Talking A Good Game (cont.)
Posted: Friday July 6, 2007 11:21AM; Updated: Friday July 27, 2007 3:47PM
Ripken: I totally agree with that. The battle is not between you and the pitcher it's between you and you.
You had to actually figure out how to keep that swing. Many times you had to tip your hat to the pitcher -- he made really good pitches and got you out. My battle was always inside -- OK, don't try so hard. Stay back. Make sure you're calm. If you gave yourself a chance it didn't matter who was out there on the mound throwing. The guys that threw harder with nasty breaking balls, a Len Barker, they naturally gave you more trouble, but I always thought when you're swinging really well of course it didn't matter. You really want to get to the point where you're in the zone all the time, which means you're repeating what you do.
Gwynn: And that's what I mean about simplifying it. The level I'm at now, in college, kids get confidence from getting hits instead of getting confidence from doing it right. When I went up to the plate a lot of times I just wanted to do it right. Over the course of 162 games, if I did it right more times than not, I was going to have success. You know there would be days when you'd go 0-for-4, but if you hit the ball three times on the button you would still feel pretty good about your approach that day. And there would be days when you'd be 4-for-5 and be absolutely bitter because you knew every time you'd go up there you never really gave yourself a chance to have the kind of success you wanted. And so I'm sure my teammates would tell you there'd be days I'd go 4-for-5 and be bitter, in the video room going back and forth.
SI: What were you looking at?
Gwynn: Hits are what give you confidence but to me it's about doing it right. So I'd be in the video room looking at video and guys would go, "You went 4-for-5 today." Merv Rettenmund, the hitting coach with the Padres now who was one of my hitting coaches, will tell you: It would drive me crazy because you could be in a run where you've taken 20 great at-bats in a row and all of a sudden you have two or three that were out of whack and it would drive me crazy. Because when you get on that run, it's like riding the wave, and you're swinging the bat good there's no reason why that should change. You practiced it, you looked at it on video.
Ripken: There's a human element to it, though.
Ripken: You can't maintain it all the time but your goal is have it that way every time. You're a perfectionist. You need to have that feeling
Gwynn: Every day. I wanted to have that feeling every day. And when you can get on a run, like '94, I got on a run where I was hitting the ball good every day. I could pretty much count on the the fact I was going to have three, four good at-bats every day. Then just out of the blue there might be that one day when you don't feel it.
SI: You felt that way all year?
Gwynn: Ninety-four? Yeah, pretty much. I had a couple of days where it just disappeared. I'd tell Merv, "Does it look like I never played this game before? Is that what it looks like? And he'd go, 'T, you're going forward like I've never seen.'" And he was like my eyes.
Ripken: Now, see I'm listening to you and thinking, My system was I had key people that watched what I did. Obviously you did, too. I didn't want to go look at it on video because it was dangerous for me to try to copy. So I had to rely, I was dependent on, when I first came in it was my dad. You're getting jumpy, you're getting out there, you're flying your front shoulder. He would give me data to help me make adjustments. Later on it became Frank Robinson. Frank was a student of the game and he would actually start to look at me. And sometimes he would put the stuff on TV and say, "I know you don't like this but I need to communicate what I'm seeing." Sometimes I would use that as a diagnostic tool. When you're teaching hitting now to kids, it's like when I started to learn how to play golf, you need the visual image to communicate what you're saying: OK, take your energy back, or load up. So that helps. But once you take it to a level where you already learned how to hit I thought it became counterproductive. But you used both techniques: You had someone, Merv, who you trusted, who was your eyes, but you also went in and used your own eyes.
Gwynn: For me that's the way it was. I tried to simplify it but I was always open. I'd have conversations with guys, pick their brains, how they did it.
SI: Even if they were different styles of hitters?
Gwynn: Oh, yeah.
Ripken: But that can be negative. I tell the story about one time I was hotter than all get out, like right now with A-Rod. I wanted to send A-Rod a text. I wanted to say, Hey, nice going, da-da-da-da ... But you're afraid you might plant a thought that might cool him off.
It happened to me. I was hitting really well and Ruppert Jones came to second base. He hit a double in Anaheim and I was on fire. All of a sudden early in the season you had home runs, you had RBI, your average way high up. And everything was real fine. Ruppert gets to second base -- and I don't think he did this intentionally -- he said, "Man you haven't taken a bad swing since you got here." I said, "Thank you. I appreciate that." He said, "You look so good with your hands away from your body like that." So the next time I went up to home plate the first thing I did was to [yank my hands far from my body]. And then I went like this [into a slump].
Gwynn: And that happens all the time.
Ripken: To me, I was an overanalyzer. I'd interpret that and say, "Oh, yeah. A-ha. That's the key. Now let me build off of that." And then you become robotic and start to think about what you're doing instead of letting it happen.
Gwynn: To me that kind of thing happened all the time. You'd get on a run and guys would want to rub your shoulder ... You know, Give me some of that. They want to give you advice, tell you things, pick your brain, ask you questions and for me it always came back to the same basic philosophy: I want to be in an athletic position, I want to let my front foot land soft, get my hands back and take the knob of the bat to the ball. For me, that's the crux of everything that I tried to do.
SI: OK, here's the question: How long did it take you to get to the position? Cal, I think you've talked about a player needing 1,000 at-bats before he knows himself as a player.
Ripken: I came out of high school. So you might face a guy who throws well every once in a while, but basically you're beating up on a lot of people that don't throw real well. When you get to pro ball, everybody throws well. So to me, I had instructional league at-bats, I had winter ball at-bats ... I started to add that up and in order to learn yourself you need about a thousand at-bats. In order to hit a curveball, you need to see I don't know how many times. You may need to see it 200 times. In order to hit someone who throws 95, the way you hit, and the timing that it takes ... I started to feel right around a thousand at-bats, 'OK, I've got a good feel about how I can do it.' Is that about right?
Gwynn: I agree with that.
SI: Did you ever get to a point where you even thought about quitting because the game was so difficult?
Gwynn: For me it wasn't because I played basketball in high school and college, so baseball was always something I kind of did on the side. And when I decided to play pro ball I knew I had to work at it. I wasn't going to quit. I was going to try to figure it out. I can distinctly remember in the minor leagues, early on, not really having a game plan, not really knowing what the heck I was doing. Just playing on athletic ability. Didn't have any video. Didn't have anybody showing me. When I first signed I went to Walla Walla, Washington, my first minor-league stop, the shortest bat they had was 34 inches. I just played a college season with a 32-inch aluminum bat. And now I'm playing pro ball with a 34-inch bat and I'm actually hitting home runs. I'm thinking, I'm not even this type of hitter. What happens when I get a wood bat that's actually the size I want to swing? Our first road trip we went to Eugene, Ore., and I bought two Mike Ivey, 32-inch, 0-16s at a sporting goods store. When I got those bats that's when I knew I'd be able to play professional ball. Because I finally got a bat in my hand that I could handle. And it was a whole lot easier to move the ball around. Because that's the type of hitter I was. When I was hitting home runs with that 34 I knew that was not the type of hitter I was. I was a line-drive hitter. So once I bought those bats I knew I would get there.