One of the biggest differences I have seen in baseball over the last ten years is the failure of outfielders to consistently throw home with speed and accuracy. I know a lot of other people who have made the same observation.
Today it seems that even on lazy fly balls to mid outfield, runners are tagging at third and scoring easily as invariably the ball is thrown up the line, even if it makes it past the pitcher’s mound.
One of my greatest thrills in watching baseball at Tiger Stadium occurred in 1969 in a game against the Orioles. I had the perfect perch to see what happened because I was sitting in an upper deck box seat right over home plate.
A ball was hit to Al Kaline deep in right field as Baltimore’s Paul Blair prepared to tag from third.
Ranked in major league baseball history as having one of the games’ greatest outfield arms, no one was better than Kaline in terms of positioning himself and then rifling the ball in with one powerful, fluid motion.
As Kaline caught the ball, Blair took off from third. But nearly halfway to home he stopped and scrambled back to the bag as Kaline threw a missile to catcher Bill Freehan on the fly. The entire crowd stood as one giving number six a standing ovation.
Now of course not everyone had Kaline’s arm but I can tell you that many outfielders back then could throw accurately to home plate.
Eleven years ago Sport Illustrated ran a piece by Jeff Pearlman called “Launchpad” about outfielders’ arms. In that article, Pearlman quoted an anonymous National League scout:
“Nobody throws well from the outfield these days. Arms are so weak we grade on a curve. Guys who are good, we grade great. Guys who are terrible — they’re still terrible, but there are a lot more of them.”
Pearlman observed that kids simply don’t throw the ball enough when they are growing up. He wrote:
Baseball officials bemoan the American schoolboy’s limited dedication to the simple rites of baseball development—tossing a ball back and forth with a friend, pitching against the garage door.
Recently I had the opportunity to ask Al Kaline why the outfield arms are so weak and inaccurate. Here is his very candid observation:
“The outfielders really need to be practicing making long throws because sometimes you can go several games before you have to make a long or hard throw” said Kaline. “They don’t do it at all. Today the outfielders play long catch before the game, and they work on the outfield walls when they go to another ballpark but they don’t regularly practice throwing home like we did when I played. They just don’t do it. Throwing in game conditions is a lot different then just playing long catch in the outfield. In a game you have to move your feet a lot faster and you don’t have time to set up and throw. Today it seems when they have to do it they are not very accurate with their throws. I don’t know why they don’t practice throwing home at least once every series just to get used to game situations as you possibly can. I don’t think anybody does it anymore,” said the Tiger legend.
I used to love to go to Tiger Stadium for the pregame practice and watch a coach hit fungo fly balls to Kaline, Jim Northrup, Mickey Stanley, and Willie Horton and then see them peg the ball home to Freehan on one hop.
It looks like that ritual stayed at Michigan and Trumbull because apparently at Comerica Park the outfield throwing “practice” is taking place during the game.
What a shame.