THERE’S A GREAT old story, recounted in a 1947 New York Times article by Arthur Daley, about Yogi Berra and plate discipline. Trying to shake the second-year player out of a slump, Bucky Harris, the Yankees manager at the time, pulled the notoriously bad-ball hitting future Hall of Famer aside as he prepared to walk to the on-deck circle and offered this advice:
“You aren’t thinking enough at the plate. Think before you pick out a ball. Make sure it’s good before you swing. Think!”
The story, which Berra later both rebutted and confirmed, ends with the catcher heading back to the dugout after striking out on three straight pitches, mumbling repeatedly:
“How can a guy hit and think at the same time?”
Which brings me to the saga of 24-year-old Maikel Franco, in Year 3 of what has thus far been a mostly futile attempt to make him a more disciplined hitter.
Specifically, is it possible? And could it possibly be counterproductive?
With Franco entering what would be, with good health, his second full season in the major leagues, his learning curve seemed to have spiked with the arrival of Matt Stairs as hitting coach this spring. He took his walks, worked counts, had a promising spring in terms of discipline.
“He hasn’t lost his helmet on a swing in BP or in a game yet this spring,” Stairs beamed late in March, but when April rolled around, some springs sprung from the top of his head again.
Entering Thursday night’s game against the Mets, Franco was hitting .148 over his first 14 games and 60 plate appearances with two home runs, 10 runs batted in and a .217 on-base-percentage. A grand slam and broken bat single against the Mets on April 12 suggested a coming-out-of-the slump party, but entering the series finale in New York’s spacious Citi Field, Franco had not recorded a hit until a third-inning double.
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