The contest between the Pitcher and Batter is the essential drama of baseball.
It will be played out time and time again during the coming days of the World Series. On those occasions when the hitter is able to solve the mysteries of the pitcher,or when the pitcher's tricks don't work, and the ball streaks into a line drive or soars into the seats, it will be an event of some consequence.
Crowds will roar, careers will be made, fat contracts and endorsements will await. But many a scout watches intently the man on the mound which displays truly An Art Of Pitching.
But even the greatest hitter's success is only temporary and partial. There will be a next time at bat, and the pitcher again will be ascendant, the odds heavily on his side.Because he can make the ball do tricks.
HOW THE TRICKS are done is an arcane science, which is both vast and complex.
Entire books have been written about it, and grown men make their living teaching its intricacies as well as the fundamentals of this art of pitching.
First, the ball must be thrown with speed--"velocity" is the catch word these days, and even old, over-the-hill major league pitchers can still throw the ball harder than your average high school pitcher. The answer is is in their mastery of the mechanics of throwing the ball--a whole regimen of stride and weight shift and elbow leverage and wrist snap which sends the ball hurtling toward the plate in a white blur.
Then, there is "location"--where the ball is thrown. The major league pitcher must be able to throw strikes, of course, but his real aim is for specific spots within--or just outside--the strike zone. The ball is harder to hit high and inside or low and away from the batter, and the major league pitcher will hit those spots consistently from 60 feet,six inches away.
But, for these elements to have any meaning, the ball must do tricks, "have movement." A straight ball, a ball without movement or change of speed, even if thrown with great velocity and to a perfect spot, will wind up in the outfield seats with regularity.
SO, WHERE DOES this "movement" come from?
Back to the ball for a moment. It is a wound yarn with a cork center,9-9.25 inches in circumference, 5-5.25 ounces in weight. It is covered with two figure-8 shaped strips of white cowhide, held together with 108 stitches of heavy red twine.
It is a remarkable artifact. Hold it in your hand, and you know that it is made to be thrown. Its weight and shape and size allow no other interpretation of its use, as opposed, say, to a football or a basketball.
Yet from a pitcher's standpoint, the most significant aspect of the baseball is the stitching. The stitches themselves and the slight ridge they form on the cover are what make it possible for the pitcher to make the ball do tricks.
This management of little baseball is truly the art of pitching.
For the ball, spinning through the air with its irregular stitch patterns, becomes an aerodynamic marvel, creating air cushions and pressures. These pressures become so great as to influence the flight of ball, depending on the density of the air, the speed and direction of the spin and the velocity of the ball, enough so that it will "break" as it approaches the final 20 or so feet to home plate.
The "break" may be a matter of inches, or more than a foot, depending on the pitcher's skill and the type of pitch thrown. In either event, it usually is enough to confound the batters judgment, so that the round bat will not connect solidly with the round ball, and the pitcher will continue to make a comfortable living.
Before we continue on to our different type of pitches go back and review this Art Of Pitching
SO, THEN, WHAT are these different types of pitches, these methods of producing "movement" on the ball?
Essentially , the differences in pitches depend on the spin and change in speed which the particular throwing technique imparts to the ball this is the real essence of the Art Of Pitching.
Speed is its basic attribute, but it also should have movement--and it can have several different sorts of movement, depending on how the ball is thrown. An Art Of Pitching takes on a very special form when throwing the fast ball.
A Pitcher throwing the fast ball takes the Art Pitching to its highest form by combining the fast ball pitch with pin point control putting the pitch across the plate within the right quadrant of the strike zone for effect.
The classic four-seam fast ball is gripped "across the seams" so that the stamped name of the ball is on its 'side" and the maximum of four seams will cut through the air, building an air cushion below the ball. because of this, the pitch will "hop" or "jump" as it approaches the plate.
Alternatively, the fast ball may be gripped "with the seams," usually producing a sinker. To increase the sinking action, the ball is thrown off the outside of the middle finger, giving the ball a slight left-right spin.
Yet another variation is the cut fast ball, thrown off the index finger instead of the middle finger.
It is thrown with the same arm motion as the fast ball, but as the hand reaches the end of its arc the wrist cocks out and up so that the fingers are horizontal to the ground.
The ball is spun out over the index finger with most of the force supplied by the thumb and middle finger, so that the spin on the ball is almost the reverse of the fast ball.
Ideally, the classic curve will break almost straight down,"drop," although most pitchers will have some side-to-side movement as well--the right handed pitcher's curve breaking away from a right-handed hitter, with the reverse for the left-handed.
It is thrown with the wrist cocked slightly outward, and with similar finger action to the curve. The result is a pitch with very nearly as much velocity as the fast ball, and with a break which is smaller but sharper and later than a curve's.
It is easier to throw and control than the curve.
has the opposite action of the curve, because it is thrown in almost directly the opposite way. With the screwball, the wrist turns inward as the ball is released, so that the ball spins out over the middle finger.
It will break down and into a right-handed hitter if thrown by a right-handed pitcher.
Thrown from the fingertips (not the knuckles,despite its name) and "popped" out as the pitch is delivered. Ideally it will have a slight turn as it travels toward the plate, so that the air traveling over the seams will create more reaction.
Normally breaks down, but is unpredictable, making it not only very difficult to hit, but to control as well. The unpredictable nature of what the ball might do is really beyond the scope of an Art Of Pitching and reaches almost the twilight zone where anything may happen.
This pitch is a battery mate or catchers pure nightmare. Ask any catcher who has ever had the chore of handling the knuckle ball pitch and he will readily tell you it takes a "fast glove" the fastest in the West.
Prime example of the pure effectiveness of the knuckle ball pitcher with complete mastery of this unique pitch occurred on October 2, 2012:
"Returning to the big leagues seven years after he was beaned, Greenberg fanned on three pitches Tuesday night as a pinch-hitter for the Miami Marlins. Greenberg signed a one-day contract before the game and batted leading off the sixth inning against New York Mets knuckle ball pitcher 20-game winner R.A. Dickey. After Greenberg received a standing ovation from the modest crowd and his teammates, Dickey threw him three consecutive knuckle balls. Greenberg took the first for a strike, then swung at the next two and missed."
A straight change, for instance, is usually thrown like the fast ball, but with the wrist kept stiff: the arm movement looks the same to the batter, but the ball arrives later and the batters timing is thrown off.
When a pitcher has mastered the "change up pitch" he not only has conquered the Art Of Pitching he is recognized throughout the League of play as a "Nifty" pitcher.
The ball is wedged between the index and middle fingers and thrown with pressure from the thumb, so that the ball gets a backward spin.
Properly thrown, the fork ball is the special epitome of an Art Of Pitching and the ball will break sharply down.
The idea is much the same as that of the fork ball, but the good spitter is much more effective.
There has never been a boy who ever sat in a classroom who never had the thrill of throwing a tightly squeezed wad of paper moistened with a little spit "that was the original spit ball."
The fingers are lubricated and placed off the seams, on a smooth part of the ball. An Art Of Pitching while throwing the spitter takes on some shades of cheating or hedges against the rules a small tad.
The spitter is then thrown, hard, with the same motion as the fast ball, but slides out from under the fingertips (the usual description being that it is like squeezing a watermelon seed), with a backwards spin coming from the thumb.
Correctly thrown, the ball will break sharply down on top of the plate and is a very hard pitch to hit an is almost impossible.
Another illegal pitch said to be thrown with regularity in the majors is the scuff ball, or cut ball.
This scuffing of the baseball takes an Art Of Pitching and moves it into what we call being the use of a little Tom Foolery or shall we say a little deceit or cheat?
The idea is to scuff or cut the surface of the ball so that a new aerodynamic element is created, building an air pocket around the cut or scuff, so that the pitch will break sharply in the opposite direction.
The scuff may come from the pitcher's--or an infielders--sharpened belt buckle or from a prepared place on the glove. In one game last year, a pitcher was ejected after an umpire found a thumb tack embedded in his glove.
THROWING ANY OF these pitches properly, of course, is a great deal more easily described than done.
Most pitchers have real mastery of an Art Of Pitching only perhaps two types of them--say, fast ball and slider--and a few make do with only one if it is good enough.
Goose Gossage of the American League champion New York Yankees, for instance, threw the four-seam fast ball almost exclusively, but threw it so well that any other pitch was simply a distraction.
Mr. Gossage using his fast ball as an Art Of Pitching used to to the tune of making it all the way to The Baseball Hall Of Fame.
Thrown improperly, any of the assortment can be a bad pitch--the "hanging" curve ball, the slider that doesn't break, the sinker that doesn't sink.
A quick prayer and a fleet outfield are the pitcher's principle remedies for a hanging curve. A quick prayer helps in this work we know as an Art Of Pitching.
A Pitchers best day on the mound he still needs those teammates backing him as he spins his magic with an Art Of Pitching.
Yet, it's also true that batters sometimes foul off the hanging curve, and sometimes hit the "perfect pitch" over the fence.
Sometimes the batter is absurdly fooled, but then again He may bloop a single; or connects solidly for a 390-foot out of the park homer it still remains An Art Of Pitching.
Which explains why most pitchers need one other ingredient besides their assortment of fast ball, curve, slider and change, or whatever. IT'S CALLED LUCK or it could be an Art Of Pitching.
Thanks Bill Crowe of Sports Week 1981 for his splendid work an Art Of Pitching.
Batter Up----Let's Play Ball....
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