The New Lau-Down on Hitting.
ALL THE RESEARCH AND field study I've done over the last decade has enabled me to zero in on the four all-time secrets of hitting:
* Taking the knob to the ball.
* Maintaining flat hands (bottom hand, palm up; top hand, palm down through the hitting area).
* Getting the lead arm extended through the hitting area.
* Swinging the bat through to a high finish.
These are the hitter's stairs to baseball heaven.
My father's trademark was letting go of the top hand after impact. But I do not isolate it in that fashion. I teach my students to utilize the four Lau Laws that will make them great hitters, and that if they do it correctly, they will have to let go with the top hand after impact!
When Mark McGwire shattered Roger Mans' single-season homerun record, The Sporting News ran a story on the changes that McGwire had made in his swing. It pointed out that the turning point in McGwire's rise from inconsistent slugger to home-run legend occurred when he adopted my father's one-hand extension principle.
Some baseball people put it this way: McGwire became a great power hitter when he began to release his top hand after impact. The truth is that he became a great hitter when he adopted the "four secrets to the swing."
A top-hand release is the result of a maximum lead-arm extension and a high finish. Amazingly, the knock on this method of releasing the top hand (that my father suggested more than 20 years ago) was that it reduced the hitter's power.
Tony LaRussa, McGwire's manager with the Cardinals, disputed the old-school hitting coaches who claimed that my father's methods did nothing but promote soft singles to the opposite field.
The truth, LaRussa argued, was that my father taught line-drive hitters to use the whole park, thus making them more productive.
When my father instructed a true home-run hitter like a Greg Luzinski or a Carlton Fisk or a Harold Baines, he taught them to use a slight uppercut with a full extension. LaRussa, noting the distinguished home-run success of McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Ken Griffey Jr. the past few years, recently said, "A lot of us who are tremendous fans of Charley Lau know that he's up there smiling because there's a certain amount of vindication for that style of hitting he taught."
You have only to look around the major leagues to see that a top-hand release is a great benefit, not a deterrent to a player's power production. The list of top-hand devotees is impressive and long. Besides the aforementioned three, you can add such sluggers as Juan Gonzalez, Tino Martinez, Fred McGriff, Manny Ramirez, Dante Bichette, Tony Clark, Andres Galarraga, Frank Thomas, Jim Edmonds, David Justice, Shawn Green, and Todd Walker.
And that's just a small sampling. What these players have in common is that they all can hit more than 30 home runs a season.
One guy who could easily join that list because of his great natural hitting skills is Tony Gwynn, arguably the best hitter for average since George Brett. Gwynn has won batting titles with his ability to put the bat on the baseball. However, though weighing 230 pounds, he has yet to hit for power. From what I have seen, he has excellent fundamentals, except for his tendency to roll over his top hand prematurely. That doesn't permit him to get through the ball with flat hands and causes him to lose extension - which has limited his power.
Gwynn and I have discussed this subject at length and he readily agrees he should have more power for a guy his size. And for a while after we talked, particularly in 1997, it seemed as if he was addressing that aspect of his hitting. His power production went up and he hit 17 home runs.
Gwynn once appeared at a South Florida baseball camp I coordinated and told the kids that my father's teaching philosophy had been instrumental in his advance as a hitter. But in a subsequent television interview, when asked if he practiced my father's Absolutes of Hitting, he replied, "I use most of them, but not all of them."
That statement bothered me. So, in the car on the way back to his hotel, I asked him just which one of the 10 Absolutes he disagreed with. After a long silence, he confessed, "You got me, Charley. I'm sorry."
I know that he was not knocking my father's Absolutes of Hitting, nor striking back at the people who criticized him (Gwynn) for his lack of power. The point he really made is that even a great hitter like Tony Gwynn can have an aspect of his swing that could use improvement.
How to Get a Lead Arm Extension
Keeping the bat as flat as you can for as long as you can has two effects. It allows you to expose the sweet spot of the bat in and through the hitting area and to add about 15 to 20 mph to your bat velocity.
The other obvious challenge in hitting is that you are trying to hit a round object with a round bat, and meeting the ball squarely.
Through countless hours of working with swings of all types, my biggest breakthroughs have come from selling the value of getting lead-arm extension in the swing. What gets the message through ultimately is the evidence: how much farther the ball carries when the lead-arm extension is performed properly.
The scientific reasoning behind lead-arm extension is that the length of a lever determines the amount of leverage you can achieve. In the baseball swing, your front arm is the longer lever and will therefore provide more leverage and power. And that is why I warn my students not to roll their wrists over prematurely because it will keep them from maintaining the flat swing that allows for extension.
Try this experiment: Extend both hands in the direction you wish to hit the ball. Which arm appears longer? And what is the function of the top hand after contact? We know that it has a tendency to roll over, rather than extend. Does it push?
What if you let it go and let it slide off after contact? You would notice that your lead arm continues through the swing with much greater extension.
I frequently call this a one-piece swing. If you rolled over your top hand before the lead arm got extended, it would be a two-piece swing.
As you begin to experiment with lead-arm extension, look for your lead arm to fully extend and finish at or above the front shoulder. As you start to perfect full extension of your lead arm, you will consistently finish high, and you will begin to release your top hand naturally.
By practicing off the batting tee, you will become more comfortable with the release. Once you get into a game, the release will come naturally. And even if you decide to keep two hands on the bat or if your top hand doesn't always come off, the high finish would at least give you a much better extension than you could ever get without this technique.
A good example is Reggie Jackson, one of the game's premier power hitters. My dad worked very hard with Reggie during the 1980 season, constantly reminding him to take his top hand off the bat in batting practice. Reggie didn't feel comfortable doing that in a game for some reason. However, by practicing bat extension and taking the top hand off in batting practice, he kept this top hand from being too dominant when he kept two hands on the bat during games.
Reggie had 41 home runs in 1980 and hit .300 for the first and only time in his career. Previously a predominant pull hitter, he stroked 20 of his home runs to the opposite field. Reggie finished second that year in the MVP voting. He was beaten by Kansas City's George Brett, another one of my father's pupils who hit .390 that season.
If you happen to be a two-handed, follow-through hitter who can't seem to change, you should at least practice releasing that top hand when hitting off the batting tee. Once you understand the dynamics of it, you may, like Reggie, prevent your top hand from being so dominant.
Excerpted from Charley Lau's Laws on Hitting by Charley Lau Jr. with Jeffrey Flanagan. Addax Pub. Group, 8643 Hauser Dr., Lenexa, KS 66215, $21.95 ($32.95, Canada)
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|Title Annotation:||Charley Lau's Laws on Hitting|
|Author:||Lau, Jr., Charlie|
|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2000|
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|THE LAU DOWN...|
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