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Michael Farber
September 29, 1997
Save the wails—at least until you've read this guide to the spotted owls of the sports world
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September 29, 1997

Endangered Species

Save the wails—at least until you've read this guide to the spotted owls of the sports world

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Bang the drum quickly.

Choking Up

Gone is the day of players like Nellie Fox, who held the bat high up the handle. Ballplayers today are obsessed with the long ball and with gripping their lumber down by the knob. The Giants' Barry Bonds is the only player of note who truly chokes up (one to two inches), having done so since childhood, when his dad, big leaguer Bobby Bonds, would bring home bats that were too heavy for a stripling.

The younger Bonds has averaged 31 home runs a season during his 12-year career, underscoring a point made by Philadelphia Phillies batting instructor Hal McRae. "Choking up doesn't affect your power at all," says McRae. "Most guys don't know that."

Bullpen Vehicles

Walk, pal. A major league team might be willing to bring back a car or golf cart if a sponsor dropped some serious dollars, but otherwise the days of relief pitchers being chauffeured from the bullpen to the mound have passed.

This is just as well for both relievers' cardiovascular health and teams' insurance liability. As former big-league catcher and current Fox broadcaster Jeff Torborg recalls, Dodgers catcher Tom Haller once got behind the wheel of the team's bullpen golf cart to give lefty reliever Jim Brewer a lift to the mound when the grounds-crew driver couldn't be found. Brewer hopped out near the dugout, tossed his jacket to a teammate and crossed back in front of the cart—whereupon Haller accidentally rammed him. This gave new meaning to the baseball expression hit-and-run.

The Brewers were the last team to provide relievers with pen-to-mound transportation: a Harley-Davidson with a sidecar, which only the Kansas City Royals' Hipolito Pichardo seemed to enjoy. Not only did many pitchers find the sidecar embarrassing, but most were also too hefty to fit in it. No pitcher has entered a game on the Harley since 1995.

Some current relievers are amused to hear that their predecessors were ferried to the mound in such luxurious vehicles as the Yankees' pinstriped Datsuns of the early 1970s and the oversized baseball on wheels last used in 1989 by the New York Mets. "If they bring relievers into the game in a cart, what's next?" wonders Seattle's Norm Charlton. "A barbecue pit at first base? A lemonade stand at second?"

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