After featuring pitching strategy from Carl Erskine and Bobby Shantz in this space the last two weeks, today it turns to hitting strategy with former three-time All-Star slugger Frank Thomas.
Thomas clouted 286 home runs in a 16-year career that spanned from 1951-66, and in 1958 he was part of a trade that sent Champaign County native Harvey Haddix from the Cincinnati Reds to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
“In playing with guys like Hank Aaron, Roberto Clemente and Ernie Banks, every once in a while we would all talk about the way pitchers were pitching us. When you face a pitcher as much as we did over the course of a season, you have a pretty good idea of how they pitch. I remember Ralph Kiner saying to me when I came up to Pittsburgh to watch the way they pitched him, a power hitter, and that is the way I will be pitched, too. And every spring I would pick Ted Williams’ brain about hitting. He would ask who was pitching that day and what was that pitcher’s best pitch and I would watch him during the game and he would just wait for the pitcher’s best pitch and give it a ride.
“I played with and against 15 Hall of Fame players in my career, so I learned by observing them. Harvey Haddix said Willie Mays and Hank Aaron were his toughest outs … Don Newcombe said that about me. I always looked for a fastball on every pitch. Doing this I could adjust to any other kind of pitch. I never guessed. If I were to guess and look for a curveball and they were to throw me a fastball, I may have ended up in the hospital.
“When I first started to play baseball I would always hit the ball to rightfield and right-center and centerfield. Then, I developed my wrists and forearms and because of this I became a power pull hitter to where I couldn’t hit a ball to rightfield. I had quick wrists.
“Warren Spahn would always try to keep the ball away from me but because I stood close to the plate it was not a strike. Haddix was a type of pitcher that if you hit a home run off of him, you would see the pitch you hit the home run on but not for a strike. He would always try to get you to hit his pitch, but like I said being on top of the plate he had to make a perfect pitch but no pitcher can do that with every pitch they throw. No matter if it was a righthanded or lefthanded pitcher, I hit the same aggressive way.
“I never struck out 100 times in a season in my career. I always put the ball in play because when you do that something can always happen.”
Trivia Time – Bobby Shantz pitched in two World Series for the New York Yankees (1957, 1960).
This week’s question – After hitting 35 home runs for the Pirates in 1958, how many homers did Frank Thomas hit for the Reds in 1959?
Reach Steve Stout at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @udcstout