Babe Ruth's idea of a workout was to wash down a meal of five hot dogs with a couple of brews--before heading out for a night on the town. Or so I remember the story told to me in the mid-1980s by the longtime Yankee's clubhouse man, Pete Sheehy.
Pete had been working with the team since 1927 and by the time I interviewed him he had burned through a few brain cells. But his memories of "the Babe" remained fresh (probably because all of us sportswriters kept pestering him for anecdotes.)
So this much I learned about the immortal Ruth: he had loads of natural talent and trained as much as he thought he needed to--and that, of course, left him plenty of time for "R&R." You have to wonder how players like Ruth or Lou Gehrig or Hank Greenberg might have done if they had some of the high-tech training tools available to the current generation of ballplayers.
Where's the technology angle in all this? Hold your horses, I'm getting there.
A PR guy for a company called ProBatter Sports contacted us Wednesday to promote a deal recently struck with the Pittsburgh Pirates to sell the club a baseball pitching simulator called the ProBatter PX2. You have to go to the company's Web site and check this thing out. (Here's a video explainer.) It's a clever use of current technologies that allows batters to re-create the experience of facing a real pitcher in a controlled environment.
Here's how the company explains it:
"The ProBatter PX2 allows a hitter to face a DVD-quality image of a real pitcher, which is projected onto an 8x10 foot screen. The pitcher winds up (or throws from a stretch) -- at the moment of release, an actual ball is fired through a small hole in the screen, delivering virtually any pitch a human being can. Synchronization is precise and the effect is extremely realistic. Hitters can be challenged by an endless array of fastballs, sinkers, cutters, curves, sliders, change-ups, etc. -- at speeds up to 100 mph and variable in increments of two mph. Moreover, the pitches can be delivered with pinpoint accuracy and thrown to pre-selected locations inside and outside the strike zone.
No guarantees this will turn a collection of hitless wonders into the second coming of Murderers Row. But this does appear to be a clever idea that may catch on in a hurry. Batting practice is a far cry from game situations, a complaint I heard often from major leaguers--at least the ones who approached hitting as a science. But my days as a sportswriter are long over. What with everyone and their mother seemingly doing steroids these days, who knows what these guys are thinking anymore.
For the record, I still think the Babe would have preferred the hot dog and beer workout. Then again, prodigies come along once or twice in a generation.