- TOP PLAYERSOffensePABLO S. TORRE | August 20, 2012
- TAMPA BAY buccaneersENEMY lines WHAT A RIVAL COACH SAYSJune 28, 2012
- Faces in the CrowdJune 11, 2001
"Walkie!" yelled a teammate, "you're on deck!" it was 1980 and Bob Walk was a 23-year-old rookie pitcher with the Philadelphia Phillies, playing his second major league game. He was the next batter up and hadn't realized it. Walk bounced off the bench, ran to the on-deck circle and began to get loose. He was nervous and excited. "I got to the plate," says Walk, "I looked around and thought, Oh——, I forgot my bat! I turned around, and our whole team was on the floor of the dugout, laughing. I had to walk all the way back to the dugout and pick out a bat. It was embarrassing. I think that was the day I got the nickname Whirlybird."
A major league pitcher went to the plate without a bat. "It's an idea whose time has come," notes Pittsburgh Pirate third base coach Rich Donnelly. Indeed. Last year National League pitchers combined to hit a pitiful .138, and here are just a few of the lowlights: The San Francisco Giants' John Burkett went 1 for 55 (.018); the San Diego Padres' Andy Benes had an 0-for-54 stretch (then snapped it with four hits in his next four at bats); Greg Maddux, regarded by many as the game's best-hitting pitcher, batted only 170 with the Chicago Cubs.
When Larry Andersen did not get a hit in his only at bat with the Padres last year, his career average dropped to .108—a figure he disputes. "I've gone downhill since I started the '88 season 2 for 2, hitting 2.000," says Andersen, who is now with the Phillies. "The best part about my [statistical] system is, if you're 2 for 2 and then make an out, you only drop to 1.500. I've played 10 years in the National League, and I've got four hits, so I'm 4 for 10, a lifetime .400 hitter. Elias [Sports Bureau, baseball's official statistician] does it differently than I do. But they have a tendency to make you look really bad." Bad? Here's bad.
•In 1962 Bob Buhl set the major league record for most at bats in a season without a hit, 70, when he pitched for the Milwaukee Braves and the Cubs.
•In 1969 Bill Stoneman of the Montreal Expos went 4 for 73 with 55 strikeouts.
•In 1971 San Francisco righthander Ron Herbel finished his nine-year career with an .029 average (6 for 206), a major league-record low for any player with at least 100 at bats.
•In 1991 Philadelphia pitcher Jose DeJesus punched out in 14 straight at bats, tying the major league record.
•Lefthander Jim Deshaies had no extra-base hits in 367 at bats during eight seasons with the Houston Astros and the Padres, leaving him four at bats short of Virgil Barnes's major league record. A free agent in the off-season, Deshaies signed with the Minnesota Twins. "My detractors will say I went to the AL to duck the record," Deshaies says.
Why are pitchers such bad hitters? It's especially odd when you consider that many of them were good hitters in high school or college, often the best athletes on their teams. "I hit 10 homers my senior year in high school," says Herbel. "But I didn't have to face Koufax and Drysdale in high school." And here are three other reasons why the typical pitcher looks as if he has never swung a bat in his life.
1) Lack of practice . Hitting a baseball is as difficult a skill to master as any in all of sports, and you don't get any better at it by taking batting practice against a coach who is throwing 65 mph. "BP is a joke," says Donnelly. "All the pitchers try to do is hit home runs." The best way to improve as a hitter is to face a pitcher who is trying to get you out. In the National League nowadays, with five-man rotations and ever-ready bullpens, a starting pitcher might get, at best, 80 official at bats; and in the American League, of course, since the arrival of the designated hitter in 1973, pitchers almost never get to the plate.