LAKELAND, Fla. — One of the great perks of covering the Major Leagues (besides Marriott points and frequent-flyer miles, of course) is getting a chance to sit in the manager’s office and listen to some of the greatest minds break down the game. I’m not talking about when the TV cameras and radio microphones are there, and the cliche and mundane spew out of the skipper’s mouths.
(We played hard … He’ll bounce back … You just have to tip your cap … One game at a time … Just go get ’em tomorrow — those are just some of my favorites)
I think my favorite part about covering the big leagues is the time when the pre-planned questions are finished, and all that’s left is small talk to try and fill in the silences. That’s what happened at Tigertown on Sunday, when the great Jim Leyland started talking about the notion of hitters going the other way (pictured is right field at Tigertown — slow picture day).
Basically, the Tigers’ manager isn’t against it by any means, but he feels the concept that hitters have to be able to go the other way is a bit overblown.
“There’s a lot to be said about using the whole field, but I think it’s overrated,” Leyland told the group of reporters — with me just lucky to be among them, honestly. “It’s over-exaggerated, in my opinion. … The greatest hitter of all-time [Ted Williams] was a dead-pull hitter. That’s all I can tell you. I’m not trying to argue with anybody. … There’s a lot to be said [for hitting the ball to the opposite field] — two strikes. Ted Williams always said that with two strikes, you have to give up a little bit. But he still didn’t hit the ball to left field.”
There’s irony here, because Leyland’s biggest bat, Miguel Cabrera, is so special because he’s got a world of power and he’s also able to use all fields as well as anybody.
Leyland did note, though, that back in “the old days,” pitching was a lot more structured (behind in the count, pitchers were pretty much going to throw a fastball; ahead in the count, it meant an offspeed pitch was coming). These days, Leyland pointed out, pitchers are a lot more confident in throwing changeups and curveballs in counts like 3-0 and 3-1. So staying back and hitting the ball where it’s pitched has more value.
But he doesn’t believe hitters should get too wrapped up in that notion — it could screw some guys up, actually.
“It makes a lot of sense to use the other field — I’m not arguing that with anybody — but I’m also saying that’s not the cure-all, in my opinion,” Leyland went on. “Hitting the ball the other way, that does not cure everything, in my opinion. Sometimes, when they hit the ball to right-center field, you know what happened? They weren’t trying to hit the ball to the opposite field. They got a … fastball at 98, and they were a little late.”
One week down on Gonzo and ‘The Show,’ many more to go (I hope).
Here’s a look at where I’ll be this coming week …
* Monday: Red Sox (Fort Myers)
* Wednesday: Twins (Fort Myers)
* Thursday: Cardinals at Mets (Port St. Lucie)