Sweet (really!) Lou

AP photo

AP photo

Inside Pitch columnist Jeff Zurcher recently sat down with Sweet Lou, chatting about baseball, roots, and faith.

JZ: You were known as a great hitter.  What were your keys to hitting?

LP: God-given ability, you’ve gotta start there.  Good hand-eye coordination, good eyesight.  Then, you can’t have too much fear up there at home plate.  Look, it all starts with balance: You’ve got to recognize pitches so that you swing at strikes-makes it so much easier.  You gotta know the strike zone.  But look, you don’t want to get too technical with this.  It’s a lot like golf, but on a different plane.  You’ve gotta shift your weight.  You’ve gotta get off your back side to your front side to hit a baseball.  And it’s so much easier to keep your hands above the baseball and swing down on the ball.

And the most important thing…you’ve gotta have confidence.

When you were playing, who were the pitchers that you faced?

Nolan Ryan by far was the toughest on me.  He threw so hard.  He threw so hard and he was a little wild-maybe intentionally-once in a while.  When he threw the ball down and away from you…you couldn’t get to it.  In fact, he threw a couple of no hitters against teams I played on.  He was such a competitor.

Whose swings do you like today?

Look, I’ll tell you this…the years I played I saw some great hitters and in the years I managed I saw some great hitters.  I guess probably the most natural was Ken Griffey Jr.  He was effortless.  The ball jumped off his bat. He could hit for power he could hit for average.  Just a great, great, great swing, you know?

Other people…Alex Rodriguez: strong.  Edgar Martinez.  I had Barry Larkin [when Piniella managed the Reds] who just made the Hall of Fame; he had a wonderful swing.  Dave Winfield.  Reggie Jackson…strong, strong.  I used to idolize Ted Williams when I was young.  And when I played, I loved to watch Carl Yastremski.  Al Kaline, he was another guy who made it look so easy.  A lot of great hitters.

How about the baseball tradition in West Tampa?

It started with Al Lopez….

And you’ve got Tino Martinez.  You know, you’ve got Fred McGriff.  You’ve got Louis Gonzalez.  Sheffield, Gary Sheffield.  Doc Gooden.  We’ve got Wade Boggs-Hall of Famer.  All from West Tampa.  Look, this area was prolific for a long, long time.

Tony La Russa…nice story about Tony.  Tony and I played on the same American Legion team.  He was a shortstop on the team, and I was a left fielder; we were about 15- or 16-years-old.  Tony hit second and I hit third.  And, we both went on to play in the big leagues-though his career was shortened by injuries.  But he had a great career as a manager, and I kind of followed in his footsteps in that sense.  And I guess between us we’ve won like 4500 games as managers.

So Tony and I played Pony League ball together, we played American Legion ball together.  And then we played high school against each other.  I went to a Jesuit high school and he went to Jefferson High School.

What would you say it’s tougher to do: manage in the big leagues or play?READ THE REST