On Rocket's return and exercisingDon't expect too much from Rocket says famed Kaat
Roger Clemens is certainly a unique athlete. He, along with Greg Maddux, are the elite pitchers of what I like to call the "Arena Baseball Era," because today's game is really about extra-base hits and how many runs can we score. Those two pitchers have been able to effectively pitch in this live ball era for well over 20 years.
Going on personal experience, I pitched till I was just over 44 years old. I got invited to Spring Training the next season and I felt that the layoff from not pitching in live game action to Major League hitters affected my game. I could not recover as fast and age finally caught up with me.
The one thing that I will say to Yankees fans is to sit back and not expect too much of Roger Clemens when he comes back. I know he is in great shape and I know he has been throwing and working out, but pitching to big league hitters, particularly in the American League East, is a whole different deal. Not to be disrespectful, but the lineups in the National League are not as deep as they are in the American League, minus the DH; The bottom thirds of the lineup in general are a lot softer in the NL than the American League lineups. Then when you look at the American League East specifically, every one of those teams have great lineups and can all hit. In my opinion, Clemens is going to be facing the best hitters in all of baseball from top to bottom.
I think everyone needs give Clemens some time to actually pitch on the Major League level and get these hitters out before everyone starts saying, "Yes, Roger Clemens can still do this." Right now, it's not necessarily a given that because he is Roger Clemens he will just automatically come back and lead the Yankees to the "Promised Land."
A lot of talk shows have been commenting on the excitement of Clemens' return and how if you just pencil his name in the rotation, he will give you five straight wins, but it's really not that easy. I'm not stating this to bring everyone's mood down about him returning to the Yankees, but I'm stating this because I don't want the fans to think the season is going to automatically turn around with maybe some false expectations.
The one thing I know about Clemens is that he will be in terrific shape and prepared to pitch every time he goes out there. What I'm really eager to see is how his older body will react from staying away from the game for a longer period of time. I know he has done this the last two seasons, but again he is one year older and will be facing better hitters.
I'm not saying that this was a bad signing for the Yankees; I am saying that there may be room for concern. Clemens may come back and prove once again that he can be dominant, but I would just like to give it time before he is anointed the savior of the season. His entrance back into Yankee Stadium, from the owner's box, puts a lot of added pressure on him. Everyone is now anticipating and expecting that he is going to do twice as much as he may be capable of doing. To Clemens' credit, I think he can handle the extra pressure and has proven to do so on the big stage.
One thing that may happen on the positive end of his signing without even throwing a pitch, is that when Clemens does return to the Yankees, the intangible of him just being there may energize the team.
Is today's athlete working out too much?
When I was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies for the 1976 season, I used to come out to Veteran's Stadium early. I noticed there was this little guy putting the Eagles through some exercises. This was back when Herman Edwards was actually playing for the Eagles and it was Dick Vermeil's first years of head coaching in the NFL.
Well, I went out one day and I asked if they cared if I went through some of their exercises with them. They had no problem and this became an almost daily routine I went through. About a month later, Vermeil hired his brother to be the strength and conditioning coach and Gus Hopfling, the aforementioned "little guy," was out of a job. I went to one of the Phillies owners, Ruly Carpenter, and I said, "Ruly, Gus Hopfling can be very helpful to this team." The Phillies then hired him to just work Phillies home games and the next thing you know Steve Carlton and Bob Boone took a liking to his style and he became part of the team.
Hopfling's style was to do a lot of stretching with a broomstick, improving range of motion. He also trained us with a lot of positive and negative resistance. We did use some nautilus equipment, but never to the extreme that today's player's use. We had very few injuries and we got in good baseball shape.
When I was traded to the Cardinals, Whitey Herzog noticed I was doing a lot of these exercises and made me lead the team in a lot of these calisthenics in Spring Training and at practice in the 3 1/2 years I was there.
I would say in all of my years of working with Gus with the Phillies and my years working with Cardinals, we had very few players go down with major injuries. In fact, without question Hopfling's workout regiment extended my career by at least seven years, and toward the end the workout actually added a little zip on my fastball. Tim McCarver told me that before he started working out on Gus's program, his legs use to really bother him, but after he started working out, his sticks never bothered him again for the rest of his career.
The mistake of a lot of these players and teams make today is that it's at such a level now where it has become more bodybuilding instead of baseball conditioning. I see some of the exercises that these players do on the field and I think to myself, "Why are pitchers running and sprinting in the outfield? They don't do that during a game when they pitch, why don't they get their legs in shape to pitch by pushing off the pitching rubber?"
In my opinion, from being around a lot of these baseball clubs and watching them exercise, the players overstretch and they really overlift. They stretch so much that it's at the point it's almost unnatural. Then they go into the weight room and lift to the point it's unnatural. The combination of overlifting and overstretching is what has caused and been the catalyst for a lot of these nagging injuries (hamstring, quadriceps, etc.)
A lot of these exercises that teams are doing are not baseball-specific and have absolutely nothing to do with what kind of muscles you would use or kind of explosion you would need when you are playing the game. To me, if you are a baserunner, instead of stretching with a rubber band on the ground, you need get on first base and practice your break toward second base. If you are a pitcher, simulate your pitching motion and land on your front leg. Players should be exercising muscles specific to their game and not trying to enter a bodybuilding contest.
These players may look good when they leave the weight room and may be proud of the way their body looks, but the bottom line is it's not about how much someone can bench press, it's about whether a guy could throw a fastball over the plate nine out of 10 times.
All in all, I think the simple answer to all of these injuries today is the extreme nature of the workout by overstretching and overlifting. To my knowledge, Gus Hopfling was the first strength and conditioning coach in baseball; Gus didn't cause injuries, but added years to our careers.