Willie James: PLAYING THE GAME

There are a lot of little things that go on during a game that the casual fan maybe doesnt really know about – things learned from guys like Amos Otis, Hall McRae, Frank White. Id like to share a few of them. In our day, we played together so long and spent so much time with each other, all the information you could share with the guys coming up behind us would help out. So, we gave up that information. I dont know if they give that information up to the other guy because they might be on a different team tomorrow, but we gave it up. Hal McRae, when he hit second behind me, always used to ask me, Whats he look like? Hows his fastball? I would say, Hey, you better tune it up because hes throwing hard or Hes not throwing as hard today, but his changeup is working. I would give him a picture of what he had to look for when he went up there. When he saw me strike out, he knew the guy was throwing hard fastballs and say something like, Hes throwing it hard, aint he? Id say, Yes, he is because you know I dont miss no fastballs. That was a factor in winning Game 7 of the 1985 World Series. St. Louis pitcher John Tudor would usually go fastball, change, change. My first at-bat he went fastball, fastball. I came back to the dugout and said, Hes doubling up fastballs. The next inning Darryl Motley homers on a second-pitch fastball. Being in the infield is a lot different than the outfield, but one thing Frank White told me really stuck with me over the time, and when I do the clinics now, I tell it to all the kids. Frank said never let the runner get in between you and the ball. What he meant by that is when youre covering second base against a steal, always set up in front of the bag. If the guy is sliding in, then you are in front of him and in position to catch the ball and tag him out. I was on the caravan this past spring (2013), and I was talking to Eric Hosmer. A fan at one of our stops gave us a copy of a video of the 1985 season, I think its called, The Thrill of It All. And were watching it on the bus. Hosmer says, You know, what I noticed at the start of this film Everybody pitched in. Everybody pitched in. I go, You noticed that? He says, Yeah, I noticed that.

I said, I wanted you guys to watch this so when you win, you will learn how to react and how to deal with all of that stuff. Then, we started talking about the game itself. I said, Hos, all you gotta do is look at the scoreboard. The scoreboard will tell you what to do every time you come to bat. He says, Really? Its true. You only have to look at the scoreboard. One out, man on first and second. Its telling you what you need to do everytime you come up there. If you need a single, it tells you. Man on first and third one out. You need a single. You dont need a three-run homer. You just need a single. Its telling you what to do. So, you play the game. You dont worry about your stats or money or any of that. Just look at the scoreboard. Afer you end your career, it adds up. But dont start thinking about where the stats will get you. Thats where trouble comes. Let it happen. You dont need your manager telling you what to do. The scoreboard will tell you. He looked at me like, Thats so simple.

Yeah. Thats the game. Amos Otis was great for me. He taught me how to play center field. He told me one thing I always remember. He goes, Always keep the double play in order. I didnt understand that. But he said take your ego out of the throw. If you have a runner going from first to third and you are, I think I can get him you arent going to get him. If its a think I can and you throw the ball to third, the guy who makes the hit is going to go to second. Now the double play isnt in order. You are hurting the team. You are hurting the pitcher. But if I make the throw to second, we hold the runner to first and keep the double play in order. Now, we might get a ground ball and a double play and get out of the inning. So, he says always keep the double play in order. When youre going after the ball, you should know, in your brain, if the ball is hit a certain way I have a chance. If it goes that way, make the throw. If it isnt hit exactly where you know you have a chance, go to second. When he played, he had already thought about it before it happened. You see guys in the big leagues now go, Oh, I can go there … I missed that one. And then you are hurting your team by making a bad decision. So, play it out in your head before it happens on the field. Amos was hard on me in the beginning because I think he knew I would eventually take his position.

But he is also the one who told me how to watch a pitcher and learn his move. He also told me to keep a book on every hitter He didnt have to teach me what he knew, but he did because he didnt want the next person to embarrass center field. I wanted to do that with the next Royals center fielder after me, but I didnt have the chance because they released me. When I was in the minor leagues, I couldnt hit a slider consistently as a right-handed batter. That was the main reason they asked me to move over to the other side. A slider from a right-handed pitcher breaks away from a right-handed batter. It will come at you, then a really good one breaks away. A curve is like a clock. Think about a mental clock from 12 to 6. Thats what they call a good curve ball, 12-6. A curve ball will start off high, then it will drop down. A slider will come off like a fastball and at the last second move away from you. But with a good pitcher, everything they throw is from the same arm motion so you dont know what is coming. What we were taught is that if the guy throws with the same motion for every pitch, then you look at a little square above where his hand comes out. That way instead of looking at his whole body, you are concentrating on the ball coming out of his fingers. So, you dont look at anything else but that little square. Thats one of the things I didnt know as a young hitter. What separates the good hitters from bad hitters is that you know whats coming faster than anybody else. Hall of Famers might recognize the pitch just a mini-second before you see it. For example, George (Brett) always said he could recognize the pitch as soon as it left the pitchers hand. I might see it an inch or two afer he did. But the guys who dont recognize the pitch until its halfway to the plate – they have no chance.

Willie James: PLAYING THE GAME

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