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Coaching Good And Bad

Coaching is Divided into Three Parts: Offensive, Defensive, and the
Use of Crowds to Rattle Players--Why McGraw Developed Scientific
Coaching--The Important Role a Coacher Plays in the Crisis of a Big
League Ball Game when, on his Orders, Hangs Victory or Defeat.

Critical moments occur in every close ball game, when coaching may win or
lose it. "That wasn't the stage for you to try to score," yelled John
McGraw, the manager of the Giants, at "Josh" Devore, as the New York
left-fielder attempted to count from second base on a short hit to left
field, with no one out and the team one run behind in a game with the
Pirates one day in 1911, when every contest might mean the winning or
losing of the pennant.

"First time in my life I was ever thrown out trying to score from second
on a base hit to the outfield," answered Devore, "and besides the coacher
sent me in."

"I don't care," replied McGraw, "that was a two out play."

As a matter of fact, one of the younger players on the team was coaching
at third base at the time and made an error of judgment in sending Devore
home, of which an older head would not have been guilty. And the Pirates
beat us by just that one run the coacher sacrificed. The next batter came
through with an outfield fly which would have scored Devore from third
base easily.

Probably no more wily general ever crouched on the coaching line at third
base than John McGraw. His judgment in holding runners or urging them on
to score is almost uncanny. Governed by no set rules himself, he has
formulated a list of regulations for his players which might be called the
"McGraw Coaching Curriculum." He has favorite expressions, such as "there
are stages" and "that was a two out play," which mean certain chances are
to be taken by a coacher at one point in a contest, while to attempt such
a play under other circumstances would be nothing short of foolhardy.

With the development of baseball, coaching has advanced until it is now an
exact science. For many years the two men who stood at first and third
bases were stationed there merely to bullyrag and abuse the pitchers,
often using language that was a disgrace to a ball field. When they were
not busy with this part of their art, they handed helpful hints to the
runners as to where the ball was and whether the second baseman was
concealing it under his shirt (a favorite trick of the old days), while
the pitcher pretended to prepare to deliver it. But as rules were made
which strictly forbade the use of indecent language to a pitcher, and as
the old school of clowns passed, coaching developed into a science, and
the sentries stationed at first and third bases found themselves occupying
important jobs.

For some time McGraw frowned down upon scientific coaching, until its
value was forcibly brought home to him one day by an incident that
occurred at the Polo Grounds, and since then he has developed it until his
knowledge of advising base runners is the pinnacle of scientific

A few years ago, the Giants were having a nip and tuck struggle one day,
when Harry McCormick, then the left-fielder, came to the plate and knocked
the ball to the old centre-field ropes. He sped around the bases, and when
he reached third, it looked as if he could roll home ahead of the ball.
"Cy" Seymour was coaching and surprised everybody by rushing out and
tackling McCormick, throwing him down and trying to force him back to
third base. But big McCormick got the best of the struggle, scrambled to
his feet, and finally scored after overcoming the obstacle that Seymour
made. That run won the game.

"What was the matter with you, Cy?" asked McGraw as Seymour came to the
bench after he had almost lost the game by his poor coaching.

"The sun got in my eyes, and I couldn't see the ball," replied Seymour.

"You'd better wear smoked glasses the next time you go out to coach,"
replied the manager. The batter was hitting the ball due east, and the
game was being played in the afternoon, so Seymour had no alibi. From the
moment "Cy" made that mistake, McGraw realized the value of scientific
coaching, which means making the most of every hit in a game.

I have always held that a good actor with a knowledge of baseball would
make a good coacher, because it is the acting that impresses a base
runner, not the talking. More often than not, the conversation of a
coacher, be it ever so brilliant, is not audible above the screeching of
the crowd at critical moments. And I believe that McGraw is a great actor,
at least of the baseball school.

The cheering of the immense crowds which attend ball games, if it can be
organized, is a potent factor in winning or losing them. McGraw gets the
most out of a throng by his clever acting. Did any patron of the Polo
Grounds ever see him turn to the stands or make any pretence that he was
paying attention to the spectators? Does he ever play to the gallery? Yet
it is admitted that he can do more with a crowd, make it more malleable,
than any other man in baseball to-day.

The attitude of the spectators makes a lot of difference to a ball club. A
lackadaisical, half-interested crowd often results in the team playing
slovenly ball, while a lively throng can inject ginger into the men and
put the whole club on its toes. McGraw is skilled in getting the most out
of the spectators without letting them know that he is doing it.

Did you ever watch the little manager crouching, immovable, at third base
with a mitt on his hand, when the New York club goes to bat in the seventh
inning two runs behind? The first hitter gets a base on balls. McGraw
leaps into the air, kicks his heels together, claps his mitt, shouts at
the umpire, runs in and pats the next batter on the back, and says
something to the pitcher. The crowd gets it cue, wakes up and leaps into
the air, kicking its heels together. The whole atmosphere inside the park
is changed in a minute, and the air is bristling with enthusiasm. The
other coacher, at first base, is waving his hands and running up and down
the line, while the men on the bench have apparently gained new hope. They
are moving about restlessly, and the next two hitters are swinging their
bats in anticipation with a vigor which augurs ill for the pitcher. The
game has found Ponce de Leon's fountain of youth, and the little, silent
actor on the third base coaching line is the cause of the change.

"Nick" Altrock, the old pitcher on the Chicago White Sox, was one of the
most skilful men at handling a crowd that the game has ever developed. As
a pitcher, Altrock was largely instrumental in bringing a world's
championship to the American League team in 1906, and, as a coacher, after
his Big League pitching days were nearly done, he won many a game by his
work on the lines in pinches. Baseball has produced several comedians,
some with questionable ratings as humorists. There is "Germany" Schaefer
of the Washington team, and there were "Rube" Waddell, "Bugs" Raymond and
others, but "Nick" Altrock could give the best that the game has brought
out in the way of comic-supplement players a terrible battle for the

At the old south side park in Chicago, I have seen him go to the lines
with a catcher's mitt and a first-baseman's glove on his hands and lead
the untrained mob as skilfully as one of those pompadoured young men with
a megaphone does the undergraduates at a college football game.

My experience as a pitcher has been that it is not the steady, unbroken
flood of howling and yelling, with the incessant pounding of feet, that
gets on the nerves of a ball-player, but the broken, rhythmical waves of
sound or the constant reiteration of one expression. A man gets accustomed
to the steady cheering. It becomes a part of the game and his
surroundings, as much as the stands and the crowd itself are, and he does
not know that it is there. Let the coacher be clever enough to induce a
crowd to repeat over and over just one sentence such as "Get a hit," "Get
a hit," and it wears on the steadiest nerves. Nick Altrock had his
baseball chorus trained so that, by a certain motion of the arm, he could
get the crowd to do this at the right moment.

But the science of latter-day coaching means much more than using the
crowd. All coaching, like all Gaul and four or five other things, is
divided into three parts, defensive coaching, offensive coaching and the
use of the crowd. Offensive coaching means the handling of base runners,
and requires quick and accurate judgment. The defensive sort is the advice
that one player on the field gives another as to where to throw the ball,
who shall take a hit, and how the base runner is coming into the bag.
There is a sub-division of defensive coaching which might be called the
illegitimate brand. It is giving "phoney" advice to a base runner by the
fielders of the other side that may lead him, in the excitement of the
moment, to make a foolish play. This style has developed largely in the
Big Leagues in the last three or four years.

Offensive coaching, in my opinion, is the most important. For a man to be
a good coacher he must be trained for the work. The best coachers are the
seasoned players, the veterans of the game. A man must know the throwing
ability of each outfielder on the opposing club, he must be familiar with
the speed of the base runner whom he is handling, and he must be so
closely acquainted with the game as a whole that he knows the stages at
which to try a certain play and the circumstances under which the same
attempt would be foolish. Above all things, he must be a quick thinker.

Watch McGraw on the coaching lines some day. As he crouches, he picks up a
pebble and throws it out of his way, and two base runners start a double
steal. "Hughie" Jennings emits his famous "Ee-Yaah!" and the third
baseman creeps in, expecting Cobb to bunt with a man on first base and no
one out. The hitter pushes the ball on a line past the third baseman. The
next time Jennings shrieks his famous war-cry, it has a different
intonation, and the batter bunts.

"Bill" Dahlen of the Brooklyn club shouts, "Watch his foot," and the base
runner starts while the batter smashes the ball on a hit and run play.
Again the pitcher hears that "Watch his foot." He "wastes one," so that
the batter will not get a chance at the ball and turns to first base. He
is surprised to find the runner anchored there. Nothing has happened. So
it will be seen that the offensive coacher controls the situation and
directs the plays, usually taking his orders from the manager, if the boss
himself is not on the lines.

In 1911 the Giants led the National League by a good margin in stealing
bases, and to this speed many critics attributed the fact that the
championship was won by the club. I can safely say that every base which
was pilfered by a New York runner was stolen by the direct order of
McGraw, except in the few games from which he was absent. Then his
lieutenants followed his system as closely as any one can pursue the
involved and intricate style that he alone understands. If it was the base
running of the Giants that won the pennant for the club, then it was the
coaching of McGraw, employing the speed of his men and his opportunities,
which brought the championship to New York.

The first thing that every manager teaches his players now is to obey
absolutely the orders of the coacher, and then he selects able men to give
the advice. The brain of McGraw is behind each game the Giants play, and
he plans every move, most of the hitters going to the plate with definite
instructions from him as to what to try to do. In order to make this
system efficient, absolute discipline must be assured. If a player has
other ideas than McGraw as to what should be done, "Mac's" invariable
answer to him is:

"You do what I tell you, and I'll take the responsibility if we lose."

For two months at the end of 1911, McGraw would not let either "Josh"
Devore or John Murray swing at a first ball pitched to them. Murray did
this one day, after he had been ordered not to, and he was promptly fined
$10 and sat down on the bench, while Becker played right field. Many fans
doubtless recall the substitution of Becker, but could not understand the

Murray and Devore are what are known in baseball as "first-ball hitters."
That is, they invariably hit at the first one delivered. They watch a
pitcher wind up and swing their bats involuntarily, as a man blinks his
eyes when he sees a blow started. It is probably due to slight
nervousness. The result was that the news of this weakness spread rapidly
around the circuit by the underground routes of baseball, and every
pitcher in the League was handing Devore and Murray a bad ball on the
first one. Of course, each would miss it or else make a dinky little hit.
They were always "in the hole," which means that the pitcher had the
advantage in the count. McGraw became exasperated after Devore had fanned
out three times one day by getting bad starts, hitting at the first ball.

"After this," said McGraw to both Murray and Devore in the clubhouse, "if
either of you moves his bat off his shoulder at a first ball, even if it
cuts the plate, you will be fined $10 and sat down."

Murray forgot the next day, saw the pitcher wind up, and swung his bat at
the first one. He spent the rest of the month on the bench. But Devore's
hitting improved at once because all the pitchers, expecting him to swing
at the first one, were surprised to find him "taking it" and, as it was
usually bad, he had the pitcher constantly "in the hole," instead of being
at a disadvantage himself. For this reason he was able to guess more
accurately what the pitcher was going to throw, and his hitting
consequently improved. So did Murray's after he had served his term on the
bench. The right-fielder hit well up to the world's series and then he
just struck a slump that any player is liable to encounter. But so
dependent is McGraw's system on absolute discipline for its success that
he dispensed with the services of a good player for a month to preserve
his style.

In contrast, "Connie" Mack, the manager of the Athletics, and by many
declared to be the greatest leader in the country (although each private,
of course, is true to his own general), lets his players use their own
judgment largely. He seldom gives a batter a direct order unless the pinch
is very stringent.

The most difficult position to fill as a coacher is at third base, the
critical corner. There a man's judgment must be lightning fast and always
accurate. He encourages runners with his voice, but his orders are given
primarily with his hands, because often the noise made by the crowd drowns
out the shouted instructions. Last, he must be prepared to handle all
sorts of base running.

On nearly every ball club, there are some players who are known in the
frank parlance of the profession as "hog wild runners."

The expression means that these players are bitten by a sort of "bug"
which causes them to lose their heads when once they get on the bases.
They cannot be stopped, oftentimes fighting with a coacher to go on to the
next base, when it is easy to see that if the attempt is made, the runner
is doomed.

New York fans have often seen McGraw dash out into the line at third base,
tackle Murray, and throw him back on the bag. He is a "hog wild" runner,
and with him on the bases, the duties of a coacher become more arduous. He
will insist on scoring if he is not stopped or does not drop dead.

Some youngster was coaching on third base in a game with Boston in the
summer of 1911 and the Giants had a comfortable lead of several runs.
Murray was on second when the batter hit clearly and sharply to left
field. Murray started, and, with his usual intensity of purpose, rounded
third base at top speed, bound to score. The ball was already on the way
home when Murray, about ten feet from the bag, tripped and fell. He
scrambled safely back to the cushion on all fours. There was nothing else
to do.

"This is his third year with me," laughed McGraw on the bench, "and that's
the first time he has ever failed to try to score from second base on a
hit unless he was tackled."

All ball clubs have certain "must" motions which are as strictly observed
as danger signals on a railroad. A coacher's hand upraised will stop a
base runner as abruptly as the uplifted white glove of a traffic policeman
halts a row of automobiles. A wave of the arm will start a runner going at
top speed again.

Many times a quick-witted ball-player wins a game for his club by his snap
judgment. Again McGraw is the master of that. He took a game from the
Cubs in 1911, because, always alert for flaws in the opposition, he
noticed the centre-fielder drop his arm after getting set to throw the
ball home. Devore was on second base, and one run was needed to win the
game. Doyle hit sharply to centre field, and Devore, coming from second,
started to slow up as he rounded third. Hofman, the Chicago
centre-fielder, perceiving this slackening of pace, dropped his arm.
McGraw noticed this, and, with a wave of his arm, notified Devore to go
home. With two strides he was at top speed again, and Hofman, taken by
surprise, threw badly.

The run scored which won the game.

The pastime of bullyragging the pitcher by the coachers has lost its
popularity recently. The wily coacher must first judge the temperament of
a pitcher before he dares to undertake to get on his nerves. Clarke
Griffith, formerly the manager of Cincinnati, has a reputation for being
able to ruin young pitchers just attempting to establish themselves in the
Big League. Time and again he has forced youngsters back to the minors by
his constant cry of "Watch his foot" or "He's going to waste this one."

Baker out at the plate trying to stretch a triple into a home run. This
picture shows Catcher Easterly of Cleveland waiting with the ball to touch
Baker. The home-run hero of the Athletics is shown in the picture starting
the fall-away slide in an effort to get away from Easterly. Harry Davis is
approaching the plate, and Jack Sheridan is awaiting the outcome at the

The rules are very strict now about talking to pitchers, but, if a
complaint is made, Griffith declares that he was warning the batter that
it was to be a pitchout, which is perfectly legitimate. The rules permit
the coacher to talk to the batter and the base runners.

Griffith caught a Tartar in Grover Cleveland Alexander, the sensational
pitcher of the Philadelphia club. It was at his first appearance in
Cincinnati that the young fellow got into the hole with several men on the
bases, and "Mike" Mitchell coming up to the bat.

"Now here is where we get a look at the 'yellow,'" yelled Griffith at

The young pitcher walked over toward third base.

"I'm going to make that big boob up at the bat there show such a 'yellow
streak' that you won't be able to see any white," declared Alexander, and
then he struck Mitchell out. Griffith had tried the wrong tactics.

A story is told of Fred Clarke and "Rube" Waddell, the eccentric twirler.
Waddell was once one of the best pitchers in the business when he could
concentrate his attention on his work, but his mind wandered easily.

"Now pay no attention to Clarke," warned his manager before the game.

Clarke tried everything from cajolery to abuse on Waddell with no effect,
because the eccentric "Rube" had been tipped to fight shy of the Pittsburg
manager. Suddenly Clarke became friendly and walked with Waddell between
innings, chatting on trivial matters. At last he said:

"Why don't you come out on my ranch in Kansas and hunt after the season,
George? I've got a dog out there you might train."

"What kind of a dog?" asked Waddell at once interested.

"Just a pup," replied Clarke, "and you can have him if he takes a fancy to

"They all do," replied Waddell. "He's as good as mine."

The next inning the big left-hander was still thinking of that dog, and
the Pirates made five runs.

In many instances defensive coaching is as important as the offensive
brand, which simply indorses the old axiom that any chain is only as
strong as its weakest link or any ball club is only as efficient as its
most deficient department. When Roger Bresnahan was on the Giants, he was
one of those aggressive players who are always coaching the other fielders
and holding a team together, a type so much desired by a manager. If a
slow roller was hit between the pitcher's box and third base, I could
always hear "Rog" yelling, "You take it, Matty," or, "Artie, Artie,"
meaning Devlin, the third baseman. He was in a position to see which man
would be better able to make the play, and he gave this helpful advice.
His coaching saved many a game for the Giants in the old days. "Al"
Bridwell, the former shortstop, was of the same type, and, if you have
ever attended a ball game at the Polo Grounds, you have doubtless heard
him in his shrill, piercing voice, shouting:

"I've got it! I've got it!" or, "You take it!"

This style of coaching saves ball-players from accidents, and accidents
have lost many a pennant. I have always held that it was a lack of the
proper coaching that sent "Cy" Seymour, formerly the Giant centre-fielder,
out of the Big Leagues and back to the minors. Both Murray and he
attempted to catch the same fly in the season of 1909 and came into
collision. Seymour went down on the field, but later got up and played
the game out. However, he hurt his leg so badly that it never regained its

Then there is that other style of defensive coaching which is the shouting
of misleading advice by the fielders to the base runners. Collins and
Barry, the second baseman and shortstop on the Athletics, worked a clever
trick in one of the games of the 1911 world's series which illustrates my
point. The play is as old as the one in which the second baseman hides the
ball under his shirt so as to catch a man asleep off first base, but often
the old ones are the more effective.

Doyle was on first base in one of the contests played in Philadelphia, and
the batter lifted a short foul fly to Baker, playing third base. The crowd
roared and the coacher's voice was drowned by the volume of sound. "Eddie"
Collins ran to cover second base, and Barry scrabbled his hand along the
dirt as if preparing to field a ground ball.

"Throw it here! Throw it here!" yelled Collins, and Doyle, thinking that
they were trying for a force play, increased his efforts to reach second.
Baker caught the fly, and Larry was doubled up at first base so far that
he looked foolish. Yet it really was not his fault. The safest thing for a
base runner to do under those circumstances is to get one glimpse of the
coacher's motions and then he can tell whether to go back or to go on.

"Johnnie" Kling, the old catcher of the Chicago Cubs, used to work a
clever piece of defensive coaching with John Evers, the second baseman.
This was tried on young players and usually was successful. The victim was
picked out before the game, and the play depended upon him arriving at
second base. Once there the schemers worked it as follows:

When the "busher" was found taking a large lead, Evers would dash to the
bag and Kling would make a bluff to throw the ball, but hold it. The
runner naturally scampered for the base. Then, seeing that Kling had not
thrown, he would start to walk away from it again.

"If the Jew had thrown that time, he would have had you," Evers would
carelessly hurl over his shoulder at the intended victim. The man usually
turned for a fatal second to reply. Tinker, who was playing shortstop,
rushed in from behind, Kling whipped the ball to the bag, and the man,
caught off his guard, was tagged out. The play was really made before the
game, when the victim was selected.

It was this same Evers-Kling combination that turned the tide in the first
inning of the most famous game ever played in baseball, the extra one
between the Giants and the Cubs in the season of 1908. The Chicago club
was nervous in the first inning. Tenney was hit by a pitched ball, and
Herzog walked. It looked as if Pfeister, the Chicago pitcher, was losing
his grip. Bresnahan struck out, and Kling, always alert, dropped the third
strike, but conveniently at his feet. Thinking that here was an
opportunity the crowd roared. Evers, playing deep, almost behind Herzog,
shouted, "Go on!"

Herzog took the bait in the excitement of the moment and ran--and was
nipped many yards from first base.

There are many tricks to the coacher's trade, both offensive and
defensive, and it is the quickest-witted man who is the best coacher. The
sentry at first yells as the pitcher winds up, "There he goes!" imitating
the first baseman as nearly as possible, in the hope that the twirler
will waste one by pitching out and thus give the batter an advantage. The
coacher on third base will shout at the runner on a short hit to the
outfield, "Take your turn!" in the dim hope that the fielder, seeing the
man rounding third, will throw the ball home, and the hitter can thus make
an extra base. And the job of coaching is no sinecure. McGraw has told me
after directing a hard game that he is as tired as if he had played.

Next: Honest And Dishonest Sign Stealing

Previous: Playing The Game From The Bench

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