Commentary

This Byrd flies old school

Originally Published: October 15, 2007
By Jim Caple | ESPN.com

Paul Byrd's windup is so old school he makes Jamie Moyer seem like a tongue-pierced singer in an iPod ad. Byrd should be wearing baggy flannel pants and be nicknamed Daffy or Ol' Hoss or Three-Fingered. He should have an endorsement deal with Chesterfield cigarettes or Lucky Strike.

Not only does Byrd swing his arms old-style waaaaaayyyy behind his back, he gives the occasional double-pump, a delivery never previously recorded in color, let alone on digital tape.

Byrd started the windup in spring training 2002 when he was with Kansas City. He was coming off labrum surgery that had cost him the previous season, his velocity was down to 81 and at age 31 he basically was desperate to come up with something -- anything -- to keep his career alive. Even if it meant studying Bugs Bunny's mechanics from the 1946 cartoon "Baseball Bugs."

Paul Byrd

Byrd

Starting Pitcher
Cleveland Indians

Profile

2007 Season Stats
GM W L BB K ERA
31 15 8 28 88 4.59
"I remember seeing Walter Johnson [in films] swinging his arms a little bit. Warren Spahn doing the same thing," said Byrd, who will start Tuesday night for Cleveland in Game 4 of the ALCS. "You can just look at the history of baseball and see things like that. And when I got on the mound on and tried that, I basically pulled it from my memory. I tried a bunch of things. I tried a big leg kick like Bob Feller. I have a picture of Bob Feller in my pool room where his leg kick is three feet over his head. You can't do that today because stealing is such a big part of the game."

That, plus the players association would probably file a grievance.

After messing around with the windup on a back mound by himself, Byrd tried the windup in batting practice one day and heard the batters complain that they had trouble picking up the ball out of his hand. "I thought, 'Maybe I'm onto something here,' " Byrd said. "And the motion in my delivery before I started gave me a little momentum, and I think that's helped. Helped me through the years be deceptive and it kind of a neat way how I was able to stay in the game by doing something totally different.

"I enjoy the movement, like a tennis player waiting for a serve. Or a shortstop waiting for a ground ball. You get a little movement and I don't think that's a bad thing."

It seems like everyone waits until their arm is falling off or they're almost out of the game … Well, if you're stuck a couple years in a row and not getting anyone out, try something different.

--Paul Byrd

Byrd's windup is easily baseball's best since El Duque first twisted himself so tightly that it's surprising he didn't get stuck in mid-delivery. It's helped him win 62 games, including 15 this year. He's also earned $22 million since trying the delivery. Which prompts the obvious question: If Byrd extended his career and made millions by pumping his arms and if his Game 4 opponent, Boston's Tim Wakefield saved his career by throwing the knuckleball, then why don't more pitchers try the same things?

"It's not taught anywhere," Byrd said. "Young players are usually at the mercy of their pitching coaches and do whatever they teach. The consensus among those coaches, and I'm not saying I agree with it, is to clone everybody. Make everyone look the same. The less movement the better. Simplify things. I don't agree. I don't think everyone should pitch like me, but I don't think everyone should pitch mechanically 'correct.' "

Cleveland pitching coach Carl Willis said more pitchers don't try it because "the majority feel their stuff is good enough or they throw hard enough want to risk altering their mechanics and getting into bad habits. But for Paul, it's part of his repertoire and obviously is making quite a career of it."

Amid media outcry that Cleveland should start C.C. Sabathia on three days' rest last week, Byrd won the Division Series-clinching game with the Yankees last week, holding New York to two runs in five innings. It wasn't a masterpiece -- eight hits and two walks -- but it was plenty good enough. He'll start with a chance to give his team a commanding 3-1 lead in the series … and to offer further proof that you can be successful without following the style book to the absolute letter.

"I would love to see a power pitcher with a great arm try something, you know?" Byrd said. "But that will never happen because the coaches will go, 'I'll lose my job!' So they'll make him pitch absolutely perfect and flawless. That doesn't mean they have to do something incredibly crazy but just something a little different that delays the hitter picking up the ball. It seems like everyone waits until their arm is falling off or they're almost out of the game but there are a lot of guys throwing 95 and can't get guys out at Double-A or Triple-A and they seem to be stuck. Well, if you're stuck a couple years in a row and not getting anyone out, try something different."

Jim Caple is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

Jim Caple | email

Senior Writer, ESPN.com

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