‘Have you ever considered batting right-handed?’ Explaining why hitting is so hard

You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.

ON THIS DATE IN 1989, Jack Clark tied a major league record for the most strikeouts over two consecutive games with nine.

This is not about Jack Clark, who was a really good hitter, with great power. He hit some big home runs. This is a story about the challenges of hitting in the major leagues. It is such a difficult skill. Some days a hitter has it, other days a hitter feels like he has no chance.

The full “On this date …” archive

“Every at-bat of my career,” said ex-outfielder Bob Dernier, a lifetime .255 hitter, “was a fistfight.”

Even the best hitters feel that way at times. Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who had one of the greatest rookie seasons ever and is the most confident hitter I’ve ever met, endured a slump so deep in his second season, he told me, “I thought I’d never get another hit.” During Dante Bichette’s torrid seasons with the Rockies, he told me, “Every day I come to the ballpark, I wonder, ‘Is this the last day I’ll be able to hit in the big leagues?'” Hall of Famer Mike Schmidt told me, “When I was really going bad, even in the prime of my career, if you’d told me that I would have a better chance of hitting with my back to the pitcher, I would have tried it. You listen to anyone. You’ll do anything to get out of a slump.”

Former Mets third baseman David Wright told me, “When you’re in a slump, you go to bed at night and you lie there and your mind is racing and you think about everything imaginable: your bat model … your bat size … your pitch selection … how you are wearing your pants. But when you’re going good, you can sleep very well. But on the whole, I would say that most major league players don’t sleep well at night. Hitting is so hard.”

Hall of Famer George Brett, at age 20, went 5-for-40 with no walks and no RBIs in his rookie season (1973). “I’d get to the ballpark, look at the lineup card, and if my name wasn’t in it, I was thankful,” he said. “If the game got close late and [manager] Jack McKeon would walk down the bench looking for a hitter, I’d try to hide. I didn’t want to play. The more I was exposed, the worse it would be.”

Adam Dunn hit 462 home runs. But in 2010, he was so bad (.159, 177 strikeouts, 42 RBIs), he said his wife asked him, “Have you ever considered batting right-handed?” Mark Reynolds hit 298 homers. His mom is a huge baseball fan, and a knowledgeable one. “My mom was watching our game on TV, and she said to me the next day, ‘How did you miss that 2-0 slider last night?'” Reynolds said. “I had to say, ‘Mom, it’s not that easy.'”

Other baseball notes for June 13

  • In 1984, the Indians traded Rick Sutcliffe to the Cubs. He went 16-1 for them, won the NL Cy Young and pitched the Cubs into the playoffs. Sut is the best teammate ever, amazingly generous and exceptionally funny. He once gave up back-to-back home runs in Cincinnati, where they used to shoot off fireworks after a Reds player hit a home run. Cubs pitching coach Billy Connors came to the mound to talk to Sutcliffe after the two homers. Sutcliffe was furious and told Connors to get back in the dugout. Connors assured Sutcliffe that he didn’t go to the mound to talk to him: “I just wanted to give the fireworks guy time to reload.”

  • In 2012, the Giants’ Matt Cain pitched a perfect game with 14 strikeouts.

  • In 2003, Roger Clemens won his 300th game and struck out his 4,000th batter in the same game.

  • In 1998, the Dodgers pulled their first triple play ever at Dodger Stadium. Steve Garvey never took part in a triple play in his career. Neither did Fred McGriff, Mark Grace or Rafael Palmeiro, and together those four played 8,599 games at first base. But Scott Sizemore, a middle infielder, took part in a triple play in the first game he ever played at first base.