Boston Baseball welcomes back Rico Petrocelli for another season. A two-time All-Star during his 12-year playing career with the Red Sox, and a key member of both the 1967 Impossible Dream and 1975 American League Champion Red Sox teams, Rico shares his thoughts on the Red Sox with us each month during the 2011 season.
Boston Baseball: Rico, Adrian Gonzalez looked like a Triple Crown candidate this spring. He had sixteen homers on July 1, and then he hit only two more homers over the next seven weeks. How do you explain that? Did teams pitch him differently the second time through the American League?
Rico Petrocelli: Not really — the reason being that he hits everything! When he’s hitting well, if they try to pitch him away he just goes the opposite way, especially at Fenway. The book on him was to pitch him in, but he’s been hitting that inside strike!
When he goes bad, however, he does swing at bad pitches, at low pitches, he’s all screwed up with his timing. He’ll do that for a few days and look bad.
BB: You and Adrian are both members of the 40 HR club. In fact, you did it exactly 40 years apart, in 1969 and 2009. Did your homers come in bunches like that? Or to get to 40, do you need to have steady production the whole year?
RP: You’ve got to be pretty steady. You might have one great month, and that sure helps, but you can’t go through an extended drought. You have to be consistent. You have to see the ball well. Your timing has to be good. You can’t be up there swinging at the pitcher’s pitch. Being patient at the plate, that’s key.
BB: It’s probably not a coincidence that the year you hit 40 homers — your career high — you also set a career high with 98 walks.
RP: That’s right. One of the keys for a young player coming up is to learn the strike zone. He’s got to lay off bad pitches. Because once it gets around that you’ll swing at bad pitches, they won’t throw you strikes.
Kevin Youkilis is a great example. Right through the minor leagues, he always had a good eye, didn’t swing at bad pitches, and he came up to the big leagues and he continued that. Pitchers know they’ve got to throw him strikes, and eventually, he started hitting more home runs, and knocking in more runs. The discipline Youkilis has is fundamental to his success, to his ability to hit for average, to draw walks, to hit for power.
BB: That’s the Red Sox philosophy, really — that it all starts with control of the strike zone.
BB: You were a guy who was hitting in the teens for home runs for the first four years of your career, and walking 30 or 40 times. Then in 1969, you went from 12 to 40 homers, from 30 to 98 walks. What happened over the winter of ‘68?
RP: First of all, I worked out real hard! Yaz was a great example, with all the conditioning he did leading into his ‘67 year. I did all kinds of workouts, and I gained 20 pounds, from 165 to 185! It was pretty dramatic, but it was a family trait. My brothers, four of them, right around the same age, did the same thing and got bigger and stronger.
Then I reported to Winter Haven, and mentally I just said, ‘Look, I’m not going to let a bad day bother me! I’m going to be myself, and I’m going to relax instead of trying to be someone else.’
I was up at the plate trying to be great. I was so tightly wound — every at bat was a do-or-die situation. I put so much pressure on myself until that year. That year, I just finally decided to be myself, and it paid off.
BB: It sounds like maturity was big part of it.
RP: Absolutely. I was 25! And then, I hit home runs against a few of the top pitchers, which gave me some confidence. It was an expansion year, and I hit some home runs off of those guys, too. Every one counts!
And I just felt great. I saw the ball so well. No matter how hard the pitcher threw, I felt he couldn’t throw it by me, and that I could wait on the ball and then really explode. And things worked out!
I’m not going to compare myself to Gonzalez, though. He’s really a complete hitter. He can hit for average, he’ll hit home runs, he’ll knock in runs. The only thing he lacks is speed! If he could run, he’d hit .370 every year.