Baseball is a game of variety. Variations of how a pitcher delivers the ball, how a hitter swings the bat and how a manager strategizes in his games. Even the field on which the game is played has variations. So it stands to reason that those who understand the different variations of the game can put them to their advantage. During his tenure as a player, and now as manager of the Long Island Ducks, Wally Backman’s ability to understand variations within baseball helped him garner the successes of his career.
HITTING TO THE OPPOSITE FIELD
Today many hitters keep their focus on launch angles and, therefore, find themselves pulling the ball considerably more often than not. While this approach many result in more home runs, defensive shifts have also created more ways to get these same batters out. However, if hitters can hit the ball the other way, it becomes much more difficult to get them out. One of the main factors for going to the opposite field, according to Wally Backman, is patience. “I think you got to let the ball travel and get deep in the strike zone,” said the new manager of the Long Island Ducks, “I think tee drills are a good way to hit the ball the other way because you have to let it get deep and you have to keep your hands inside the baseball, that’s the real key to being able to go the other way.”
Bunting is a valuable skill that allows ballplayers to create more opportunities. “I think that bunting is a big asset because it creates runs in a different way,” Backman said, “Speed is huge, but being able to bunt in certain situations is very valuable; it wins you a lot of games.” Backman knows from personal experience that there are other advantages to laying down a bunt. In 1986, while with the New York Mets, Backman had a .320 batting average, thanks in part to 26 bunt hits.
PLAYING MULTIPLE POSITIONS
Players do not only have numerous options when they are at the plate. Having the ability to field multiple positions opens up a number of possibilities, and not just for the players, but for their managers as well. “I think it gives your manager an advantage,” Backman said, “I think that being able to play multiple positions gives the manager the opportunity to rest some of his players.” As a ballplayer, Backman played second base, third base and spent a little time playing shortstop too.
PLAYING MULTIPLE SPORTS
Sometimes variety that can improve a player’s ability on the field does not even have anything to do with baseball. There are many former baseball players who have said that playing multiple sports is more beneficial than only focusing on one sport. Wally Backman is a good example, playing three sports (baseball, football and wrestling) himself while he was growing up. “I think that it is an advantage for a player,” Backman said, “I think multiple sports is better for a player, to rest certain muscles, to rest certain parts of their body at a young age.”
A final variation to a player’s game is one that has to be done early on, but according to Backman is a big advantage, and that is switch hitting. However, he points out that it is no walk in the park either. “To be a switch hitter, there is a big advantage, but it’s twice the work; you’ve got to take just as many swings from the right side as you do the left side,” Backman said, “There is a lot of work that’s involved in it, but it’s definitely an advantage because nothing is breaking away from you, everything is coming to you.”