The pitch: Until Jason Kendall told me, I never knew that I may have once been part of the “Dig-Me Tribe.” “When the catcher throws the ball to second, the second baseman catches it and throws it to the shortstop, the shortstop throws to third, and the third baseman throws the ball back to the pitcher,” Kendall explains on page 23 about what happens once a pitcher is done taking his warmups before an inning.
“If you see the third baseman studding the ball before he gives it to the pitcher, he’s not really accomplishing anything except looking cool: he’s part of the Dig-Me Tribe. You can spot them by their wristbands and the batting gloves hanging out of their back pocket. These are the players who worry about looking pretty.”
And to think, when I did that in Little League some 40 years ago, all I was doing was imitating the big league guys.
Looking for what, on that piece of cowhide covered in plastic coating? I had no idea. You just had to look at the ball before the pitcher did. It was just the way it was done. “But if the pitcher looks closely at the ball, he’s checking the surface for scuffs or nicks,” Kendall continues. “A scuffed or nicked baseball will have extra movement if the pitcher knows what he’s doing. If the pitcher suddenly has extra break on a pitch, you might see the batter ask the umpire to check the ball. He knows something’s not right. Either that or the hitter’s also in the Dig-Me Tribe and just wants to look cool on TV. Those prima-donna players are getting more TV time for themselves. Hey, look how cool I am. I can tell the umpire to check the ball.”
We can dig that, too.
In fact, the more we dig into “Throwback,” the less we realize what we really thought we already knew, so a lot of this really shouldn’t be new to us, but who knew?
And to think, we actually saw this Colin Ferrell look-alike and three-time MLB All-Star back at Torrance High in the early ’90s when he set a national high school record by hitting safely in 43 straight games. Kendall’s greatest assets are being the son of another big-league catcher (Fred Kendall, another Torrance High grad in the late ’60s) and playing the role of one of the most hard-nosed, bad-ass players you could ever have on a roster. No one catches 2,000 games in a 15-year big-league career because they’re necessarily passive about the game. He even lasted longer than usual after a shoulder injury prevented him from lifting his right arm.
Many may not have even been aware of Kendall until he had the horrific ankle break while landing badly on first base trying to leg out a grounder in 1999 (don’t go to YouTube to see it again). But that kind of typified what Kendall was about.
Kendall says it about what a batter should do if he’s hit by a pitch:
“If you get hit by a pitch and you think it was something personal, go get the pitcher. If it wasn’t personal, walk your ass to first base.” This, from someone who goes onto explain why he actually changed the mound twice, once against Joe Kennedy and the other time against John Lackey.
Kendall says it about why he needs to know what a pitcher is throwing to him:
“I’ve got too many other things on my mind. I just called a pitch and I got something I’m not looking for?” It once led to his glove getting put in an awkward position and tearing ligaments in his left thumb.
Kendall says it about cheating:
“It’s not against the rules to bounce a baseball when the catcher throws to second base between innings; if the umpire isn’t paying attention and doesn’t take the ball out of play, is that cheating? You tell us what the rules are and we want to know where the line is: What’s the rule mean? What can I do or not do?”
Get it? Kendall’s no-nonsense approach about slump-busting, cut-off throws, showing up on time and how to argue with an ump without showing him up cuts straight through to what you not only should know, but need to know about how the game is played on this level. When you compare this to whatever Mike Piazza wrote about last year, Kendall goes opposite of the “Dig-Me Tribe” — while everyone else is in the stands may be checking their email on their smart phone, the smart fans have already read this book.
Fact is, Kendall uses the last chapter to make this point clear: “When you’re at a ball game … pay attention to every pitch, especially if you have kids with you … I’ve seen people on cell phones, head down, paying no attention to what’s happening on the field. Players just wince when we see that: Those people are asking for it. … Nothing’s more important than looking out for that kid sitting next to you.”
Sorry to give away the ending, but we just had to.