"All you can hope is that you're feeling pretty quick and you're ready to swing the bat."
In recent years, home runs have been the highlight of baseball. The exploits of Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, Barry Bonds, and the like have captured our wonder and put fans in the stands. Blame it on steroids, blame it on tighter stitching on the ball, blame it on improved weight training, whatever the cause, homers are more frequent and get all the oohs and aahs.
Maybe not forgotten, but mostly treated as a poor stepchild, are the power pitchers. Guys like Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez and Kerry Wood are in the background nowadays. They get their due here in MLB Productions' Pure Heat: Ultimate MLB Flamethrowers, an hour-long series of profiles and interviews with and about the best power pitchers the game has ever seen.
The most surprising aspect of this DVD is that instead of jumping into modern-day pitchers, the history of power pitching is explored. Walter "Big Train" Johnson and Lefty Grove, not Roger Clemens or Dontrelle Willis, are the first pitchers we hear about, taking us to the beginning of real pitching, when they stopped just serving the ball up to hitters.
The Indians' Bob Feller's highlights stands out, with a cop on a bike getting beat by Feller's fastball in a contest.
The black and white highlights end quickly, as we begin exploring the top pitchers of the 1960s and 1970s. Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale were both studs for the Dodgers, but the real power pitching that most of us are familiar with starts 14 minutes into the show, when Nolan Ryan is profiled. For every pitcher, teammates, historians and/or coaches are heard from. With Ryan, we get to hear from him as well, telling us how he threw so many no-hitters and became one of the best pitchers all time. Footage of him working out in the weight room for his last team (Texas) is excellent, showing how a 44-year-old's work ethic allowed him to play 27 seasons and pitch a no-hitter in the twilight of his career. Clemens, a man still pitching today, is the only other pitcher that gets the same treatment on this DVD. He and Ryan are likely the most durable power pitchers of all time, both being dominant for more than 20 years.
The "Flameouts" portion of this DVD is good, showing us power pitchers who displayed promise, but didn't fulfill their full potential. Dwight Gooden, the 1984 rookie of the year, is the most obvious member of this group, though instead of "cocaine" MLB Productions sugarcoats it and describes his problems as "night life."
Less obvious choices are Houston's J.R. Richard and Detroit's Mark Fidrych, both of whom I hadn't heard of before this DVD. A good segue here is profiling Cincinnati's Rob Dibble, and then getting us into how power pitchers have found a home in bullpens.
Relievers used to be just aging starters dumped into the pen, but today some of the greatest power pitchers are relievers. Eric Gagne and Mariano Rivera are the highlights here.
Two teams today – at least until one of them decided on another fire sale this winter – have had the most dominating rotations in recent memory. The Marlins' Josh Beckett, Willis and A.J. Burnett and the Cubs' Mark Prior and Wood get their due on this DVD, before we get to the real cream of the crop: Johnson, Curt Schilling and Martinez, who have enough highlights on their own to fill this DVD, and were good choices to close the show out.
Sharp for the most part, the matted full screen picture is sharp, with solid blacks and bright colors. Some of the older stock TV footage is of course hit or miss, though the DVD picture is cleaned up nicely. But one major problem exists: during the entire show, the MLB logo is present in the upper right corner of the screen. It's transparent and doesn't get in the way of the action much, but it's still annoying.
A decent 2.0 mix, everything comes through clearly, though the music laid down to each segment can be out of place and overbearing.
A set of five highlight reels makes up the extras portion of this DVD, a thin yet enjoyable bonus to the show.
The ninth inning of Randy Johnson's perfect game against Atlanta is especially enjoyable, seeing how it's on the road and the Braves faithful get into the fact they're witnessing a historical performance by an opposing pitcher. It's one of those type of highlights that gives you chills.
Less exciting are two All-Star highlights with Pedro Martinez (four strikeouts in the 1999 game) and Roger Clemens (first and second innings of the 1986 game). These highlights are nice additions to the show, but on their own they're not too fantastic.
The ninth inning of Kerry Wood's 20 strikeout performance against Houston is a little blah, because there's no no-hitter at stake, though a montage of the final outs in three of Nolan Ryan's no-hitters is very nice. The entire baseball world is thankful Houston got rid of those dreadful uniforms, by the way. Worst commentator tidbit in the extras goes to the man who says during Ryan's seventh no-hitter: "If you're going to break up a no-hitter, you're going to have to do it swinging."
Menus feature a chapter index with pitcher highlights set to music.
After seeing Shout Factory's MLB Superstars Show You Their Game, I was expecting simple profiles and interviews with modern day pitchers. So I was pleasantly surprised to see the history of power pitchers explored dating back to the origins of the game in Pure Heat. The music is a little overdone, the MLB logo in the upper right corner of the screen was upsetting, but this production is still a nice addition to any MLB fan's collection. It reminds us that a dominating pitcher can be just as exciting as a 50-plus home run hitter. Recommended.