|Reggie Jackson, Sal Bando, and Rick Monday of the Oakland Athletics have three things in common. These three hitters were all coached by Bobby Winkles while playing collegiate baseball at Arizona State University. Then, after signing professional contracts, they received part of their minor league apprenticeship under manager John McNamara, their present skipper at Oakland. Since arriving on the big league scene, they have received batting tips from one of baseball’s all-time great hitters, Joe DiMaggio, the former Yankee Clipper who compiled a lifetime batting average of .325 with the New York Yankees.
Indeed, the development of Jackson, Bando, and Monday as major league hitters has occurred under similar backgrounds and circumstance. Their instruction and training have been top caliber all the way, provided by veteran coaches and managers whose assistance has been instrumental in their sudden rise to major league stardom.
Purpose of the Study With the help of our high-speed, sequence camera and a tape recorder, we undertook the task of collecting data and information with the following purposes in mind:
The source of Jackson’s power is a magnificently developed muscular physique, which he had built up as an all-around athlete. Standing 6 feet, and weighing 197 pounds, he was the picture of power, having a beautiful compact swing and displaying great wrist action. Ted Williams, one of baseball’s foremost authorities on hitting once remarked, “Jackson is the most natural hitter I have ever seen.”
Jackson hit from a slightly closed stance, although not exaggerated. Standing deep in the box, he had his bat cocked behind his ear, and he went from there. His feet were spread, and he employed a short stride. He was able to wait on the ball because he was quick with his hands and strong in his arms. Unfortunately, his impatience and tendency to over swing made it difficult for him to wait on the pitch as he should.
During his sophomore year at Arizona State University, Jackson hit .327 and collected 15 home runs to break Rick Monday’s school and NCAA record. Reggie was the first collegian ever to hit a home run out of the Phoenix Stadium.
What type of college hitter was Jackson when he played for Arizona State? “Reggie was an overanxious hitter,” recalls Coach Winkles, “Which is the case with a number of young players who are very strong. He used to start his stride before the ball ever left the pitcher’s hand. Naturally, this caused him to get out in front a great deal. All we did with Reggie was to try to make him wait until he saw the ball out of the pitcher’s hand. We tried to make him wait well back on his rear foot so that he could hit the breaking pitch and the change-up.”
According to Winkles, Jackson’s present major league hitting swing, is pretty much the same as he used as a college player, except he has lengthened the distance of his feet apart, not necessarily his stride. “With us, he was not spread that wide,” said Winkles, “and he was not bent as much on his back leg. He has always held his bat fairly high, a little higher than most young players that we get.”
Perhaps more than any other hitting points, Jackson was told to “wait on the pitch” and to “keep his head on the pitch.” “Even though a player swings hard,” explained Winkles, “he still has to keep his head quiet and on the pitch. A number of young players such as Reggie and Rick who swing fairly hard have a tendency to pull their heads off the ball before they hit it.”
After signing an $80,000 bonus contract with the A’s, Reggie went out and hit 23 home runs and drove in 71 runs with a .292 average in his first year at Lewiston and Modesto. In 1967, his second season, he moved into double A ball at Birmingham and helped the team and Manager McNamara win a Southern League and Dixie Series Championship. He hit .293, 17 home runs, and drove in 58 runs. In addition, he stole 17 bases, hit 26 doubles, and 17 triples to set a new Southern League record.
Then in 1969, Jackson amazed the baseball world by challenging the home run marks of Babe Ruth and Roger Maris. Getting off to a great start, Reggie entered the month of August with 40 home runs, and his chances to approach these enviable records were indeed bright. Unfortunately, the final two months proved too much for the young hitter. His downfall was the result of a combination of factors (Series B).
“Being a 23-year-old player, the nervous tension, undoubtedly, was one reason for his difficulties,” said Winkles. “When Babe Ruth hit his 60 home runs, he was thirty-two years old, while Maris was twenty-seven when he hit his 61 homers in 1961. Now, give Reggie five or six more years, and it is not going to bother him nearly as much. And the pitchers did not give him too many good balls to hit either. They tried to pitch around him, keeping the ball out of the strike zone as much as they could.” No wonder, Jackson would often exclaim: “He did not throw me a strike all day.”
“Since the All- Star game, unconsciously, I know I was trying for home runs, and this hurt me,” explained Jackson. “When I tried to hit the long ball, to really muscle up, I found my swing getting longer. I found myself missing the ball or fouling off pitches I know I should have hit.”
Jackson still managed to compile an impressive array of statistics. He finished with 47 home runs, drove in 118 runs, and batted .275, with a slugging percentage of .608. He cut down his strike-outs from 171 to 142.
What did the future hold for Reggie Jackson? What should he have worked on most as he continued to develop his hitting ability?
“Contact was still the key to his success,” said Winkles, his college coach. “As he worked out in the batting cage in the winter, he had to continue to work on contact. As he cuts his strikeouts down, he will make more contact with the ball. He will develop more confidence in his hitting, and will have a better idea of the strike zone. There is no reason why Reggie cannot hit .300 and still get his share of home runs.”
What did Jackson himself feel about the future? “I believe as I get more experience, I will be less anxious,” said Reggie. “I think I can refuse bad pitches to hit, strike out less, and hit more home runs. Sure, I strike out a great deal, but I am a long-ball hitter, and I do not have a chance if I do not take my swings.”
“Joe convinced me to use a heavier bat so that I would know exactly what I had in my hands,” said Jackson. “In 1968, I used a 33-ounce bat and it felt too light. This year I have used a 37-ounce bat. I will always feel I should be aggressive at the plate, and I do not want to stop attacking the ball. I am not going to worry about strike-outs.”
Sal Bando (Series C) After two outstanding years with the Arizona State championship baseball team, Bando signed with the Athletics and moved up quickly through the minor leagues. In 1966, he hit .277 at Mobile in Class AA, and in 1967 with Vancouver (Triple A), he batted .291.
In 1967, Alvin Dark, then the A’s manager, tried to change his batting stance. “He wanted me to crouch more,” recalls Bando. “I felt uncomfortable, and I just could not hit at all.” Finally, and after an injury, Bando was returned to Vancouver, which came as a big disappointment to Sal. “When I first went down,” said Bando, “I was still trying to hit the way Mr. Dark had instructed me. But Mickey Vernon, the former American League batting champion, told me to straighten up again at the plate.”
Although his rookie year with the A’s was a meager .251 when he drove in 67 runs, Sal blossomed into one of the game’s outstanding third baseman in 1969 while compiling some impressive batting figures. He batted .281, including 31 homeruns, and drove in 113 runs.
“Sal is big and strong,” said McNamara, “and basically, he is a line drive type of hitter. He hits from a slightly open stance and makes good contact. He stands close to home plate and comes away from the ball a little. At the start of the 1969 campaign, Bando stood closer to the plate, with his right foot almost in back of the plate.”
“This worked well for awhile,” said Sal, “but the pitchers began to catch on. I was getting jammed on everything. Then, Joe told me to close up my stance.”
Bando continued, “When I was playing college ball at Arizona State, Coach Winkles encouraged me to hit to all fields,” a skill he has used successfully as a big leaguer. Standing about even in the batter’s box, Bando is quite proficient at hitting to right field on the hit-and-run. Sal does not mind giving himself up to move a runner along.”
When they first broke into the majors, Bando, Jackson, and others were swinging too hard and jerking their heads. Finally, manager Bob Kennedy called a club meeting and told the players that he wanted them to stop swinging for the fences. He told them just to swing the bat. His advice worked. The A’s went back to hitting line drives again.
When Sal was in a slump, he got a little arm weary, as he became tired and the bat was slow. As a consequence, the pitchers tried to pitch him tight because he was on home plate anyway, and he did not get around on the ball as he did when he was hitting good. He either had to go to a lighter bat or back away from home plate.
Rick Monday (Illustrations 4 and 5) Few players have broken into professional baseball with as much pressure from advance publicity than did Rick Monday. After two brilliant years at Arizona State, Rick was selected No. 1 in the nation in the first free agent draft in 1965 and was signed to a $104,000 bonus contract.
Monday was able to withstand the pressure and made it to the major leagues after just a year and a half in the minors. In 1967, his rookie year, the young center fielder led the A’s in home runs (14), runs batted in (58), and hit .251 for his average. During the last two seasons, he compiled batting marks of .274 and .271. In addition, he was one of the fastest runners going from the plate to first base in baseball and used that speed to make spectacular catches in the outfield.
“Rick was basically a line drive type of hitter,” explained McNamara. “He was not a real pull hitter. His good power was in left center field, although we tried to have him pull the ball. Joe worked with him in spring training on trying to pull, but Rick was not really strong in the arms, as was Reggie. Consequently, we tried to get Rick to swing down on the ball and be a line drive type of hitter. He had power but not the consistent power that Jackson possessed.”
Monday did not have Reggie’s natural swing either, so he was more concerned with bat techniques. “At first, I was holding my hands away from my body,” said Monday. “Then, I brought them closer to make my swing more compact.”
“Everybody has that little something he does, a hitch or something before he starts his swing,” continued Rick. “But I was becoming overly concerned about too much hand movement. I am waiting more this year,” said Monday, prior to his hand injury. “I am not attacking the ball as much as I was last year. At least, I am not reaching.” (Illustration 5)
Like Jackson, Rick was overly aggressive. Throughout his professional career, his coaches have had to work with him to stay on his rear foot a little longer before he transferred his weight forward.
According to Winkles, “Rick swung much harder in college than he is now swinging in professional baseball. Quite possibly, he realized that he was not an authentic home run hitter, and he was not going to hit many home runs. I noticed he was trying to hit the ball for doubles and take advantage of his tremendous speed.”
“I did not see any difference in Rick’s stance now from the one he used at Arizona State,” observed Winkles. “But it did look as though he had a much better eye for strikes and balls. He had gained a good eye in hitting. And he did not try to pull the ball as much.”
How did Monday himself feel about his progress as a hitter? “I do not worry about home runs,” said Monday, “because I do not think I have the build of a home run hitter.”
DiMaggio believed Monday was capable of hitting the ball to all fields. Although many of his hits were directed to left and left center field, Joe also wanted Rick to be proficient at pulling the ball. He also advocated drag bunting to cross up the defense. He urged Rick to perfect himself in the art. Joe pointed out that Monday’s speed should enable him to beat out bunts.
Dick Green (Series D) Green came up through the A’s organization after signing a contract in 1960. In 1969, he compiled his best year in the major leagues, batting .275, and driving in 64 runs with 12 home runs. In addition, he displayed good power at the plate.
Green was regarded as one of the best bunters in the league. He also demonstrated the ability to hit the ball to all fields. Hitting from the right side of the plate, deep in the box, he was quite proficient at driving the ball to the opposite field.
His versatility as a baseball player came as no surprise, since he had been an all-state performer in three sports at South Dakota while playing for Mitchell High School.
In the field, Green was regarded as one of the most outstanding infielders in the American League. His fielding average of .986 was tops for second basemen in 1969.
“If a hitter tries to pull the ball on the outside part of the plate,’ said McNamara, “he is going to hit it on the end of the bat to the shortstop or second baseman, and it is an out. As an example, a right-handed hitter has to wait on the ball. If he commits himself too early and his body goes, his hands are the only parts of his body that are back, and there is no way he can hit the ball with an authority.”
“If the ball is on the outside corner,” continued John, “the hitter should go into the pitch. If it is on the inside part of the plate, he should fall away from the pitch.”
Bert Campaneris (Series E) There was no player in the American League who generated as much excitement on the field when he got on the bases as Bert Campaneris. Campy led the American League in stolen bases four years in a row with totals of 51, 52, 55, and 62, before finishing runner-up to Tommy Harper in 1969 with 62 steals.
In addition to his sensational base running ability, Campaneris wielded a consistent bat, and was capable of hitting the ball to all fields. In 1968, the A’s little road runner hit safely 177 times which gave him a .276 batting average. In 1969, however, his average dipped to .260.
“Campy had to swing down on the ball,” explained McNamara, “because he was a line drive type of hitter. He had to hit the ball either on the line or on the ground. He did not have the power to clear the fences, although on occasion, he was able to muster enough power to hit one out.”
Batting Stance The hitter should assume a comfortable hitting stance. He should move his feet around until he finds a stance that feels good. “A coach must take into consideration the individual’s physical ability,” explained McNamara. “Basically, start him out with a stance with both feet even, not closed, not open, and adjust from there.”
“If they are a little slow with the bat,” continued John, “maybe they should open up," as shown here by Danny Cater, the A’s 1969 first baseman. "If they cannot handle the outside pitch, many hitters will hit from a closed stance and get closer to the plate. Then, they will pull away, as the pitch is on its way. Again, it comes down to the individual who is involved.”
At the present time, the majority of young college players use a closed stance. Winkles said, “This is due to the fact that so many breaking pitches are now being thrown in college ball. A closed stance enables a hitter to hang in there a little better.” (Illustration 6) “I urge my players at Arizona State to hold their hands about chest high,” said Winkles, “because that is where the high pitch is going to be. If the ball is above their hands, they are urged to take it. If it is below their hands, we want them to jump on it. This gives a young player a better idea of the strike zone.”
Stride A short stride enables a hitter to wait longer on the ball, and then he can adjust to the pitch. “We find that batters who stride longer are getting ready too quickly,” said McNamara, “and this makes them lunge. Usually, the player who takes a long stride is a lunge hitter. Consequently, he goes out too quickly to meet the ball. The only thing he is using to hit is his arms. If he can stay back and wait and take a short stride, he will have the compact swing that is necessary for successful hitting.”
“I have always advocated a shorter stride,” said Winkles, “but I do not think there is much we can do with the over striders. Willie Mays and some of the other players over stride, but it will be noticed that when that front foot goes forward, that rear foot stays back. They do not take it with them which would take away their entire swing and command of the bat.” (Illustration 7)
“For the over striders at Arizona State,” continued Winkles, “we tell our players, if they do have to over stride and cannot cut that stride down, they should be sure to hold the bat back until the pitchers gets the ball on the way.”
Swing A level, natural swing is the quality possessed by all batting champions. “This young hitter should just go for the line drive,” advised DiMaggio, “and let the home runs take care of themselves. The ball should be hit just as the front foot finishes the stride,” said Joe, “when the weight has shifted from the rear foot to the front foot.”
Over swinging, perhaps more than any other point, is a prime cause of hitting slumps. “Reggie Jackson is a good example,” said McNamara. “When Reggie is having trouble at the plate, it is usually because he is over-swinging, which throws off his timing. Instead of everything going together, he is striding out too quickly and his hands are late.” (Series F)
“When he tries to swing too hard, he over swings and his timing is thrown off. The pitchers Reggie should be hitting are getting him out. This is what makes him disgusted with himself. He is trying too hard, and he is just over swinging.”
In order to pull the ball, the hitter must hit it out in front of the plate. He must get around on the pitch. Winkles, however, takes a cautious view about pull hitting. “I have never been one to advocate pulling the ball if the player cannot do it consistently,” explained Bobby. “In fact, I like to see my players hitting the ball all over the park – to all fields. I think a number of hitters have been ruined because they were told they must pull. When a player goes into professional ball, I believe this is the worst thing that can be told the young man is that he must learn to pull. It is either natural to pull, or it is not natural to pull. Some players can get in front and others cannot.”
“Hitting a baseball is a tremendous skill,” observed McNamara, “considering how hard a ball is thrown. It is a delicate art, and requires time, patience, and work. It does not come overnight.”
Tomahawking More and more hitters are practicing the tomahawk theory of hitting, as advocated by hitting coaches such as Ted Williams and Joe Gordon. On high pitches above the waist, the hitter swings down slightly, a downward level swing. Chopping down on the high pitch keeps the hitter from upper cutting the ball, resulting in a level swing.
“When the hitter is swinging down at the ball,” explained McNamara, “what he is trying to do is keep the head of the bat above the ball at all times. Basically, it makes him a line drive type of hitter.”
Mental Attitude “The proper mental attitude is having confidence in one’s ability,” said McNamara. “When some of our hitters go into a slump, they begin to struggle, and their mental approach to hitting is that they feel they are not doing things right. They have a tendency not to be as confident as they were when they were hitting the ball well.”
“When a hitter is hitting well,” continued McNamara, “he walks up there, and if he sees a good pitch, he rips into it. He does not think anything about it, but when he is struggling a little bit and trying to get back in the groove, there might be some doubt in his mind. Maybe he is giving the pitcher too much credit. He has to work these things out.”
“We, as coaches, must help these players who are in a slump regain their confidence,’ said John. “We must help them get that positive feeling back which says, ‘I know I can do it.’”
“This is one reason why I let my players at Arizona State hit the 3 and 0 pitch,” said Winkles, “although not too many other college coaches follow this practice. Hitting gives confidence. If we have a 3 run lead, there is a man at second, and 3 and 0 on a good hitter, I let him swing away. It gives the hitter a more positive approach. It is like pitching, if a pitcher thinks he can throw strikes, he can. Likewise, if a hitter thinks he can make contact with the ball, and if someone helps him with a little confidence, he will make better contact.”
“My take sign is quite simple. I hold up my two hands and cross my forefinger with my other forefinger, which forms a T. I do not care whether or not the other teams know the sign.”
How does Jackson react to a hitting slump? Does he lose his temper now and then? “Not too much,” said Coach McNamara. “Considering the tremendous pressure he had to play under last year, he handled himself pretty well. Certainly, he becomes disgusted with himself, but he does not throw the bat very often. This young man is maturing, and he is growing up. He is taking these things in stride, and he knows that he will come out of it. It is just a matter of time. The hardest part is going through it.”
“Reggie had a little tendency to get down on himself in college,” said Winkles, “and that was where my job as a coach was to bolster him up. Having a bad day bothered him more than it did Bando or Monday.” Pictured here is A’s manager John McNamara giving advice to Jackson during a hitting slump (Illustration 8))
Bando has a more philosophical approach toward hitting. “I am worried most about winning,” explained Sal. “If I get a hit, fine, but if I do not and we win, that is fine, too.”
Jackson feels he has a better mental outlook now toward hitting. He believes the added experience he has picked up will enable him to cope better with strike-outs and batting slumps in the future. “Hitters like Carl Yastrzemski and Richie Allen have told me not to let strike-outs bother me,” said Jackson. “Carl said that he struck out 96 times his first season in the majors but never changed anything because he did not want to lose his aggressiveness.”
“I have had an opportunity to talk hitting with some of the great stars of baseball, sluggers like Ernie Banks, Willie Mays, and Billy Williams,” continued Reggie. “And they have told me, ‘Get them next time.’ They know they can do it. It is just a matter of time.”
“Last spring, Ernie came out of the clubhouse when it was about 100 degrees in Scottsdale and said: ‘Let’s play two today,’ and everyone around him suddenly look invigorated. I learned that I must roll with the punches.”
Photographs by Don Weiskopf
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