|While the Cincinnati Reds were the 1975 World Series Champions after a memorable seven-game struggle with Boston, the hitting exploits of the Red Sox during the season proved to be the best in baseball. In addition to a lofty .275 team batting average, Boston batters hit 134 home runs and crossed the plate 796 times, an average of five runs per game.
Sparking the Red Sox to the American League pennant were an impressive array of young hitters led by Fred Lynn, Jimmy Rice, Carlton Fisk, Rich Burleson, Cecil Cooper and Dwight Evans. They were supported by experienced veterans, Carl Yastrzemski, Rico Petrocelli, and Bernie Carbo. The statistics of Lynn and Rice, two rookies, drew the most recognition, but from the top of the lineup to the bottom, the Red Sox had an imposing team of hitters.
Throughout the 1975 season, playoff action, and the World Series, there was one man whose influence left an indelible mark on Boston hitters, Johnny Pesky, the batting coach of the Red Sox. Using his typical low-key, unassuming approach to hitting instruction, Pesky, shown here giving hitting advice to Lynn, the super rookie, played a strong role in Boston's success at the plate (Illus. 1)
As a Red Sox player, Pesky performed on a team which was comprised of the great Ted Williams, Bobbie Doerr, and Dom DiMaggio. In 10 seasons in the American League, Pesky compiled a .307 batting average. He led the league in hits, collecting over 200 in his first three seasons - 1942, 1946, and 1947.
Significantly, in 1974, Pesky worked with both Lynn and Rice when he managed the Red Sox' Pawtucket team in the International League. "Lynn is such a natural hitter," said Pesky. "Fred just lays the bat out on the ball with a slight uppercut. He hits the ball where it is pitched. He hits it to all fields, and he hits the ball sharply. Making good contact with the ball is the key to successful hitting."
Lynn batted .331, second highest in the American League and was third in the league in runs batted in with 105. His greatest day came on June 18 when against the Detroit Tigers, he collected five hits, including three home runs, and drove in 10 runs, the 16 total bases tying a league record.
"People like to say Lynn is another Ted Williams, but he is not a Williams-type hitter," said Pesky, "except, he does not crouch as much as Stan did. Both he and Rice use a closed stance. Fisk, Yastrzemski, and Carbo also use closed stances. We have had good success with the closed stance."
"Standing 6 feet, 1 inch, and weighing 185 pounds, he is more of a Stan Musial type. Freddy cocks his head at the plate as Musial did in spraying many doubles and triples. Lynn turned out to be somewhat similar." (Series A)
Rice was a slugger for the Red Sox through the late 1970s and the '80s. In 1975, his first full season, he drove in 102 runs and batted .309 to help the Sox win their divisional title.
Yastrzemski came up to the Red Sox the spring of 1961 after Williams retired. His all-around skills were outstanding, in the field as well as at bat. In 1975, however, Yastrzemski batted only .269, with 140 hits, 14 homers, and 60 RBI's. During his Hall of Fame career, however, Yaz compiled a lifetime career batting average of .285, with 3,419 base hits, 452 home runs, and 1,844 RBIs.
Interview with Johnny Pesky
Don: Johnny, what type of hitters are Fred Lynn and Jim Rice? Could you describe their swings?
John: Fred is one of the best young hitters to come into the major leagues in quite awhile. He holds his bat back, his left elbow is up, his hands are away from his body, and he goes to the ball but his hands remain still (Illus. 2). Rice is more like Hank Aaron. However, Aaron stood farther back in the box. Jim is so strong and quick. He has a short, compact swing, and uses a very large bat (Illus. 3). Because he is so strong, Rice can get that bat out there. Lynn is capable of hitting the ball to all fields. He will hit a ball to left, up the middle, and he can pull the ball.
Don: Where does Jimmy Rice get his power?
John: Jimmy is very strong. He weighs about 210 to 215 pounds, is 6 feet, 2 inches tall. He is also an intelligent hitter - selective in his pitches. When he gets into the groove, Rice just wears the cover off the ball.
Don: What type of a stance do you advocate?
John: Stance is really not that important. Various stances can be used. Wally Moses, for example, recommends the open stance. I advocate the closed stance, because I believe that the bat stays in better position with this stance, which is Ted Williams' philosophy, and the bat does not move quite as far. When facing a pitcher, it seems that the hitter's bat will invariably come forward. He should keep the bat back, and strike the ball with a little force, because he has to start his swing some place, and he should try to get a little more into the swing than he does from an open stance. This is my opinion.
If a hitter is big and strong, he can use an open stance. While there are exceptions, most of the good hitters use a closed stance - Musial, Williams, and right down the line.
Whatever stance he uses, a hitter must be comfortable in the batter's box. He should have good balance, with his weight distributed equally on the balls of both feet. By being relaxed, he can move quickly and have better control of his body. If a hitter has a tendency to pull away from the ball, he should consider placing a little more weight on the front foot. Keep the bat back cocked, and the front shoulder in.
Don: Have you always advocated choking up on the bat?
John: That is right, Don. I believe in that. Nellie Fox, George Kell, and I did that. A hitter will find the bat is better balanced if he chokes up a little. By choking up on the bat, he will have better control of it, and a higher batting average.
Even Ted Williams, great as he was, on occasion, choked up on the bat. The Pirates' Al Oliver, when he was on my ball club at Columbus in 1968, was swinging a heavy bat from the end, and I made a suggestion to go up on the bat a little bit, because he could have better bat control. By having good bat control, Al has developed into one of the best hitters in baseball.
Don: In becoming a good hitter, what does it take? What are the qualities or ingredients necessary in becoming a good hitter?
John: First, God has to be good to him. He has to give the hitter a good body, and the player has to take care of it. It all depends on what kind of an approach he makes to hitting. He should study, learn how to swing a bat, and constant practice is necessary. Hitting cannot be taught. If a hitter practices his swing, he will be surprised how quickly he can make adjustments himself. Someone can make a correction, an addition or a subtraction, on the way the hitter is swinging the bat, as I am pictured here during the Red Sox pre-game batting practice (Illus. 4).
This is primarily what hitting instructors do. They try to correct a little flaw. A hitter might be tilting his head or raising his shoulder. His hands may be a little too close to his body. We do not discuss stance too much. He can hit from any type of stance. Where the bat starts is how a hitter learns how to hit.
Don: John, for many years, you were a teammate of Ted Williams. Can you recall some of the rules on hitting which Ted advocated and later emphasized when teaching young hitters?
John: The first rule in Ted's book was getting a good ball to hit. A hitter must learn the strike zone. Once the pitchers find he is going to swing at bad pitches, he will get very little else. Second, Ted emphasized proper thinking. What is the pitcher's best pitch? What did he get the hitter out the last time? The third thing which Ted did so well was to be quick with the bat (Illustration 5).
Don: In the batting chapter of my book, Baseball, The Major League Way, Ted explained, "A hitter has to consistently get a good ball to hit. If he's going to hit at high balls and low balls, he's going to extend his strike zone to a point where any pitcher is going to be able to throw anything they want to him, and he's going to suffer because of it."
"I think it's very important that a young hitter learn how to hit the ball to all fields," said Williams. "If he tries that, he is not going to be vulnerable to a defense problem that I ran up against when I couldn't hit to left field very well. I was an extremely pull hitter, and this hurt me for quite a while, but I got to where I could hit to left field."
"A hitter should have good plate coverage. He should be close enough to the plate that he can hit any ball that's over the plate."
Don: Is there a proper swing, John, or does it depend on the athlete, the hitter?
John: If a hitter is big, naturally, he wants to hit the ball out of the ball park. I believe any manager or coach would want him to do that, but making contact is vital. If he is blessed with a good body and strength, all he has to do is make contact. A hitter has to develop his swing according to what is best for him.
Don: Let us go over the various components of hitting, John. First, the head - do you want the hitter to keep his head still?
John: Absolutely, I believe in having the head level. If a hitter tilts his head, Don, he has a tendency to get a bad angle of the ball. So, we try to tell our hitters to maintain a level angle with the head. In other words, a hitter should be looking straight at the ball, instead of tilting his head. Again, we want our hitters to have a level head, level swing, if there is such a thing, and this is the way good hitters are developed.
Don: How about the shoulders? What do you suggest?
John: I like a hitter to point his front shoulder right at the pitcher. In fact, it should be down, right at the belt buckle of the pitcher, if possible. He should go quickly to that point, pick up the ball, and start his swing. Many hitters have a tendency to let their front shoulder pull out just a fraction too early. This causes them to pull their body away just enough to get the ball on the end of the bat. We suggest to a hitter that he tuck his chin in close to his front shoulder to keep the shoulder from pulling out too early.
Don: We often hear if the shoulder pulls out, everything else does. Is this correct?
John: That is correct. The hitter's hands come forward automatically and he has nothing left with which to strike the ball. In other words, when his hands move forward, all they do is push the bat. This is one thing good hitters do not do. They always have their bats back. Ted Williams, Stan Musial, and Yogi Berra are excellent examples of good hitters who always had their bats back, where they could get the ball out and hit the ball.
Don: How do you approach the arms, hands, and wrists areas of hitting? What are the key things you tell your hitters?
John: Quick hands are very important. Ted Williams is the man from whom I learned most of my hitting I have always followed. Ted's philosophy: quickness of the hands. A hitter can do exercises such as getting into a pepper game - getting used to reaching out and using his hands. A hitter should not take batting practice for an hour because his arms get weak and he can develop bad habits. He should practice 15 to 20 minutes, lay-off for a few minutes, and then come back and hit perhaps 50 or 60 more pitches.
Don: How about the hip action? Rotation of the hips is strongly emphasized by hitting instructors.
John: True. A hitter has to get his hips out of the way in order to get his bat through. This can all be practiced, in coordinating the swing with the hips because once he gets his hip out, his bat can come through, but the bat has to be back. Many times, Don, an instructor can have the hitter do a little exercise by getting up on the ball of his front foot. His weight shifts back and now the hip can really get out of the way very easily. I watched Ted Williams for many, many years, and hip action was one of his strong points. Still, I try not to over-emphasize the role of the hips. It should be a natural action. The action of the bat is the most important thing, and the hitter goes from there.
Don: Many batting instructors tell their hitters to whip or snap the bat into the plane of the ball. What is your opinion?
John: A good hitter has the knack of getting the fat part of the bat on the ball. He is able to whip the big end of the bat with explosive drive. Even if the ball is a little outside, a hitter such as Lynn can reach out, pop his wrists, and get the fat part of the bat on the ball. As the batter hits the ball, I like to see both of his arms extended. Then he completes his follow-though. If the ball is a little inside, his hands come across in front of his body, in order to drag the bat across to get the fat part on it. We are constantly emphasizing the proper swing and developing quickness with the hands.
Ted believed strongly that batting power comes from rotating the hips. "You have to put your hips into it," he would often say. How much do the wrists and hands move right up to the point of contact? High-speed pictures indicate that they move hardly at all. Therefore, a hitter pivots his hips to get drive and a powerful swing."
Don: The stride. Do you advocate a short stride?
John: If a hitter can develop a short stride, that's fine, because if he takes a long stride, the bat has a tendency to dip and drop. Once a hitter is locked, he cannot do anything about it. He just has to push the bat. A short, casual stride allows a hitter to keep his body back, as Carl Yastrzemski demonstrates in Series D. Rather than a lunge, it is more of a lifting or shifting of the weight from both feet to a little more on the back foot. The front or striding foot is able to take a casual stride into the pitch.
Quickness with the hands is by far the most important thing in hitting. The stride is not as important as where the hitter keeps his bat.
Don: Would you describe the actual batting swing? We hear varying viewpoints such as a level swing, a little upward, and then there are those who try to chop down on occasion. What type of a hitting swing do you like to see?
John: Personally, I believe in the Ted Williams theory - a parallel swing, but invariably, every hitter uppercuts. When a ball is up, say around the area of the letters, if the hitter uppercuts that pitch, he is just going to hit a fly ball. He should swing down on that ball - try to hit a line drive. It is entirely the hitter's choice, but he can learn many things and help himself in many ways. Constant practice when he is swinging the bat, have somebody just throw the ball to him and figuring things out himself means a great deal.
As a hitting instructor, I do not believe in telling a hitter to do this and do that. I try to stay away from that type of instruction. I do not believe in this approach to coaching hitters. I like to see a player swing a bat and go from there. Then it is so much easier to make a correction. The type of swing depends on the hitter himself and where the ball is pitched. Each hitter must develop his own style to meet his physical abilities, such as power and speed. On the low ball, he has to come up. On the high pitch, he has to take a slightly downward stroke at the ball, as demonstrated here by Fred Lynn (Illus. 6).
Don: Coming back to hitting a high pitch, how do you teach a hitter to swing a little down on a high pitch?
John: When he has a high pitch, the hitter should try to hit it down on the ground. What he should try to do is hit the ball on the good part of the bat. I have seen hitters swing at balls down and hit line drives, up the middle, in the alleys, perhaps at a fielder, but they hit the ball well. If a hitter is doing that, his job is complete, and he is doing the right thing with the bat.
To swing down on the ball, the hitter should keep his top hand on top so the wrist will not be below the front wrist at the point of contact. Then he should follow through on his swing by breaking the top wrist over the front wrist. As pictured below by Fred Lynn, he should try to keep the head of the bat above the ball at all times (Series E).
When coaches advise a hitter to come down on the pitch, generally they are referring to the letter-high pitch. By hitting down on the ball, the hitter is less likely to pop up on it. During pepper games, hitters have the opportunity to practice hitting high pitches down. If the ball is thrown high, they can raise their arms and get the bat coming down more.
Don: How about pulling the ball? What are some of the things you tell your hitters?
John: Anybody can pull the ball, if he has to. Let us assume there is a man on second base, nobody out, and a singles hitter such as Nellie Fox is up at the plate. What will he do with a man on second base, keeping in mind he hits many ground balls, and wants to get that man to third base? If he gets out in front of the ball, just enough, he will hit a line drive into right field, down the line, or up to the left of the pitcher, and get that man over to third or drive him in.
His main concern is to try to get the ball to that side. What he does in this situation is quicken his swing and have an area to which he wants to go. No matter where that ball is, a hitter should know the angle of his bat, where he has to try and hit that ball. A right-handed hitter has to try and hit the ball that way.
When a hitter wants to pull the ball, he should make sure he hits it at a proper angle. It can be out, over the plate, in, up or down, but he has to get the bat out and get it over on that side.
Don: And if the pitch is on the outside corner, what do you tell your hitters about how to go to the opposite field? Are you slower with the wrists?
John: No, not necessarily. A singles hitter tries to pop that ball, sharply - get a good, firm swing. He does not want to uppercut or swing down. Pictured here, Rico Petrocelli maintains a level angle with the head and keeps his eyes on the ball. He should use a nice parallel swing on the ball and let nature take its course, because he cannot steer a ball into a position (Series F)
Don: What type of mental approach do you like to see in a hitter? If a hitter goes into a slump, how do you try to get him back in the right spirits again?
John: It is entirely up to the individual, Don. When a hitter goes into a slump, he thinks the world is coming to an end, and starts to develop bad habits. If he is blessed with a little speed, he tries to bunt a ball. He drives a ball. He is told to select a spot in the field. For example, all a left-handed hitter wants to do is hit a line drive right at the shortstop. He is not developing any bad habits. He should stay with the ball a little longer. What he is trying to do is making contact. If he is not making contact, he is either going to be late with the bat or hit the ball on the fist or out on the end of the bat.
The hitter should strive for a proper procedure at the plate. It is surprising what a base hit can do for a hitter when he is in a little bit of a rut. He must be patient. He cannot say that he is going to do it next week. He must do it today, tomorrow, and the day after, because it is not that simple. Hitting a baseball is a very difficult thing to do. I don't care how hard or how soft the ball is thrown, the hitter still has to get the good part of the bat on the ball regardless of speed. When facing a Catfish Hunter, a Vida Blue or Jim Palmer, the bat had better be pretty quick.
To pull the ball, a hitter must use a strong action and get out in front of the ball, as Rico Petrocelli demonstrates here (Illustration 7).
Don: John, in teaching a batter how to hit a baseball, do you agree that a hitter should not go up to the plate thinking about all the little things in swinging a bat.
John: Ted Williams often emphasized being comfortable at the plate - not worrying about the feet or where the hands are. Where the hands start is important, but all the great hitters of our time, like Williams, DiMaggio, Rose, emphasize comfort at the plate. Try to get a comfortable stance. It is how the hitter feels in his own mind.
Before he goes to the plate, a hitter should get a bat he can handle. If he is big and strong, he can use a heavier bat. A hitter of medium size should use a bat that feels good to him, and one he can swing with some authority.
A baseball bat is very important. The handle, for example, can be very important. Today's hitters are using bats with very thin handles, feeling they give quickness. I do not agree with that. The thicker the handle, the better a hitter can handle a bat. I have to go along with Wally Moses and some other hitting instructors who say the same thing.
A youngster who is starting out should get a bat that feels comfortable in his hands. Then he should go to styles, where he wants to swing the bat, how his bat comes through on pitches, and practice a great deal.
Sequence-series photographs and other photos by Don Weiskopf; and John Swart, AP
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