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MELVIN DURSLAG

Baseball '90 PREVIEW : The Rest (3 Days) Is History

April 09, 1990|MELVIN DURSLAG

A guest one day at a baseball game in Cleveland, where he served as resident draft horse, Bob Lemon ran into his old teammate, Early Wynn.

During his incumbency as a pitcher, Lemon won 20 or more games seven times. Wynn did it five times.

Now the two were seated in the clubhouse after the game, watching the trainer march in with two buckets of ice. Wynn said to Lemon:

"Must be some kind of celebration going on."

"Naw," answered Bob. "That's for the delicate arms of the pitchers."

"We used ice for better reasons," whispered Early.

Whitey Herzog, manager of St. Louis, asked idly one time, "I wonder how many games Cy Young would have won if they had iced down his arm?"

Deprived of this therapeutic discovery, Cy won only 511, working every third day.

This schedule would change for pitchers to every fourth day, eventually yielding to every fifth after the Mets won the 1969 world championship with a starting rotation of five.

Embarking upon a new season, in which four days of rest for a pitcher still is the general rule, baseball isn't urged here to mend its habits.

The point merely is raised whether it is tactically advisable to send a pitcher to the post only once in five days?

Will arms fall from their sockets if they are used more frequently? Or is baseball producing a generation of neurotics vulnerable to excessive worry?

Sandy Koufax, voted into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot, flamed out shortly before his 31st birthday. In his last four years, pitching every fourth day, he won, in order, 25, 19, 26 and 27.

Did the four-day rotation do him in? "I see pitching as a crapshoot," he said. "There is no telling what will break down an arm. I always have felt, where arms are concerned, that the main factor is genetics."

Orel Hershiser thinks it has more to do with mechanics and mental conditioning.

"As kids," he says, "we are taught that pitching every fourth day can break us down. That's the thinking we take with us to the majors."

There is, however, a dissenting view, one tendered by the prominent orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Frank Jobe, who explained one day: "It is a simple fact that pitching is bad for the arm. It tears down tissue, causes swelling and calcification and drains the arm of elasticity. It would follow, naturally, that pitching every fourth day is tougher on the arm than pitching every fifth."

Herzog doesn't hold a medical degree. At school, in fact, he majored in bass fishing. But Whitey assures you that the human arm doesn't know the difference between three days rest and four days rest--and the human head knows even less.

Substantiating this cerebral gem for us one day, Whitey explained:

"I had as a pitcher Joaquin Andujar, who won 41 games in two years for me. In 1984, he won 20, pitching every fourth day. He insisted upon working every fourth day, screaming that anything less threw him out of rhythm.

"Well, the next year, we shifted him to every fifth day. I told him the extra rest would be good for his feet. He wins 11 of his first 13 starts and finished the season with 21 wins."

"And the point you're making?" Whitey is asked.

"The point I'm making is, pitchers don't know the difference. The decisions should be flexible. If you have four good arms, you work them every fourth day. If you have five, you work them every fifth day. But if you have four good arms, and one that is nothing, it is stupid to run a five-man rotation, just because that custom is what's going around."

Pitchers make a lot of money working maybe 32 to 35 times. Well, you can say that guys earn more working only six times; they clutch a guitar at crotch level and scream, "I wanna get to know ya."

So while pitching may not be the softest touch in American commerce, it takes its place high on the scale, and it is something to recommend to a son-in-law, telling you he is trying to find himself.

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