If you are a pitcher in professional baseball you are in the game because you have a love of the game and you have a gift. You were given a gift. I didn’t do anything to be blessed with the arm that I had. It took me a while to figure out that I was blessed with a God-given gift. Once I figured this this out, I decided that I was going to be the best pitcher I could be for as long as I could be. I didn’t make this decision at age 18. I was happy to be playing professional baseball and getting paid to do what I really enjoyed. I thought it was a pretty neat opportunity.
But then it finally went off in my head that I had a real opportunity here and I dedicated myself to being the best pitcher that I could be. This is what every young pitcher needs to do. You have to dedicate yourself to being the best that you can possibly be and conditioning is one of the biggest aspects of being your best. If you are not in shape and can’t handle the workload, it is going to be just a matter of time before you start having problems and breakdown.
For most of you, it has been easy to this point in time because you have been blessed with a gift, and have always excelled. When the workload increases and you are not prepared to handle it, it is just a matter of time before your break down. You have to work hard. You have to take that gift and make something out of it if you want to be successful. You have to take the information that your pitching coaches and strength and conditioning coaches give you and apply it. And, that doesn’t mean that you do it a couple of days per week. You have to live by it.
You won’t win every game that you pitch, but you should never walk off the field and feel like you got beat because the other team was in better shape. Never get beat because the opposition was better prepared. Your preparation is the only thing that you can control. The opposing pitcher may have more talent. He may have gotten the breaks, but he should never be in better shape. I always conditioned myself to go 12 innings. Once I took the mound, it was my ball game to win or lose, and if it took 12 innings to win, I wanted to be in shape to do it. Today most people are not going to allow you to go 12-innings, but you should never condition yourself to go less than 9.
In my opinion, the greatest game ever pitched was between the S. F. Giants and Milwaukee Braves on July 2, 1963. Forty-two year old Warren Spahn and 25-year old Juan Marichal each went 16 innings and the game ended 1-0 on a home run by Willie Mays. Each pitcher threw over 200 pitches; Spahn threw 201 and Marichal 227. Including Spahn and Marichal, there were seven future Hall of Fame players in that game. We will never see that again because the game won’t allow it. But both of these guys were prepared to go as long as it took. And this game was not a fluke; both pitchers won 20 games that season. For Spahn, it was his 13th 20-win season and for Marichal, it was his first of six.
My highest pitch count was 232 in a game against the Red Sox in 1974. I pitched 12 innings, struck out 19, walked 10 and had a no decision. My counter-part, Luis Tiant threw 180 pitches in 14 1/3 innings and took the loss 4-3. We were on a 4-man rotation back then and pitched on 3 day’s rest. I had 26 complete games in 1973 and 1974 and didn’t even lead the league. Gaylord Perry had 29 in 1973 and Ferguson Jenkins had 29 in 1974.
I always took a month off when the season was over to re-charge my battery. I needed to get away from my routine and schedule. And, I found that by the end of that month, I started getting itchy to get back into my routine because I missed it. When I got back into my routine, it was with the attitude that I really missed it and enjoyed it. I enjoyed working out. I felt good about myself after a good workout.
Once the season started, I found that the time, energy and sweat that I had spent on conditioning carried over to the mound. If you don’t have the discipline to workout and prepare yourself, you are not going to have the discipline on the mound to win ball games. There are going to be times during every game that require you to remain focused and not be distracted by things that you can’t control. You need to develop tunnel vision and avoid distractions. You can’t let things that are out of your control affect the game and your approach. Make one pitch at a time and focus only on things that are within your control at that particular moment in time.