Change of pace

It is the general belif of those who make their living trying to hit a baseball where nine other guys can't catch it that there is nothing more difficult -- except maybe going through a mine field without a map. Even if you fail 7 times in every 10 with a bat, you're still considered all-star material.

Now if this is a chore for the hitter who sees major league pitching four or five times every game, think what it must be like for the guy who is a part-time outfielder, part-time pinch hitter, and part-time designated hitter. Most players claim that the toughest thing for a hitter who sits for long periods before practising his craft is that he can never quite get loose.

"At first the role of a part-time player isn't something anyone particularly wants to do," explained Terry Crowley of the Baltimore Orioles, who by the end of the current season could be as high as fifth on baseball's all-time pinch-hit list. "You're young and you want to play every day and you figure this is a role for some veteran who maybe can't quite get to everything in the field anymore."

"My problem when the Orioles first put me on the roster was that they already had too many quality outfielders, including Frank Robinson and Paul Blair," Terry continued."That's when you have to come to terms with yourself mentally and figure, well, if I can't play regularly, then I'm going to be the best part-timer that I possibly can."

Asked why Crowley's contract was sold to the Texas Rangers at the end of the 1973 season, even though he had hit well for the Orioles in clutch situations, Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver replied:

"It was a combination of things. We had some kids in our farm system that we had to make room for, and we also saw a chance to send Terry to a team where it looked as though he might get a chance to play every day. I think we were probably as surprised as he was when the Rangers turned right around and sold his contract to Cincinnati. But you'll notice that three years later, when we had a chance to get him back, we didn't hesitate."

Even though Crowley is one of the best in baseball at what he does, circumstances (mostly Weaver's decision to alternate two other players at his designated hitter) limited Terry's at-bats in 1979 to just 63.But he did hit . 317 overall and beat the Pittsburgh Pirates in the fourth game of the World Series that year with a bases- loaded pinch-hit double.

"When you don't play regularly, the only way you can beat the system is to take as much extra batting practice as possible," Crowley said. "The thing that has helped me most has been the willingness of the Oriole coaches to come to the park early and pitch to me.

"I also go down to the batting cage myself sometimes and hit against one of our pitching machines. But I prefer working against people, because you can ask for certain pitches and because everything more closely resembles a game situation."

What does Crowley look for when Weaver sends him up to the plate as a pinch hitter with runners already on base and the game possibly hanging in the balance?

"Actually I start to get ready long before that," Terry replied. "While I don't want to give anyone the impression that all I do when sitting in the dugout during a game is study pitchers, I do look for a pattern sometimes in what they are throwing. Also, if we're behind and I think Weaver might ask me to pinch-hit, I'll go back into the clubhouse and try to get loose by swinging a couple of bats. Mechanically and mentally I've trained myself to be aggressive, meaning that I'm not going to let any pitcher move me away from the plate.

"To break things down for you as simply as possible, I go up there looking for a good pitch to hit and generally I know I'm going to see at least one.

"For me, and I think this is probably true of most pinch hitters, the ideal situation is when the count goes to 3-1 and you know the pitcher has to be around the plate or give up a walk. It's like having the percentage increase sharply in your favor and knowing how to take advantage of it."

Crowley, who entered the 1981 season with 90 career pinch hits (10th overall on baseball's all-time list) had some impressive offensive statistics last season for a part-time player. In just 233 at-bats, he pounded out 12 homers and drove in 50 runners. He batted .338 (24 for 71) with runners in scoring position on second or third base.

Crowley's teammates call him Crow, not so much because it's a black day for opposing pitchers whenever the ball flies off his bat, but because Crow is a shortened version of his last name.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.
QR Code to Change of pace
Read this article in
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today