One of baseball's most skilled craftsmen, 40-year-old Salvatore Anthony Maglie has accumulated a vast fund of pitching lore in the two decades since he threw his first strike across the plate in organized baseball. He has pitched on four championship teams and been a winner in both leagues. He has won as many as 23 games in a season and, for the Giants, won 59 in three years. Supposedly washed up in 1956, he became the key figure in Brooklyn's heart-catching pennant drive, winning 13 games and pitching a no-hitter against Philadelphia. When Maglie talks about pitching, even the major leaguers listen, for here is a man who knows.
With nothing but a real good fast ball, one that breaks and jumps and moves all over the place, a pitcher can be a big winner in high school and college, on the sandlots, even in the minor leagues. But no one—not even a Bob Feller or a Herb Score—can consistently throw the ball past big league hitters. The guys you run into up here are just too good for that. So although a strong arm is always an advantage and while it may get a boy into the big leagues in the first place, if he wants to stick around for a while and be one of the real good ones, he is going to have to pick up something else. After 20 years in organized ball, I personally believe these are the things a pitcher must eventually have if ha expects to last. These are the things that make a big league pitcher:
Control, both of his pitches and of himself.
Confidence and determination.
Knowledge and experience.
This may appear to be a very simple list—but it is not nearly so simple as it sounds. In talking about control, for example, I am not talking about just getting the ball over the plate. I'm talking about that real pinpoint control that enables a pitcher to put the ball exactly where he wants it every time. The same is true of confidence and determination. The type of confidence and determination I mean is the kind that keeps a pitcher going when everything says to him that he is beaten, the kind that just won't permit him to quit. And when I say knowledge, I mean the real deep inside knowledge one gains not just through time spent at a job but, even more, from an awful lot of study and experimentation. These things are not simple at all.
March 17, 1958
I mentioned control first, the ability to pitch to spots, to clip those corners or—sometimes almost as important—barely to miss them. Well, it is true that control is one of those things some pitchers just naturally have more of than others: Robin Roberts, Newcombe, yes, Maglie, too. We're lucky. But anyone can improve with a lot of hard work. For instance, it is surprising how many pitchers really don't know the strike zone the way they should. A good way to learn it and also to practice control is to pitch through one of those string gadgets like the Dodgers use at Vero Beach. But it is also important to remember that the strike zone changes with the hitter; it's pretty big with a stand-up guy like Zernial, for example, slightly smaller with a fellow who crouches a bit like Mantle, and it can get awfully small with a batter who uses an extreme crouch like Stan Lopata of the Phils. The strike zone also changes with the umpire, and although I don't advocate cheating, a pitcher has to take everything he has coming to him. Some umpires will give you that little bit extra down low, others to the inside, some up high. When they're working behind the plate, it's smart to take advantage of what you know.
The actual control of a pitch is, of course, something each pitcher has to work out for himself. It depends upon so many factors—the release point, the smoothness of the delivery, the stride—that it has to be a natural thing. It's like a kid throwing a rock at a tree. He doesn't figure out exactly when he'll let go of the rock in order to hit his target; he just throws and if he misses, he makes an adjustment the next time. Pitchers are the same way. It takes work and practice. But here's one little trick that can help. If a pitcher finds that he is consistently off to one side or the other—say he is a right-hander and is throwing everything just a little wide, a shade outside—he should try moving over to his right on the rubber. In other words, just change his normal starting position a few inches. A lot of times this will do the job.
Another good way to develop control is to have a target every time you throw. Even when warming up on the sidelines or fooling around before a game, a pitcher should be throwing at a spot: the other fellow's right knee or his left shoulder or the buckle on his belt. That way he doesn't get into bad habits.
As for this business of control of self, I consider it just as important, in some ways more so. I don't mean merely staying in shape, although that is absolutely necessary. Self-control means controlling your temper and retaining your poise. I remember how I used to get pretty hot when some team would begin teeing off on me; all I wanted to do was get that ball back from the catcher in a hurry so I could fire it back in there again. But Stanky or Alvin Dark would call for the ball and fool around with it and give me a chance to cool off and slow down. I remember I didn't like that much and I'd be telling them to give me the blasted ball. But Stanky would just stand there and hold the ball behind him and grin until I had calmed down. Then I would be all right. Finally I learned how to do it for myself. I notice Bob Turley has started to step off the mound when things get a little shaky, take a couple of deep breaths and then go back to work. Something like that can help. If a pitcher can keep his head even when they're hitting him pretty hard or his infield has kicked a few or he's had a couple of raw calls, then he is way out ahead.
Self-control also means controlling your mind, concentrating everything you have on the job at hand. I consider a lesson from Jack Ogden at Elmira back in 1941 about as important as anything I've learned in baseball since. "Sal, when you pitch," he said, "pitch to that man that's at the plate. Don't worry about the man that's up next." This sounds pretty simple, but believe me, when you're working on some .230 hitter and Williams or Musial is up next, it's pretty hard to keep from thinking ahead. Of course Ogden was right. What good does it do to have it all figured out how you're going to stop the big hitter when the little hitter just ahead of him puts one in the seats and the ball game is over.
In some ways confidence and determination may sound like different things, but to a pitcher they have to go together. And without them no pitcher ever became great. He has to have confidence he can beat the other team and then he has to have the determination to go out there and do it. And the other way around.
There isn't too much I can say about either one except stress the fact that I consider them just about as important as anything a pitcher can have. Determination has a lot to do with pride, I guess, and the desire to be better than someone else. If you battle all the way, all the time, not many teams are going to beat you.
You can't let anyone run over you, for example. O.K., so they hit you a little. Right there is when you have to show them who is boss. Every batter is a challenge. I've been accused of giving some close shaves in my time, and I guess I have. I don't throw at hitters, but I won't deny that I make pretty sure they aren't digging in against me. I know I have to keep them loose.
That's when determination really shows up, when you get in a tight spot. I find that I just start to work harder. I notice that I'm pushing off the rubber harder, trying to get a little more on the ball. It doesn't always work, of course. You have to lose a few. But without that something extra when the going gets tough, you would certainly lose more than just a few.
Confidence works in a lot of ways. A pitcher has to have confidence that he can throw his good pitch in there in a tough situation, on a 3-1 count, say, or 2 and 0. He has to be confident that his best pitch can get any batter out. I've had a lot of people ask me who I thought was under the most pressure in a tough spot with the count 3 and 2. I always say the batter. That's because I have enough confidence to believe that I can throw my big pitch in there for a strike with the odds all in my favor that the batter isn't going to hit it. I'm a curve ball pitcher and I just don't believe there is such a thing as a good curve ball hitter. Now don't misunderstand me. I don't mean that a guy like Roy Sievers, who is a curve ball hitter, can't occasionally hit my curve or anyone else's. What I mean is that no one can consistently hit really good breaking stuff. It is the curve ball that doesn't do exactly what you want it to that the batters hit. Well, I have confidence that my curve is going to do what I want it to most of the time, and I'm just as sure that when it does no one is going to hit it.
There is one other way confidence and determination pay off, and this concerns the fact that a pitcher isn't pitching only against another team's batters, he is also pitching against another pitcher. If I go out there to pitch against Robin Roberts—and I'm talking about the Roberts of two or three years ago—I have to figure that my club isn't going to get me, on the average, more than a couple or three runs. So I know that I'm going to have to stop the Phillies on one or two and I'm determined to do it. And I'm confident I can. Of course if Roberts pitches a shutout, there's nothing I can do about that. As I said, you have to lose a few.
Baseball is like anything else. There is no substitute for experience and the knowledge it brings. But for a pitcher, experience doesn't mean just sticking around in the big leagues for a few years and hoping you'll absorb enough knowledge merely by being there. You only get experience and knowledge by working for them. And I mean working all the time.
To give you an example, I try never to throw a meaningless pitch. Every ball I throw up to the plate has a purpose. If I'm not doing anything else, I'm experimenting. And I believe this is one of the real secrets of how to be a standout big league pitcher. For instance, I may be facing a batter with everything in my favor and I know that, say, he is a sucker for a curve down low on the outside corner. If the game is close, sure, I'll throw him that pitch and get him out. But if we are way ahead or way behind or the situation allows me to experiment, I'll throw him something else, just to see what he will do with it. And whether he hits me or not, I have learned something. Next time I face that same batter, I know one more little thing about him. After a while, they all add up.
This brings up the one most important thing you gain from experience: knowledge of the hitters. I never quit studying them. I study them when I'm pitching and when I'm not. I watch them in batting practice and, when I'm not working a game, I watch them from the bullpen or the bench. Frequently, before a game, I may sit around talking to other players or to writers. I'm afraid, however, I'm only giving them part of my attention. Mostly, I'm watching the hitters.
I watch how they stand, of course, how they stride, and how they get the bat around. This helps, but you have to be careful. You may have heard the old story that a big muscular guy is usually a sucker for a tight pitch. Well, this could be true in two cases out of three, but the minute you begin to believe it, that third one comes up there and rips one down the line that just about cuts your third baseman in half. No, each and every hitter is an individual, and you have to study him that way.
You can learn something from the way another pitcher works on a batter and what luck he may have, but you have to be careful here, too. A pitcher has to be smart enough to adapt what he sees to his own particular style. For example, Newcombe may get a batter out with a fast ball right across the letters, but I could never get the same man out with the same pitch because my fast ball doesn't take off like Newk's. Now Whitey Ford pitches a lot more like I do—good curve, good control, changeup, occasional sneaky fast ball—but since Whitey is a left-hander, his stuff is different, too. It's breaking the other way. So you see, you have to be careful when you say a batter can't hit a ball over the outside corner. It depends on who is throwing the ball.
Every pitcher likes to get out ahead of the hitter, usually putting a strike across on the first pitch. But if he is going to do that, he had better really put a little something extra on that first pitch to certain hitters. Guys like Aaron and Schoendienst. They are first ball hitters and they walk up to the plate looking to take a cut at that first pitch. A pitcher has to know—and remember—who they are.
In the same way, when you have two strikes on some batters, you find they are suddenly just twice as tough as before. Musial is the best example I can think of. Or maybe Williams. In fact, this seems to be true of most of the real good hitters. You can't tease them into chasing anything. On that third strike you have to come in there with a good pitch. Again, a pitcher had better be certain he knows who those hitters are.
I think the pitches themselves are pretty fundamental. There is more than one way to grip a ball properly for the same pitch and the only rule is that each pitcher should hold the ball the way that feels right for him. Bob Lemon, for example, throws his fast ball by putting his two fingers right together and across the seam. On the other hand, I spread my fingers and grip along the seams. It isn't important, just so it works.
You grip a fast ball tight, hold it pretty deep in the hand, and let it slide straight off the fingers. You hold the curve out in the fingers a little more, throw it with a snap of the wrist and let it go between your thumb and forefinger. The slider, which has become one of the big pitches in recent years, is something of a combination of the two. It doesn't break as much as a curve but comes in with a lot more speed, almost like a fast ball, and then breaks very sharply at the last moment. It can be thrown either by releasing the index finger first, causing the ball to spin a little off center, or else by gripping the ball slightly off center in the first place, which will achieve the same effect.
There are a lot of other pitches, more or less in the trick category: the knuckler, the palm ball, the fork ball, things like that. Most of them are slow and hardly rotate. They come up to the plate wobbling all over, and no one knows what they are going to do. They can be very effective if a pitcher learns to throw them right.
But the best pitch in baseball is the change of pace. Suppose that a batter is expecting a fast ball and suddenly, with the same motion, the pitcher throws something that takes a much longer time to get to the plate. The hitter is off balance, and even if he can recover in time to get a piece of the ball, he seldom does much damage. For a changeup most pitchers take a little something off their fast ball, but other things will work, too. A slow curve is what I use. The main thing is to throw it with the same motion that you use for other pitches. In fact, the more different speeds that a pitcher can throw each of his pitches with, the better off he is. He may have only three basic pitches but if he can vary the speed on all three—using the same motion, of course—then he actually has a lot of pitches.
The reason the changeup is so effective, of course, is due to the fact that speed, in pitching, is relative. Take the reverse case. Even the junkies, the real slow ball pitchers, can cross up a batter by suddenly bursting one across as hard as they can throw. After looking at nothing but a bunch of slop all afternoon, anything would seem fast. It may be hard to believe but Preacher Roe used to strike out a lot of batters with his fast ball and, believe me, it wasn't really fast at all. Just fast in comparison with what he threw most of the time.
The reason it is necessary to have a variety of pitches is to fool the batter, which is what you are out there to do. As I said in the beginning, not even a great fast ball pitcher can throw the ball consistently past big league hitters. If a batter knows that a fast ball is all that he has to worry about, he gets all set for it and—believe me—he will hit it. Hitters will treat a curve the same way, just so long as they know it is coming. In fact, even a fast ball and a curve together are hardly enough. The good hitters will set themselves for the fast ball, protecting against it, and then look for the curve. And even if they are guessing, the chances are they will be right half the time. That makes the odds too heavy in their favor. So you can see why a big league pitcher must have three good pitches. No batter can be ready for all three, and if he starts guessing, now the odds are all in the pitcher's favor. Personally, that's right where I think they belong.
There is one more little thing I would like to mention while on this subject of pitches, something of a pet theory of mine. A pitcher can have too many pitches as well as too few. Say he has five—a fast ball, curve, slider, changeup and knuckler, for example. Well, in the first place it is almost impossible to perfect five pitches. It takes most people a long time to really perfect three. Then, on every pitch, the catcher has to decide which one he wants—the fast ball, curve, slider, changeup or knuckler. Then the pitcher has to decide whether the catcher has made the right call. Sometime during a long afternoon it is liable to get pretty confusing. And while all this is going on, the batter, who can't hope to guess which one of five pitches he is going to see next, has quit guessing entirely. He is just standing up there waiting for the pitch he can hit, and when he sees it coming he's all set. No, I think that three pitches, really perfected, is just the right number.
But beyond that, a pitcher learns with experience that no batter can be fooled all the time just by a random assortment of pitches. You have to pitch with a definite plan in mind, using one pitch to make another more effective. This is what we call setting up the batter.
There are as many ways to do it as there are hitters—or pitchers, for that matter—but I will give you a simple example. Since I am a curve ball pitcher, we will assume that I know I can get a certain batter out with my curve low and away. But I also know that if I throw nothing but that one pitch, even this batter is going to be able to step in and hit it.
He likes to take the first pitch, though, so I go ahead and throw him the curve on the outside corner. Strike one. Now he is looking for it again—so I throw something else, probably a fast ball high and tight. Ball one, but now he is a little wary about leaning over the plate to anticipate that curve. So I give him the curve, my slow curve probably, for a changeup from the fast ball he just saw. This throws his timing off, so he either misses for a strike or hits it in the dirt, which is one of the nice things about a low-breaking curve. But say he misses. Strike two.
Now I can afford to play around. I throw another curve, either outside or maybe even in the dirt. If he chases it, fine, he's out. Probably, however, he takes it for ball two. But remember that he has seen two straight curves and his eye is getting adjusted to the curve now. So I whip a fast ball around his whiskers. It's ball three but he is backing out of there now. The next pitch is the curve, low and away, and I put everything on it that I can. He is lucky if he comes within a foot of the ball. Strike three and he's out.
That was too easy, of course, but, anyway, that's the idea. That is what you try to do. If a pitcher is a good fast ball pitcher, he operates in much the same way, using his curve as a waste pitch and to keep the batter guessing, his changeup to keep him off balance, the fast ball to get him out.
In the case above, the batter's weakness and the pitcher's strength happened to coincide. This is a happy situation—for the pitcher—but unfortunately it doesn't occur often enough. Sometimes a pitcher has to make a choice: Does he go with his best pitch against a batter) who is known for being able to hit that particular pitch, or does he try something else which he doesn't throw nearly so well but which happens to be the batter's weakness. Personally, I believe that in a tough situation, regardless of what the batter can or can't hit, the pitcher should try to get the out by going to his big pitch. And this is where confidence comes in again. You have to believe that when it comes down to a battle of strength against strength, you are stronger than the batter.
One of the trickiest bits of inside pitching strategy concerns rhythm. A pitcher, when he first comes up, frequently tips off his pitches by a slight variation in wind-up or delivery. It sometimes happens even to pitchers who have been around for quite a while. They get into a habit of swinging their hands only up to eye level, perhaps, when they are going to throw a curve, but swing them up over their heads when they are getting ready to throw the fast ball. Don't think these guys in the big leagues aren't sharp; it takes some coach or manager about a third of an inning to spot this, and then there is trouble. So a pitcher has to develop a certain rhythm in his wind-up and delivery in order not to tip the batter off to what is coming next.
But the batter has a rhythm, too, and if the pitcher sticks to the same old smooth, easy wind-up, pump and throw, the batter will be able to time everything just about right. So a pitcher occasionally has to vary his rhythm just to be ornery. The best way of doing it is to throw with several different motions: overhand, three-quarters or side-arm. And even pitchers who can't do that can at least alter their one basic motion a little bit every once in a while. We call this not being too true. In other words, it is an intentional ungrooving of the pitching motion.
Speaking of tipping things off, if you give base coaches the slightest glimpse of your fingers as you grip the ball, they can usually tell what the pitch is going to be. Sometimes they can tell just by the amount of white they see, that little bit of flash of the ball. So you take your grip away up in your glove and you have to be sure your glove is squared away so that nothing is visible either from first or third base. And as you swing the ball up high in the wind-up, you have to be sure it isn't visible, then, too.
There are a couple of other things you can do to prevent the batter from discovering what you're going to serve up there next. One thing is that high kick some pitchers use. I don't say a pitcher should mess up his natural motion by trying to exaggerate that too much, but if it comes easy, he should use it. It's distracting to the batter when you stick your foot up there in his face. And then, as you come forward, you don't want to drop your glove hand down to your side too soon. What's the use of going to all that trouble of hiding the ball and then wave it around where the batter can see it just before you throw. As you come forward, you want to push that glove out ahead of you. With all of this, the hitter never sees the ball except for an occasional brief blur until there it is, coming right at him.
A lot of people wonder what is the purpose, if any, of all those apparently time-wasting motions that a pitcher goes through out there on the mound before he pitches. I mean things like Roberts hitching up his socks, or Tom Sturdivant banging the ball, again and again into his glove, or the routine I go through of wiping my hand on my shirt, tugging at my cap, then licking my fingers, wiping my hand off again, rubbing it on my leg and then picking up the resin bag. Or that jumble that Lew Burdette goes through—I can't even describe it. Well, there are two good reasons why a pitcher does that. For one, just like a golfer taking a waggle before he starts his backswing, it helps to relieve tension in the pitcher. The other thing it accomplishes is to get the batter fidgety. As I said, a pitcher had better take advantage of everything he can get.
There is at least one other thing that experience has brought me: the knowledge that there is a lot I don't know about this game and the good sense to listen to those who can help. I've been fortunate in working with very good catchers—Westrum, Campanella, now Yogi—and a good catcher can make a pitcher's life a lot easier. I'll give you an example. In my no-hitter against the Phillies in '56, I only shook Campy off once. He was doing the thinking, calling the pitches just right for every batter in every situation, and all I had to do was check the sign to see if I agreed and then throw.
But I guess of all the people who really help a pitcher most, the pitching coach is the man. And again I've been very fortunate in having a chance to work with some of the best: Dolf Luque down in Mexico, Frank Shellenback of the Giants, Mel Harder of the Indians, Joe Becker at Brooklyn and now Jim Turner on the Yankees. A coach can teach a young pitcher a lot of things; he can also help an experienced one correct flaws that seem to come up every once in a while no matter how good the pitcher may be.
At Cleveland, for example, I was having trouble. I didn't know what it was, but my delivery didn't seem to be smooth. I wasn't getting anything on the ball. So Mel Harder looked at some old movies taken when I was with the Giants, then watched me pitch a few minutes and put his finger right on it. Most pitchers, as they stride forward to throw, point their toe right toward the plate. Well, I think that's probably the best way to do it, but I come down on my heel first with my toe pointing off in the direction of the third-base line, then unconsciously swivel on the heel of my foot until the toe aims at the plate. Harder discovered I wasn't swiveling. In other words, I was coming down on my heel with my toe pointing off to the right, and I never was straightening the toe out. This was causing me to throw across my body and keeping me from following through properly. As soon as I went back to the old way, everything was all right.
I guess that's about it except for one thing. You have heard how pitching is 90% of baseball or maybe 75% or some such figure. Well, I think it can be anywhere from 60 to 90%, depending upon how good the pitchers are. With two top pitchers working against each other, I really believe the higher figure is about right. But whatever the amount, pitching is an awfully big part of baseball. If you are a pitcher, and you realize how important you are to the team, you have to carry a mighty big psychological as well as physical responsibility. But if you work hard, it sure can be worth it. And if you're a fan, knowing a little bit more about such a big and important part of the game can make baseball just that much more rewarding to you.
A pitcher has to have confidence that he can beat the other team and the determination to go out there and do it. You can't let anyone run over you. If you battle all the way, there aren't many teams that are going to beat you.
Fast ball is gripped tight, held pretty deep in the hand and is thrown so that it will slide straight off the end of the fingers.
All pitches should be thrown with same motion in order to keep from tipping off batter as to what to expect next. The only variation should be intentional, to break up normally smooth pitching rhythm and spoil the timing of the batter.
Curve ball is held more in the fingers, is thrown with a strong downward snap of the wrist and released between the thumb and the forefinger. I don't believe there is such a thing as a good curve ball hitter...I mean that no one can consistently hit the really good breaking stuff.
Slider, which has become a big pitch, is something of a combination of the curve and fast ball. It can be thrown either by releasing index finger first, causing ball to spin a little off center, or else by gripping ball slightly off center in the first place—which will achieve the same effect.
Best pitch in baseball is the change of pace. Thrown with same motion as the fast ball (above), the changeup comes in much slower (below), leaves batter off balance. Even if he is able to recover in time to get a piece of the ball, he seldom does very much damage. Great effectiveness of change-up is due to the fact that, in pitching, speed is relative.
Every hitter is an individual, and you have to study him that way. A good pitcher never does stop studying the hitters. Remember that no batter can be fooled all the time just by a random assortment of pitches. You have to pitch with a definite plan in mind, using one pitch to make another more effective.
Pitching plan incorporates knowledge, experience, control and confidence. Here the batter is kept off balance with an assortment of curves, fast balls and changeups thrown at varying speeds and to widely separated spots around and inside strike zone. Text explains why it is so important to set batter up properly and gives details of how it is done.
Strike zone itself can vary tremendously in size, ranging from a small tight target presented by the batter who hits from extreme crouch (below, left) all the way up to a large strike area available with a player who uses a stand-up stance. The most common batting style is slight semi-crouch, used by batter in drawing at top of page.
Slightest glimpse of ball or fingers as pitcher assumes grip and goes into wind-up can tip off the opposing team what to expect next. To prevent the base coaches from picking up the pitch, grip must be taken deep in glove (as at left) and glove must continue to shield ball throughout wind-up. Another danger, even to veterans, is that some unknown mannerism or habit will enable other team to tell when certain pitch is coming long before actual delivery. Best protection is establishing set rhythm for all pitches.
Maglie trademark is prepitch routine of tugging at cap, licking fingers, wiping them on shirt, then on pants, finally picking up the resin bag. More than just nervous mannerism, this helps to relieve tension in the pitcher, sometimes bothers the batter, causes him to become fidgety at the plate. Real master of mumble jumble motions is Lew Burdette, jittery World Series hero of the Braves.
No. 1 Aid for big league pitcher is a good pitching coach. Mel Harder of Indians once discovered that Sal was failing to point toe toward the plate during delivery, checked old films, found that the guilty party was Sal's left heel. Instead of acting as swivel, it was loafing on job.
ROY SIEVERS ON HITTING
The American League's home run and RBI king talks about his specialty in the March 31 issue