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Great article by Peter Gammons

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The article is a little long but I thought it was good read. You could learn something here @SongInTheAir







Peter Gammons: Mattingly, Bonds, and the Marlins



March 7, 2016 by Peter Gammons Leave a Comment



JUPITER, Fla.—The Don MattinglyBarry Bonds hitting conversation this particular morning was whiffle ball. I’d been there with Donnie Baseball standing in front of his parents’ house in Evansville, showing me the tree in front of the house where he and his three older brother played whiffle ball, and how, since the purpose of the games was to hit the ball over the roof and the tree was a right field pull shot, he learned to hit growing up driving whiffle balls towards left-center, clearing the roof, winning.


“That’s how I developed my hitting style,” Mattingly told Bonds.


“Whiffle ball and backyard ball is how I learned to hit, too,” Bonds replied. We had places we’d try to hit, as far and as hard as we could. For me, because of all the things my father and others could do with those balls, it was all about being really quick, making square contact, hard contact. We’d be out there all afternoon. I hit a ball that broke a piece of a window, and my mom told me I had to either pay for the repair or stop and do something else. I told her I’d pay and go back to play, because I loved it so much. I wanted to hit and hit and hit all day.”


What better way to begin a few days with a team of hitting PhD’s named Bonds, Mattingly, Ichiro Suzuki, Giancarlo Stanton, batting champion Dee Gordon and future batting champion Christian Yelich than with a talk about Whiffle Ball contact with two guys who between them had 3146 walks and 1983 strikeouts, 3742 and 2978  if you add in Ichiro. Which Barry likes to do. “I love talking to Ichiro,” Bonds says. “I think I learn something from him every day. I always learned something whenever I spent time with Tony Gwynn, same thing.” This from a man who hit more homers (762) than anyone who ever played, and choked up on a 32 inch bat.


What they all talk about is contact. “With so many pitchers throwing 98 today, contact is coming back, it’s vital,” says Mattingly. “Look at Kansas City and the Giants. Contact, defense, pitching, deep bullpens. With so many close, low-scoring games and all the shifting, contact is vital.”


The Marlins are one of baseball’s most interesting studies in 2016. Owner Jeffrey Loria, a very generous, artistic, interesting man who has welcomed fan static into his universe, overhauled his front office into what essentially is a board of directors run by Mike Hill. He hired Mattingly, who will sit on the board and participate in the decision-making process. He allowed Mike Berger and Jeff McAvoy to spend his money on an organization infrastructure that includes development directors like former Pirates Marc DelPiano and Jim Benedict, and construct an analytics department to bring them into the 21st Century.


While all that is a longterm concept, what is fascinating about 2016 is the presence of Mattingly and Bonds in uniform together with Stanton and Ichiro and players. “There is a lot of talent here,” Mattingly says. “A lot of talent. Stanton is obvious, unbelievably talented, but a leader because while he obviously sticks out because he’s a 6-5, 255 pound guy with six per cent body fat, but he’s one of the guys like a utility-man, and every player not only respects him for that, but they legitimately like him; he doesn’t strut like a superstar, all he honestly cares about is being a member of a team that wins.


“But look up the middle,” Mattingly continues. The work (infield coach) Perry Hill has done with Dee Gordon and (Adeiny) Hechevarria has made them the best double play combination in this league. J.T. Realmuto is a guy, leader, athletic, he’s a young Russell Martin. (Marcell) Ozuna is scary good in center field. Look in left field at Christian Yelich, a .300 hitter who’s going to develop a lot more power. And Martin Prado is a special man. He and Stanton are the leaders here. There’s a lot here. And it will all come down to the pitching.”


Mattingly clearly has that presence that commands players’ respect. For all the fine-tuning of situation analytical managing, what Bruce Bochy, Joe Maddon, Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle have in common is the first tenets of leadership—authenticity and trust. Maddon says “70 per cent of managing is people,” something Mattingly says “is everything. Here, with a young team that is hungry to compete, it can be a fun job.” Baker adds, “players aren’t dumb. They see right through the con men and the self-promoters and the talkers.”


Barry is a fascinating element here. He’s really smart. He seems to love teaching. I really enjoy talking hitting, talking the game, talking about everything with him.”


Former Giants teammates Robby Thompson and Kirt Manwaring stopped by Friday to see Dusty Baker and Bonds. “Baseball needs a mind like Barry’s,” Dusty said, and Thompson and Manwaring shared stories about how Barry could so read pitchers that he could go weeks and know every pitch that was being thrown to him, how he always knew how a pitcher wanted to get him out, how his eyesight was so incredible “that he could pick up spins and knew if a pitch were a strike right out of the pitcher’s hand.”


In his playing days, Bonds loved to pass the time talking hitting, How he likened hitting a baseball to catching a throw. How he would work on hand position to keep balls fair. To anyone who has spent considerable time with Ted Williams and Barry Bonds, they are eerily alike in many ways, a comparison skewed by the eras in which they played, but bound by the passion for the art of hitting a baseball.


When Mark McGwire first went into exile from the game, he would have young players come to him in the off-seasons and work with them, Skip Schumaker, Matt Holliday, the Brothers Duncan, et al. He found he loved teaching, came back to the game with the Cardinals and had gone on to be one of the sport’s best hitting coaches.


Bonds went into his exile, but eventually dabbled in teaching. Dexter Fowler has spent the last two winters in San Fransisco, working with Barry, and is his disciple. Bonds understood what Dexter needs to be, not Barry Bonds, Dexter Fowler. Alex Rodriguez has visited him, and learned. “I love the game,” says Barry. “I loved it as a kid, and spent so much time my mother sometimes had to take the switch to me to get me to do other things. I found I really enjoyed teaching the game with Dexter Fowler, and others. I want this to work. There’s nothing I can do about the Hall of Fame and that stuff. I know what I was. Fine. But I love being back here in uniform.”


Will the interminable hours coaches devote to players wear thin come July? No one knows. Fowler will tell stories about Barry going on 50 or 100 mile bike rides before their workouts…but redeyes into Cincinnati in late July are not bike rides into Napa.


For now, what Bonds is trying to do is “learn every one of these players, who they are, what they want to be, what they see as their roles. This is about people first. I’m not throwing a bunch of stuff at them. No, I’m not talking about catching the ball with the bat or how you read things in pitchers or how to keep balls fair, it’s about learning these players as human beings and then moving forward in our relationships and our work together.


“Understanding your role is very important,” Bonds says. “I am amazed by Ichiro. First, he knows so much about hitting. He knows exactly what he is and what he can do. I’ve never seen anyone who could keep his hands back like him.”


(Stanton adds that “Ichiro is the most prepared player there is. He could be starting or pinch-hitting in the 13th innng, but he always is prepared for whatever he is asked to do. Mentally, his preparation is something I am trying to learn from. Honestly, to have Ichiro, Bonds and Don Mattingly to learn preparation and thought process from is incredible.”)


Back to Bonds. “One of the many things Tony Gwynn taught me was preparing for what role he was asked to perform,” says Barry. “If he was the number two hitter, he was the best in the game. If he were the number three hitter, which is a very different role, he was the best in the game. As I get to build a relationship with each player, I hope I can pass on what I’ve learned. In Dee Gordon’s case, he knows precisely what he is, and he’s really good at it. He has baseball intelligence, and obviously figured a lot out on his own.”


Last spring, Gordon said, ‘I am never going to be a .400 on base guy. I’ve always been told to take a lot of pitches, but what pitcher is going to throw a lot of breaking balls and walk me? I have to hit fastballs wherever they come in the count.” Batting title:.333, Hits:205, Steals:58, WAR:4.9, Best Defensive Runs Saved in the NL.


As Bonds watches Justin Bour, he pushes “the positive;” Barry realizes Bour was a AAA Rule V pick with immense strength who hit 23 homers in 129 games, and if he proves to himself that he belongs can utilize his bat. “He needs to stress what he can do and can do here,” says Bonds.


Same with the spring’s biggest project, Ozuna. He is 25. He is 222 pounds with what Bonds calls “scary power,” power that, like Stanton, has cleared the roof of the Marlins building in left field here in Jupiter. Last year he reported heavy, was sent to the minors, saw Scott Boras get into a war with ownership and was rumored to be traded several times this winter. The new board of directors blocked said deals. And this spring he is a pivotal figure hitting in the two hole between Gordon and Yelich in front of Stanton.


“With Ozuna it’s also about building his self-esteem,” says Bonds. “His ability is scary. He can be a guy who is in the home run leaders as a center fielder. He needs to believe that. Then he has to carry it over every at-bat, every game. But it starts with the basics, and he’s been great. He’s beginning to understand what he can be as a player. There is no telling what he will do.”


Jose Fernandez, who was a hitting phenom at the same sports academy Kendrys Morales and Yulieski Gourriel attended outside Havana as a kid, can hit, although Bonds stays away from the pitchers the way Nolan Ryan and Roger Clemens stayed away from hitters. But Fernandez repeatedly tells Bonds, “I can get you out.”


“I’m 51, you’d better be able to get me out,” Bonds replies. “If you can’t, we’re in trouble.”


The day Thompson watched Bonds worked, he said, “Barry could make in-game adjustments from at-bat to at-bat, pitch to pitch better than anyone I ever saw.” Which is what Bonds is trying to do as hitting coach.


“There’s no one way to hit,” Barry says. “There is no ‘Barry Bonds method.’ It’s about each individual hitter, and eventually what he does well, then what he can learn to make himself better. “


The Marlins likely will learn Monday that Carter Capps’ delivery has led to Tommy John Surgery. So they have to build a bullpen around A.J. Ramos with a closet full of big arms. They need Fernandez to be fully healthy, We-Yin Chen to be what he has been, Jarred Cosart to command his fastball, young lefty Adam Conley to keep progressing and Tom Koehler to be a 200 innings guy.


Even in a pitching-friendly park, they can and should be a very dangerous offensive team that has to stay healthy. They need to find a couple more pitchers and let the Benedict rehab program work.


But this Marlins team does not have the feel of a museum piece or a rehab project, like some teams of the past. This is a team with Matitngly and Bonds and Stanton and Ichiro and Gordon and Fernandez, a team that when the Mets and Nationals look in their rearview mirror, may be closer than they appear.



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