Wednesday, March 08, 2006

The Mighty Dinger

Welcome to Wild-Card Wednesdays here at BaseballForThought.com- where we take the opportunity to present to you with a "surprise" column. On which topics you ask? Show up to find out! WCW will also be where you can find the lovely Fanatic's Wife - you can read her first column here.

This week, we pay homage to the home run. Sure, the star of the home run has waned recently in light of the steroid era. Not long ago, we lived in an time where guys like Brady Anderson could hit 50 home runs, or where Sammy Sosa could hit over 60 HR three times, and not lead the league any of those years. It took 37 years to break the single-season HR record in 1998 with 70 HR, and just three more years to do it again with 73. Of course, this obsession with power - both by players and fans- did come with a price. As baseball moves to rid the sport of the pox of steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs, it still has many questions to answer regarding its role in this whole mess- what it knew, and what it allowed to occur in spite of that knowledge. And as this recent article exposing Barry Bonds will attest, there's a lot out there that we never knew- and may never know. Perhaps we may never want to know- the scandal's too ugly, and baseball too pure.

Nonetheless, we still love the homer. The unethical actions of some cannot take away from the pure thrill generated by the shot outta the park. No single hit can change the outcome of a game as quickly- or as dramatically- as a home run. Whether you call it a homer, a dinger, a round-tripper, a four-bagger, a tater, a bomb, a shot or a jack, the home run still holds a mighty place in our hearts.

This week only, exclusively at Baseball For Thought, we have brought together some of the greatest players of all time to discuss- what else? The home run.

So tell me men- what's the secret to hitting a home run?:
1. Barry Bonds: "I think of myself as 'catching' the ball with my bat and letting the pitcher supply the power." (note: I thought it was Greg Anderson supplying the power? Sorry. I'll be quiet from now on)
2. Babe Ruth: "How to hit home runs: I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball...The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I've got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can."
3. Sammy Sosa: "To tell the truth, I never think about a homer. I'm just thinking of the situation and what I've got to do when I go to the plate....I'm not trying for home runs. I'm trying to hit to right field more. When I do that, the home run comes."-
4. Mickey Mantle: "Somebody once asked me if I ever went up to the plate, trying to hit a home run. I said, "Sure, every time.""
5. Willie Stargell: "I'm always amazed when a pitcher becomes angry at a hitter for hitting a home run off him. When I strike out, I don't get angry at the pitcher, I get angry at myself. I would think that if a pitcher threw up a home run ball, he should be angry at himself."

Really. So how can I really get a hold of one?

1. Mark McGwire: "Some of the longest home runs I've hit, I didn't actually realize they were going that far. Everyone says, 'What does it feel like to hit the ball that far?' Actually, there's no feeling at all. I know when the ball meets the bat whether or not it's left the park. It's a nice easy thing."
2. Mickey Mantle: "When I hit a home run I usually didn't care where it went. So long as it was a home run was all that mattered."

I see. You know, most men will never know the thrill of taking a ML pitcher deep in a real game. Tell us, how exciting is it to hit a homer?
1. Reggie Jackson: "God do I love to hit that little round son-of-a-bitch out of the park and make 'em say 'Wow!'"
2. Hank Aaron: "The triple is the most exciting play in baseball...Home runs win a lot of games, but I never understood why fans are so obsessed with them." (source )

Totally agree, Reggie. Now here's an interesting question: Would you rather have a high average, or hit lots of dingers?
1. Roberto Clemente: "I am more valuable to my team hitting .330 than swinging for home runs."
2. Babe Ruth: "If I'd just tried for them dinky singles I could've batted around .600."

Oh, look at the time. Please, tell us more before we have to go...Closing thoughts? Advice? Observations? Stories? God, do we love the stories.

1. Frank Robinson, on the increase in home runs of late: "Probably the most dramatic change in pitching I've observed in my years in baseball has been the disappearance of the knockdown or brushback pitch. This is why record numbers of home runs are flying out of ballparks, why earned run averages are soaring, and why there are so few twenty game winners in the majors."
2. Babe Ruth, on the importance of education: "Reading isn't good for a ballplayer. Not good for his eyes. If my eyes went bad even a little bit I couldn't hit home runs. So I gave up reading."
3. Joe Dimaggio, on big ballparks: "I came up twice in the game with the bases loaded and both times I hit balls into the alley, four-hundred and fifty feet away. Home runs in any other park. Well, each time my own brother robbed me by making catches on the warning track. Instead of a possible eight RBI, or at least five or six, I got nothing. That night, Dom (Dimaggio) came over to my place for dinner. I remember letting him in the door and then not speaking to him until we were almost done eating. I was that mad."
4. Ralph Kiner, on the sheer complexity of the game: "Solo homers usually come with no one on base"

Thank you men, for your time.


The preceding quotations were courtesy of baseball-almanac.com, unless otherwise noted.

Wild-Card Wednesdays appear every Wednesday

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