Bottom of the 9th

I came across this movie, Bottom of the 9th, during my last trip to the library and decided I’d go ahead and check it out. This flick stars Joe Manganiello as Sonny Stano, once an up-and-coming star in the Yankees organization who finds himself spending 17 years in prison when an altercation results in the death of another young man.

The main plot of the film takes place following Stano’s release from prison back onto the streets of the Bronx. He is noticeably older-looking than the young man who had once been sentenced to prison, with a larger, more muscular build and hair graying at the temples. He is plagued with guilt over the mistakes from his youth and is determined to walk a straighter path going forward.

Stano begins his life after prison working in a fish market, but hates the work. He is drawn back to baseball and the Empires, a minor league affiliate of the Yankees. Before long, Stano quits his job at the fish market in order to join the staff of the Empires.

It quickly becomes apparent to the coaching staff of the Empires that Stano, in spite of his age and his time away from the game, still possesses no small amount of baseball talent. Stano is soon added to the Empires roster, much to the dismay of the other players on the team, the fans, and the media. Unsurprisingly, he suffers criticism over his past, every little move he now makes, and every statement he speaks.

From here, the movie is essentially a cliché redemption story (but if you’re not familiar with such cliché stories, stop reading here). Stano proves himself on the field, most people’s opinions eventually turn in his favor, he gets the girl, and he impresses the scouts from the Yankees organization who are considering calling him up to the big leagues.

Overall, this movie’s not bad. It’s not a magical home run classic baseball movie — there are no surprising twists in the story, no sitting-on-the-edge-of-your-seat moments of suspense. It’s mostly a laid back and predictable feel-good story.

This day in baseball: O’Doul falls to Japanese All-Stars

On November 13, 1951, Lefty O’Doul’s team of American All-Stars lost, 3-1, to a Japanese Pacific League All-Star squad. It was the first time an American professional team lost to a Japanese professional team.

O’Doul is well known for his work in Japan, training Japanese players in the skills of the game and fostering communication and interaction between those in Japanese and American baseball both before and after World War II. For his efforts, Lefty O’Doul was the first American elected to the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Lefty O’Doul, 1919 (Library of Congress/public domain)

This day in baseball: DiMaggio named AL MVP

On November 11, 1941, the American League Most Valuable Player Award went to Joe DiMaggio, who hit 30 home runs, 125 RBIs, and collected 348 total bases. DiMaggio also led the Yankees to a 101-53 season that culminated with their ninth World Series title. In the midst of all of this, the Yankee Clipper also had a Major League-record 56-game hitting streak along the way.

DiMaggio edged out Ted Williams in the voting for the award. Williams remains the last player to finish a season with a .400 average, doing so when he hit .406 in 1941. Williams’s season won him the American League batting title by a whopping 47 points that year, however, his efforts fell short in the league’s MVP voting.

The Science of Hitting, by Ted Williams

Ted Williams’s The Science of Hitting has been on my radar for a few years now, though admittedly, since it has been so long since I last played ball, I wasn’t in any real hurry to read it. But now that I have, I’m glad that I did because even though I no longer play, I learned a lot from this book.

First published in 1971, The Science of Hitting serves as a guide on how to improve one’s performance at the plate. Even though it is a very slim volume, only 81 pages long, it is a goldmine on hitting technique and about the game as a whole. Ted Williams, with the help of John Underwood, manages to walk a fine line between elaborating on the technical aspects of hitting while maintaining a very readable style of writing.

Despite the fact that Williams originally wrote this book more than 50 years ago, the observations and advice within are timeless. Some of the advice is commonly heard today, such as being selective at the plate and making the pitcher work until they’ve got two strikes on you. Other bits of advice flies in the face of popular coaching today. For example, the recommendation to maintain a level swing, parallel to the ground, is something I heard throughout my playing days. Williams argues and demonstrates why a slight upward swing is the better approach. The book is full of pictures and diagrams depicting Williams’s teachings in a visual format.

Nevertheless, Williams’s approach to teaching the art of hitting is not strictly proscriptive. He provides numerous examples of variations on hitting styles, naming some of the greatest hitters in the game as examples of these variations. (As new editions of the book have been released, the lists of players named have been updated to include some who played in more recent years.) A hitter’s swing is unique to that hitter, so if what a player is doing is working, stick with it. If it’s not working, or if that hitter is looking to improve, then The Science of Hitting provides a number of things to consider.

This book doesn’t just stop at hitting, either. Williams briefly discusses pitching and touches on his thoughts on the approaches of various pitchers. He talks about what approaches work on the mound, which do not, and the importance of studying the game and being able to make adjustments.

As a whole, Ted Williams emphasizes the importance of practice, practice, practice. Given the number of factors that go into a single swing of the bat, this book is aptly named — hitting is a science. And in order to improve at it, players need to study, think, adjust, and continually practice.

Quote of the day

The great thing about baseball is when you’re done, you’ll only tell your grandchildren the good things. If they ask me about 1989, I’ll tell them I had amnesia.

~Sparky Anderson

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Sparky Anderson (Wikimedia Commons)

This day in baseball: Walter Johnson loses congressional bid

On November 5, 1940, Election Day in America that year, former pitcher Walter Johnson lost to William D. Byron, the Democrat incumbent, in a bid to represent Maryland’s sixth congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives. The Hall of Fame right-hander had been elected as a Montgomery County Commissioner in 1938 but lost this election to Byron by a total of 60,037 (53%) to 52,258 (47%).

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US President Calvin Coolidge and Washington Senators pitcher Walter Johnson shake hands, 1924 (National Photo Company collection, Library of Congress)

This day in baseball: Ty Cobb released

The Detroit Tigers released player-manager Ty Cobb on November 2, 1926. At first, Cobb announced his retirement at the end of 22 years with the Tigers, but when Cleveland Indians player-manager Tris Speaker also retired shortly thereafter, many heads turned. It soon came out that the two were coerced into retirement as a result of allegations of game-fixing brought about by Dutch Leonard, a former pitcher managed by Cobb.

Ty Cobb (public domain/Wikimedia Commons)

Quote of the day

The best possible thing in baseball is winning the World Series. The second-best thing is losing the World Series.

~Tommy Lasorda

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Tommy Lasorda with the Kansas City Athletics, 1956 (public domain)