Hank Aaron, as almost all former players of a certain age do, shakes his head at the kids today:
Hank Aaron watches games these days and is perplexed as batter after
batter tries to jack pitches out of the ballpark, obsessed with the long
ball that made Hammerin’ Hank famous.
“I don’t think they understand the role of what they need to be doing,”
Aaron said Thursday during a visit to The Associated Press. “I’m not
saying all of them, but I think some players need to understand that
they’re never going to hit 50 home runs or 45 home runs (a year).
They’ve got to learn how to hit the ball to the opposite field and do
the little things to help their ballclub win championships.”
Cheap “do-as-I-say-not-as-I-did” irony aside, his point is a good one, inasmuch as some guys simply don’t have a lot of power and should always be trying to pull the ball out of the yard. I think, however, that he sets the bar too high for would-be power hitters.
If I’m running a team I want almost everyone to try and hit more home runs, at least as long as they’re not messing up their natural swing and approach to do it. If someone can hit 10 homers I want them to hit 15. If someone can hit 15 I want them to hit 20. The reason is simple: home runs correlate really nicely with winning. If you have power, you usually win. If you don’t, you hardly ever do.
Aaron’s comments suggest that only those players who can be elite home run hitters like he was should concentrate on the long ball. I’d take his general idea to heart, but I’d only advise those guys who simply can’t hit it out of the yard even if they square and turn on the ball perfectly — the Nick Puntos of the world — to get homers out of their head and try to slap it the other way.
Indeed, if some teams did that during Aaron’s heyday instead of adhering so strictly to the then-prevalent orthodoxy (shortstops don’t need to hit; everyone but the cleanup hitter bunts, etc.) there probably would have been more offense back then.
The Athletics have hired former MLB manager Matt Williams, the team announced Friday. Williams will take over third base coaching duties under manager Bob Melvin, filling the vacancy left by Nationals’ bench coach Chip Hale after the 2017 season.
Williams is no stranger to the Bay Area, but this will be his first time sporting the green and gold. He got his start in pro ball with the rival Giants in 1987, where he manned third base and collected four All-Star nominations before jumping ship to the American League in 1997. After a one-year stint in the Indians’ organization, he returned to the NL to finish off his 17-season career and eventually hung up his cleats with the Diamondbacks in 2003.
Post-retirement, Williams has crafted a resume that almost over-qualifies him for a coaching gig. He led the Nationals to a cumulative 179-145 record from 2014 to 2015 and earned props as NL Manager of the Year after bringing the team to a first-place finish in 2014. In 2016, he split the season as a first and third base coach in the D-backs’ organization, then accepted a studio analyst position with the Giants for the 2017 season. Although he has yet to suit up for the Athletics in any role, he’s not unfamiliar with skipper Bob Melvin. The two were teammates on the Giants’ 1987-88 roster and spent some time in Arizona together when Melvin took a coaching job there in the early 2000s.
While next year’s reunion will be fun to watch (unless, I suppose, you’re a Giants fan with a long memory), Williams may not have his sights set on a coaching role forever. As the San Francisco Chronicle’s John Shea reported back in July, the 51-year-old knows what it feels like to win as a manager, and it’s a position he might be open to pursuing in the future.
“For me, my most comfortable space is in uniform,” he told Shea. “I’ve done the ownership thing and front-office stuff, and that’s fun. The most gratification I get is swinging a fungo and throwing batting practice and being on the field. It’s what you know and love. I look at myself as a teacher first and foremost. At the end of the day, I think that’s how I have my greatest influence.”