overview of the company’s history and of the bat-making process. We then made several stops along the production line.
We were shown how bats were handcrafted prior to the computer age. A block of wood called a billet, which matched the weight and length of the model requested, was guided onto a lathe machine by a highly-skilled craftsman and carved into a bat. A model bat was placed on a rack above and behind the lathe. The craftsman then revolved the billet on the lathe, sanding and shaving it until it was an exact replica of the model.

Each bat was custom made to the exact specifications of each player. Ruth, for example, demanded that each of his bats include pin knots in the barrels. Williams would visit the factory each offseason to personally oversee the production of his bats.

The heaviest bat – 48 ounces – was ordered by Edd Roush, a Cincinnati Reds star a century ago. The lightest bats on record – 30 ounces – were ordered by 1950 AL batting champion Billy Goodman and 1975-76 NL MVP Joe Morgan. The longest bat – 38 inches – was brandished by 1920’s and 30s slugger Al Simmons. The shortest Louisville Slugger used by a big leaguer was owned by late 19th and early 20th century star Willie Keeler.

On our next stop on the line, we witnessed the branding process that goes into every Louisville Slugger. Each ash bat is branded with the familiar Louisville Slugger trademark – one-quarter of a turn from the sweet spot.

Each player’s model is also branded with his signature, taken directly from his endorsement contract. The sizzle of the branding process is audible and the smell of burning ash permeates the room.

On the harder maple bats, branding decals are applied.

After branding, some bats are dipped into a staining vat (including the pink models many major leaguers use on Mother’s Day) and all of the clubs are varnished. They are inspected. Bats that pass inspection are packed and shipped. Bats that don’t pass muster are repurposed for souvenir use.

Shavings from the bat production are sold to area farmers and are primarily used as livestock bedding.

We were then shown how contemporary bats are made. Williams pioneered and modern players like Rod Carew and Tony Gwynn popularized the theory that how heavy a bat was wasn’t as important as how fast a batter could swing it. Therefore today’s batters are lighter than ones that were used in the old days. Today’s players have more than 8,000 variations to choose from but they typically order from a list of approximately 300 popular models.

The bat specifications for each player contracted by Louisville Slugger are entered into a computer and with a touch of a button, bats are produced from billets. Players are shipped bats, usually in sets of 12, several times throughout the season and some players’ specifications change as the year progresses. Most players prefer a lighter bat later in the year as the hot summer months take their toll. A typical major league batter will order 120 bats during the course of a season.

A common specification of modern players is a cupped bat in which a portion of the top of the bat is carved out. This specification, according to our guide, was invented by Chicago Cubs outfielder Jose Cardenal during an MLB All-Star tour of Japan following the 1973 season and quickly caught on with other players. Cardenal’s model, the C271, remains the company’s most popular today.

Bats have traditionally been made from northern white ash cultivated from company owned forests – about 6,500 acres – in New York state and Pennsylvania, but surprisingly, roughly 80 percent of the bats used by current major leaguers under contract by Louisville Slugger use maple.

The maple bats, which were popularized by Barry Bonds, are a harder wood but tend to shatter easier than ash models. In the past, hickory was a popular wood for bats but today the material is deemed to be too heavy.

The featured product of the museum’s gift shop is the customized bat which must be pre-ordered. The shop also features an array of souvenir bats (world championship Cubs bats were a hot item during our visit), replica bats of legends like Ruth and Williams and of current stars like Granderson and Evan Longoria, and usual gift shop fare like postcards, T-shirts, and coffee mugs.

The museum is located at 800 W. Main Street in Louisville. Admission is $14 for adults, $13 for seniors 60 and older, $8 for children ages 6-12, and free for children 5 and younger. The museum is open 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Saturday and from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday. It is closed on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.