By Roger Beshens, Louis Addeo-Weiss
“Growing up 50 miles north of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, I’d always loved pitching. The art of getting hitters out, one of the many aspects of this great game of baseball, was something I found alluring.”
“One night, back in 1978, while watching the NBC Game of the Week with Joe Garagiola and Tony Kubek, Garagiola noted the importance of throwing a slider like a football – using a stiff wrist on release. This piqued my curiosity, so I decided to test the former catcher’s hypothesis in my backyard. The result? The pitch dropped some 3-plus feet, only furthering my interest.”
“Garagiola, however, never delved into pitch grips. A traditional slider is off-center. I gripped it like a fastball – 2 or 4 seams on the label on center. Right away, I knew this was a Steve Carlton, Ron Guidry-esque slider. Being on center with a fastball grip and football tilt allows for a harder, tighter slider with some real devastatingly late break, all while being easier to command, something that can’t always be said about a traditional slider.”
“The question now, as a young, aspiring pitcher, was how I was going to harness this monster in a game? I spent countless hours perfecting the pitch’s break, starting on the center of the rubber and what do you know, I could throw it down the middle and this pitch broke so late the hitter was stymied. I used this pitch for years, with double-digit strikeout games becoming commonplace in my game lines.”
Beshens would go on to star as a pitcher in high school, earning the Colonial League’s inaugural MVP-award in 1984. The left-hander’s former coach, Ed Hawrylo, referred to a young Roger in flattering terms, stating, “as a little lefty, he reminds me of Ron Guidry….He’s small, but has such great mechanics, that he throws effortlessly. And he has a lot of movement.”
“In 1986, I flew down to a Saturday, June Minnesota Twins tryout at Tinker Field, Orlando. I was hoping to follow me in college. At the end of the tryout, Jim Rantz told me to come over to Melbourne the following Monday,” recalls Beshens. “We will look at you for 10 days in Minor League minicamp,” said Rantz.”
Fred Waters, a scout for the Twins at the time, is recalled by Beshens as “incredibly nice and complimenting of my (Roger’s) stuff.”
“I roomed with Mike Baer, an infielder from Cal Berkeley. Billy Gardner was there, and while I wasn’t a devout Twins fan, I was merely in awe to be in the presence of a former Major League player turned manager.”
Beshens recalls the former Twins’ manager dubbing him “lefty” and saying he reminded him of a young Danny Jackson. “My second start I threw a pitch to Derek Parks and my elbow popped, I walked off the mound, I couldn’t throw another one.”
During our conversation, Roger continues to philosophize and dissect the art of how the pitch works. Our exchange goes on for a while, but here is a summary of the wisdom he imparted onto me during our conversation.
Much more akin to throwing a fastball, the football tilt is a simple transition, and the stiffer wrist makes for the aforementioned deadly late break. “I tried rolling my wrist with this football tilt and it was a waste. The pitch broke too early for my liking. This, an on-center slider, comes out of hand perfectly. In practice, I would go to left field aim at the pitcher’s mound, (I’m lefty) and it would break 40 feet to the catcher,” says Beshens.
The separator between the two, according to the former Catasauqua High School-standout, is the differing wrist action when throwing a slider and curve with the football tilt. Yes, you can grip a slider and curve with an on-center fastball grip. The tilt is like throwing a tight spiral football.
“If you roll the wrist, you have a curve, whereas a stiff wrist gives you the football slider and that’s the slider you and every pitcher in the world want to be throwing. I call it the football slider because it’s thrown like a football. Throwing with a fastball grip, too, allows for added velocity, which can only make a slider that much more lethal.”
“Make sense? Again, proper implementation of this pitch is dependent on remembering the three practices I laid out: Grip, tilt, and wrist action. How many pitchers tell you that?” quips Roger after schooling me on the inner workings of the pitch.
Beshens also notes that the only difference between the slider and curveball is mere wrist action. “You can use a football tilt for both while retaining the fastball grip, but remember to roll the wrist when throwing the curve, and to stiffen it when throwing the slider.
While his playing career appeared to be over after, Beshens’ passion for the art of the slider never waned.
With the advent of the internet, Beshens decided to use the platform to inform the baseball-viewing public about the pitch.
“I decided to let the world know; messaging people in Australia, the Orient, Europe, as well as most large colleges and universities about this slider. In 2018 I made and uploaded a video to YouTube, The Football Slider.” Beshens would join Facebook in 2016, under the name Slider Slider where he posted content strictly catered to the football slider, including a tutorial of how to properly execute the pitch.
“In May 2018 I immersed myself in the world of Twitter, messaging players on nearly every MLB roster, telling pitchers to throw the pitch like a football; A stiff wrist with a 2 or 4 seam grip on the label,” said Beshens.
“I must’ve sent upwards of 1,000 tweets and messages to current and former Major League pitchers, explaining the methodology behind such an unorthodox pitch. And while all of my labor didn’t always bear the aptly-aspired fruits, a veteran MLB pitcher, then-Atlanta Braves’ starter, Brandon McCarthy, contacted me asking for more details. He got back to me 4 days later telling me he used it on June 2, 2018.”
McCarthy’s exchanges with Beshens prior can be seen below and outline that even those considered among the best in the world can continue to learn, absorb, and implement knowledge to further hone and perfect their craft.
Courtesy of @RBeshens (Twitter)
Beshens’ adoration and borderline-obsession with the pitch would even lead him to earning mention in a piece posted by FanGraphs contributor Jason Collete, which you can view on Beshens’ Twitter page.
The problem, however, is that Beshens has failed to accurately receive credit for his advocacy of the pitch. “They (writers) all decided to go there way (capitalized for emphasis). This is about getting jobs at ESPN, moving up the ladder, telling players what I know and they get the credit.”
One admirer of Beshens’ work is Tony Wuench, a sports photographer who concurs on the notion of the former pitcher turned teacher not getting his just-dues. “He’s been cheated out of credit,” writes Wuench over one of our exchanges. Wuench even sent a collage of clippings highlighting a young Beshens’.
Courtesy of @wuenchmedia (Twitter)
It doesn’t take long for me to see that Roger really studies and appreciates the craft of the pitch and pitching in general. Our conversations see him dissect various hurlers and their usage of breaking pitch – which, for someone who watches baseball almost exclusively from the perspective of pitchers – makes for the ultimate nerd-out.
One of the highlights, seen above, is a brief exchange between Beshens and longtime hurler Jim Kaat, where Beshens noticeably impresses Kaat with his knowledge of the pitch – even comparing the football-style slider to Steve Carlton’s.
A message sent regarding now-shelved Yankees starter, Luis Severino, is telling of this as well.
“Guys are getting elbow injuries when not throwing it correctly. Severino went down, and you can bet his tilt or grip of the slider were probably wrong,” reads a message Beshens sent me this past Friday.
Severino will miss the entire 2020 season after undergoing Tommy John Surgery.
Now, readers of this piece should not only come away with knowledge of this slider variation but acknowledge Beshens as the go-to for all-things football slider. Let us strip away many of these long-stemmed notions of tradition in sport and take notice of those who look to expose those to new ideas.
When posing the question of what he wants to accomplish here, Beshens’ reply was both poignant and reflective of his individual knowledge and simultaneous adoration and hope for what he can bring to the future of pitching across baseball: “I know it (the football slider) works and is easy to learn, and that’s why I sent out thousands of messages. The football slider, if thrown wrong, can, like all breaking balls, cause significant arm injuries. When I started sending messages on Twitter in 2018, I didn’t know how it would play out. I thought pro pitchers would use it, maybe say thanks for the input, and pitching coaches in the pros would learn it also….I know every step from start to finish. There’s a technique that must be realized if a pitcher isn’t throwing over the top, and as the arm gets lower, that technique be taught….I’ve seen guys like (Chad) Kuhl, (Jameison) Taillon, (Jordan) Hicks, and Severino go down, and what do they all have in common? Injuries stemming from wrongful use of the slider.”
*All instatements in quotations credited to Roger Beshens, unless noted otherwise”