Don’t Call Me a Sissy

By Lloyd Graff

Rick Barry shooting his famous underhand free throw

I watched the NBA Finals with rapt attention as LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers beat Steph Curry and the Golden State Warriors.

One thing that struck me was despite the incredible athleticism of the players, several key guys on the floor were inept free throw shooters. Tristan Thompson, Andrew Bogut, and Festus Ezeli were butchers at the line.

It brought to mind Wilt Chamberlain, perhaps the greatest basketball player ever, who was also a pathetic foul shooter.

As luck would have it, I was listening to a podcast by Malcolm Gladwell, historian, writer, social commentator and big time hoops fan. He was telling the story of Rick Barry, another Hall of Fame basketball player, and Wilt. Barry usually led the NBA in free throw shooting, and Wilt was perennially at the bottom in percentage. Barry once approached Wilt and told him he could help him, but Chamberlain declined because Barry shot his free throws underhanded. Wilt said, “If I shoot underhanded they’ll call me a sissy,” and Barry said “not if you make them.”

Gladwell asked Barry, whose three sons all played in the NBA, how he came to shoot underhanded. He said his father was his high school basketball coach in New Jersey. He was a star player, but he only shot his free throws at 70%, which was OK but not as good as his Dad thought he could shoot. One day Rick’s father told him he wanted him to shoot underhand in the next game. Barry objected, saying they’d call him a sissy, but he obliged his father and coach. A fan in the crowd yelled, “Barry you’re a sissy,” but he made all the free throws he took that night, and his father said, “You’re not a sissy if you make them.”

In sports and in life most of us bow to social pressure. We are afraid to change course. The worst thing is to be laughed at by our peers because we dared to be different.

As we get ready for the Rio Olympics all of the world class high jumpers will be using a high jump form known as the Fosbury Flop. Prior to 1965 and the emergence of Dick Fosbury every competitive high jumper cleared the bar with a western roll or even a scissors kick, but with the advent of soft pits to land on Fosbury developed a revolutionary technique in which he would sprint diagonally towards the bar, then curve and leap backwards over it. He won the Olympic Gold Medal in 1968. They probably called him a sissy or worse when he first tried the flop.

Going back to the NBA Finals, Draymond Green of the Warriors has redefined his position on the court. He calls himself a “Point Forward” because he often rebounds the ball off the defensive backboard and leads a fast break down the court. It takes tremendous athleticism to combine those skills, but more and more players like Green and Lebron James are popularizing this position. When Ben Simmons, the 2016 #1 pick in the NBA draft, was asked what his position was, he responded, “I’m a Point Forward.”

I am a little surprised that we have not seen radical shifts in football and baseball—probably the power of social pressure. The New England Patriots show some originality by shunning first round draft picks to focus on second through fourth round picks where most of the best players are found. In baseball, the split finger pitch changed the game, but today pitchers see it as an arm killer so it has been shelved by most. The Cubs are innovating under Manager Joe Madden by playing players in multiple positions. On Tuesday he used three pitchers in the outfield. While there usually is one “utility infielder” on a team, Madden is trying to assemble a team of athletes who can play multiple positions. He wants a team of “Swiss Army Knife” versatile players.

On the machine tool front, the DeCaussin family in Los Angeles were sure they could build a vertical machining center for half the price of the dominant Japanese machines. Working with little money out of an 800-square-foot garage in North Hollywood, California, they built their first prototype with a tool changer in 1974 and drove it to IMTS in the back of their pickup truck. It was a big success and financed their venture into vertical machining centers in 1979.

Unfortunately, creativity is shunned in sports, like it usually is in business. We trudge along day after day, rarely gambling on a new strategy or technique.

We don’t want to risk being a flop or being called a sissy.

Question: Would you punch someone who called you a sissy?

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9 thoughts on “Don’t Call Me a Sissy

  1. Josh

    Nope. I don’t really think name calling warrants a physical response. I’ve got thicker skin than that. A violent response to words is for the weak of mind. What is it they used to say in grade school? Sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me.

  2. Kevin

    Whitey Herzog was a great innovator and it was he who routinely rotated Ken Daley (lefty) and Todd Worrell (righty) between the mound and right field within an inning depending on the matchup. Accumulating players who were capable of playing multiple positions was also a hallmark of Tony LaRussa. I know Madden and the Cubbies are everyone’s little darlings, but this stuff is old hat when you consider the legacies of the White Rat and Dom Tony. Madden can take credit for his theme trips.

  3. Wayne

    Baseball has made a significant culture change with “The Shift” by moving players in various different positions to match the hit patterns of the batters. All but a couple of teams now employ this strategy.

  4. Lloyd Graff

    Hi Kevin, Joe Madden did use three different relief pitchers in left field in Tuesday’s 15 inning game at Cincinnati. The 4 man Bench with 9 relief pitchers is forcing managers to get more creative. I hear Madison Bumgarner is going to hit for the Giants tonite as DH Pitcher at Tampa Bay.
    What’s happened to Trevor Rosenthat? He only putches well against the Cubs?

    1. Kevin

      Trevor is walking as many people as he strikes out. He can’t locate the fastball and can’t pitch up in the zone. Changeup and curve are good enough. Hitters are just sitting on his heater and hitting it hard or working a walk which is death to a closer.

  5. Jack A

    The last couple of weeks have been quite an experience for us here in Cleveland. It’s been a long dry spell. 52 years to be exact. I was only 12 when we last won a sports championship and don’t remember it at all. I didn’t attend any of the Cavs playoff games but I did attend the parade and rally along with 1.3 million others. It was sheer joy. I saw plenty of grown men cry. No one called anyone a sissy. Most of us were wondering if we would ever see a championship in our lifetimes. Nothing wrong with showing passion and emotion. I probably wouldn’t punch anyone but I am not afraid to show my feelings.

  6. Noah Graff

    My iconoclastic genius maneuver in baseball would be the following. Wait until a pitcher has 2 strikes, take him out and put in a different pitcher in the same at bat to get the final strike. Perhaps if a lefty is in, you replace him with a righty, or there is a off-speed guy you replace him with a flame thrower.

    It’s unconventional and probably considered insulting to take a pitcher out in the middle of an at bat. But who cares!

    Does anybody know if this is legal?

  7. Tony

    Yes, legal, and happens sometimes. Also legal to replace the batter in the middle of an at bat.(rarely happens) New guy takes over with same pitch count (3 balls & 2 strikes, 1 ball & 1 strike, etc.- whatever it was on last guy when he was replaced).


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