During a recent Pirate-Mets game, Pittsburgh's radar gun measured a fastball by New York pitcher Dwight Gooden at 100 mph. It was the first time that Gooden had been clocked at 100 mph, a benchmark that has long fascinated baseball fans. In 1914, Walter Johnson's fastball, measured against a speeding motorcycle, supposedly traveled 97 mph. In a pregame stunt arranged by Senators owner Clark Griffith in 1946, a Bob Feller fastball was timed by a photoelectric-cell device the Army used to determine the speed of projectiles. The unofficial computation cited by the Hall of Fame puts Feller's fastest pitch at 107.9 mph.
Today's method for measuring the velocity of pitches is more accurate and a lot simpler. Since 1975, two companies, Jugs Pitching Machines and Decatur Electronics, have been supplying major league teams with radar guns that can give a speed reading on any pitched ball. In every big league park—and at a lot of minor league and amateur fields, too—scouts can be found behind home plate with these guns pointed at oncoming pitches.
Decatur's ProSpeed gun retails for $1,224 and is commonly called the "slow gun," because it measures the speed of the ball when it's about 10 feet from home plate, by which time most pitches have lost about four mph. The Jugs gun costs $1,300 and is known as the "fast gun" because early models, which are still widely used, measure the speed of the ball at approximately four feet from where it has left the pitcher's hand. Two years ago, Jugs added another model that can determine the ball's speed just after it leaves the pitcher's hand as well as within 10 feet of the plate. Says Reds reliever Rob Dibble, "My best is 101 on the Jugs, 99 on the [ProSpeed]. When I get to 100 on the [ProSpeed], I'll have done something."
But how much does speed really matter? Some baseball people believe that scouts depend on the gun too much. "The gun is a terrible thing. Scouts turn guys 'down because of it," says Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. "If you saw John Tudor pitch in college, he was throwing 83 mph. With the gun, you forget about movement or how he hides the ball."
"It's a tool that gives you perspective, not a final answer," says Texas pitching coach Tom House, a junkballer who pitched in the majors for 6½ seasons. "But scouts don't scout who can pitch anymore. They miss a lot of guys now. Guns scare them off."
Mel Didier, a highly respected Dodger scout, finds the guns helpful in evaluating a pitcher who is coming off an injury. However, says Didier, "there's much more to pitching than velocity. Many pitchers in the major leagues never break 84 miles per hour, but their ball sinks or tails late. You have to pitch in and out, up and down. Eddie Mathews once told me, 'I don't care if the guy is throwing 100 miles per hour. If it's the same velocity and it's straight, he may get us [hitters] the first time. He may get us the second. But we're going to turn that motor up, and we're going to get him. It's the guys who change speeds that bother us the most.' "
Cincinnati manager Lou Piniella thinks the gun is a useful tool during games. "We use the gun to monitor a pitcher's velocity," he says. "Any sudden drop is a sign to get someone ready."
For Dibble, the obsession with radar guns has become "a macho thing." He says, "It makes the other team say, "Wow, he throws this hard.' But my best nights are when my fastball is in the mid-90s. I get more movement then."
The Rangers' Nolan Ryan, who was clocked at 100.9 in 1974 when he pitched for the Angels, says he has never looked at his pitching chart after a game to check on the velocity of his best fastball. "Anyway, the guns fluctuate," he says. "I remember we put two guns side by side on the same pitch, and they came up with different readings. When I rate a pitcher, velocity is one of the last things I look at."
Make no mistake about it: Braves general manager Bobby Cox didn't want to return to managing when Atlanta fired Russ Nixon last Friday. Club president Stan Kasten pressured Cox, who is in the last year of his contract, into accepting the position. Cox has an ulcer, and after leaving his field job with the Blue Jays to rejoin the Braves in October 1985, he told friends and family that he would prefer not to manage again. But Kasten knows a good manager when he sees one, and Cox is good.
Cox will need every ounce of his ability to revive Atlanta. Nixon's managerial record—231-347 in 4½ seasons with the Braves and a last-place finish every year—is difficult to defend. But he was saddled with an atrocious bullpen and a starting rotation of pitchers who have not yet matured.
Cox had wanted advance scout Pat Corrales to take over as skipper, but now it appears that Cox will manage the Braves this year as well as next. As for replacing Cox as general manager, Syd Thrift, who held that job with the Pirates and Yankees, was in Atlanta last Saturday and is interested in the job. Former Reds, Expo and Yankee general manager Murray Cook has also been mentioned as a possible successor to Cox.
As good a field manager and evaluator of talent as Cox is, his record as general manager isn't overly impressive. He was burned on his first major trade—reliever Steve Bedrosian and outfielder Milt Thompson to the Phillies for catcher Ozzie Virgil and pitcher Pete Smith in 1985—and some observers believe he got gun-shy after that. Cox had a chance during the 1988 winter meetings to deal outfielder Dale Murphy to the Mets for third baseman Howard Johnson, outfielder Lenny Dykstra and pitcher Rick Aguilera. Now Murphy, is on the downside of a standout career, and those three are going strong.
Atlanta hasn't reached the .500 mark since 1983, when Joe Torre was manager. After his firing the following year, the club has been run, in succession, by Eddie Haas, Bobby Wine, Chuck Tanner and Nixon. This was supposed to have been the year the Braves became respectable. If any manager can make them winners, it's Cox.
THE BUDDY SYSTEM
The Mets seem to have benefited from an in-season managerial change. As of Sunday, they had won 16 of 23 games since Buddy Harrelson took over as skipper, including 13 of their last 15, to move within two games of first-place Pittsburgh in the National League East. In those 15 games, New York hit .333 with 25 homers. More important, the Mets' pitching is coming around. I Exhibit A: Doc Gooden's two-hit shutout of the Phillies last Saturday that put Gooden over .500 for the first time this season, at 6-5. Says pitching coach Mel Stottlemyre, "I think I'm going to be a happy man in September."
That is something Stottlemyre's Pirate counterpart, Ray Miller, certainly hasn't been of late. On June 23, Pittsburgh lost 6-1 to the second-place Expos to fall briefly out of first place for the first time since May 25. The main reason for the Pirate slide: a banged-up staff. Ted Power (strained right triceps) is due back this week, but John Smiley (broken left hand) and Bob Walk (groin pull) are not due back until sometime close to the All-Star break.
But pitching isn't the Pirates' only shortcoming, according to outfielder R.J. Reynolds. "We're playing stupid," said Reynolds after a 7-2 loss to Philly. "We're good, but we're not that good. We're in first place, and we act like we're scared to lose. We're scared about who's pitching. We say, 'Oh, he's got good [stuff].' We fall behind, and somebody says, 'Montreal lost. We're O.K.' I wish we'd get some fire in our butts."
The Cubs' Ryne Sandberg, who at week's end led the National League in homers with 21, is one of the five best players in the game. He was acquired from Philadelphia on Jan. 27, 1982, along with shortstop Larry Bowa, for infielder Ivan DeJesus. The trade ranks as one of the most lopsided of the '80s. Here are five more of the most one-sided deals of that decade:
1) The Blue Jays received first baseman Fred McGriff, outfielder Dave Collins, pitcher Mike Morgan and $400,000 from the Yankees for pitcher Dale Murray and outfielder-catcher Tom Dodd on Dec. 9, 1982.
2) The A's got reliever Dennis Eckersley and infielder Dan Rohn from the Cubs for outfielder Dave Wilder, infielder Brian Guinn and pitcher Mark Leonette on April 3, 1987.
3) The Reds obtained reliever John Franco from the : Dodgers for infielder Rafael Landestoy on May 9, 1983.
4) Montreal picked up reliever Jeff Reardon from the Mets for outfielder Ellis Valentine on May 29, 1981.
5) The Mets acquired pitchers Ron Darling and Walt Terrell from the Rangers for outfielder Lee Mazzilli on April 1, 1982.
Three years ago veteran pitcher Mike Flanagan nicknamed Rangers outfielder Ruben Sierra "Ruben Scare-ya," because he's such a devastating offensive player. However, Sierra is barely adequate defensively, he doesn't go near walls, and he doesn't like to slide or dive. He's only 24, but Texas should consider trading him. He can be a free agent after the 1992 season. Other teams have shown interest in Sierra, and the Rangers have listened. He could bring Texas two or three first-rate players, which it needs more than one top hitter....
Giants third baseman Matt Williams has developed into one of the finest all-around performers in the league. Through April of this season, he was a .208 career hitter. As of Sunday, Williams was batting .306 with 14 homers and 57 RBIs for the season. "He's a new hitter this year," says one scout. "He could be pitched to easily last year, but not this year. He's improved faster than I ever thought possible."...
Hooray for National League umpires Mark Hirschbeck and Harry Wendelstedt. On June 20, Hirschbeck didn't let the Reds' second baseman Mariano Duncan get away with a phantom tag on the front end of an attempted double play and called the runner safe. The next night, Wendelstedt called Cincy's Glenn Braggs safe on an attempted steal in the ninth inning. The throw beat Braggs easily, but Atlanta second baseman Jeff Tread-way didn't tag him. Too often middle infielders get away with the so-called neighborhood play at second....
The Royals released pitcher Richard Dotson on June 20. He was 0-4 with an 8.48 ERA....
Brewers infielder Paul Molitor, who last week underwent surgery on his left index finger, has been on the disabled list 10 times during Cal Ripken's consecutive game streak, which reached 1,320 on Sunday....
When the Yankees visited Toronto on June 21, New York outfielder Mel Hall said, "We're playing the league leaders. If we win three out of four games, we'll pick up three games." Sorry, Mel, that's only two games.
BETWEEN THE LINES
A TALE OF TWO CITIES
Braves catcher Greg Olson is having an identity crisis. He is constantly getting letters intended for Oriole pitcher Gregg Olson. "How in the world can someone write a letter to an Orioles' pitcher and send it to Atlanta?" says Greg. "I must have 50 letters of his. This winter was ridiculous. I got 18 fan letters at my home, and 17 were for him. With the first few I wrote back and said, 'You have the wrong Gregg Olson.' After that, I kept 'em. I have more Gregg Olson baseball cards [enclosed in the letters in hope that Olson would autograph and return them] than anyone in America."
BENCH BRAGGS, SAVE A TREE
How strong is Reds outfielder Glenn Braggs? On June 20, he snapped his bat in half on a pitch that he barely tipped. Braggs did this in his ninth game after having been traded from the Brewers. "I'm surprised it took me so long to do that in this league," said Braggs afterward. "In Milwaukee, I was doing it like every time up. One time I took 12 bats on a road trip and broke 10 without making contact. I broke three in one game in Seattle." How does the righthanded Braggs, who is 6'3", 210 pounds, break them? He whips the bat with such force that on his follow-through, it hits his left shoulder and snaps.
THE CASE OF THE MISSING BATS
Sometime during the Padres' May 22 to May 30 road trip, 184 of their bats were stolen from an equipment room in San Diego. On June 9, Padres outfielder Tony Gwynn was doing an autograph show in San Diego when a youngster gave him a Gwynn model bat to sign. "I knew that it was stolen; we have secret markings on our bats," says Gwynn. "I told the kid. I'll give you tickets to the game tonight and I'll give you another bat, but I have to take this one.' "
Gwynn went to the store where the boy said he had bought the bat, explained his mission and took six bats that he believed had been stolen. Gwynn then brought the bats to the police. Two days later, all but about 30 bats were recovered, and the culprits were found to be seven local high school students. "The detective solved it so fast, it was unbelievable," says Gwynn. "I told the detective, 'If you ever need help solving any more cases, look me up.' I feel like Inspector Clouseau."
A POOR SELF-IMAGE
A few Pirates wear T-shirts given to them last year by journeyman catcher and former teammate Junior Ortiz, who's now a Twin with a lifetime .257 batting average. The T-shirts read: I CAN'T HIT, I CAN'T THROW, I CAN'T RUN, WHAT AM I DOING HERE? Ortiz, who is actually a fine defensive catcher, says he designed the shirts "just for laughs" and is planning a T-shirt to give to his Minnesota teammates. But first he wants to bounce some ideas off his seven-year-old son, J.J. And what does J.J. stand for? "Junior Junior," says Junior.
BY THE NUMBERS
•Against Baltimore on June 20, Cleveland pitcher Tom Candiotti threw 6‚Äö√Ñ√∂‚àö√±‚àö¬® innings, allowed eight hits, walked five hitters and hit a batter, but gave up only one run. That run was unearned; it came on a throwing error by Candiotti.
•At week's end Angel pitcher Mark Langston had fanned 33 hitters in his last three starts, but his team lost all three games by the same score—2-1. By comparison, White Sox reliever Barry Jones had 22 strikeouts all season and was 8-1.
•At week's end Tommy Gregg of the Braves was 7 for 25 as a pinch hitter and 0 for 38 in his other at bats.
•Giants pitcher Don Robinson hit a pinch-hit home run against San Diego's Bruce Hurst on June 19. It was Robinson's 12th career home run and the first pinch homer by a pitcher since Boston's Gary Peters hit two in back-to-back pinch-hitting appearances in 1971.