One of baseball's most skilled craftsmen, 40-year-old Salvatore Anthony Maglie has accumulated a vast fund of pitching lore in the two decades since he threw his first strike across the plate in organized baseball. He has pitched on four championship teams and been a winner in both leagues. He has won as many as 23 games in a season and, for the Giants, won 59 in three years. Supposedly washed up in 1956, he became the key figure in Brooklyn's heart-catching pennant drive, winning 13 games and pitching a no-hitter against Philadelphia. When Maglie talks about pitching, even the major leaguers listen, for here is a man who knows.
With nothing but a real good fast ball, one that breaks and jumps and moves all over the place, a pitcher can be a big winner in high school and college, on the sandlots, even in the minor leagues. But no one—not even a Bob Feller or a Herb Score—can consistently throw the ball past big league hitters. The guys you run into up here are just too good for that. So although a strong arm is always an advantage and while it may get a boy into the big leagues in the first place, if he wants to stick around for a while and be one of the real good ones, he is going to have to pick up something else. After 20 years in organized ball, I personally believe these are the things a pitcher must eventually have if ha expects to last. These are the things that make a big league pitcher:
Control, both of his pitches and of himself.
Confidence and determination.
Knowledge and experience.
This may appear to be a very simple list—but it is not nearly so simple as it sounds. In talking about control, for example, I am not talking about just getting the ball over the plate. I'm talking about that real pinpoint control that enables a pitcher to put the ball exactly where he wants it every time. The same is true of confidence and determination. The type of confidence and determination I mean is the kind that keeps a pitcher going when everything says to him that he is beaten, the kind that just won't permit him to quit. And when I say knowledge, I mean the real deep inside knowledge one gains not just through time spent at a job but, even more, from an awful lot of study and experimentation. These things are not simple at all.
I mentioned control first, the ability to pitch to spots, to clip those corners or—sometimes almost as important—barely to miss them. Well, it is true that control is one of those things some pitchers just naturally have more of than others: Robin Roberts, Newcombe, yes, Maglie, too. We're lucky. But anyone can improve with a lot of hard work. For instance, it is surprising how many pitchers really don't know the strike zone the way they should. A good way to learn it and also to practice control is to pitch through one of those string gadgets like the Dodgers use at Vero Beach. But it is also important to remember that the strike zone changes with the hitter; it's pretty big with a stand-up guy like Zernial, for example, slightly smaller with a fellow who crouches a bit like Mantle, and it can get awfully small with a batter who uses an extreme crouch like Stan Lopata of the Phils. The strike zone also changes with the umpire, and although I don't advocate cheating, a pitcher has to take everything he has coming to him. Some umpires will give you that little bit extra down low, others to the inside, some up high. When they're working behind the plate, it's smart to take advantage of what you know.
The actual control of a pitch is, of course, something each pitcher has to work out for himself. It depends upon so many factors—the release point, the smoothness of the delivery, the stride—that it has to be a natural thing. It's like a kid throwing a rock at a tree. He doesn't figure out exactly when he'll let go of the rock in order to hit his target; he just throws and if he misses, he makes an adjustment the next time. Pitchers are the same way. It takes work and practice. But here's one little trick that can help. If a pitcher finds that he is consistently off to one side or the other—say he is a right-hander and is throwing everything just a little wide, a shade outside—he should try moving over to his right on the rubber. In other words, just change his normal starting position a few inches. A lot of times this will do the job.
Another good way to develop control is to have a target every time you throw. Even when warming up on the sidelines or fooling around before a game, a pitcher should be throwing at a spot: the other fellow's right knee or his left shoulder or the buckle on his belt. That way he doesn't get into bad habits.
As for this business of control of self, I consider it just as important, in some ways more so. I don't mean merely staying in shape, although that is absolutely necessary. Self-control means controlling your temper and retaining your poise. I remember how I used to get pretty hot when some team would begin teeing off on me; all I wanted to do was get that ball back from the catcher in a hurry so I could fire it back in there again. But Stanky or Alvin Dark would call for the ball and fool around with it and give me a chance to cool off and slow down. I remember I didn't like that much and I'd be telling them to give me the blasted ball. But Stanky would just stand there and hold the ball behind him and grin until I had calmed down. Then I would be all right. Finally I learned how to do it for myself. I notice Bob Turley has started to step off the mound when things get a little shaky, take a couple of deep breaths and then go back to work. Something like that can help. If a pitcher can keep his head even when they're hitting him pretty hard or his infield has kicked a few or he's had a couple of raw calls, then he is way out ahead.
Self-control also means controlling your mind, concentrating everything you have on the job at hand. I consider a lesson from Jack Ogden at Elmira back in 1941 about as important as anything I've learned in baseball since. "Sal, when you pitch," he said, "pitch to that man that's at the plate. Don't worry about the man that's up next." This sounds pretty simple, but believe me, when you're working on some .230 hitter and Williams or Musial is up next, it's pretty hard to keep from thinking ahead. Of course Ogden was right. What good does it do to have it all figured out how you're going to stop the big hitter when the little hitter just ahead of him puts one in the seats and the ball game is over.
In some ways confidence and determination may sound like different things, but to a pitcher they have to go together. And without them no pitcher ever became great. He has to have confidence he can beat the other team and then he has to have the determination to go out there and do it. And the other way around.