You'll forgive me, I hope, for not weighing in on the deaths of Stan Musial or Earl Weaver yet. Both Hall of Famers passed while I was away from home, and I need to be home to write about them the way I would like. But I'll have something long and heart-felt about Musial tomorrow, and Weaver either tomorrow or Wednesday. Until them, I'm grateful for your forbearance.
I just loved this interview with Giancarlo Stanton (in the L.A. Times). One snippet:
We have this discussion in the office: How big of a deal is strength in hitting? Not necessarily about how far you hit the ball, but a lot of times muscle can be a huge thing in regard to squaring up on an inside pitch and muscling a hit that way.
"Actual muscle isn't a factor. It's more about quickness. They say 'muscle it out,' but it's more about being quick enough to bring your hands inside. When you have to muscle something, you're either late or the ball's in off the plate, so you have to bring your hands in and kind of just hope for the best. It's still a good strategy to always stay inside the ball. And strength, having quick bat speed, also helps. Strength leads to ... if you get jammed, the ball's not going to trickle off. You'll probably hit a blooper over the infield, or even farther."
One thing that's long been apparent to me: You don't need to be immensely strong to hit home runs. Sure, if you're built like Giancarlo Stanton or Mark McGwire or Frank Howard, you've got a chance to hit the ball a long, long way. But Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were not large men; Aaron was listed at six feet even, while Mays -- and this always surprises me a little -- was listed at just 5'10". Yeah, that's right: a man who didn't come close to six feet tall hit 660 home runs.
I doubt if Aaron or Mays ever hit them as far as Stanton hits them, though.
You've hit some absolute bombs but have also been somewhat nagged by strikeouts (166 in 2011, 143 in 2012). Do those numbers bother you, or is it something that comes with the territory of being a power hitter?
"They bug me. I hate striking out, but at the same time I'm much better at letting them go, rather than earlier in my career worrying about it so much before the next at-bat against the guy. You grow as you play, and every year I work to cut them down. I hate it, but a popout is the same as a strikeout. It's a matter of productive at-bats, a matter of how you do it. If there's a runner on third with less than two outs, I clearly do not want to strike out."
Stanton seems to have exactly the right attitude about strikeouts. Sure, it would be great if guys these days could hit home runs and not strike out. But I'm not sure that it's possible; I think the pitchers are simply too good, their arm strength allowing them to throw not just faster fastballs, but also more devastating curveballs and sliders and change-ups. I think the hitters simply have less time than they used to have, which means swinging earlier and guessing more. Which means, in turn, more strikeouts. Welcome to the 21st Century.
Now MLB will be testing for human growth hormone. How do you feel about the state of where the game is in rooting out this obvious problem?
"I'm OK with it. It's going to crack down on who's not going by the rules, and hopefully clean it completely with this step. Coming up as a kid, we watched that era go. It was fun to watch, but not at all good for kids to grow up and want to be like those guys. Even for players who have the ability to challenge for a spot on a team clean, battling against guys who are cheating. I'm glad they're doing this."
There's a fairly common belief, I think, that MLB's current drop policy won't necessarily lead to less cheating or illegal drug use; rather, it will simply mean that players work harder to beat the tests. And yes, there will be some of that. But I also believe the game is cleaner than it's been since ... well, since the early or middle 1960s, when amphetamines became so terribly common in baseball's locker rooms. For many years, even when the drugs were illegal and later against baseball's rules, too, everybody just sort of winked.
I don't believe that's true any more. I believe that between the long suspensions and the Hall of Fame voting, there's now a real stigma attached to violating the law and the rules. Or maybe not a stigma, but a fear. Or both; maybe the fear helps create a stigma. For better or worse. I'm not saying I agree with the writers who won't support the Hall of Fame candidacies of Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. Not at all. But we might look more kindly upon them, if we assume their questionable stance is actually helping to clean up the sport.