Sneak Previews of Forthcoming Books : In a Pinch

From "Baseball Lives: Men and Women of the Game Talk About Their Jobs, Their Lives and the National Pastime," by Mike Bryan, to be published this month by Pantheon Books. The speaker, Manny Mota, is the batting instructor and first-base coach for the Dodgers.

'You gotta be aggressive, but by the same token you gotta be selective. You gotta put everything into that one at-bat.'

ON SOME occasions I might swing the bat hard and miss the ball on purpose , just to get loose. A lot of times, or most of the time, I used to get behind in the count, like one strike, two strikes, and that helped me to be a better hitter. I knew I had to bear down and make good contact. If I'm gonna strike out, I'm gonna strike out swinging. The worse thing that can happen to a pinch-hitter is to get called out on strikes. When they put you in there, they want you to swing the bat.

When (late Dodger manager) Walter Alston told me I was going to be the pinch-hitter for the Dodgers, I prepared myself mentally and physically to approach the game from a different angle: running more, taking a lot of extra hitting to keep my timing sharp, learning every pitcher in the league. I tried to have a book in my mind about every starter and reliever, about the guy who I was supposed to face in the late part of the game. I knew I had to discipline myself because I was only to hit once. I had to be ready. After the fifth inning, I start getting myself loose, going into the tunnel to do some running, or into the batting cage to take a few swings. I never let the manager surprise me.

I loved to hit in a clutch situation because I learned how to control myself and not put on any kind of pressure. I loved to hit with men on base. Just try to relax, don't let anybody bother me and just concentrate on the guy on the mound and let him release the white ball. You check to see how they play you. Alston used me in situations where he really needed a base hit. In a wide open game, he tried to use somebody else. He knew I could not provide him with a long ball, but he could depend on me to try to bring the guy in from scoring position, second and third base.

You cannot make mistakes. You gotta be aggressive, but by the same token you gotta be selective. You gotta put everything into that one at-bat. Total concentration and positive thinking.

I have some big pinch-hits and I also have some other ones, which I don't want to talk about. One time in '77 or '78, I had a pinch-hit double against Philadelphia during the National League playoff, and we came from behind and won that game. Eventually we went to the World Series. That was one of the biggest. Also, when I tied Smokey Burgess (formerly of the Cincinnati Reds) with 144, and then when I broke the pinch-hitting record with 145. (Burgess' record was actually 145; Mota's is 150.) The double, I think it was kind of a breaking ball. I think Gene Garver was the pitcher. No. 144 was a fastball against Joe Sambito (of the Houston Astros); 145 was a breaking ball off (the late San Francisco Giant) Lynn McGlothen. I can see it in my mind. Those are the three biggest pinch-hits for me, I'd say.

One time in 1977, we played an exhibition game against the New York Mets in my hometown in the Dominican Republic. I pinch-hit with the bases loaded and I hit a grand slam off Tom Seaver. That game was televised back to L.A. That was one of the greatest feelings I ever had as a pinch-hitter because it happened in front of my home people. The fans went wild and I was so happy, so pleased to come through in front of the fans from Los Angeles and from all Latin America and the Dominican Republic. The pinch-hit record doesn't belong to me, it belongs to all of them and all of the people who are rooting for me and all of the people who made it possible.

I don't miss pinch-hitting because I enjoy coaching and being the hitting instructor. As the hitting instructor, the main thing is to tell the guy to make good contact, even the power hitter. Don't overswing. Go with the pitch and try to hit it hard. If you make good contact, you got a chance. What they do at batting practice, they've got to take into the game to apply. They've got to have concentration, desire, and they have to discipline themselves as a hitter. They have to learn the strike zone. A lot of hitters think about hitting every pitch to one side of the field, but you can use both sides. A lot of power hitters realize they don't have to pull everything to hit it out of the park because they are capable of hitting the ball out at every angle.

I'm behind the cage during batting practice. If they try to overcut, I just remind them. I even call from the first-base coaching box if I see them do anything wrong, like pulling down or coming up, or pulling away. Usually I leave them alone and let them concentrate on the game, but if I see anything I think can help at that moment, I will do it. Sometimes the skip wants me to stay with the team at the bench and let somebody else coach first base, so I can communicate with the hitters before they go to the plate and after they come back.

I'm here to build confidence and not destroy confidence, so there's no reason for me to get mad. If you fail seven out of 10 times, you are still a good hitter. You've got to make him believe. You've got to know the best time to approach a hitter. By the same token, you have to let him know that slumps are part of the game. I suggest to the guy in a slump that he try to hit the ball the other way. Doing that, you wait longer and while you wait longer you see the ball better. Sometimes you bunt. There's a lot of ways to get out of a slump. The worst thing to do is just try to overdo it, try too hard, try to get four hits in one at-bat. You gotta go little by little, and you cannot run before you can walk.

As the first-base coach, I have to know the situation, tell the runner about the pitcher's move to first, about how the outfield is playing, and how well the outfielders throw. I have to memorize all the signs and be sure that the runner got the sign. If I have any doubts, somehow I communicate with the runner. Still, an awful lot of times we miss them with the kids, and sometimes even with guys who've played in the major leagues for a long time. I don't think established major-league baseball players should miss a sign.

This is my life; this is my bread and butter; this is my family support. I enjoy every minute--and every second. I love managing.

Copyright 1989 by Mike Bryan. Reprinted by permission.

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