What I learned about hitting from Ted Williams.
"The greatest hitter I've ever seen!"
As a youngster, I shagged baseballs for Ted Williams at a city park in Minneapolis. And over the years I became a friend of his, due in large part to the encouragement of a former major league ballplayer and legendary coach named Andy Cohen.
Ted's thoughts on the making of hitters were refined in his intensive years of study of the major league game. He also wrote several of the best books on batting ever published. Much of what he preached and wrote on "the art of putting the fat part of the bat on the ball at the right instant" became law to the players, coaches, and gurus of baseball.
What I have to say about hitting is the culmination of my experience as a player, coach, clinician, and Ted Williams' devotee. Hitting has been my passion over the past half-century. I have always wanted to be a hitter, and I have worked as hard at it as anyone I have ever known.
Looking over my career, I can honestly say that if I had to do it all over again, I'd do it exactly the same way--except that I'd have practiced it even more!
Besides bat, glove, and uniform, every hitter brings two other items of equipment with him to the ballpark:
ON THE MENTAL SIDE:
1. Get a good ball to hit.
2. With a count of less than two strikes and the pitcher in his groove (where he is very tough to hit), take the pitch.
3. If the count goes to two strikes, concede something to the pitcher. Choke up on the bat a little, sacrificing some of your power for more control of the bat. Don't make a conscious effort to pull the ball, but concentrate on meeting it squarely.
ON THE PHYSICAL SIDE:
The three basic requirements in the "absolute must" column:
1. Develop strong, quick hands and wrists that will help you whip the bat through the ball at the moment of impact. (Present day Manny Ramirez swings 150mph through the hitting zone.)
2. Keep your weight forward on the balls of your feet. If you are letting your weight rest back on your heels you are wasting your time in baseball.
3. Be sure you have plate coverage: Stand in a way that will enable you to hit any pitch in your strike zone.
Let's hop back to the mental side and discuss those three basic requirements fully:
Get a good ball to hit: If that sounds simple, think about it for a minute. Remember the pitcher has his problems, too, and when you're standing up there at the plate, you have become his biggest problem. If he cannot get the ball over the plate within the strike zone, he'll put you on base with a walk. Jim Thome and Barry Bonds are great examples of hitters who will take a walk.
This is a good place to talk about the strike zone. It goes without saying that in order to pick out a good ball to hit, you have to learn your strike zone. It is a 17-inch wide area (the width of the plate) extending upward from the lower part of the knees to a point between the waist and the letters. Major League Baseball could improve the game by raising the top of the strike zone by several inches.
Imagine this area as being a box kite and fix the mental picture permanently in mind.
Reducing the strike zone area to mathematics: it measures 4 1/4 square feet. Now let's suppose that you have developed the habit of swinging at balls that are only two inches above, below, outside or inside the normal strike zone.
Those two inches outside the strike zone--ball calls--gives the pitcher an edge. Give any pitcher that kind of advantage and he'll make the hitter look like a monkey most of the time.
So master your strike zone. It's something you have to keep working on to keep the pitcher honest. He has to come into the hitter's strike zone with the pitch.
Whenever a pitcher is able to put a third strike past you, don't waste your time arguing with the umpire. If you believe the ball was outside the strike zone, don't lose your mind beefing about "a bad call."
Talk to some teammate you have confidence in. Get his honest opinion. Find out for sure, and if he agrees with the umpire that it was not too high or too low, make up your mind that your judgment on that kind of a pitch could stand some improvement. Sharpen up on it!
Nearly every batter has a certain type of pitching a particular spot in his strike zone that he finds hard to hit. For some it's a high inside pitch. For others, it can be low and away, even though it catches the outside corner.
On this kind of pitch with the count less than two strikes, take it! There's a chance that the ball will be off the plate, or too high, or too low, and the umpire will call it a ball anyhow.
Maybe the pitcher has been able to fool you. Perhaps you've got to hit his pitch.
Once more: Learn your strike zone. Keep working at it. Know exactly where it is at all times.
I've studied the styles of nearly all the great hitters over the past 30 years and I have noticed that while all of them achieved great success, they employed all kinds of variations in stance: in arm position, knee bend, stride, swing, and follow through.
Every good hitter I ever saw employed quick hands and wrists, stood in the box with his weight over the balls of his feet, and covered his strike zone.
Laziness in the hand and wrists is one of the chief faults of hitters who are not achieving the percentage they should.
How hard should a batter swing? I'd say about 80 or 85% of his absolute capacity. In other words, he should have the feeling that he has a little something left in his arms, shoulders, and hips that he hasn't used completely.
Coupled with his 80 to 85% swing should be a 100% use of the hands and wrists. The batter should avoid over swinging with the arms because it can upset his timing and throw him off-balance and represent a waste of power. But he should never let up one bit with his hands and wrists. He can never overdo this. A great many hitters swing too hard.
As long as the batter keeps his weight on the balls of his feet and keeps his hands and wrists strong and quick, he'll be in a position to hit well--no matter what goes wrong with his swing.
Ted Williams swung hard and fast and took an honest cut. But he never tried to set records with the swing of his arms and shoulders. It was the wrists and hands that let him go all the way.
Batting styles of two other great hitters of by-gone days, Rogers Hornsby and Al Simmons, are worthy of study. Both were straightaway hitters. But Hornsby stepped in toward the ball, while Simmons stepped away in his stride--"put his front foot in the bucket."
Both stood in the box with their weight on the forward part of their feet and both were quick and strong with the hands and wrists, and they both got the same results--great batting averages.
The quicker a young player can develop a whipping action with his hand, the sooner he will become a good hitter.
The wrist and hands can be developed and strengthened by practicing. And what better way of practice is there than swinging a bat?
Get a bat a little heavier than the one you use at the plate, 36 to 40 ounces, and just swing it. (You don't have to be up there at the plate swinging at a baseball to develop your wrists and hands.)
When I was a kid in California, I stayed outside the house after dark swinging a bat--a Bill Terry model I used for practice.
"I'm in the Polo Grounds," I used to pretend to myself. "There's two out and two on. The pitcher's getting ready. Here it comes! Fastball, just inside and a little high. Bam! Two-base hit! Here he comes again. A curve just above the knees! Wham! Another line drive!"
I used to do this kind of thing for hours when I was a youngster. Taking a stance and pretending the pitcher was throwing everything in the book--and I'd be swinging the bat at imaginary pitches in every spot of my strike zone.
My hands and wrists got stronger and quicker with all that swinging. Through the winter lay-off after I became a major leaguer, I carried a heavy practice bat that I'd swing every chance I get. It kept my hands and wrists in shape. I'd pretend that the pitcher was throwing at imaginary spots in my strike zone.
I learned early in my career to take a good firm grip on the bat. "If you are going to move something, you've got to take a good hold of it first."
In other words, don't let the bat handle rest in the heel of the palms. The handle fits the base of the fingers. I believe that kind of grip gives you more "feeling and control."
Every player must develop his own style of batting. He has to individualize his batting style and let it develop as he works out the fundamentals we have mentioned.
I'm often asked what weight bat is best to use. My advice is to get the kind of bat you can handle best. It may be a 34-ounce bat, or maybe 36 ounces. Ted Williams' model Louisville Slugger weighed 34 ounces and was 35 inches long.
If I were unable to get a 34-ounce bat, I'd rather get a bat that was three ounces lighter than the one that was one ounce heavier.
The batter's stance at the plate is a matter he should determine for himself. He shouldn't adopt someone else's stance just because he is a good hitter. Find a stance that feels comfortable and puts you in a "ready" position.
The ideal swing is a level one. But don't worry about this too much. If the fundamentals are right, the swing will be almost perfectly level. On pitches higher than the belt buckle, I have the feeling I am hitting down on the ball slightly. On pitches that are below the belt buckle, I have the feeling that I'm hitting up.
The stride should be of your own liking, but the shorter it is the better. On a short stride, the head has less chance to move and there is less lost motion.
I have noticed that the more a major leaguer plays, the quicker his stroke becomes. As you get older, you also get stronger and this will speed up your stroke and allow you to wait a fraction of a second longer in looking over each pitch.
The position of the hands and the feet in the stance has been the subject of much discussion, but I think the emphasis has been exaggerated. If the batter's stance is natural and he is holding his bat where he can hit anything that comes into the strike zone, I'd say his position is good. In other words, there are no set rules governing these two factors.
Before ending, I would like to talk about the one affliction that besets every batter at one time or another--the slump.
A slump in batting means just one thing, usually. The pitchers are fooling you more often. You can combat a slump with two physical weapons: Choke up on the bat slightly or move away from the plate a bit. Either of these tips tends to accomplish the same purpose: It permits you to take a longer look at the pitch and gives you the chance to delay the start of the swing.
The longer you can look at the ball before swinging, the less chance the pitcher has a chance of fooling you.
Ted Williams, a left-handed hitter, never made any particular effort to pull the ball when he was wrestling with a slump. He said: "I concentrated on hitting the ball to center or left center and waited as long as possible before starting the swing."
There is no such thing as overemphasizing the six fundamentals that we have talked about earlier. There are a lot of hitters today who could increase their batting averages with more practice. I have never known a hitter who failed because he practiced those six fundamentals too much.
In every aspect of hitting, failure to prepare--prepares you to fail.
By Dell Bethel, North Ridgeville, OH
RELATED ARTICLE: JIM THOME
(POWER FROM THE LEFT SIDE)
From a near perfect stance, the Philadelphia Phillies slugger has brought his bat into launching position by shifting his weight to his back foot, cocking the bat off the top shoulder, and facing the pitcher from over his tucked-in head. Everything is in position for the explosion ... which happens in the last five photos. For pure classicism, check the perfect batting line in the next to last photo; the straight front leg, and the back leg up on the toe with the hip, knee, and foot forming a letter L.
RELATED ARTICLE: MANNY RAMIREZ
(POWER FROM THE RIGHT SIDE)
The Boston Red Sox bomber doesn't look particularly menacing in his easy, relaxed stance, with the bat extended almost perpendicular in front of him. Then comes an idiosyncrasy--a very high front leg kick that leads into the stride step. Like most great hitters with an eccentric stance, Ramirez straightens everything out once he begins his swing. Again, notice the faultless swing and the excellent straight-line position of the head, arms, and bat in the next to last photo.
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|Publication:||Coach and Athletic Director|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2005|
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