By Jon Sindell, Bay Area MSBL in Spring 1991 issue of HardBall Magazine
If control is the key to good pitching, then Jim Barr holds it firmly in his hand. The former San Francisco Giant standout, now throwing for the Giants of the Sacramento MSBL, walked just two men in 55 innings in local competition last year, then issued just to more walks in 25 innings of work for Sacramento's Over-40 "A” level champions in the 1990 MSBL World Series. Still, believe it or not, Jim's combined 1990 ratio of four free passes in 80 innings of work represented an increase in the big righthander's generosity—in Sacramento in 1989, Jim walked just one man in 55 innings pitched.
"It's easier to avoid walks in this league than it was in the big leagues,” Jim says, "because here you don't have to pitch so fine.” Jim's 30-1 record in four years of MSBL competition in Sacramento bears him out—but don't get the impression that Jim lacks respect for Sacramento's senior league batters, several of whom are former major leaguers. "No, I don't throw the ball down the middle of the plate in this league,” Jim says—and recalls that even in the big leagues, the majority of the relatively few walks that he did issue resulted from pitching fine, not from a lack of control.
"I always had good control,” Jim says, and explains how outstanding natural control was responsible for his first pitching break, back in Little League, when his coach made Jim a pitcher after watching the youngster throw more strikes through a hanging tire than any of his teammates could.
Jim Barr on Control
"It's very important to throw to a target whenever you throw a pitch. Have the target in view by the top of your wind-up, before you start forward, and keep your eye on the target.”
Those who remember Jim Barr as a San Francisco Giant will recall that he often chose a target too far inside for the batter's comfort. "That's just part of the game,” Jim says with a smile. At 6-foot-3 and 215 pounds, Barr can present a menacing figure. Still, Jim comes inside much less often in our league than he did in the majors, and when he does, he aims low (and with his pinpoint control, puts it there). But unlike many pitchers, Jim's purpose in throwing inside is not to claim the outside corner—instead it's to "get the batter to hit it off his hands.” Barr, at 42, can still rush it up there at major league speed (88-90 mpg). It's the classic pitching formula: hard inside, breaking ball away.
"To throw hard, you've got to use your whole body. For instance, Nolan Ryan's not a big guy, but he uses a lot of leg drive.”
"You mean,” I say, "like Tom Seaver?” Seaver was not just a great pitcher, he was a great student of pitching as well, and I've emulated his famous low-down, drop-and-drive leg technique at the cost of several torn uniform pants and a grotesquely swollen knee.
"Absolutely not,” says Jim. "I believe in throwing more upright.” Jim, who wouldn't mind being a big league pitching coach someday, points out that all pitchers' bodies are different, and that Seaver's style was the result of his own unique, blocky build. He explains that a pitcher who drops down to far is unable to release the ball in the desired downward plane, making all of his pitches too high, and his curveballs as flat as uncorked champagne.
"You always want the curveball to break down, or down and over. Curves that break down are harder to hit, because they avoid the plane of the bat.” Throwing a good, down-breaking curve requires a high arm (the elbow should be at least ear level before the arm is brought down), and "getting the fingers in front of the ball fast and pulling down across the seams hard—like pulling down a window shade.”
"But if dropping downlike Seaver isn't the way to add pop, what is?” I asked.
"Pitching's like hurling the discus,” Jim says. "You've got to have the hips and the shoulder rotating in synch, and in the preliminary motion it's very important to fully extend the arm behind you before starting forward.”
Jim likes weights for strengthening the arm (and for rehabilitation as well). "When you want to strengthen any muscle, you have to stretch it out before you build it up,” Jim explains. He uses 10- to 15 pound dumbbells to exercise his arm and shoulders, and recommends no more than that. "What you're going for is tone, not mass,” he says. To determine the best weight for you, "See if you can hold the weights easily out in front of you with completely outstretched arms for two seconds—if you can, then you can go up in weight.”
The should exercises that Jim uses involve slowly raising and lowering the bells with arms outstretched, varying the arm angle to work different muscles (the shoulder has about 50 different muscles). When you bring the bells down, Jim says, you should invert your hands into the "pouring beear” position. And in performing all arm and shoulder exercises, "rotate your wrists gently, or you might develop a stiff wrist,” which could impede arm speed and lead to gopher balls.
"How often do you throw?” I asked Jim. "Four times a week,” he replied, brushing back my dream of gain with no pain. "I built a mound in my backyard and stretched out a tarp with a strike zone on it.”
When I asked Jim what he did for his arm after pitching, his answer surprised me. "In Sacramento in the summer,” he laughed, "I don't do anything,” he said. "I never get sore, but I do take the entire month of December off to let the body heal.”
I asked Jim if he wanted to pitch professionally again. "I've toyed with the idea of making a comeback,” Jim said. "I could help a team in middle relief. But I don't think I will. I've got my family and my business to think of. For another, everyone would think I just did it for the money.”
Jim had been contacted by three teams in the now-defunct Senior Professional League—but, again, his commitment to family led him to reject those overtures.
This means trouble for the teams that will oppose Sacramento in the 1991 MSBL World Series: Sacramento's past tourney entries have included major leaguers Ron Brand, Lowell Palmer, Bob Oliver, Jim Willoughby and Don Carrithers in addition to Barr. And of course, the batters in the Sacramento MSBL will once again have to contend with Barr's Sacramento Giants, who compiled a 45-3 record over the last three years, and won the last three league crowns.
"Giants?” I asked Jim, who grew up in L.A.
Jim recalled how his mother felt about the hometown Dodgers' hated San Francisco rivals and laughs. "In high school,” he remembers, "my mother used to say, ‘My son will never pitch for the Giants.”
But really, the way her son keeps mowing them down, Mrs. Barr should have said, "My son will never stop pitching for the Giants.”
About Jim Barr
Born 2/10/48 in Lynwood, California
Pitched 12 years in the major leagues, 10 with the Giants. Won 101 games. Lifetime ERA 3.56. Walked 469 batters in 2064 IP. Averaged 2.04 walks per 9 innings.