Griff’s Invention

5 Aug

Bob “Buster” Bescher arrived in Cincinnati a right-handed hitter.  In 1909, he led the National League with 54 stolen bases but hit just .240.

Bescher

Bescher

Bescher’s manager, Clark Griffith would compare him to Ty Cobb in an interview with Harry Salsinger of The Detroit News:

“If Bescher could hit he would probably set a pace for base-stealing that would never be equaled…Bescher gets away like Cobb, and his success lies mostly in getting away.  He is running in his first few steps.  He has a great pair of limbs and is in stride at the jump.  He is lightning fast.”

The Cincinnati Enquirer said:

“Bescher is a big, strong fellow, naturally left-handed, who was, unfortunately, coached to bat right-handed when he was a kid.”

Griffith set out to change that before the 1910 season.  In January, The Enquirer said:

“A device for batting practice was shipped to Bob Bescher at his home in London (Ohio) by Manager Griffith yesterday.  The arrangement was constructed according to Griff’s order, and it was designed to give Buster practice in batting left-handed before he goes South with the club six weeks or so hence.”

Clark Griffith

Clark Griffith

The paper described Griffith’s invention:

“The device consists of a ball of regulation size, but fitted with an extra cover, to which stout rubber cords are attached, one on each side.  One of the cords is to be fastened to the floor and the other to the ceiling, allowing the ball to swing loosely at about the height of the batter’s waist.  When the ball is struck with a bat, the flexible cord allows it to swing several yards and it returns with great force, coming back at about the speed of a pitched ball.  Then it is time for Buster to get busy with the club and soak it out again.”

A diagram of Griffith's invention.

A diagram of Griffith’s invention.

The Enquirer said Griffith hoped Bescher would add “30 or 40 points” to his average batting left-handed.

“He is the best base runner in the National League…Griff has sent him instructions to hit only left-handed with the new machine, and he hopes that Bob will be a regular Ty Cobb when he reports in March.”

Bescher batted almost exclusively left-handed during spring training in Hot Springs, Arkansas and became a switch-hitter that season, and seems to have benefitted from Griffith’s invention—but never became a “regular Ty Cobb.”

He improved his average to .250 in 1910 and again led the league with 70 stolen bases.  The next two seasons he hit .275 and a career-high .281, leading the league with 81 and 67 steals.

Bescher

Bescher

In 1913, Bescher slowed, hitting just .258 and stealing 38 bases.  He bounced from the New York Giants to the St. Louis Cardinals and Cleveland Indians over the next five seasons, never hitting better than .270 or stealing more than 39 bases.  He played minor league ball through the 1925 season.

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