Charlton, nasty as ever, back on the inside
Early Wynn, one of baseball's earliest Nasty Boys, once famously said he would knock down his own mother. "But only if she was crowding...
Seattle Times baseball reporter
Early Wynn, one of baseball's earliest Nasty Boys, once famously said he would knock down his own mother.
"But only if she was crowding the plate," he clarified.
Norm Charlton's stance on maternal knockdowns is unknown (but I have a hunch Ma Sheriff would have been wise to strap on her helmet, back in the day). Charlton did relay an anecdote Thursday that helps clarify his position on hurling intimidation.
Charlton, clearly rarin' to start his new job as Mariners bullpen coach, had barely hit the podium at the team's spring-training luncheon when he began pontificating about Seattle's urgent need to pitch inside. Someone asked if that was a philosophy he had learned in college or the minor leagues.
"Little League," he replied. "I remember there was a girl ... I don't know that she wanted to play, but I think her mom wanted her to play more than anything else. She was in the minors and she got called up.
"I faced her for the first time, and I hit her. She quit after that."
While the cause-and-effect is unlikely to be so dramatic at the major-league level, Charlton is absolutely convinced the Mariners' 2008 pitching fortunes are at least partially tied to regaining ownership of the inside part of the plate.
He makes it clear that he believes opposing hitters in recent years have been allowed to get a little too comfortable. Instilling some fear can have a beneficial effect whether the opponent is a 12-year-old girl or Alex Rodriguez.
"It does work on A-Rod," he said. "He won't quit, but getting the ball in there works on everybody."
Charlton is not a voice in the wilderness on this subject, either. He has the backing of manager John McLaren, for starters. And pitching inside has long been a fundamental precept of Mel Stottlemyre, who has replaced Rafael Chaves as Mariners pitching coach.
After several days of recent staff meetings, Charlton confirmed that he and Stottlemyre are simpatico.
"I've known Mel for a while," he said. "It would be hard for me to believe that a guy that would really enjoy going out on a day that's 29 degrees, with a fly rod in his hand, or a pair of waders, rolling around in the mud, shooting ducks and geese ... I wouldn't imagine that guy saying, 'You don't really want to throw inside because it's not a nice thing to do.' "
Mind you, there is not a pitching coach — including Chaves — who doesn't give lip service each spring (and summer and fall) to the notion of working inside.
But Charlton doesn't just talk the talk, he has walked the walk. And plunked the plunk. He has the suspensions to prove it.
He was, along with Randy Myers and Rob Dibble, a member of the Cincinnati Reds' "Nasty Boys" in 1990, when the swaggering, flame-throwing bullpen troika led Lou Piniella's Reds to a World Series sweep of Oakland.
When Piniella moved to Seattle, Charlton wasn't far behind. He'd leave occasionally but kept coming back, an integral part of some landmark Mariners teams — 1995, 1997 and 2001.
Charlton, at age 45, still has an undeniable charisma that should serve him well in his first major-league coaching job, after dabbling in his post-retirement life in broadcasting, scouting and minor-league instruction.
In the Stottlemyre/Charlton regime, the apparent goal is for all their pitchers to work inside, not just the relievers. And that goes for their ace, 21-year-old Felix Hernandez.
"Watching Felix in the minor leagues, he was mean," Charlton said. "He dominated people, not only because of his stuff, but because he did pitch inside, and did it well.
"I don't think he did that as well as he could last year. There were games I sat up there and watched him, and he threw a lot of breaking balls. I think that's unnecessary."
To Charlton, there are two elements to pitching inside — throwing strikes on the inside corner, and throwing off the plate inside to insert an element of discomfort.
Well, make that three elements.
"You can take it to another level and include intimidation in there if you'd like," he said. "Where you're actually throwing the ball at the guy to knock him on his tail, to let him know you own both sides of the plate."
Mamas, don't let your babies grow up to be hitters.
Larry Stone: 206-464-3146 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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