Gods and Mortals

Willie Mays is helping Aaron Rowand:

When Aaron Rowand took a seat at Mays’ table in the Giants’ clubhouse last week, something important was happening. For all the talk of Rowand’s prolonged hitting slump during his first season with the Giants, his fielding troubles might have been more crucial.

Rowand did not always get great jumps on balls and overthrew cutoff men far more than a seven-year major-leaguer should. Mays had some answers. He told Rowand to close the gap between his fingers when he grips the ball and throw more on a downward slope, as a pitcher does. Mays also said Rowand needs to crouch more as the pitch is thrown, allowing for a more catlike step toward long flyballs.

Rowand is a great talker. In this conversation, he was a great listener.

“There’s no doubt he is the greatest center fielder of all time,” Rowand said. “To have a chance to sit down and talk to him, first it’s getting over the intimidation factor. He’s an imposing figure. He’s one of the greatest of all time of anybody who’s ever laced up a pair of cleats.

“Talking to him about playing center field, talking to him about playing balls off the wall, grips, stuff like that, you’re not going to find a better source of information on this planet than the man who did it the best.”

I’ve always been suspicious of immortals like Mays giving tips like this. It’s kind of like Superman telling someone “you just have to sort of will yourself up and you’ll be jumping tall buildings in a single bound in no time.” I’m not saying Mays doesn’t have anything to offer Rowand — indeed, I’m sure he’s forgotten more about pickin’ it in center than Rowand will ever know — but I can’t help but think that there are about 15 levels of talent, knowledge, skill, and work Rowand would have to advance through before really being able to make use of what he’s being told.

Miles Davis didn’t give trumpet lessons to kids in his parlor. Picasso didn’t teach art class at the community college. There’s a reason for that.

(link via BTF)

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  1. Joao said...

    But from the description here, it seems like Mays is giving more than the cliched “you have to will yourself to jump higher” advice.  “Closing fingers”, “downward slope”, “crouch more” all sound, to me, no different from what actual coaches and instructors would advice.

  2. Kelly said...

    Joao, I agree. And if that’s the case, isn’t the real problem the Giant’s coaching staff? Why would it take Willie Mays to tell Rowand this?

    Sometimes it’s difficult to see what value Major League coaches have.

  3. Keith said...

    The Giants’ coaches may have been telling Rowand the same things, but when it’s Willie Freakin’ Mays telling you, you listen!

  4. Aarcraft said...

    One of my favorite stories, along these lines, comes from Bob Gibson’s days as a pitching coach, via Joe Posnanski:

    “I always remember the story of Bob Gibson as a pitching coach wandering out to the mound to tell Rick Mahler to bust the hitter inside with a high fastball and then go away with a slider, fastball up, slider away. Then Gibson walked away and Mahler watched him and thought, “Yeah, sure, if you’re Bob Gibson. I don’t have a fastball OR a slider.”’

  5. Roger Moore said...

    I think you’re overstating the distance between Mays and Rowand.  Rowand is not some bush leaguer who’s being given an extended tryout during spring training.  He’s an established major leaguer who’s a good enough fielder to have wrangled a gold glove (though I’ll admit typical skepticism about gold gloves). 

    Rowand may not be Willie Mays, but he’s maybe only three steps from Mays- established regular to established star to superstar to all-time great- rather than fifteen.  And it’s not as though anyone is pretending that he’s is going to turn into Mays just by getting a few friendly pieces of advice.  This is more about sanding off a few rough corners from Rowand’s game in the hopes that it will make him a smoother player.

  6. matt said...

    I think the better point is that while Mays knows how he played the position and knows how good he was, he doesn’t necessarily know how each thing he did contributed to how good he was. Maybe crouching helped him get a better jump. Or maybe he crouched and got a better jump, but the two were completely unrelated. Still, pretty cool to be able to listen to Willie Mays say anything about baseball regardless of how useful it really is.

  7. Leo said...

    Roger Moore is right.  All major league ballplayers are elite level athletes, not the kid in the “parlor” seeking jazz lessons from Miles Davis.  It’s the littlest things that separate a Willie Mays from an Aaron Rowand and if Rowand can take advantage of some of Mays’ wisdom, it’s not the same as Mays giving his tips to a random man off the street.

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