Thursday, September 22, 2005

The day of the slider

by Zita Carno (Tampa, FL)

Courtesy of

There are times when the only way a pitcher can get out of a jam is to strike out the batter. For that he needs a pitch he can go to when he has to go for the strikeout. One April day in 1951 I woke up with the thought that I needed another pitch, and it occurred to me that this pitch could well be the slider.

I'd been hearing a lot about it; I had seen it thrown in games, and it occurred to me that maybe I could ask one of the Yankee pitchers about it. The question was, which one?

It seemed they all threw it.

On September 17 of that year I played hooky from school for the first and only time in my life and went to Yankee Stadium to watch the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians battle it out for first place. The Yanks won, 2-1, on a beautiful suicide-squeeze by Phil Rizzuto that scored Joe DiMaggio from third base. And on top of everything else, Eddie Lopat picked up his 20th win.

Without knowing just how I knew, I knew that he was the one I would have to ask about that pitch.

After the game I joined a mob outside the players' entrance - in the days of the original Yankee Stadium everything was totally accessible - and I was nervous as a cat, not knowing what to expect, because even in those days there were players who wouldn't give you the right time if your watch stopped.

But I waited, and after about 40 minutes Lopat emerged from the clubhouse, flipping the game ball which someone had recovered and presented to him in honor of that 20th win. I realized it was now or never, and as he walked past me I fell into step beside him. The only thing I could think of to say then was "Excuse me, Mr. Lopat - could I ask you something?"

He stopped and looked at me, and with four quiet words he had me in the palm of his hand. He said, in a calm voice with a hypnotic undertone that relaxed me immediately, "Go ahead, I'm listening."

I was breathing easier. I said to him that I just wanted to ask him something about the slider. He said nothing but motioned to me to follow him away from the crowd. We came to a clear space in front of the ball park, and then he took several minutes to show me how to throw the pitch. But that wasn't all; after demonstrating the wrist action, he opened a door and invited me to step inside and experience one of the inner mysteries of pitching. He handed me the ball and said softly, "Go ahead, try it."

Now, I was a hard-throwing sidearmer with a built-in curveball, and it took me some minutes to get used to the easier wrist action, but he was very patient with me and in just a short time I got the idea. I told him that now I had a new pitch to work on over the winter, and he said nothing but nodded. I felt that we understood each other.

I wound up working with him over the next three years, and I found him to be an absolutely incredible pitching coach.

What I learned from him is beyond description, but I can say that my decision to play hooky on that day paid off and then some.

Courtesy of

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