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Introduction to Good as Gold Play
In what other sport do you have an opportunity to be great at a multitude of things to help your team win? Baseball is it.
This book is about developing a full understanding and enjoyment of the game, to the point that you want to be good in every phase of it. Learning baseball's fundamentals will give you a good understanding of what the game's all about. That's why you should read this book.
Good As Gold is not just about hitting, and it's not just about pitching. It's about being a complete player and having an overall enjoyment of playing baseball. If you're a good hitter but a poor fielder, for instance, you're not going to enjoy all the phases of the game. As a true player, you want to be good at defense. You want to be a good hitter. You want to be a good base runner. You want to be a good thrower. If you neglect any of those areas, then you are not really enjoying your career as a baseball player as much as you could.
For young players, it's just as great to get a good hit as it is to make a great defensive play. One thing that little kids love to do in baseball is slide. They love to hit one in the gap and be able to run the bases properly in order to slide into third base with a triple. That's an awesome feeling! That's what this book is about.
The term "fundamental baseball," which you'll see throughout the book, to me means being the best fundamentally sound player that you can be. Be a good hitter. Be a good base runner. Be a good defensive player. Be a smart player. Be a player who thinks through a possible situation before the ball is pitched. Be a good team player.
Concentrating on baseball's fundamentals is no different than any task that you undertake. In any task, you have to learn the basics to be good at it. You should try to be as perfect an all-around player as you can be. Baseball requires you to think. Unlike most sports, baseball has no playbook. In baseball, you have to pre-think the play before it happens. On every pitch, you need to know what you're going to do if the ball is hit in your direction. Then, when the ball is hit you can react to that situation. If the ball is hit before you pre-think the play, you may not have time to react.
To be a good all-around player, you need to be a good thinker (see chapter 7). I don't feel that many players make enough of an effort to be the best thinkers on the field. Many players go on the field and hope things happen, instead of going out there and making things happen.
There are three types of baseball players: those who watch things happen; those who make things happen; and those who say, "What happened?" The ones in the last group don't last too long. I want you to have the tools and the mentality to last as long as you can in this game.
Everybody has to go through a process to learn how to play baseball both physically and mentally, with proper fundamentals. Regardless of how good you think you are-and you might have outstanding abilities-you can improve at least one aspect of your game fundamentally. Part of what makes baseball such an interesting sport is that you can be a remarkable athlete and succeed with your natural ability or you can be an average athlete and succeed with strong fundamentals.
The ease, or difficulty, with which a player can learn-or a coach can teach-fundamental baseball depends largely on the individual. Simply reading and applying what you learn from this book will not transform you into a major-league prospect. I can't even guarantee that you'll become a superb defensive player or a feared hitter. However, I can guarantee that the teachings of this book can make you a better player and help you reach your full potential in this great game. Your talent level will dictate how quickly you pick up these ideas and analyze the areas of your game that need improvement. Becoming a better player also will take work and dedication. You can do it.
"Former Pittsburgh Pirate manager Chuck Tanner told me one time that we're all born with a certain amount of ability. It might be a small circle or it might be an enormous one. But, until you become fundamentally comfortable with your own ability, Tanner said, you build confidence. When the confidence comes, you become somewhat bored and start to work on the perimeter of that circle. And, son of a gun, if that circle doesn't start growing... Just because you can't hit as far as Mark McGwire or field like Frank White doesn't mean that you can't have a long career in baseball. With fundamentals, you can play this game for a long time. Players sometimes have a hard time realizing that." -Tony Muser, former big-league player and current coach at the major-league level. I was coaching in Kansas City when he was the manager there, and I know the importance he places on fundamentals.
Learning baseball's fundamentals was one of the biggest keys to helping me enjoy a long career in the game. When my playing career ended with the Kansas City Royals in 1990, I knew immediately that I wanted to somehow teach the game of baseball and apply what I learned as a player. That chance came with the Boston Red Sox organization. I managed their Gulf Coast Rookie League team in 1992, before joining the big-league club for three years (1994-96) as their first base coach. I rejoined the Royals in 1997 in the same capacity, which included serving as the first base coach, the base running coach, and the outfielder's coach. After the 2001 season, I moved up to the front office as a special assistant to the general manager, Allard Baird, with responsibilities to assistant general manager Muzzy Jackson and team president Dan Glass. I was involved in various aspects of the club, but the bulk of the job included scouting and evaluating players and coaches. In 2004, I moved back to the field, managing the Royals class AA team in Wichita, Kansas.
Like many boys, my love of baseball began early in life with my dad. That love grew throughout my childhood in a neighborhood where you could find a pick-up game all summer. When baseball was in season, we were out there playing. I started playing the game when I was about nine years old. I really wasn't taught how to play baseball, though. Like most young players, I just wanted to get out there and play.
My high school didn't have a baseball team, but I played in various summer leagues throughout my high school years. I joined the Royals organization as a player after a successful tryout for their experimental baseball school called the Baseball Academy. As players in this program, we were drilled on playing baseball properly. We worked on fundamentals all afternoon, six days a week. In fact, we worked on fundamentals before we played games. (I proudly say that in 1973 I became the first "graduate" of the Academy to make it to the major leagues.)
"When Frank came up to the majors, he had a lot of talent but he wasn't dripping with it. A lot of his longevity came from learning the game's fundamentals and working at them. A lot of players don't understand that philosophy... Too many bad things happen when your house is built on sand. Fundamentals are the foundation of your baseball career. That's how important they are. Frank understood that idea as a young player and applied those fundamentals."-Tony Muser
Through a ton of hard work and perseverance, I enjoyed a successful 18- year career with the Royals from 1973 to 1990. I took a lot of pride in being known as a strong defensive player, winning eight Rawlings Gold Glove Awards at second base. During my career, which spanned 2,324 major league games, I had a lifetime batting average of .255 with more than 2,000 hits, and the high honor of hitting cleanup for our 1985 world championship team.
Teaching baseball's fundamentals is important to me because I know how important they are in the overall appearance and performance of a player. There are too many people in the game today-even at the major-league level-who don't understand how to play properly. It's not that they can't understand, they just have to want it. A coach can teach you fundamentals until he's blue in the face, but you need to have a desire to learn and a desire to succeed before you're really going to hear his message. The same holds true for my coaching you through this book.
My main goal for Good As Gold is to help you improve your fundamental baseball skills to become a better player or coach. This book is written for baseball players at all levels, from little leaguers to major leaguers, and for those who coach them. It is intended to give you a tool that you can use yearround to improve your skills. Becoming a good baseball player takes a lot of hard work. In order to have a long and successful baseball career, you should strive to master every area of the game. If you are a good defensive player who can't hit, you won't be as valuable to your team. If you can hit the ball, but you catch a cold easier than you can catch a ball, you won't be as valuable to your team. If you have a cannon for an arm in the outfield but you couldn't hit the cut-off man if he were 10 feet tall, you won't be as valuable to your team. If you're a fast runner but you don't know how to run the bases properly, you won't be as valuable to your team. Do you get the picture? A complete, fundamentally sound player can have a long life in baseball.
"To be a complete player, you have to work at all of the fundamentals. When I went down to the batting cage, I worked on hitting the ball to right field and then up the middle and then to left. I always had a plan when I went in there. When the rest of my group was hitting, I'd run around the bases three or four times, working on my base running. In the outfield during BP, I had a coach hitting the ball off the wall so I could work on that aspect. I worked on all phases because I didn't want to be a one-dimensional player. You only get better when you continuously work at getting better." -Amos Otis, five-time All-Star outfielder, and one of the most fundamentally sound, all-around players I've seen
I hope this book will help potential baseball players want to be complete baseball players. You don't want to be good only at hitting. You don't want to be good only at defense. You want to be an all-around player so that when you're done playing the game, you can be confident that you were the best player that you could be.
There are lots of major-league players who are good all-around players. Two who come to mind immediately are outfielder Kenny Lofton and second baseman Roberto Alomar. Players such as Lofton and Alomar know how to exploit the other team's inexperience. They know how to think at the plate.
They know how to think well defensively. They know what they can do and what they cannot do. They don't try to do things on the field that they know they can't do. Those are things that make you a good player, a smart player. I will often use the word "smart" in this book, because if you're going to be a superstar, you need to think on the field. There haven't been many great players who weren't smart on the field.
Over the next several chapters, you will be taught the fundamentals of nearly every aspect of baseball-defense, hitting, base running, throwing, conditioning plus the mental side. Again, to be a "complete" player, you must work on each of these areas.
It's important for all players to learn how to hit and how to catch. Beyond that, it's important to learn the other phases of the game and what it takes to win. That's not to say that this book is going to help you win every battle at the plate, or that you'll never make an error in the field, but by reading this book you will have a better knowledge of what to do and in what situation to do it. Learning the when-tos and when-not-tos often progresses a player's development.
Throughout my career, I've been around some of baseball's greatest players, managers, thinkers, and young stars. Since I'm not an expert at every facet of baseball, some of those great influences will share their knowledge and experience all through the book, in various quote boxes. You've already seen a couple of examples. Throughout the book, these guys will offer advice or point out the most difficult aspect of fundamental baseball for them.
Besides those quote boxes, there will be other sidebars that you'll notice. I've added "White's Words of Wisdom," which are some dos and don'ts that I recommend you follow to improve your baseball skills.
In the interest of political correctness, I want to address the usage of some words you'll frequently come across in the text. Baseball is a game that has grown in popularity for boys AND girls. And why not? If girls want to play baseball and can, they should be allowed to. However, throughout Good As Gold I use male genders-he, his, him, etc.-to eliminate confusion in switching back and forth. On the flip side of that, baseball is one sport that has a different term for its head coach: manager. I realize that high school and college levels oftentimes use "head coach" instead of "manager." In this book, they mean the same.
One of the most important points that I'd like you to take from this book is that baseball is like a chess match-there are basic moves, but every now and then you have to improvise through instincts.
Despite popular opinion, the game is not all about hitting. There are many teams that could improve if they only played better fundamental baseball -bunting, hitting behind runners, advancing runners, running the bases to exploit the defense, making the right decisions defensively, outfielders hitting cut-off men. There are many keys to being a championship team other than just hitting.
Until teams start developing smarter players-guys who are willing to be good all-around players-those teams are going to suffer. There's no secret to why certain teams win all the time. At the major-league level you can look at clubs that seem to be in the playoff hunt each year, like the New York Yankees and the Atlanta Braves. They're in a great position every year largely because they play fundamentally sound baseball.
Baseball is a sport that can be enjoyed by everyone. Simply put, the game is fun. In a story you'll see detailed later in the book, my dad told me, "If you're going to play this game, then you have to learn how to enjoy this game. The only way you learn how to enjoy this game is to play the game."
Good As Gold might not answer every question you have about playing baseball (although it'll come close), but it certainly will teach you how to play fundamentally. When you know how to become a fundamentally sound player, you'll become a better player, you'll help your team become better, and you will make this great game even more enjoyable for yourself, your teammates, coaches, and even the spectators.
So, grab your gear and let's go...