|Perhaps the most widely used principle in hitting a baseball is take a level, natural swing, and top batters at all levels of play have been using this principle with great success from the time baseball began. Indeed, the success of such big league batting champions as Henry Aaron, Ted Williams, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, and Pete Rose can be attributed to a level, free swing.
The good swing is as nearly level as it can possibly be. The type of swing, of course, depends on where the ball is pitched. On the low pitch, the hitter does come up on his swing, as shown here by Willie McCovey, Hall of Fame slugger of the San Francisco Giants (Illus. 1). The hitter has to come up. Most hitters do uppercut slightly. It is perfectly natural to swing up on a low pitch. However, if the hitter does uppercut pitches across his letters or high pitches, he will have a great deal of trouble. These are the pitches he must swing down on slightly, particularly with a hard infield and if the hitter has good speed a foot.
There are many batting instructors who emphasize the slightly downward swing, the chop swing in which the hitter shortens up and swings down slightly. “The reason why we told our hitters to swing down slightly,” said Dick Sisler, former batting coach of the St. Louis Cardinals, “is more or less to go to the extreme to make them level off. I think if a hitter will level off on a high pitch, he will hit the ball on a line more.”
Ted Williams, however, emphasized the slightly upward swing. One of the game’s truly great hitters with the Boston Red Sox, Ted believed a hitter can generate more power this way than he can swinging down on the pitch.
The type of batting swing depends on the hitter himself, and, of course, where the ball is pitched. Each hitter must develop his own style to meet his physical abilities such as power and speed. Most home run hitters have a slight uppercut, which is all right for a player with good power, but for the majority of hitters, the level swing is recommended. They can place more weight forward to prevent upper cutting.
A Smooth, Well-Timed Hitting Swing Henry Aaron had one of the greatest batting swings in the history of baseball. His quick hands and wrists enabled him to hit the ball out in front of the plate. Hank preferred a short stride because it kept his body balanced and gave him split-second timing. “Just concentrate on hitting the ball where it is pitched,” said Aaron. “If you hit it good, it will go. So, just meet it squarely.” Series A - Henry Aaron.
“I used a straightaway stance slightly open,” said Aaron. “By open, I mean my left foot is planted slightly to the left of a line from my right foot. I preferred to stand a reasonable distance away from the plate, without overcrowding or getting too far away from the plate. I kept the bat away from my body. If a hitter holds his bat in close, he will tie himself up and will not be able to come around effectively on an inside pitch.”
“I liked the short stride because it kept my body balanced and helped me have split-second timing,” said Aaron, shown here hitting his 715th career home run in 1974 (Illus. 2). “In addition, the short stride allowed me to check my swing if the pitch was bad.”
The reason for the stride is to force and keep the weight on the rear foot until the swing is started. The hitter who strides too far usually gets ready too soon which tends to make him a lunge hitter. If he can stay back, wait, and take a short stride, he will have the good, compact type of swing that is necessary for successful hitting.
Spray hitters, those who hit to all fields, should use a heavier bat, choke up, and try to make contact. They will find that the ball will come off the bat sharper than if they used a lighter bat.
For hitting success, a hitter should concentrate on trying to hit line drives at all times. True, a batter will hit a percentage of the balls on the ground, and he will hit a percentage of fly balls. However, by concentrating on going to the line drive, he is more apt to make good contact consistently.
Jackson hit from a slightly closed stance, although not exaggerated. Standing deep in the box, Reggie has his bat cocked, behind his ear, and he goes from there. His feet are spread, and he takes a short stride. He is able to wait on the ball because he is quick with his hands and strong in his arms.
Basically, Bando was a line drive type of hitter. He hit from a slightly open stance and made good contact. He stood close to home plate and came away from the ball a little, standing about even in the batter's box. Sal was quite proficient at hitting to right field on the hit-and-run.
As he assumes his position at the plate, the hitter should make sure he has complete coverage of the plate. He should be close enough to the plate to handle pitches on the outside corner and far enough from the inside corner to keep from being jammed on the fists.
The head must be stationary and fairly still. A hitter should move his eyes to watch the ball, but never move his head. The hips and shoulder must be kept level, with the front hip and shoulder pointing at the pitcher. The hitter should assume a slight bend in the knees. This will help him to relax. He must keep his hips under him.
In general, the long ball hitter uses a wide stance, while the batter who likes to drive or punch the ball through or over the infield uses a narrow one. Some hitters vary their stance against certain pitchers. They move up in the box against breaking ball pitchers and move deeper against fast ball pitchers.
The Line Drive Hitting Swing The young hitter should just go for the line drive and let the home runs take care of themselves. He should always try to meet the ball solidly and not try to over swing,” advised Pete Rose.
“The shorter and more compact the swing is, the better chance a hitter has for contact. This is the secret of hitting.” Rose is shown here in 1985 when he broke Ty Cobb’s career hit record of 4,192 base hits (Illus. 4).
Spreading his feet enough to be comfortable and on balance, Pete’s weight is distributed equally on the balls of his feet. His hips and shoulders are kept level to the ground, with the front hip and shoulder pointing at the pitcher.
Keeping his hands about chest-high and above the toes of his rear foot, Rose has his chin tucked in close to his front shoulder to keep his head from pulling away on the swing. Rose assumes a slight bend in the knees which helps him to relax.
“I recommend a short, compact swing,” said Rose. “Rather than over swing, a hitter should snap his bat and get his bat out in front. That is the secret – hitting the ball hard. It is not how far he hits the ball. He has to hit it hard.”
“I just try to take a hard, level swing,” said Pete. “Getting the big barrel of the bat out in front of the plate is most important. I like to hit the ball when the front arm becomes straight.”
Timing is the key to the hitting game. The hitter has to put it all together, to coordinate all the parts of the hitting swing into perfect unison, which requires perfect timing.
As the hitting swing starts, Pete’s weight is shifted from the back foot and finishes on the front foot after contact. Cocking his bat in preparation for the swing, Rose aggressively goes after the ball. As he strides toward the ball, Pete keeps his weight on his back foot. To prevent lunging, he takes a "casual stride", which results in a well-timed, level hitting swing. His front left arm is straight upon contact with the ball out in front of the plate. Series B- Pete Rose.
The Power Swing Batting power is the result of a smoothly coordinated, well-timed hitting swing. Everything – shoulders, arms, hips, wrists, and hands – are put together in perfect unison to send the ball soaring for the fences. Popping his wrists with explosive quickness, the hitter whips the big end of the bat with maximum drive.
Quickness with the hands and wrists is a most important phase of hitting. The ability to be quick with the hands, the wrists, and arms will determine just how good a hitter will be. If a hitter can develop quickness with his hands and wrists, he will be able to wait longer for the pitch.
Reggie Jackson is known as Mr. October, but he was also Mr. July. Before Reggie hit all those home runs in the postseason, he hit one for the ages in the 1971 All-Star Game in Detroit (Illus. 5). Jackson, pictured here, blasted a Dock Ellis pitch to the roof of Tiger Stadium for a two-run, pinch-hit homer.
From the beginning of his baseball career, Jackson desplayed a genuine home run swing. The source of Jackson's power was a magnificently developed, muscular physique, which he built up as an all-around athlete. Standing six feet and weighing 200 pounds, he was the picture of power, with a beautiful, compact swing and great wrist action. Series C - Reggie Jackson.
Perhaps more than any other hitting points, Reggie was told to wait on the pitch and keep his head on the pitch. Many young hitters who swing hard have a tendency to pull their heads off the ball before they hit it.
If the shoulder pulls out, everything follows. The face of the hitter will follow his shoulder out, and he will wind up dipping his right shoulder. As he swings his bat, the hitter pushes off with his rear foot so his hips will come around against a firm front stride.
Good hip rotation is what produces bat speed, the speed in the rotation of the hips. What helps the batter with that speed is the manner in which the bat is thrown out. It makes him quick in the hips, which means a quick pivot.
The ball is met with the power end of the bat, in front of the plate, just before he breaks his wrists.
Hall of Fame center fielder Duke Snider was renowned for his home run drives and superb defensive play in the Brooklyn Dodgers’ glory years . He was a graceful outfielder with a picture-perfect left-handed swing. Duke was the Dodgers’ No. 3 hitter with reliable power in the clutch. He hit at least 40 homers in five consecutive seasons, 1953 to 1957, matching a National League record held by Ralph Kiner. He was the only player to hit four homers twice in a World Series – against the Yankees in 1952 and in 1955. Series D - Duke Snider.
There is no set home run style, other than the ability to coordinate power at the moment of impact. Most home run hitters have a slight uppercut swing, but for the majority of hitters, a level swing is recommended.
The Action Is In The Hips Along with the wrists, hands, and arms, batting power comes from rotating the hips. This rotation, in which the hips are able to get out of the way and let the momentum and power of the body come forward into the swing, is one of the most important points in hitting.
His hands move the bat through the hitting area as his hips are opened up. From the stance to the completion of the hitting swing, the hands and forearms supply the direction. The hitter’s grip is firm as he chokes up a couple of inches. The bottom hand holds the bat as though it were a hammer. His trailing elbows are tucked in for compactness, thus keeping the arc of the swing tight.
Cocking the hips is essential to a good batting swing. According to Ted Williams, called by many the greatest hitter the game has seen, “Hip cocking is as important as wrist action any day. I never saw a good hitter who did not have a good hip-cock. Without hip action, a player is strictly an arms and wrists hitter.”
Williams is shown here hitting a home run on his last time at bat of his career in Fenway Park in 1960. (Illus. 6) As Jim Caple wrote, “Ted took his familiar stance, looked at the first pitch for a ball, swung and missed at the second, then drove the third pitch into the bullpen for the most famous farewell in baseball history. “I was gunning for the big one,” said Ted after the game. “I let everything I had go. I really wanted that one.”
The hips and hands should cock as the batter moves his lead foot to stride. The front knee turns in to help the hips rotate back. In other words, he is cocking his hips as he strides. Series E - Ted Williams.
With his hands still leading, Ted’s arms are extended, thus increasing the arc of his swing to bring the fat part of his bat up into the pitch. Action at the point of impact can be compared to that of the powerful, unbroken swing of an ax.
Contact is made well out in front of the plate as the hitter pulls the ball to right field. Using a picture swing, Williams continues his swing through in a smooth follow through. His weight has moved in the direction of the flight of the ball.
Rotating the Hips Many hitting experts believe the action of the hips is more responsible for a powerful swing than the wrists and hands, as demonstrated below by Hall of Fame great Willie Mays. High-speed pictures indicate that the wrists and hands move very little right up to the point of contact. The power is generated in the hips.
Along with the wrists and arms, batting power comes from rotating the hips. According to many hitting experts, the action of the hips is more responsible for a powerful swing than the wrists and hands.
A hitter pivots his hips in order to get drive and a powerful swing. The wrists and hands do not turn over until after contact. Good hip rotation produces bat speed. When Paul Waner of the Pittsburgh Pirates referred to the quick belly button, he meant speed in the rotation of the hips. What helps the batter with that speed is the manner in which the bat is thrown out. It makes him quick in the hips, which means a quick pivot.
Mays, who hit 660 homers during his career, used a short stride from four to six inches and like all outstanding hitters, hit off a straight front leg. Notice the perfectly level bat as the ball is met well out in front of the plate. (Illus. 7)
“Get your weight on your rear foot, even dig that foot into the dirt a little so it will not slide around and you can get a good shove off it,” said Willie. “Step into the pitch, not away from it. When you stride, you have to step forward, not off toward third base. Series F - Willie Mays.
Hitting the Ball Where it is Pitched Stan Musial and other batters who could hit for average had the ability to hit to all fields. He was able to hit the ball where it was pitched. If the pitch was outside, Stan would go to the opposite field, and if it was inside, he pulled it to his power field.
Musial used a closed stance, keeping his rear foot deep and away from the plate, which gave him a better chance to hit the ball out in front. Stan had the balance and rhythm, which made possible a smooth weight transfer from the back to the front foot (Illus. 8). Although Series G shows his rear foot off the ground, Musial would invariably keep his rear toe in contact with the ground.
“Opening the top hand a little gave me more freedom to go to the opposite (left) field without sinking my top wrist, which forces you to push the ball,” said Stan. “Too many hitters can’t go to the opposite field because they’re tied up in the hands. A hitter has to be as relaxed as possible at the plate. You can’t react quickly or take a smooth swing if your muscles are tight.”
Stan stood close to the catcher to get a split-second longer look at the ball. "I liked to hit the curve ball after it broke," he explained. "Some hitters like to stand up in the corner of the box to try to hit a pitch before it breaks. The only concession I made was to a left-handed pitcher. I'd move toward the plate just a bit so that I could control my bat on the outside corner of the plate for the curve sweeping away from me." Series G - Stan Musial.
Pulling the Ball Being a strong pull hitter, Willie Stargell likes to hit the ball well out in front of the plate, giving his swing maximum power. In order to pull the ball, a hitter must use strong wrist action and get out in front of the ball.
The pull hitter should time his swing to hit the ball before it comes even with his body. Hitting it out in front gives his swing maximum power and enables his eyes to judge the ball better. The front hip must be open and turned quickly to enable the hitter to get around.
As shown in Series H, much of Stargell’s weight is on his lead leg, while his front foot rests lightly on his right toe. Actually, Willie employs a very short stride, merely lifting his front foot and placing it down. Pushing off his rear foot, his body weight moves forward against his front leg. Series H - Willie Stargell.
As he gets out in front of the ball, Stargell’s level swing shows both arms in a perfect V angle, because impact with the ball is well out in front of the plate. Strong action of the wrists and the hips develops the necessary explosive power into the hitting swing.
Stargell’s swing continues on and around in a good follow-through, which provides power to the swing and gives distance to his hits. His body follows through in the direction the ball is hit.
Hitting to the Opposite Field Major league batting coaches are unanimous in declaring that the pitch on the outside corner can be handled best by hitting it to the opposite field. If the pitch is on the outside corner, the hitter, demonstrated below by Pete Rose, should step toward the plate, pointing his toe toward right field.
“The best way to hit the inside pitch to the opposite field,” explained Rose, “is to bring the hands on across the front of the body a little sooner, so that the big end of the bat will get on the ball. It is a downward, inside-out-swing. The hitter tries to get the ball down.”
“The important point in hitting the ball to the opposite field is just to go with the pitch,” said Rose. “If the pitch is thrown outside, the hitter should not break his wrists. His main concern is putting his bat on the ball and snapping it out there. He should not turn his wrists over. His hands have to lead the way and do all the work. The bat and hands must go get the ball.” Series I - Pete Rose.
“The main thing is to hit the ball squarely,” explained Pete. “If necessary, the hitter should push or punch the ball. Although the batter completes his follow through, the weight of his body should lean toward the opposite field.”
“During batting practice, I make it a point to practice hitting to the opposite field,” said Rose. “To hit effectively to the opposite field, a hitter has to acquire the knack of moving toward the ball. The good hitters hit the ball to all fields. If a ball is inside, I will try to pull the ball. If it is right down the middle, generally I will try to hit it up the middle, and if it is outside, I will try to hit the ball to the opposite field.”
The Rear Foot in Batting One of baseball’s ironclad rules of batting technique through the years is that hitters should not lift their rear foot. Lifting the rear foot, however, is not a flaw in batting. Henry Aaron (Illus. 9) and Stan Musial often hit with their rear foot off the ground. Willie Mays did so, too, as our pictures reveal. The weight of their bodies moved forward solidly against the straight, rigid front leg.
Mays used a short stride from four to six inches. Just before the explosion of the wrists, his rear foot comes off the ground. Notice the perfect level bat as the ball is met out in front of the plate. Among the many hitters who often lifted their rear foot just before they made contact with the ball, were Brooks Robinson, Nellie Fox, and Billy Williams, as his pictures below demonstrate.
Musial liked to keep the toe of his back foot resting on the ground, even though the weight of the body moved forward on the front foot. Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, and Harmon Killebrew liked to keep their rear foot solidly on the ground.
The type of pitch – fastball, curve, and change-up, will cause a hitter to vary the distribution of weight on the front and rear feet. Where the pitch is thrown, whether inside or outside, high or low, is another factor. The batter who hits behind the runner will likely keep his rear foot solidly planted.
The hitting style of Billy Williams, particularly the manner in which he holds the bat, is reminiscent of Ted Williams. Billy employed a straight-up stance and position at the plate. He used a short stride in lifting his front foot forward. This series shows Williams hitting an outside pitch, and his rear foot is lifted off the ground. Series J - Billy Williams.
Like Ted, Billy has a closed stance with his rear foot on the back line of the box, enabling him to get out in front of the ball. Williams’ sharp eyes enabled him to follow the ball nearly to the bat.
After the hips and wrists have whipped through and hit the ball, a complete follow-through is necessary. A smooth follow-through provides power to the swing and gives distance to the hits. The body follows through in the direction the ball is hit, and the bat continues under its own momentum to the rear of the body. The wrists snap and roll over. The arms swing to the rear.
Harmon Killebrew, the Hall of Fame slugger of the Minnesota Twins, said: “I liked to finish my swing with my front foot solidly planted. I’m in perfect balance, with my body leaning toward the direction of the ball I just hit. Don’t ever stop or ‘chop off’ your swing. When you complete your swing, your bat should be at the middle of your back.” (Illustration 10)
Batting Swing Tips by Stan Musial, Hall of Fame Great
Interview with Don Weiskopf in 1958Don: Stan, what advice could you recommend to young ball players on hitting a baseball?
Stan: “The main thing about hitting is that you must have a bat that you can control and is comfortable to you. Knowing the strike zone is also very important. A hitter should try to meet the ball and not try to hit the long ball at all times. You should try to hit the ball where it is pitched. By that, I mean if it is outside, go to the opposite field; and if it is inside, pull it to your power field. I think it is these things that will make you a .300 hitter.” (Illus. 11)
Don: Stan, is your hitting swing for a single and a home run identical?
Stan: “Yes, Don, they are essentially the same. Generally, I just try and meet the ball. In a given situation, however, where you might need that one run, you swing for the fences. However, as a general rule when I was hitting well, I would just try to meet the ball, and the home runs would naturally take their own course.”
Don: Stan, do you recommend your famous stance for the average young hitter? (Illus. 12)
Stan: “No. I would recommend that the young fellows be themselves because what I can do at the plate, maybe they couldn’t. So, the best thing for them is to take a natural stance at the plate, and from playing, they will know where and how they like to stand. The best thing is just to feel comfortable at the plate and not try to copy any stance.”
“My corkscrew stance, strained as it may seem, was entirely comfortable for me. I didn’t always crouch. In fact, when I came up to the Cardinals in September, 1941, I barely bent over. It was the challenge to hit .300 in the big leagues that coiled me into a stance which enabled me to cut down the strike zone and guard the outside part of the plate.
“From a crouch, I could spring into the ball and put more body into my swing. Moreover, by forcing the pitcher to bring the ball down, I could get on top of the outside pitch and slice it hard, rather than push it lazily, to the opposite field.”
“The secret of my timing was in my right knee, which dipped toward my left leg as I crouched. Bringing back my knee to time it with the pitcher’s windup, shifting my weight back to the left leg just before the pitcher’s delivery was like cocking a gun. And it enabled me to minimize lunging, a temptation all hitters must fight.”
Practice and Drill The only way to become a good hitter is to swing the bat constantly, not just when taking the few swings in batting practice. It is the desire to hit and the willingness to practice that makes the great hitters. Young hitters learn through repetition – a hundred times a day. It takes time, patience, and much dedication on the part of the hitter.
Sequence-series photographs and photos by Don Weiskopf and The Associated Press
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