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Stop-watch timing has demonstrated that in a baseball game which runs three hours there will be a scant 20 to 25 minutes of action—action, that is, in the sense of a ball being thrown or batted or a player moving around the bases. These figures have been offered as evidence that the game is slow and boring. The argument is sound enough for the spectator who knows nothing at all about baseball. It would apply with equal logic to chess where the moments of movement are even fewer and farther between. Indeed, comparison between the two games on this basis is by no means farfetched. Baseball, like chess, requires the planning ahead of many moves and the anticipation of the opponent's likely countermoves. Both offer a nearly infinite variety of possible ways of trying to win. Consideration of all these possibilities and alternatives is what occupies players when nothing seems to be happening. This is a pursuit in which the alert spectator can join; if he does, the "dull" passages will disappear, and he will find such outbursts of action as the Dodger pick-off play (right) coming as the logical culmination of team strategy which he too has anticipated.
Even the simplest of situations in baseball—a man at bat at the start of an inning—is rich in strategic possibilities. The pitcher and catcher have observed this batter for some time and made mental (or even written) notes about his style. If he is a fidgeter, the pitcher will often delay his delivery as long as possible to increase the tension. If he tends to step away from the approaching ball as he swings, the pitcher will try to keep the ball low and outside since, even if he connects with the pitch, he will not be in position to apply maximum force to it. The pitcher will throw high to a batter who takes too long a stride forward as he swings, so the ball will cross his body above shoulder height. Then, if he hits it at all, he will likely pop it up. There are many other batting faults, and good pitcher-catcher teams have catalogued the 170-odd opposing players in their league and try to pitch to each one's specific weakness.
Yet, as in all science, there are imponderables. Some batters betray no faults at all. Others have compensated for flaws with highly individual styles that trap the pitcher into mistaking strength for weakness. Al Simmons earned the nickname of Bucket Foot because he consistently pulled his left foot away from the ball as he swung at it, but he led the American League in hitting for two years in a row. The Yankees' Gil McDougald used to hit this way ("one foot in the bucket," it's called). One afternoon every pitch save one thrown to him by the White Sox' Billy Pierce was either wide of the plate or on the outside corner. The one throw that split the plate came on a 3-0 count, when the batter often will take the pitch anyway. The result of this strategy is worth noting: McDougald got no hits, but he walked twice as Pierce kept missing the far corner. McDougald changed his stance last season and now places both feet in a line with the pitcher's mound and steps directly into each delivery. It helped boost his 1955 batting average 26 points over '54.
The pitcher must also consider whether the batter is a pull or opposite-field hitter. Since the pull hitter is so called because he usually swings early, it is reasonable to assume that he will hit fast balls better than any other type and will be fooled more easily by a change-of-pace pitch. The reverse is true of an opposite-field hitter, whose normal swing is late. So far so good—but there are a few hitters, like the Giants' Don Mueller, who will pull an inside pitch (he's a lefty) to right, push an outside pitch past third base and lift a grooved pitch just over the second baseman's head.
Finally, none of the foregoing takes into account the fact that a good pitcher does not plan just one pitch at a time, no matter who is at bat. He plans in series, taking a different amount of time between pitches, delivering each one at a different speed to upset the batter's timing, and moving the ball around from one side of the plate and one extremity of the strike zone to the other. Few have ever done this better than Sal Maglie, whose success depends on forcing hitters to adapt to each successive delivery as he maneuvers the ball around the confines of a strike zone only 17 inches wide and a few feet high. His first pitch may be waist high, come in toward the heart of the plate and then curve down and away, forcing the batter to reach if he wants to hit it. The next may be shoulder high, seem to head straight for the batter, then curve in over the inside corner as the batter steps back. With the batter tense and determined not to be fooled again by the curve, the next pitch, delivered with the same motion as a fast ball, may float up to the plate at half speed; if the batter isn't surprised, his eager, early swing may still cause him to pull the ball widely foul. When his control is right Maglie's sequence of pitches is beautiful to behold and a challenge not only to the batter but to the alert spectator. Incidentally, the hitter who keeps moving his bat back and forth after the pitcher winds up and prepares to release the ball often falls victim to this variety in delivery. Most players take a few preliminary swings while the pitcher is getting his signal, but they bring the bat back, ready to cut, as soon as he goes into the windup. Then all they have to time is the speed of the ball. But the wigwagger has to time both the ball and his own movement back and forth. This batting fault, known as a hand hitch, is fairly common even in the major leagues; among others, the Senators' Johnny Groth, the Dodgers' Sandy Amoros and the Giants' Dusty Rhodes all have it. That many have managed to compensate for this fault too is as obvious as the hitch itself.
THE STRATEGY OF SPEED
There is one type of pitcher to whom few, if any, of these considerations apply. He depends simply on blazing speed to overpower (and intimidate) the batter. Even the most successful of such fast bailers, however, increases his natural advantage over the hitter by adding a curve and/or changeup to his arsenal of pitches for obvious reasons of deception.
Apart from matters of technique the smart pitcher will also play psychological tricks on the batter. On a critical pitch, for example, he may choose to throw to the well-known strength of the man at the plate, depending on surprise to ruin the batter's coordination. Joe DiMaggio has described how he was fooled by just such a maneuver during a 1942 World Series game. As he came to bat in the fifth inning with the bases loaded and two out, DiMaggio was aware that he had been hitting Cardinal Pitcher Johnny Beazley's fast ball consistently well that day and he did not anticipate seeing that pitch again. Sure enough, Beazley's first two deliveries were curves. Then, with the count one and one, an inside fast ball threw DiMaggio completely off balance; he barely managed a feeble tap toward third for the inning-ending forceout.
THE WILLIAMS SHIFT
Before the pitcher goes into his first windup, the other defensive players in the field will also have considered the batter's style and potentialities. Occasionally, even the casual spectator is made aware of this when a whole team obviously adjusts its positions for a particular hitter, as in the famous shift for Ted Williams. One of the greatest hitters the game has known, Williams, who bats left-handed, almost invariably hits to the right side of the diamond. The shift is an attempt to combat this by placing three infielders between first and second base, moving the third baseman about halfway between third and second and swinging the outfielders around toward right also. Despite the shift, Williams maintains a high batting average, but it has been successful during important games, and the question naturally arises why such a superior batter does not cross up so obvious a defense by bunting or pushing the ball toward the left side. Williams does this once in a great while, but a batter's most precious possession is his normal swing, and Williams has developed his, through years of study and practice, to give him maximum power and effectiveness. A series of rhythmic movements that coordinate feet, hips, shoulders, arms, wrists and head make him a long-ball pull hitter. If he repeatedly altered his swing in the attempt to hit to the opposite field, it would damage this coordination and Williams might be unable to perform as a slugger, a skill for which he is paid one of the highest salaries in baseball history. The same principle applies in varying degrees to most other players: they develop a style of batting and stick to it, which is why the opposing team can often reasonably anticipate where a batter will hit a given pitch.