Cotton Tales

added 1/28/2010 by Cot Deal

AstrosDaily is proud to present more baseball tales from former Colt .45s and Astros coach Cot Deal.

A Batty Test

There once was a man from the west
Who said he knew how to test,
A big leaguer's swing,
So he'd know he should bring,
To home plate the bat that was best.

Two days in Spring Training of 1989: February 28 and March 1, I was part of a very interesting and amusing session, testing major league baseball players.

Al Rosen, San Francisco Giant general manager, agreed to allow A. Terry Bahill, a professor of industrial engineering at the University of Arizona, to do the testing. Rosen was not committed in any way.

Bahill, of course, wanted to sell his services. He had a company he called Bahill Intelligent Computer Systems. His project was to determine by electronic calculation the ideal bat length, weight, and shape each player should use.

Each batter was to swing six different bats, ranging from 17.9 to 49 ounces, through a computerized electronic eye device. The data would provide what a batter would need, he asserted, because the ideal bat weight "is the one that reaches the plateau of ball speed on the plot." He said that the graphs showed, for various bat weights, how much energy the batter put into the swing, the speed of the bat, and the speed that a perfectly hit ball would have.

I was the staff member Rosen assigned to assist Professor Bahill - mainly to be a liaison, to see that the players cooperated. As the professor showed me what he and his technician would be doing he showed me the bats. Each was 35 inches long. The lightest one was just a plastic tube of some kind; the heaviest was an aluminum bat filled with water.

He started with the first one. "This is the A bat. We have labeled each one alphabetically for easier identification," he said, then added, "A for Hank Aaron, B for Babe Ruth, C for Ty Cobb, D for Dizzy Dean..."

"Whoa - wait a minute," I interrupted, "How come you are doing a test on hitters - and are naming your bats after the great hitters - then all of a sudden throw a pitcher's name in there?"

"Well, we couldn't think of the name of a great hitter starting with a D."

"How about DiMaggio?"

"Who's DiMaggio?"

I didn't even try to stifle my laughter, and didn't bother to tell him about Joe DiMaggio, but this alerted me that this man and his technician knew nothing about baseball.

His device was to show how fast each swing was as it triggered the sensors. From this, he would measure each player's ability to accelerate the bats of various weights, which would then tell him the weight at which each batter swung with the maximum efficiency.

Now let's be realistic. Most of the players were cooperative, but more in a perfunctory way than with believable enthusiasm. Will Clark, for example, just laughed at it as he went through the motions, "You mean to tell me that %$#@ thing is going to make me a better hitter?"

A legal bat must be a single piece of solid wood, no more than 42 inches long or more than 2.75 inches in diameter. There is no limit on its weight. There are no rules governing the shape of the bat. Baseballs are 2.9 inches across. When a batter competes with a big league fastball he has less than half a second to determine what path the ball is taking, where it will be at the point of contact, then try to hit it on the very small spot on the bat that produces the best drive.

Before the testing began, I was compelled to ask some questions: Did he take into account whether the batter choked the bat or not? Or how much? And what about hand strength? We know a hitter has to have strong hands or "they'll knock the bat right out of your hands." And the quality of wood - what about that? Or is he using an aluminum bat?

"Your tests don't have them hitting against anything," I said. "How can you tell, then, about impact? By impact, I mean the time of the ball and bat collision? Impact resistance must be a key factor."

At that time I was the Giants' minor league hitting coach. Hillerich & Bradsby, the Louisville Slugger bat company, had made me a special bat I designed for training purposes. It was 36 inches long, with a three-inch knob on the small end, and weighed 40 ounces. My purpose was to show the value of balance, and that by choking up on a bat the hitter would not only have better balance, but would produce more bat speed.

"Well, that would not be the case from a physics standpoint," he said. "Would you mind, just for my curiosity," I asked, "doing a couple of tests with my 40 ouncer?"

"Why, no - I would be glad to."

I hustled to my locker and brought back my Deal S234. We went through the two days of testing with little difficulty. Most of the players enjoyed the diversion, and so did I. Nobody took it too seriously. We would not have the results until they organized all the data.

On March 14th, I got a large Manila envelope in the mail. I could hardly wait to open it. Professor Bahill had written a letter to Mr. Rosen, with a copy to Cot Deal. Individual reports on the players were enclosed. It was an impressive set of reports - graphs and all. As I read it, I envisioned a stand-up comedian - an expert on double talk - doing his routine with an extensive set of graphs and tables. I won't quote the whole thing, but I think you'll get a kick out of this portion:

Imagine an experiment where a pitcher alternately throws 20 white balls and 20 yellow balls to a batter who alternately hits with a 32 or a 34-ounce bat. Imagine then going into the outfield and looking at the distribution of the balls. You would not see the yellow balls or the white balls consistently farther out. Variability in the pitch and the location of the contact point between the bat and the ball would obscure any differences. However, in our instrument we can accurately measure bat speed and, without error, calculate the resulting batted-ball speed. Our calculations show that this curve is flat. This knowledge should help eliminate futile experimentation with bat weights, trying to get higher batted-ball speed. However, remember our tests say nothing about accuracy. So if a batter does not think that he gets better accuracy with a lighter bat then he may still wish to experiment to find the bat weight that gives him the best control.

"In this report, we recommend a range of bat weights for each player. As long as the player is within this range there will be less than a one percent variation in batted-ball speed caused by varying bat weights. We also give the computed ideal bat weight for each player. We believe this weight gives the optimum in the batted-ball speed versus controllability trade-off. However, bat availability and player preference will certainly cause most players to select other than our calculated ideal bat weight. As long as their chosen bat weight is within the recommended range, we are sure that they will suffer less than a one percent drop in batted-ball speed. What does a one percent decrease in batted-ball speed mean? A ball that would normally travel 333 feet would only travel 330 feet. This does not seem significant."

You might want to read that again. When I read it I broke into another laugh.

The two he tested for me with my Deal S234 were Matt Williams and Kirt Manwaring. At the bottom of Matt's was a handwritten note that said, "Matt Williams swung your bat with the big knob at 63 mph. 63 mph corresponds to a 30 oz. bat. So your 40 oz. bat with a big knob acts like a 30 oz. bat!"

And at the bottom of the Manwaring page: "Kirt swung your 40 oz. bat with a big knob at the same speed that he swung our 33 oz. bat." On the "Calculation of ideal bat weight for Matt Williams" sheet, it stated: "Matt has an ideal bat weight of 26.50 oz., giving a ball speed of 110 mph. Matt normally uses a 33 oz. bat."

Again, I laughed. No such bat is available, except one of aluminum or a substance not accepted in professional baseball. The good hitters throughout the history of the game have used different bats at different times. Sometimes they would change to adjust to certain pitchers. Many would go to lighter bats on days when they hadn't had a good night's sleep - or late in the season after having played 150 or more games.

Hall-of-Famer Paul Waner said he often "just grabbed a bat out of the rack" - any bat - swung it a time or two to find its best balance point, and used it in the game. Babe Ruth's bats, by figures from Hillerich & Bradsby, ranged from 40 to 54 ounces. Can you imagine swinging a bat like that? And the Herculean Babe held it near the knob. Ty Cobb choked up a few inches. He started his career with a forty ouncer, but went down to 35 ounces near the end of his playing days.

Scientific terms like center of percussion, maximum energy transfer point, center of gravity, speed of batted ball, interaction of bat on ball, elasticity of the bat, elasticity of the ball, coefficient of restitution, and only the laboratory experts know what else, are mind-boggling to us average people. I never heard a hitter use any one of those terms.

One of the great sluggers - I don't recall which - said, "I can't hit and think at the same time." Think about that statement; it's profound. He was saying, in fact, that he did not allow extraneous thinking to get in his way. He was able to isolate his concentration on the very difficult job at hand - a true form of genius in itself.

Ted Williams said that proper thinking is fifty percent of effective hitting. Both philosophies eliminate thinking about the wrong things. Williams kept a variety of weights and a set of scales for precision.

There is one story about a time when John Hillerich of the Louisville Slugger company was going to have some fun with Williams. He lined up six bats, one of them being a half-ounce heavier than the others. He had Williams close his eyes and see if he could pick out the heavier bat. He picked it out twice in a row.

Now I don't intend, as I sit here writing and chuckling, to imply that Professor Bahill's intentions were anything but honorable - and I do not profess to have answers of rebuttal - but can't you just imagine the reaction of a Ted Williams, or a Babe Ruth, or a Hank Aaron, if you would use this sort of test to say, "This is what the computer says you should use?"

My Fan

It's good for the ego to hear nice things,
About something you hope to achieve,
But one never knows,
About him who bestows,
Or just what it is you'll receive.

Signing autographs is part of baseball. It has recently become such a monetary issue that many players sign for money only. Those who sell autographs have driven them. This has made it tough for the youngster who truly wants the autograph for his own collection, but some of them have become mercenary too.

When I was in the big leagues I tried to get out on the field early because there were always some kids near the dugout wanting autographs. This was before charging for autographs set in. However, my autograph was never enough in demand that I would have been bothered by the torment of money anyway and, since 1985 was my last year in the big leagues, I have never known the problem.

One day as a visiting coach in Yankee Stadium I was standing by the dugout gabbing with the kids, and signing everything from baseballs to gum wrappers. We were having fun. They got a kick out of my Oklahoma accent and I got a kick out of theirs.

I heard, "Gimmie a bohl, Mistah," from most of them.

"Sorry, I'm not allowed to give balls away," I tried to explain. "Besides, we need them, and since we're on the road we don't have any extra ones. Maybe you'll catch one."

I wonder how many times I have tried to explain that, knowing all the time my trying was futile.

"Mistah Deal, you're my favorite coach," I heard one little ragamuffin say.

"Well, thank you," I responded.

"Yeah, and I betcha I'm one of yer best fans too."

"I appreciate it."

"Mistah Deal, could ya maybe sneak a bohl outa da clubhouse for one of yer best fans?"

"Son, I'm sorry, but I just can't give you a ball."

About that time the rest of the team came onto the field and started loosening up for pregame batting practice. It was time for me to get to work.

I turned and started for the dugout. As I was walking away I heard the loud, shrill voice of my staunch admirer: "YOU OLE' B******!"

Roger Maris

We all think people should spare us
Their ire even though we harass,
To wit the sports lion,
When hecklers keep tryin'
Like the case of maligned Roger Maris.

I spent one season with Roger Maris. In 1965, I was the pitching coach for the New York Yankees. Roger was the home run king, and was popular with his teammates, but not with a number of the news media.

In May, he broke a bone in his hand. Nobody told him it was broken. Nobody told the media. Each day the report was "day by day." He tried at times to take batting practice, but couldn't grip the bat. I know the feeling. I broke a bone in my hand one time and it took me a year before I could shake hands without pain.

Years later, he told writer Peter Golenbock, "I didn't find out about it until about a week before the season was over in September."

I remember talking with him about it. "Cot," he said, "I just can't grip the bat."

Some time later, he got back in the lineup in spite of the pain, and popped a hamstring chasing a flyball. Out six weeks. He played 43 games the whole season.

His problems with the media started back in 1961 when he was chasing the Babe Ruth home run record. Many of them, and fans, gave him no privacy. He couldn't eat a meal in a restaurant without being hounded. He couldn't get through the lobby of a hotel. He had trouble getting to his car from the clubhouse, or to the team bus when the Yankees were on the road.

Roger Maris was a quiet, private person. Although he tried to be polite and cooperative, he did react unfavorably to some of the senseless questions put to him by new or inept reporters. As a result antipathy set in from both sides. He was called a whiner, a malingerer, envious of Mickey Mantle's prestige, a malcontent ... and who knows what else. Some said he and Mantle didn't get along. Absolute hogwash.

Ralph Houk was general manager of the Yankees in 1965. Why he didn't tell Maris about the break, and why he chose to describe Maris' condition as "day by day", he only knows, but it was very unfair to Maris. I coached for Houk later when he was the field manager at Detroit, and I remember seeing him grin and say, "You gotta tell white lies sometimes". With him it was normal when acting on something like the Maris situation. That certainly doesn't seem like a white lie to me.

The press implied, of course, that Maris just didn't want to play - that he wanted to get that year over with and go to another club. Dan Daniel of the World Telegram wrote, "Maris will have to laugh, even while bleeding internally. If he continues to be the Angry Man, may the Lord have mercy on him. The customers won't."

1965 was a miserable year for the Yankees. Mantle was able to hit only .255 with 19 home runs and 46 RBIs. Maris hit .239 with eight homers and 27 RBIs. Tony Kubek batted .218 with five home runs and 35 RBIs. Jim Bouton won four games, Jim Stafford three, Al Downing had 12, Pete Mikkelsen four. Injuries to position players and pitchers made it a long year. I had decided at the All Star break that I was going to resign at the end of the year, but they beat me to it. They fired me with two weeks to go. I did make some real friends, though and, after all, the world has needed scapegoats for thousands of years.

Maris did change teams. In 1967 and 1968, he helped the St. Louis Cardinals win two pennants, then retired to go into business as a Budweiser distributor in Gainesville, Florida. He had been popular in St.Louis with fans and the press alike.

I shall never forget, while sitting at a table in front of the speakers' stand at the winter baseball meetings banquet in 1969, seeing him walk from the back of the room to our table to say hello to me. I'd like to know more bad guys like him.

Cot Deal coached the Colt .45s from 1962-1964 and coached the Astros from 1983-1985. He also managed Houston farm teams in Oklahoma City during 1968 and 1969 as part of a career in baseball that spanned five decades, including as a major league player with the Cardinals and Red Sox.

The above stories are used by permission from the book Cot In The Act (c) 1992 by Cot Deal. All rights reserved.