Thursday, February 9, 2012

Baseball's Sixth Commandment by J. D. Thorne

I came across the “10 Commandments of Baseball” on an advertising card that had been a keepsake of my Dad’s from Bill Zuber’s Restaurant and Dugout Lounge in the Amana Colonies of Iowa. The “Commandments” were composed by Joe McCarthy who managed the three most storied franchises in the golden age of baseball: the Chicago Cubs, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox. He still holds the highest winning percentage for any Major League baseball manager even though he retired over a half a century ago. McCarthy's principles are at the center of my classic book called The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) published by Sporting Chance Press. This post touches on McCarthy's Sixth Commandment.

Commandment Number Six: “Do not alibi on bad hops. Anybody can field the good ones.”

No one likes hearing excuses. The field is the same for both teams. For someone wanting to be a ballplayer, it is more important to learn to field the tough chances than to explain the mistakes. For example, first basemen should practice endlessly fielding bad throws coming in on one wicked hop or wide of the bag or over a player’s head. It takes practice to anticipate the tough plays and to adjust to difficult conditions.
From 1900 through 1916 the great “gentleman” ballplayer, Christy Mathewson, was the first pitcher to win 300 games in the modern era. He pitched with great intelligence, good mechanics, and outstanding control. He averaged 1.6 walks per nine innings and once pitched a record 68 consecutive innings without one. Mathewson also had a magic pitch. He called it a “fadeaway.” It was a reverse curve thrown with an extremely unnatural twist if the arm. Today it is called a “screwball” because of the reverse twist of the arm when throwing it. It was a difficult pitch to throw, but it was even a more difficult to hit. He usually threw it no more than a dozen times a game, but the threat that he would throw it was always there. He typically would hold it back for what he called, “pitching in a pinch” (the title of a book he authored).
Mathewson once pitched three shutouts in a World Series; allowing the opposition just 14 hits. In 1908, he led National League pitchers in wins (37), ERA (1.43), stikeouts (259), and shutouts (12).

Although Mathewson was a remarkable player, he did not win every time. He understood how important it was to maintain confidence without making excuses to the rest of the world for his play. He was quoted as saying:

You must have an alibi to show why you lost. If you haven’t one,
you must fake one. Your self confidence must always be maintained.
Always have that alibi. But keep it to yourself. That’s where it belongs.




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Image is J.D. Thorne, courtesy of David Bernacchi
Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press, Inc.