1970s Reds Manager Defies Standard Pitching Method — Redefines MLB

If you are a baseball fan — especially one in southwest Ohio — you know the name Sparky Anderson and the Big Red Machine are inseparable, but what you may not know is how far ahead of the curve Anderson was when it came to managing the game.

One of his most interesting moves occurred near the beginning of the 1975 baseball season. The Reds — filled with a roster of great players — were 12-12 at the beginning of May– hardly the record of a team destined to win one of the greatest World Series of all times just six months later.

Sparky made the decision to move Pete Rose to third, opening up the outfield for players like George Foster, and the Reds became unstoppable, ending the season with a 108-54 record — 20 games ahead of their rival the Los Angeles Dodgers. They went on to win their first World Series in four decades.

But that was not the trend-setting decision that redefined MLB. It was Anderson ‘s use — considered overuse at the time — of the bullpen. He removed starting pitchers at the first sign of trouble — earning himself the nickname Captain Hook.

In 1970, Anderson began relying on relievers to secure a win instead of expecting the starting pitcher to throw a complete game — which was the standard operating procedure at the time. As the Cincinnati Enquirer reported,

In Anderson’s first year at the helm of the Big Red Machine, the saves compiled by his bullpen outnumbered the complete games of the Reds’ starting pitchers.

Although that is a common trend for a team’s stats today, it was seven years before the rest of MLB caught up with the concept.

Despite the Reds winning seasons through the early 70s, Anderson’s bullpen approach to preserving a win was not well received in Cincinnati. In fact, in 1974 during a 45-game stretch with no complete games, the paper reported,

… even Reds fans were booing Anderson loudly when he came out of the dugout to remove another pitcher. Anderson on occasion alluded to the reception his appearances were getting from the patrons.

‘One of these days they are going to have Spear Day at Riverfront,’ said Anderson, ‘and the fan coming closest to my heart when I yank a pitcher will win a Buick.’

Americans Who Got It Right

This post is part of an ongoing series that focuses on the various men and women throughout American history — and from all walks of life — who bucked the trend, thought for themselves or, in general, possessed that very American ideal of individualism. You can read previous entries here.

Categories: Americans Who Got It Right, Baseball | Tags: ,

Paper All Wet On MLB Switch-Pitcher Debut

18455083029_e901306de0_mWhen I heard about the Oakland A’s ambidextrous pitcher debut the other night one of the first things I wonder was: Does he switch gloves between batters (I didn’t watch his debut). You know wear a right-handed glove, then a left-handed glove.

Turns out Venditte dealt with that issue when he was a kid.

When (Pat) Venditte was 7 years old, his father, who was teaching him to throw with both arms, searched for a glove he could wear on both hands. Greg A. Harris, the only other pitcher since 1894 to throw in a major league game with both arms — he did it in 1995 — connected Venditte’s father with Mizuno. Harris already wore one of their six-finger gloves. The glove Harris wore in 1995 is in the Baseball Hall of Fame.

In his Friday, June 5 debut, Venditte entered the game in the seventh inning and threw both left-handed and right-handed. He also pitched the eighth inning. During those two innings, he allowed one hit and struck out one — a quality performance for any MLB rookie pitcher. After the game, though, Venditte tried to soften the spotlight’s glare by noting,

Whatever attention comes with it is fine, but we’re here to win games,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if I’m pitching with both hands or one. It’s one effort.

As a switch-pitcher there are rules that applied only to him and since he is not the first ambidextrous MLB pitcher the rules were already in place. When you watch the clip, you will notice Venditte signaling to the umpire. This is because the rules state,

A pitcher must indicate visually to the umpire-in-chief, the batter and any runners the hand with which he intends to pitch, which may be done by wearing his glove on the other hand while touching the pitcher’s plate.

Although all went smoothly for Vendette in his first game, he did not fare as well in at least one newspaper. Because ambidextrous pitching is so rare, one paper erroneously ran a headline referring to Venditte as the first amphibious pitcher.

Categories: Baseball, Good News

Relax Kids — I Mean Parents — It’s Just A Game


I’m pictured bottom, right.

I try not to rant much  — in life or when I blog. I feel plenty of people are already ranting, but occasionally when I come across someone saying what I believe — I push it out for everyone to digest.

But, first let me set the record straight. I love baseball. Always have. I spent a considerable part of my youth playing catch, learning to field, hit and score. I followed the Big Red Machine religiously and relished in both of their World Series wins. I still think they are one of the greatest baseball teams ever assembled.

But something happened along the way between childhood and parenthood changing my view of youth sports.

I’ve attended youth sporting events in the past decade where I felt as if I had been transported to a Will Ferrell movie set. This is because some of the comments I’ve heard parents yell — sounded like Ferrell (think Stepbrothers).

I had even come to the conclusion that maybe it was me. Maybe I was old, cranky, tired and irritated. Maybe my inability to enjoy the incessant, juvenile heckling of the coaches and referees proved I was out of touch with how sports should be handled.

But I was wrong — it’s not me, it’s them.

In Sunday’s Parade magazine, St. Louis Cardinals Manager Mike Matheny, an Ohio native, is interviewed for his recent book, The Matheny Manifesto: A Young Manager’s Old-School Views on Success in Sports and Life where he expands on the idea of making youth sports all about the kids.

You say, “the biggest problem in youth sports is the parents.” “Yes. When you ask kids who play sports at different levels, ‘What do you want your parents to do?’ The overwhelming majority say, ‘Nothing.’ Parents need to be a silent source of encouragement.”

Silent source of encouragement?

His quote reminds me of another book every parent and coach should read — Until It Hurts: America’s Obsession with Youth Sports and How It Harms Our Kids by Mark Hyman. Hyman, a sports reporter, gives an inside look at the amount of money spent — and the volume of injuries — caused by the overly ambitious drive of parents who are banking on their child’s professional athletic future.

Hyman, though, does not just spout off numbers and stats, instead he takes you along for a more personal ride. The ride of his teenage son who has aspirations of becoming a professional baseball player — a son, who at the age of 18, has Tommy John surgery in the hopes of extending the life of his overused pitching arm.

Hyman, who had reported on the epidemic of Tommy John surgery at the high school level, writes,

..with my son in the doctor’s waiting room, I had become the overzealous parent and the accuser had become the accused.

A few pages later, Hyman further explains,

The bigger is better model of youth sports delights adults. We see our kids improve their skills and join highly competitive travel teams, a feat that impresses friends in the neighborhood and validates our superior parenting. The thousands of adults whose living depends on the billion dollar youth sports economy — selling gear, services, hotel rooms and such–are also happy…Only kids are losers here. Their voices are rarely heard…

Matheny, a Golden Glove winner who has led the Cardinals to the postseason each year since taking over as manager in 2012, was coaching Little League when the Cardinals approach him with a job offer.

In his book, Matheny dives into that youth coaching experience and argues that youth sports are about building character and concentrating on the 99 percent who will never make it to the next level of competition.

I couldn’t agree more.

Tommy JohnDodgers’ Pitcher Tommy John

I followed Tommy John’s pitching stats in my youth because he –and the Dodgers — were always standing in the way and trying to prevent the Reds from advancing to the postseason. He had the surgery named after him in September, 1974 and did not play in 1975. However, he was back in 1976 and was named the Comeback Player of the Year. He had three seasons with 20 wins or more after his surgery.

Long since retired from MLB, John operates a sports business designed to take aspiring young pitchers to the next level so they can make it in the big leagues. In Hyman’s book, John has this to say about parents.

What they don’t understand, and will never understand, unfortunately, is it makes no difference whether you start pitching at eight or eighteen. I can take a kid who has never pitched in his life until he’s seventeen. By the time he’s nineteen he’ll throw as well or better than the kid who’s been pitching since he was eight — and have less wear and tear on his arm.

John retired from MLB in 1989 after Mark McGuire got two hits off of him in a game. McGuire’s father was John’s dentist and the ole left-handed pitcher quipped,

When your dentist’s kid starts hitting you, it’s time to retire!

Categories: Baseball, Middle age