The “Good Hitter”, and the “GREAT HITTER” – Part l

According to contemporary Baseball thinking, the “good hitter” is a batter who waits patiently for a pitcher to make a mistake (puts the ball where he does not want to—where he knows the batter is most capable of hitting it), and capitalizes on it, and effectively hits the ball with authority at least 2.72 times out of 10 at-bats. To me, there are many ways to be a “good” hitter, but only one way to be a “Great” hitter. The good hitter will wait and hopefully hit the pitcher’s mistake. The “great” hitter will be able to hit the pitcher’s best pitch.

Since the standard for being a good hitter is so low, then it might be well to presume that the standard for “perfection” is not or cannot be what a dictionary definition of perfection might imply. In Baseball, there is not an example of Ultimate Perfection. But under guidelines for what is defined as Penultimate, we can estimate the ultimate potential of those who might be the closest to perfection.Barry Bonds HRTed Williams - Power&Speed00934860.JPGMiguel Cabrera 2Albert Pujols 14

When most Baseball people attempt to analyze the highest proficiency of bats-man-ship, they see the skillfulness of the hitter as being comprised within a two-dimensional realm, natural phenom” and the “smart hitter”. Phenomenal exhibition would be a basis of evaluation that acknowledges the artistic, natural propensity of an athlete who, under his presently yet unrefined circumstance, makes solid contact of bat to ball without his advocating any strict adherence to disciplined principle.Babe Ruth 3 Most notable examples are those “Blue-Chip” prospects who are BIG, STRONG, and FAST, whose physical attributes garner for themselves “big bonus bucks” when they sign their initial contracts and carry the fresh hopes of those organizations that intend to weave this new and endearing material into a more durable fabric for team building. Matt Kemp 9(Thus the recycling of “team-building” continues until the futility of errant ways obviates, and heads roll.)

The “smart-hitter”Joe Morgan1 is a cunning adversary for any “pitcher”, with instincts and astute deductive processes that can successfully promote an effective hitting prowess. This type of batter combines his natural physical talents with a cursory understanding that certain indefinable mental qualities are essential to offset the sometimes-crippling dependency on physicality alone. He tries to incorporate a mental component into his prominent physical dimension because his instincts reveal some underlying mechanism to higher achievement. Rusty Staub4But without a thorough investigation into the depths of mechanical understanding, the closest his trial and error tactics will get him to his highest proficiency is the range encircling the .300 mark. Not bad, but far from superlative achievement!

The mentality of most professional batters, because of the overpowering “arms” of most professional pitchers, is one with two limited approaches to maintaining a relatively successful attack on the respectable .300 average. “See every pitched ball and swing at strikes,” and “look for a particular pitch, and make sure you hit it” are two simplistic notions that rely primarily on one’s quick physical responses to the given stimuli. And the success of either is determined by the quickness of the batter’s reflexes and the inability of the pitcher to put the ball where he wants it. The highest degree of consistent productivity is never attainable with either of these approaches because their sporadic and sometimes remarkable success is achieved while the batter’s senses seem to be acutely within “the zone” of feeling good, a state of being that is ephemeral at best. On any given day any such hitter could look like a potential “hall-of-famer”. But, by the end of a regular season, his numbers some times add up to a compelling mediocrity.josh_hamiltonBryce harper2john

End of Part I.

Coming Soon: “Good Hitter”, and the “Great Hitter” – Part ll

Who is going to be the Next .400 Hitter?

HERO or GOAT – The Difference Is?

With another Baseball season getting under way, the question that is almost never on the minds of sports columnists, analysts, and fans is, “Who’s going to bat .400 this year?” Everyone except the “most imaginative” seeker of a proven “Batting Principle” will agree that it is unlikely (if not impossible) that any batter of the modern era would be capable of changing his “mind-set” in order to determine a new and practical approach to “Batting Excellence”.

What is the difference between a .200 hitter (1 for 5) and a .400 hitter (2 for 5)? The simple and obvious answer, to the “superficial” observer, is 1 hit! Except, of course, if they batted 10 times. Then, it’s 2 hits (2 for 10; 4 for 10)then(3 for 15; 6 for 15).  It’s starts getting  complicated as each batter compiles an additional 5 at-bats. It would seem relatively easy to sustain a “clip” of 1 hit every 5 times at-bat. Does it seem outlandish to imagine the prospect of getting 2 hits in every 5 at-bats?

What does anyone actually know about a .400 hitter? Has anyone actually seen one in our generation? Sporting News MLB Baseball CollectionTed Williams, in 1941, was the last batter to reach that high level of consistent hitting for a whole season. We’ve seen quite a few .200 hitters; they seem to be rather plentiful! Can the .400 hitter be easily distinguishable from the .200 hitter? Again, it’s hard to say. We have little verification that the prospect of another one could really exist. (It’s like “Big-foot”; people who say they’ve seen him give compatible descriptions as to what he could look like!) Some back-woods “bush-leagues” have probably come the closest to producing a legitimate prototype Roy Hobbs 2, but never actually authenticated the “Genuine-Article” for practical use in the Big-Leagues.IMG_1217

While devising the basic formula that would produce an ideal hitter, the prospect for a solution to the problem of inefficient bats-man-ship lay in the degree to which the batter is consistently able to apply the proper mechanics to his swing. It has been established over many years of observation, and finally deduced, that one’s high degree of athleticism is not the major factor in producing the best hitting credentials. The ability to devise (detect), interpret, and apply the proper mechanics to the swing is the major determinant in establishing a credible batting prowess. The main ingredients to establishing the proper mechanics are these: secure stance, visual stability, minimum stride, and quick compact swing.

Barry Bonds 3Mark Mcgwire 4don-mattingly 1A secure stance implies that the batter has postured himself in a most foundationally  advantageous position from which to clearly detect the pitcher’s release of the ball, as well provide a strong, functional mobility with which the body can react quickly to respond effectively and appropriately to the speed, flight pattern and nuances of the pitched ball.

Yaz-3Joe Morgan1TedWilliamsShortSwing2 Visual stability infers that, from a secure stance, the head of the batter will maintain a constant position, from the point that the pitcher releases the ball, through the torque of the swing, and during and after the follow-through, to assure that the eyes retain maximum acuity for proper and consistent focus on the target.

DSC_0125DSC_0126BarryBonds_bat flatBarry Bonds 11Minimum stride refers to the least amount of preliminary movement necessary for the batter to facilitate preparatory body momentum to effect a quick and powerful response to the pitched ball. Remembering that optimal visual acuity is essential to effective hitting, and that ultimate power is activated not by predisposed linear movement, the most efficient use of the stride would logically be to take no stride at all.

Barry Bonds 2Barry Bonds 4Barry Bonds 8Barry  Bonds 9A quick compact swing is one in which the minimum of time is elapsed after the front foot has been planted and the batter initiates and completes the turn of the hips and shoulders, with the arms and bat following in rapid succession with the minimum of ostensible drag. A point to always remember is that the lower the center of gravity the quicker and more powerful will be the turn of hips and shoulders.

These four aspects of proper mechanics constitute what would be considered a sound physical approach to applying oneself to the prospective “art” of hitting a baseball. If you have watched professional ballplayers taking batting practice before the game, you might have observed that they all seemed to look the same, as they blasted away at moderately fast moving batting practice pitches. Their stances seemed secure, knees bent slightly for effective balance. They hit every pitch, so they must have seen the ball clearly. They appeared calm and in control; minimum of extraneous movement—lunging at the ball. And most were demonstrating quick powerful strokes that carried the ball into the bleachers. Batting practice is always an awesome spectacle to behold! After watching such a display you might think that any or every one of those batters could be a .400 hitter. And why can’t they be?

On every Big-League team there is probably to be found at least one .300 hitter and a range of hitters from the high .200s to the low .200s. But no one batting .400 (except during an uncustomary prolific first month, or so). Is there an actual scientific reason for a player to be a .400 or better hitter in batting practice, and a .200 hitter in games? And, is there a scientific rationale for that .400 batting practice hitter, to apply to his game-condition, that would allow him to maintain that .400 “stroke” throughout the season?

To answer the first question, no really scientific explanation is necessary. Professional players are good, strong athletes with great hand eye coordination. A batting practice pitcher elicits no fear at all. And the sense of confidence that exudes when fear is not present, plus the one-dimensional component to hitting accurately thrown, moderate fastballs, have a tendency to induce a player to exhibit the fulfillment of highest physical potential. Unfortunately, the mental approach, for many of these physically endowed batting practice participants, is merely a pre-game physical exercise to loosen their bodies for the real-live performance.

At game time, you might notice a formerly relaxed and confident “Bleacher-Blaster” now exhibiting body language that expresses a less than authoritative approach to addressing the preeminent “mounds-man”. As he nervously swaggers his bat to and fro, the batter anxiously tries to regain the comfort-pose he postured, with nonchalance, during B.P. Somehow his confidence has sunk below anticipation level while facing the disdainfully insensitive eyes of a formidable (alien) pitcher. The semi-taut muscles that provided ample support for slightly bent but fluidly mobile knee joints, during Batting Practice, suddenly stiffened inexplicably, to accommodate an immediate need for improved stability. The first 93 MPH fastball caught his reflexes just a tad “in the rears”, as his bat-speed languished in 85mph range, and sent a poorly calibrated foul-ball to the off-side of the back-stop. A demeanor that implied untold gratitude for even touching the speeding projectile precluded an ominous prediction about the success of his subsequent attempts. Needless to say, a brilliant sequence of masterfully placed pitches sent the batter back to his dugout, after “His Eminence” concluded the series with an off-speed breaking pitch that had the high gliding bats-man lunging out, over his front foot, and whiffing at a ball whose bottom half seemed to disintegrate before his disconcerting, dangling eyeballs.

The preceding experience could have happened. In fact, it has happened, many times. And, it will happen again, because the common baseball player mentality is geared to think and act in accordance to how something Feels, not how intellectually and mechanically correct a proposition is. Baseball players tend to oblige themselves to the notion that “practice-makes-perfect”. They try to avoid the complete axiom that “perfect practice-makes-perfect”, because, in most cases, to do the intelligently and mechanically correct thing “doesn’t feel good”.

Most professionals will agree that a secure stance, visual stability, minimum stride, and a quick compact swing are essential ingredients to obtaining an optimal range of hitting proficiency. However, many factors influence one’s interpretation of how to apply these components to the individual temperament and physical makeup of every player. To what extent is a secure stance vindicated by the varying degrees of bent-knees to maintain a low center of gravity? Can optimal visual stability be perfected in a batter who insists on maintaining a high stance and excessive stride, or even a modest stride? Can a player who doesn’t stride generate enough quickness and torque from the mere rotary action of hips and shoulders (initiated by the correct knee action) to elicit formidable power to express his swing to its maximum extent?

Individual physical characteristics of each player obviously have to be taken into consideration before anyone can prescribe the most beneficial interpretation for use of the main physical ingredients to successful “Batting”. A great cook does not put the same amount of salt and pepper into a pot of stew when feeding himself, as he does when he’s catering a banquet! (And here, Yogi might say he’s not going to any banquet where all they’re serving is stew.) A short bow-legged player may not have to crouch as low as a tall, straight-legged player to facilitate an equivalent of speed and torque during the power-turn of hips and shoulders. But a taller player would have to bend his knees more to establish an equivalent strike zone to a shorter player.

Most ballplayers think that a batting average of .400 and above is impossible, so the probability of their reaching that level is negligible, if not impossible. Even if they ascribed to the precept that “thought precedes action”, they would still have to contend with a list of preconceived notions that would stifle any consistent progress they could make along sound intellectual and mechanical lines. The greatest deterrent to ultimate batting progress is the reluctance of any hitter within the .250 to .300 range to change any aspect of his swing that could possibly further reduce his presently respectable average.

A batter’s average throughout the second half of the season is determined by how well the pitcher can keep his pitches within the areas, in and outside the strike-zone, that the particular batters will either swing at errantly or cannot hit easily. If a batter has flaws in his mechanics (as well as in his mental approach to discerning the pitcher’s intent), scouting reports will generally identify the symptoms of such, and good pitchers will attempt to sabotage all vestiges of prior success due to misplaced pitches.

Is there a way to make the “hitting-game” easy to apply, and to genuinely extrapolate from a logical, rational, and orderly set of hypotheses a character whose special mental and physical talents would legitimize a .400 or better hitting phenomenon? The answer to that question is Yes!

The next .400, or better, hitter will be a batter who confidently walks to the plate with the understanding that the pitcher is tenaciously going to attempt to throw the baseball passed him. He realizes that the pitcher will be standing on a mound that is 18 inches above the plane of home plate. He intelligently deduces that the flight of the ball will be descending toward the plate at a speed varying from 70 to 100 MPH. He is conscious of the fact that the ball, after travelling a distance of more than 50 feet, will have to traverse the length of an 18inch wide home plate while maintaining a height range varying with the degree to which the batter’s knees and chest are separated by measure. And, he does not have to go out and attack the ball. The ball will come to him. With patience, he will let it arrive into his zone, then quickly and efficiently dispose of it—if he prepares himself properly. Barry Bonds HRBarry Bonds 17Albert Pujols 15Ted Williams - swing

While fully apprised of the physical parameters and logistics of pitcher-batter inter-play, in order to counteract all of the menacing tactics of an astute and finely tuned prestidigitator of mounds-man-ship, the .400 hitter will have to demonstrate near impeccable application of sound mechanics. He must also deprive his opponent of any additional advantage, to which the predominant pitcher has been previously accustomed.

To establish maximum stability and optimal viewing, the .400 hitter assumes a stance as low as will accommodate a minimum of discomfort. From this position, he not only will facilitate the most stable foundation from which to elicit the fastest possible reaction time to any assortment of pitched balls, but will also considerably diminish the area to which the umpire can define as a strike for the pitcher. Thus, the pitcher’s workload becomes a bit more excessive. (Score 1 for the .400 hitter).

If the batter’s stance is low, and spread to the extent of what would be the distance of his stride, his stable position better prepares him to view the incoming pitch. The distance between a high or low pitch is now so negligible that the batter will have less difficulty adjusting to the pitcher’s choice of location, presenting the additional conundrum for any team’s pitching staff. Therefore any “strike” is in the batter “wheel-house”. The pitcher no longer has that deceptive leverage-point that he had grown accustomed to with the batter in a high stance. (Score 2 for the .400 hitter).

Everything, to this point, has been for the purpose of more than adequately preparing the batter to effectively encounter what the pitcher has to offer. Now, the moment of application of mechanically precise engineering, which really attests the difference between the .400 and .200 hitters, comes into play. With stance secure, and vision stabilized, the pre- conditioned, natural sequential flow of body parts, choreographed to the rhythm of the whistling ball in flight, begins with a “gathering” of energy, shifting the weight slightly, not backward to disturb balance, but inwardly to secure balance. Sporting News MLB Baseball CollectionBonds -stanceAs the coiled body awaits the incoming pitch, the hands and bat have moved to a position slightly beyond the back shoulder, facilitated by the lowering front shoulder and turning body. At the critical point, where the ball has been identified for its speed and/or specialized nuances, the body responds with the first wave of conscious forward movement, which occurs simultaneously in four distinct areas. If all functions are intact, and the timing mechanism accurately assessed, the front foot plants firmly as its knee begins to straighten. The three other areas, acting synergistically, are the back bent knee, and the front and back shoulders. As the front knee is straightening, the front hip is turning outwardly and backward, while the back knee is twisting forward and down, to assist the rapidly forward-turning back hip. The front shoulder begins its assault with an initial “shrug”, the purpose of which is multi-faceted: to stabilize and abruptly lift the shoulder, instigate the initial lowering of back shoulder and elbow, and provide momentum for initiating the complete turn of the upper body through the swing. After the quick action of the “shrug”, the front shoulder continues on its route until its completion at the back end of the swing.DSC_0036 DSC_0120DSC_0122DSC_0128DSC_0129Mark McGwire 5Ted Williams' follow throughThe beauty of being aware of the four simultaneous steps is that any one of them can be the conscious stimulant to initiate the batter’s swing. It is impossible to think of all four at the same time—too complex an endeavor. But just knowing that they all occur at the same time allows the .400 hitter to focus on any one, which seems most suitable at the time, and receive a successful result.

Since the .400 hitter knows that every pitched ball is travelling in a descending line, or arc, his body mechanics instinctively facilitates the corresponding action of the bat to meet the ball on a line as close to 180 degrees as possible. The action described above (the four steps) allows the bat to begin flattening out automatically as the swing is initiated, and thus avoiding any time lapse that is induced by unnecessary conscious effort. As the swing progresses, the diametrical shoulder slant assists the front arm’s straightening, and lowered back shoulder and bent elbow to drive the hands and bat to striking area. Once the “belly-button” faces the pitcher, the front elbow snaps its arm to extension while the back elbow starts its subsequent powerful extension, for the bat to contact the ball. As the bat meets the ball, the shoulders remain the continuing power force that drives the arms and hands to direct the bat through the ball until the follow-through is complete. (If the fingers of the top hand were extended at the “contact” point, one would notice that the palm is facing upward, to assure that the wrists had not rolled over.)

The angle of the swing of the bat of the .400 hitter does not correspond with the parallel level of the playing field, but rather on a parallel line with the flight of the ball. Barry Bonds HRted-williams-science-of-hitting2Ted Williams - fundamentalsTedWilliamsShortSwing2 To swing the bat, on a parallel line with the field level, at a ball that is travelling downward from a height of 5 to 6 feet, would facilitate a hard ground ball in a majority of cases, if solid contact were made. Because solid contact, 100% of the time, is improbable, you might be able detect, here, one of the flawed characteristics that makes for a .200 hitter. The most detrimental component to any aspiring .400 (or even .300) hitter is the erroneous theory that the batter should swing down on the ball. And the prospective .400 hitter who follows the sequence of body mechanics mentioned above will never swing down on the ball, unless he is ostensibly late with his timing, or if he prematurely rolls his wrists over the ball at contact!

Is there any chance that a batter will again hit .400 or better? There are many current players who are hitting .300 consistently. Anyone of them could be a .400 hitter, if he knew for sure that there was a legitimate way to become that Hero, without the prospect for also being a Goat. He has to be willing to try something different, even though it may not, at first, feel good.

Coming Soon: The “Good-Hitter” and The “Great-Hitter”.

A New Season of Baseball Fun for All is Coming

Major-League Baseball will once again be upon us. Spring Training has begun and again brings with it New Hopes and the resurgence of enthusiasm that stimulates life on the American and International Canvas. The most ardent of baseball fans are looking forward to fulfilling their great expectations with relish, and of course Hot Dogs, Peanuts, Popcorn, and Crackerjacks.Baseball fans 1baseball fans 2baseball fans 3baseball fans 4baseball fans 5

Baseball is truly America’s national pastime. It not only epitomizes the “new-wave” national standard for universal “equality for all”, but characterizes the highest sentiment for democratic reform throughout the world. The indigenous character and homespun heritage of our country’s National Pastime foster the innovative and endearing qualities of America that can transform a competitive world into a peaceful arena willing to incorporate the essence of those qualities into an enduring fabric conducive to all spiritual, mental and physical environments.coaching 8

As we have seen displayed on the Inter-National playing-field, jubilant participants have  contributed to a universal camaraderie where the peace of goodness has been applied and appreciated. The Game of Baseball is the ultimate in sports activity! To all participants, players, fans, and officials  its unique simplicity conveys a human drama, and then reveals and resolves the complexities that would elicit trauma from mortal life’s uncertain circumstances.  “Could mere human contrivance order such preciseness, from the tri-hedral dimensions of the field of play, to the definitive specifications and range of intricate function for the designated participants?” – Socrates (from Plato and Socrates: Baseball’s Wisest Fans – by John F. Paciorek)

As the world has fast become a theatrical stage for public sentiment to display both outrageous and benevolent characterizations of humanity, a universal demand for the highest possible standard of excellence can be embodied by those who would be model-heroes for aspiring youth. “Conceptions of mortal erring thought must give way to the ideal of all that is perfect and eternal.”coaching 4Coaching 1

As a professional Baseball Player myself, and subsequently a perennial fan and teacher of the “fundamentals”, my thought(s) about the “Game” gradually has been transformed from that of vigorously active participation to vicariously passive appreciation. My life’s purpose is no longer striving to be the greatest athlete, or baseball player, nor is it to fulfill my physical potential. I have simply come to recognize that my sole purpose is to experience “Goodness”.

So, starting my day from a spiritual basis, I begin looking for and anticipating those human experiences that afford me the opportunity for “Maximum of Good”. Good is God! God is not only good; He is All the Good that is and can be. The Psalmist states in at least four verses, “Oh, that men would praise the Lord for his goodness, and for his wonderful works to the children of men!” Jesus himself was not only the excellent example of God’s Goodness, his “Gospel” message promoted the “Good News” of Our Father’s ever presence. The ancient Greeks inter-changed the terms excellence and “virtue” to mean the same. And again the Bible describes the “Virtuous Woman” as finding “goodness” in everything she did from morning ‘til night.

Every man’s search for Goodness must begin with God, and vice-versa. In every venue of human life experience can be found opportunities to witness a glory emanating, even gradually, from the prospect of goodness. On the amateur level, parents and other adults support the nurturing cause of developing educational and recreational activities for prospective leaders and rising stars, while appreciating every good or enhanced step along his/her way.Baseball - Jesus

But, we find excellence displayed to the utmost in every venue of the Professional realm. The “maximum of good” is what people pay money in order to vicariously experience the ultimate satisfaction in Sports, Movies, Theatre, Opera, and all other forms of genuine Escapism.

When I go to a Major-League Baseball game, I am expecting to have the experience of witnessing the “maximum of good” that the highest level of the Sport can deliver to my full appreciation. It is a “Spiritual Experience”, at which, and for which I am never disappointed, no matter which team wins. When I go to a Little-League game, I don’t have the same “high-expectation” of “excellent” performance, but I do look for every slight indication of Good’s presence in the intentions, enthusiasm, sportsmanship, and mechanical application of skill of all the participants.pony_baseball_04

Baseball will always be America’s endearing National Pastime to me, for whom the season never ends, even though it is again just beginning.

John Paciorek played for the Major League Houston Colt.45s. (Currently, Astros).  He now teaches Physical Education and coaches Sports at Clairbourn – School in San Gabriel, CA. He has written two books: The Principle of Baseball, and All There is to Know about Hitting; and, Plato and Socrates: Baseball’s Wisest Fans; and is the subject of a new Book, entitled, Perfect, by Steven Wagner.

Fun: From Inside the Batter’s Box

It is no secret in the Big Leagues – unless you are a pitcher or the “slickest” of fielders with a rifle-arm and “speed-a-foot”, your chances of making it to the “Show” and staying there are “slim and None” if you can’t HIT!. But most batters who had been signed to play professional Baseball had been thought of by their parents and “home-town” fans as decent hitters at one time or another.

Ted Williams exclaimed it first, but probably many before him realized the fact, and, assuredly, every athlete who has been privileged to experience the physical, mental, and emotional tension associated with swinging a baseball bat under game conditions can verify, “Hitting a baseball effectively is the most difficult thing to do in all of sports”.strike-outStrike-out 3strike-out 10

Many people, men, women, boys, and girls love to swing a baseball bat at a baseball (softball). It seems a pretty fair accomplishment—mentally sizing up the speed of that spherical object floating in a relatively straight path toward a designated area for the “batter” to physically strike with a long narrow cylindrical piece of wood or aluminum. It’s really fun! The skill involved is not just physical; the mental aspect includes the quick discernment of time, space, and geometric calculations, (and much more intense at the Big-League level). That’s why baseball (softball) games at family picnics and other recreational environments are such crowd-pleasing activities. And if no one gets hurt, it’s even more enjoyable!girl swinging baseball bat 1Boy swinging baseball bat 1Boy swinging baseball bat 2

For those who get involved at a more intricate level, like Little League, the game speeds up a little bit. The batter doesn’t seem to have as much control, as when dad or mom was pitching the ball. But the game is still fun; you just have to take it a little more seriously, more figuring and adjusting to more variables. And when your bat makes “good contact” the exhilaration is more intense and meaningful, even though your hard hit grounder goes through the shortstop’s legs for a base hit.

When you make it to Little League Majors, the pressure can almost seem too daunting. Everyone is bigger and stronger. You start asking yourself, “how am I going to maintain my .850 average? Then reality sets in, and more adjustments (physically, mentally, and emotionally) have been made, and you feel pretty grateful to sustain a modest .530 batting average. The .320 drop is attributable to the “curve ball”!strike-out 6

As a thirteen year-old, in Pony League, you’re now playing on a field where the bases are 23 feet farther, and the pitching rubber is 54 feet from home plate, instead of 45. Mental and physical adjustments have to be made! The pitching distance is farther; but the pitcher is bigger and stronger; and the ball is thrown faster, and it “hurts” a lot worse. (Remember, this is where your most imaginative 14 year-old pitcher starts to work on his “split-finger”, and assortment of other pitches, for which he no doubt will throw his arm out and diminish all chances of making the High School team, and the “Bigs”.) Therefore an emotional adjustment is in order—“do I really want to play Pony League, or High School Ball?”pony_baseball_04pony_baseball_5pony_baseball_3

With a year of “Pony” under your belt, you’ve made the necessary adjustments. You’re bigger, stronger, and back in dominating form! New standards have been acquiesced, and your .400 plus batting average is a given. Your size and physical ability give you overwhelming confidence, and the High School coaches reinforce your attitude with constant pandering. Watch, stride, and swing—that’s all you had to do, and pretty good contact with the ball gives you a hit 2 times in every 5 at- bats, every once in a while, a towering home-run. Hitting a baseball doesn’t seem that difficult! Sure, every once in a while, in tournament play, one or two pitchers seem to be overpowering! Should you make adjustments just for them? (You have not yet learned about the Big Fish in the Big Pond syndrome.)pony_baseball_1pony_baseball_6

High School provides a whole new experience for the “naïve” hitter. Until now, most instructors of the “art” of hitting have been parents, who didn’t claim to be infallible artisans of the craft but only slightly more than incompetent advisors whose lack of expertise couldn’t do much harm to a blossoming prodigy. Where the Little League coach pampered the players, because his son, daughter and neighbors’ kids were on the team, and didn’t want to risk offending anyone, along with the rule that everyone had to play, the Public High School coach has no such reservations to inhibit his personal, somewhat tyrannical resolve to develop the potential of the players for his team. If you don’t produce on your own recognizance, you’d better follow his specialized techniques, or risk “riding the pine” for the “duration” of your High School career, while lapsing into baseball oblivion.mean baseball face

During those High School years, the baseball player begins to realize that hitting a baseball consistently well must be the most difficult task in all of sports. Once this realization becomes prominent in the minds of the most determined hitters, an inexplicable desire to challenge the inescapable assumption that mere mortals are incapable of surpassing the pre-determined range of superlative achievement for batting excellence! To ever hit .400 again, on the Major League level seems impossible, and preposterous to think it could be done on a consistent basis.

After High School, those individuals who go into the college ranks or professional Minor League baseball quickly discover that mere physical enhancement will not entitle players to climb the ladder of developmental success. Even with the greatest of physical attributes, the acts of seeing, striding, and swinging the bat do not always procure the most beneficent effects. Thoughtful consideration of a good many aspects of the entire batting regimen must be understood and applied conscientiously, in order for maximum proficiency to be demonstrated.

The question has been, and might always persist, what is the proper regimen for establishing a technique that will procure the consistent, maximum effect while hitting a baseball? Many have theorized about the prospect, but only a handful have established credibility through their practical applications and thoughtfully spoken and written delineation. But, of these, the closest to extracting a complete and understandable facsimile of truth has been Mr. Ted Williams, who happened to be the last Major League player to bat .400 over the course of an entire season. Unfortunately, those who attempted to understand and follow his astute analysis of hitting perfection, misconstrued his intent, and misguided countless devotees into a darkened abyss of probable incompetence.

Aristotle pointed out, in his Nicomachean Ethics, that, in order to begin a study of anything that would lead to the highest understanding and demonstration of its universal verity, one must “behold” an example of a closest facsimile to the ideal estate, study its admirable characteristics, and extrapolate from its obvious functional proficiency a common entity by which a generic standard could be discerned, duplicated, and possibly expanded upon. Excellence in any field of human endeavor is achievable to anyone willing to devote a “heart and soul” effort toward mastering the definable concomitants to successful enterprise.

Major League batters are at the pinnacle of their vocational pursuits. Yet, within their own ranks can be found distinguishable differences in individual mastery of skills and technique. The batters who would become excellent performers are they who would follow the example of the “martial artist”, by adapting to his study and application of fundamental movement principles. However, the alternative to taking martial arts classes would be to find someone in their own profession, who is renowned as a masterful exponent of their own respective art of batting. In other words, “mark the perfect man, and behold the upright”.

“Upright” does not refer to body-position while performing tasks. The more upright the body, the higher is the center of gravity. That’s not good in most sports situations. A low center of gravity is always preferred for short, quick, and strong movements of the body in all sports activities. Upright, in the biblical context, refers to intelligent, principled thoughtfulness that always precedes masterful behavior or action.

Barry Bonds and Ted Williams are the batters whom all prospective “high achievers” should emulate in order to attain a facsimile of credible “Excellence” and bring the fun back into their respective “hitting-game”.Ted Williams - swingBarry Bonds 1

 

 

Fun and Baseball

Fun: The Way to Baseball Happiness!

By

John F. Paciorek

How can I have fun playing baseball if I am 5 years old and have never before played the game? I have never caught, thrown, or batted a baseball.  This scenario might be considered a “stage 1” category of developmental (kindergarten level) inquiry. A 5 year old who would ask such a question must have seen the game being played by children his age (or perhaps older) who appeared to be having fun. He must have noticed the children hitting, catching, and throwing a round ball while running to and from various positions on a diamond shaped field with fence around the perimeter. IF he had not someone to show or teach him the simple fundamentals of playing the game, perhaps his imagination was cultivated enough to allow him to pretend that he too could perform the actions that he saw being displayed on that field or park, in the privacy of his own mind. As his body was becoming more capable of mimicking the actions of throwing, catching, and batting imaginary objects in and from the “air” while running bases and chasing balls from fictitious projections of his mind, he might have elicited from himself a readiness to experience the real thing if and when the opportunity presented itself.

I can only imagine what may have become of this erstwhile baseball prospect, but I saw firsthand how my 3 year-old brother initiated his baseball career. I was a senior on my High School baseball team in the early 1960s. All my relatives and sometimes professional baseball scouts would come out to see me show off my particular talents. Our team often played its games on Sandlot fields with 3 other adjacent fields back to back to back. Sometimes all fields were being used at the same time. Other times, only one field was in use.

It became common occurrence that while my game was proceeding on field one, my little brother would look forward to watching my game for a while. Then after moments of gaining inspiration and enthusiasm, he would run off to field two, directly behind mine. And there he would stay for 7 to 9 innings mimicking all the action he saw displayed on field one. Coaching10Pretending to pitch the ball, then hitting the pretend ball, then running the (real) 90 foot bases, sliding into 2nd, 3rd, and home bases. baserunning8 (Baby2)He would usually continue this exuberant activity for my entire game. And it wouldn’t be uncommon to observe the people in “our” stands looking over the guard railing onto the adjacent field watching the antics of a remarkable young baseball prospect in the initial stages of his long baseball career.

Is there ever any fun in any endeavor that presents no prospect for winning? Fun and profitability can be found only in the patient, subsequent, sequential learning and properly proficient application of the skills (physical, mental, and psychological) that are entailed in the ultimate prospect of WINNING! Everyone can be a “winner” according to the extent to which he diligently ascribes to the preceding statement.Coaching 1

A notable historic Persian Poet, by the name of Rumi implies that, in all of life’s competitive encounters, there is a viable alternative to the traditional conclusion that someone wins while another loses. From this we can assume that no one really wins unless everyone wins.

The greatest motivational tool to learning and teaching is to have fun. The teacher has fun by seeing his students have fun. He vicariously puts himself in their place and visualizes how he might have enjoyed that same experience when he was of their age. The student(s) have fun by first giving the teacher the benefit of not doubting his intent to increase their knowledge and understanding about the subject in order to allow them the opportunity to improve their proficiency in applying themselves to the lesson pertaining to their own prospect for winning an improved status in Life itself.Coaching 2

With all my youngest students, I generally ask if they are ready to have FUN.  Their hearty reply is always the first indication they are ready to accept my instruction and commence on a joyful journey of fun by way of enhanced application of learning. My older students already know from past experience that they are going to have fun, but don’t always accept willingly the prelude to their version of fun in the form of preliminary exercise and warm-ups. They want immediate access to the more “meaty” subject matter. Some perform the “ritual” vigorously, with the apparent understanding of its ultimate benefit to those wanting to be the best they can be. Others half-heartily go “through the motions”, perhaps thinking they are preserving energy to perform more adeptly at the later stages of the lesson. But as long as each student has a smile on his/her face, I know learning in varying degrees is taking place. And each, to his own degree of substantive learning, is a winner, to that degree.

In Sports, either during an innocuous game in P.E. and recess, or vigorous inter-scholastic competition, the primary purpose for which each player is participating is to WIN! But winning, to most participants, is the act of being victorious over an opposing team or individual. But those who have studied the “game” know that true “winning” is the natural consequence of “right thinking and acting” while in pursuance of objective after objective in route to achieving a pre-determined goal. In Golf, a commentator may say, Tiger just “hit a winner”; in Basketball, Koby’s 30 foot fade-away jumper is “a winner”, but neither shot might have won the match or game. Even on a professional level it is easy to see how the sudden and temporary  elation of one moment of competition can be filled with ecstatic joy. The simple appreciation of a single moment of glory can make everyone a winner, even if his team lost the game. After the game you don’t have to ruminate in despair or dissatisfaction, but rather remember and dwell on the moments that you and your teammates (as well as the opposing players) performed at the best of their abilities. The ultimate goal may not have been achieved this time, but in its pursuance, lots of fun and exciting moments of opportunity presented themselves to remind you and your teammates of what could happen “next time”.

Some coaches attempt to motivate their players (students) to win at just about any cost. They would have them intimidate their opposition, with physical force if necessary. And they may even inadvertently intimidate their own players with the intent to “harden them” to the point of insensitivity toward anyone who would oppose their own collective purpose of winning. It would be difficult to detect in this scenario any sense of joy that most parents would hope to see their children experience. The best coach is always one who emphasizes all the fundamental components that the game entails and an attitude (mental and emotional) that inspires all of his players to do the best they can do each moment of every practice while performing the essential skills he has introduced to them for the purpose of eventually gaining a proficiency to their highest level of competency. His objective is not to instill in his players the idea to “be better than everyone else”, but rather to “be the best he or she can be” – only to “be better today than you were yesterday”. How much better is totally up to each individual. If everyone reaches that simple objective each day, he certainly can consider him/herself a WINNER.

As “there is no way to happiness, happiness is the way”, so, there is no precedence to Happiness but by “Having Fun”. Having fun is discerned at the first sign of accomplishment, and is reinforced in subsequent steps of learning. The joy of “self-accomplishment” intrinsically inculcates into the minds of fledgling youth the notion that living life to the fullest is FUN! But of course, supervision and propriety are necessary forays with which to learn the natural sequence to all constructive enterprise.

If the teaching – learning experience occurs in subsequent steps, sequential development is their natural consequence, and joyful expectation of progress eventuates in the ecstatic revelation that his/her patience has indeed paid off as the entire journey culminates in a “fun-filled” adventure.Boy swinging baseball bat 2Boy swinging baseball bat 1pony_baseball_6Albert Pujols 15

Coming Soon: Batting Your Way to a “Fun-filled” Baseball Experience.

 

A-Rod: Is it the End, or a New Beginning?

The scientifically minded “artist-of-the-bat” should understand and adhere strictly to the rules of his mental-physical application, and rest his performance on this sure foundation. He should hold his thought perpetually to the idea that his natural talent and indisputable scientific certainty can and will evoke from Principle the rule for mastering the most difficult task in all of sports.

A-Rod                      

 pac_2
There was no better athlete in the game over the last two decades than Alex Rodriguez. He hit home runs with greater ease than any other player in the game (except Barry Bonds). But why is it that opposing managers and pitchers hardly ever gave him an intentional pass, even in critical game – situations? It’s probably because they felt (or knew) that if they didn’t make a mistake they’d be more likely to get him out than they would Barry Bonds. A-Rod does one thing that Barry did not do, and this creates a “margin –for-error” that prevents him from being an even better hitter.
Barry’s front foot hardly lifted off the ground, and moved only slightly forward while keeping his head and eyes perfectly still in his low center of gravity. Barry had little difficulty in planting his front foot properly when it was time to attack the ball with the synergistic forces of the legs, hips, shoulders, arms, and hands. Very seldom could a pitcher catch him off balance enough to disintegrate his swing.Bonds -stanceBarry Bonds HR2001-10-05-bonds homerun-follow through
A-Rod is different. His stance begins balanced, low, and stable. But as the pitcher releases the ball, A-Rod starts an obtrusive attack with what I’m sure he thinks is a precision “timing mechanism” to incorporate a power surge. In fact, it does nothing less than unwittingly denigrate what is intended to initiate a “masterful stroke”. RodriguezAlex 1He lifts his front foot high off the ground while he waits in “suspended animation” to detect the speed, direction, and nuances being delivered by the pitch before he abruptly lunges forward and down to plant the foot to begin the swing. If the plant is too early, he’s out in front of the pitch and loses much of his power. If he is late with the plant, the fast ball is by him. It is not uncommon to witness the devastating effect of the “later” situation in the form of a called third strike when the ball speeds by him and his foot hasn’t yet planted. In the “former” situation, the effect of being too far out in front is usually not so devastating because his uncommon strength in the shoulders, arms, and hands affords him enough “hang-time” to at least make contact and string out a base hit or better.
The point of this article is to concede that A-Rod is a tremendously hard working baseball player. Everyone who knows of him presumes he is trying to be the best that he can be. His workout ethic seems to imply that he would be a “perfectionist” (even with all the steroid allegations). Now, even as an elder statesman, and if he can overcome his current “morality and ethical issues”, he can still be a productive ball-player if he can extricate himself from thinking he needs his “high leg-kick”.

Has Matt Kemp Resurrected Himself?

“A good hitter is not merely one who makes solid contact with the ball. But rather, he is a batter whose body mechanics facilitate the action of the swinging bat to contact and continue through the ball at an angle that provides for a straight (non-hooking or slicing) and ascending line-drive. The ‘Art’ of hitting a baseball could certainly be defined in the context of describing the ideal hitter—‘He is one whose bat most consistently contacts and drives through the ball in a manner that facilitates a straight and ascending ‘line-drive.’(To hit the ball in any other manner would be to miss-hit it.)”Matt Kemp 14

The preceding paragraph is an excerpt from my Book, The Principle of Baseball, and All There is to Know about Hitting. I have written many essays on the “Art” and “Science” of hitting a baseball, many of which are included in my book, previously mentioned. The following is an excerpt from my essay, “The Scientific-Artistry of Hitting a Baseball:

“Is the act of hitting a baseball efficiently an “Art’ or a ‘Science’, neither, or both? Those who demonstrate a high degree of talent in any of the various art forms could easily be described as ‘artists’. There is adequate evidence to indicate that many or most good artists (of which Batters are included) have a ‘natural’ propensity toward the artisanship in which they are engaged. But their optimal level of proficiency is most often derived from the degree to which they accumulate enhanced understanding by means of scientific examination of all aspects of their chosen profession. Therefore, hitting a baseball most effectively would have to be construed as both an ‘Art and a Science’.

In professional Baseball, to be the best hitter you can be, you must apply science to your natural artistry or you will never achieve mastery over the elements that have superimposed a phenomenal limitation upon your highest expectations. Those outstanding physical athletes who make it to the ‘Show’, but eventually find themselves languishing  in mediocrity, are typically the very prospects who could become stellar bats-men if they would engage a scientific-examination conducive to complementing their artistic predisposition. And they, who are performing at the prevailing ‘high’ standard of Major-League batting proficiency, could be setting new and higher criteria, if a more pronounced attentiveness to scientific inquiry were investigated for their optimal development.”

Matt Kemp has reached a point in his semi-illustrious career where intelligent pitchers have seen him enough to know his “margins for error” and can successfully circumvent his “natural-artistic” strong-points to wreak havoc on his phenomenalexhibition. Although he is still physically and mentally capable of demonstrating a sporadic prowess, he must now make certain adaptations that will enhance a more “profitable enterprise. Matt Kemp 3Matt Kemp 16Matt Kemp 2Matt Kemp 1

Prior to  his 2011 “banner-year” his somewhat high stance, and off-balance approach to the pitched ball (due largely to his tall stance and exaggerated “high-hands and bat”)garnered for him no high merits except that of enormous potential for his occasional display of power, and speed of foot. Then, for some inexplicable reason, he lowered his stance to a surer foundation and refrained from taking a noticeable stride. The results of this simple change is what afforded him better balance, and a much better perspective and visual acuity for hitting the ball more consistently, and especially for refraining himself from swinging at the low, outside sliders that customarily struck him out. His only critical “margin for error” remained to be his high hands and bat, as well as the position of the front plant foot (especially now, since he had surgery on it).

Kemp Stance 7

When a batter, who has found success for moderate amount of time, and then suffers the effects of an unfathomable “slump”, he is most often at a loss for a rational explanation for that which he was subsequently experiencing. The most common reason is that the pitcher(s) has discerned in the batter’s technical mechanism a flaw that somehow precludes highest mechanical proficiency. Because he is not hitting as well as he did, and as well as he thinks he should, such batter will consciously or unconsciously make subtle changes that may end up merely exaccerbating his current situation while doing nothing to regain his former high status.

Matt Kemp had the good fortune of being under the tutelage of both Mark McGwire and Don Mattingly, and it may be for that reason that he had made somewhat of a come-back in the past year, and would have made greater strides had it not been for his untimely stints on the Disabled List. Although he has lowered his stance, and tries to keep from striding, the two most debilitating aspects of his stance and approach to the pitched ball are his high hands and bat and his closed front foot Kemp Front Ankle.

don-mattingly 1Mark McGwire 3

Both Mattingly and McGwire maintained a low, powerful, well-balanced stance, but with their hands and bat just below the shoulders. In such a position there is hardly ever the temptation to swing at a pitch above the strike-zone, while being in perfect line to hit the high strike effectively. In Kemp’s “high-bat” position, he was instinctively ready to pull down  to get to the strike zone, and would almost always miss the high strike by going under it. And later he had developed the uncommon tendency of swinging in a “Horse-Shoe” fashion (down-under-up). Even when he made good contact with the ball, his bat had the tendency to roll onto the ball, producing a hard bouncing ball, or (even when he hit a home-run) a looping line-drive. Most often he either struck out or sent a towering fly-ball to the deepest part of the outfield. All this was due to his “high-hands and bat”.

Other ball-players (even on his team) who have had a high bat and were hitting somewhat effectively did so because they brought the bat to the “proper” hitting position as or before they would stride.

Hanley Ramirez 7Hanley+Ramirez 4Hanley Ramirez105

Although Hanley Ramirez has a few “margins for error” in his stance and stride, at least his approach to the ball gets the bat ready to make better direct contact. But, of course, with his high leg-kick, he is vulnerable to varying circumstances.

Now that Matt Kemp has established a low, well-balanced, and powerful-looking stance, and seems to have the intention of not striding, he needs only make 3 minor adjustments:

1. Lower his hands and bat to a legitimate starting position.  Matt Kemp 9

2. Point his front foot 45 degrees to the pitcher (Joe D’joe-dimaggio-s-legs-in-batting-stance-at-home-plateand Ted Williams)Ted Williams (feet in stance) and be balanced from beginning to end of swing, and without fear of dislocating knee and ankle.Ted Williams - swing

3. Just press down onto the front foot (without any stride or foot readjustment) as he is driving his back knee and hips forward (like Barry Bonds).

Barry Bonds 2

Upon being “born again” in 2011, I noticed that Matt refrained from striding, or moving his front foot. It was a far cry from his previous year. In 2011 he seemed to have rid himself of his penchant for swinging recklessly at low, outside sliders. In his new, stable stance, he was able to see the ball most clearly because his head and eyes did not move with a stride. His approach to the ball was of MVP quality. Then, his only foible was his high-hands and bat, but because he had everything else working for him, he didn’t suffer greatly. Now, I have noticed that although he maintains a low, stable stance, he has the tendency to “pull” his front foot slightly to the left. It is probably an unconscious effort to accommodate the “bad” position of the front foot pointing at home-plate, to allow him to open up faster to the inside pitch (but making him vulnerable to the outside pitch). Whether he realizes it or not, every batter (Ryan Howard, Harold Baines, etc.) who points(ed) his foot toward home-plate (or farther back), and tries to apply pressure-power to the front leg, will inadvertently feel extreme strain to the ligaments and tendons of the ankle and knee joints. Most batters who make a practice of pointing the front foot to home-plate usually abruptly displace the front cleat from the ground as they  power through their swings. In that ultra-closed position, it is impossible to maximize the hip-action without almost certainly dislocating the ankle or knee. The solution is simply to do what Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams, and other great hitters have done, and are doing — point the front foot 45 degrees toward the pitcher. Matt might want to think seriously about that, after having had surgery on his left ankle.

I feel another COME-BACK on its way. I hope Matt and all Padre fans will see it together.

Matt Kemp batting stanceMatt Kemp 13Matt kemp 7

Proper Body-Mechanics for the “Efficient Thrower” of a Baseball.

Yaz-3Bonds -stanceSporting News MLB Baseball CollectionJoe Morgan1Mickey Mantle 1Albert Pujols 1don-mattingly 1Mark Mcgwire 4

In order to initiate the action of a swinging bat while hitting a baseball in a most proficient manner the batter’s body must first attain a position of optimal balance so that every movement in the commencement of the swing is fluid, fast , strong, and precise. The only way to secure that optimal point of strength and balance is for the batter to attain a low center of gravity, from which his maximum effort will not be denied. Thus the primary Principle for Batting is established!

The real beauty of Baseball is found in the highly “unobserved” fact that One-Principle is responsible for the ultimate grandeur for which the “love of the Game” is predicated, but highly unrecognized by the very populace that fosters its undying love. Batting, “throwing”, fielding, and running are the accouterments displayed at varying levels of accomplishment, but the highest standards of which are expressed only under the strict adherence to fundamental principle:

Bonds -stanceNolanRyan 13Fielding 2rickey-henderson 6

 

The “Efficient Thrower”, whether he be a pitcher, or a fielder, can maximize his efforts only as he initiates the action of his throw from a position of balance that is the focus of a low center of gravity.Yadier 1Nolan Ryan 2 Ichiro 1Furcal 10Masahiro+Tanaka 16

 

The maximum effort in any throw can only occur if the thrower’s knees are bent to a point that provides the optimum leverage from which a low center-of-gravity can speedily move the entire body forward and turn the twisting, torquing  hips and torso to a frontal position that initiates the action of the shoulder and bent throwing arm to elicit the continued motion that provides velocity and power to the thrown ball. verlander3200px-Nolan_Ryan_17Masahiro-Tanaka 3TANAKA 31Tanaka 20Billy_wagner 9

It surprises me that some throwing instructors who have a good understanding of Throwing/Pitching mechanics do not fully recognize that ultimate power for the throwing mechanism comes from a “low-center-of-gravity”, provided by bent legs. Movement initiated from “straight-legs” and a “high-center-of-gravity” are always slow in comparison to bent-knees. Just think of 2 individuals of equal size and strength, each holding a 100 lb. bar-bell on the back of his shoulders, and trying to simulate the twisting-turning motion of a “batter”, with his legs, hips, and torso. One is in a “straight-leg” stance (upright), while the other is in a “bent-knee” stance. Can you imagine which of the two would be more efficient in his movements? Which would be quicker, stronger, and less apt to injure himself? Or, can you imagine two basketball players performing a side-ways,defensive “shuffle-drill”? One is moving with straight, stiff legs, while the other has bent knees and is lower to the ground. Which one would be more efficient?

Every movement that occurs in Baseball that is initiated from a “low center-of-gravity” has the potential to attain “Maximum Effort and Efficiency”! But, of course, all subsequent action following that strong fundamental basis must be in sync with the continuum of correct mechanical functionality – “You are only as strong as your weakest link”!

Coming Soon: The Art and Science of Throwing a Baseball. Or, Matt Kemp – Padres!

Things to Remember in applying the Principle of Batting Perfection:

 Reduce Margins for Error Baseball_Strike_Out 5Strike-out 3strike-out

 

In all walks of Life, from a professional baseball player to a rock musician, from parenting to managing a business, a respectable accomplishment can be ultimately attained only after the process of trial and error has been satisfactorily consummated with a high-quality finished product. Until that has happened, one can assume that, in all of these life-challenges, the margins for error that seem to be natural retardants to proper development have not been reduced sufficiently to produce a genuine finished product.

A legitimate “prospect” for becoming a proficient baseball player eventually must master all the intricate details for hitting (and throwing) a baseball effectively. He will never make it “Big” until his concept of “hitting” (or throwing) complies with the principle that is the most probable means for facilitating optimal proficiency.  The principle of Batting (and Throwing) is the scientific application of body-mechanics, based on the understanding of factors that influence the effect that the bat has on a “pitched” ball (and the effect that body, arm, hand, and fingers have on the ball thrown).

As most ardent sports enthusiasts already know “hitting a baseball effectively is the single-most difficult act to perform in all of Sports”. Why? No other individual sport-skill encompasses the variety of challenging variables that a batter has to “put in order” to be a proficient “hitter.” Along with physical attributes of strength, flexibility, quickness, balance, and coordination, as well as the mental accoutrements of courage, confidence, determination, and fortitude, the proficient bats-man must ascribe to a technique of proper mechanics that facilitates the most probable means for making solid contact with a pitched baseball in what is considered an acceptable proportion of his “at-bats”.

In professional baseball, batting averages ranging from .300 to .399 are considered high quality hitting, with an annotation of “superlative” attached to those that exceed the .350 mark or flaunt with the barrier of .400. But most ball-players fall far short of consistent .300 – hitting prowess. Natural athletic ability does not seem preponderant in determining batting proficiency at the highest level. All batters seem to have their own individualistic style for expressing their highest hopes of masterful bats-man-ship.

There does not seem to be a standard approach (“techne”) that would be considered fundamental to the purpose of maximum efficiency in hitting a baseball. Some players stand tall; others crouch low. Some hold their hands and bat high, while others hold them low. Players address the “plate” in either an open, closed, or even stance. Most batters take a stride, either away, toward the plate, or toward the ball (or practice a “high leg-kick”). They tend to push off the back foot while straightening the back leg as the weight of the body is either trying to stay back or lunge forward. Some hitters think that maintaining even shoulders while swinging will facilitate a “level swing” for effective line-drive contact. Others perceive that by swinging downward onto the front part of the ball, the bat will effect a “back-spin” on the ball that will allow it to carry through the air longer and farther. Some batters cock their wrists back for extra power, and consider themselves “wrist-hitters” when they exhibit fast hands while rolling the bat through the ball quickly. Some batters maintain loose hands and wrists while they are swinging so that relaxed muscles will propel the bat more quickly through the strike zone. And still others (like Babe Ruth) squeeze the bat tightly, from start to finish, and rely on the speed and strength of the turning body to impact the bat onto the ball with a force to counteract the speed and power of the pitch.

From the contents of the preceding paragraph, is it possible to delineate the characteristics that might lead to the creation of what could be considered the quintessential professional bats-man? The answer is NO! The pronounced characteristics mentioned in the foregoing illustration enumerate the “margins of error” that exacerbate the promising intentions of all prominent prospects for batting excellence:

  1. A “Tall” stance Chris Davis (Stance)creates a large and easy strike zone for the pitcher, as well as proposes a line of vision for the batter’s eyes that transcends countless horizontal planes in following the flight of the ball to the plateyasiel Puig 1. The eyes that will see the pitched ball most clearly are those that come as closely as possible to the level of the ball in flightJoe Morgan1. Also, the taller the stance, the higher the center-of-gravity, the weaker and slower the body’s action, the lesser the prospect for a most effective swing.
  2. When the batter’s hands and bat are held highMatt Kemp 16, he unwittingly has created for himself a high center-of-gravity, which for all practical purposes diminishes the leverage by which the maximum speed of the body can be facilitated in turning the hips and shoulders. A low stance, with bat and hands at the level of highest strike, facilitate the fastest body action(Joe Morgan – above).
  3. Of the three stances, the open-stance is the most deleterious to proficient batting Shawn Green 3because it tends to force the batter to stride toward the plate and therefore makes him vulnerable to hard inside pitches. Because the stride itself is moving the body, along with head and eyes, the movement toward the plate compounds the distortion aspect of the moving pitch.
  4. Any stride at all is a major contributor to batting dysfunction. It is useless expenditure of energy whose purported function of initiating momentum is overrated.Bryce harper2 It becomes counterproductive to optimal visual acuity, as the head and eyes move also. If the hips move forward with the stride, the integrity of the swing itself is compromised by the dislocation of the body’s “vertical axis”. Maximum power is impossible to generate while the vertical axis is not constant. The “high-leg-kick”RodriguezAlex 1 is a detriment to effective hitting because the batter never knows exactly when to put that “plant-foot” down, especially on off-speed pitches.
  5. Pushing off the back foot while striding gives the false impression of producing power to initiate the turn of the hips during the swing. Strike-out 3In fact, the push-off impels the back leg to continue to straighten, the effect from which restricts the turning of the hips to their maximum. The optimum hip and shoulder actions occur only when the back bent knee maintains its same bent position as it rotates through the entire hip rotation. (ala Barry Bonds)Barry Bonds 11
  6. The stride and the push-off may force the body to “lunge forward” to try to counteract the “magnetic pull” of the in-coming fastball. However, off-speed pitches will force the batter to hesitate by gliding forward on a bent front kneepony_baseball_1, affording no balance, nor power to swing because of the disintegration of the vertical axis, and premature turning of the hips. The hips should always be ready to turn quickly in a “turnstile” fashion, both sides in opposite directions, on the same horizontal plane, with the vertical axis intact.Barry  Bonds 9Ted Williams' follow through
  7. Parallel shoulders, while striving for a level swing, is a misconception of the ideal of good intent. If the shoulders stay level throughout the swing, at the presumed contact point the top hand will be forced to roll over the ball because the hips and shoulders have reached the limits for forward movement, and the arms will extend to keep the momentum. However, if the front shoulder is in a “shrugged” up-position, and the back shoulder lowered with a driving back elbowBarry Bonds 2, the bat and ball will meet as the palm of the top-hand is facing upwardBarry Bonds 4. The horizontal rotation of the hips and bent back knee preclude any possibility of an upper-cut swing, as long as the front upper arm is in contact with the chest.
  8. Swinging downward onto a downward moving pitched-ball is more often counterproductive to efficient bats-man-ship than it is productive. The pitcher is on a mound almost a foot above the plane that the batter is onbaseball_flight. Every pitch is moving downward into the strike zone. If a batter with good eyesight and good coordination strikes downward onto the pitched ball, his athletic ability will probably enact solid contact a high percentage of times. Solid contact in those instances will result in balls hit on the ground. (Albert Pujols and Gary Sheffield are examples of such a hitter.) The “best of hitters” is not merely one who makes solid contact with the ball. But rather, he is a batter whose body mechanics facilitate the action of the swinging bat to contact and continue through the ball at an angle that provides for a straight (non-hooking or slicing) and ascending “line-drive.” The “Art” of hitting a baseball could certainly be defined in the context of describing the ideal hitter– “He is one whose bat most consistently contacts and drives through the ball in a manner that facilitates a straight and ascending “line-drive”Barry Bonds HRBarry Bonds 21. (To hit the ball in any other manner would be to miss-hit it.)
  9. “Cocked-wrists” may deceive the batter into thinking he will have a stronger swing because of the extra action he expects to have at the “contact–point”. The extra action is counterproductive because the timing mechanism to produce a synergistic display is unreliable at best. Also, neither “cocked forward” nor “cocked backward” is the strongest position for the wrists to be in. Straight and stiff is the strong position of hands and wrists for swinging a bat, as it is for a Karate punch. What would happen if you punched a “bag” with wrist and hand cocked in either the forward of backward position? Right! Remember, the power of the swing comes from the body. But if the hands are not in their strongest position on the bat at contact, the ball will impact the bat more effectively than the bat will impact the ball; and the pitcher will win that battle.
  10. Relaxed hands to begin and tight hands to finish through the “contact point” is a good rule to follow. With continued “loose-hands” through the “contact”, the ball controls the bat. But if a tight grip occurs at “contact”, the ball will sound and feel like a golf- ball. The bat should be gripped with the strongest part of the hand, not in the fingers.Ted Williams' grip
  11. In the preceding photo you will notice not only that Ted Williams’ is gripping the bat with the strong part of the hands, but also, as his custom was, he “choked-up” on the bat, not holding it on or below the knob. Most hitters, especially those who strike out a lot, usually have their hands on or below the “knob” of the bat. They generally think that that extra “leverage” will allow them to hit the ball farther. But those great hitters who seldom struck out, and are also known for their propensity to hit many Home-Runs, were much more scientific in their approaches to hitting: Joe Morgan 2Joe Morgan, ted_williams_ bat routeTed Williams, barry_bonds_1992_piratesBarry Bonds,don-mattingly 1Don Mattingly, to mention a few. They understood that it was not so much the length of the bat, but rather the control and power that the body gave the bat that propelled the ball the distances necessary to display the ultimate swing. When a batter (whose hands are below the knob) just misses “his pitch” by fouling it straight back (especially when the pitch is slightly away – where he can extend his arms), he doesn’t understand that the extra length adds weight to the extended shoulders, and the extended bat dips slightly under where he thought he was swinging. On that same kind of pitch, the batter (Barry, Joe, Ted, or Donny) would more often make solid contact because they were better able to compensate the extension of their shoulders and arms – less weight.
  12.  Most people might surmise that the surface muscles of the upper portion of the arm and shoulder juncture come into play when getting the front arm ready to enact its movement in swinging a baseball bat. The “deltoid” muscle, as it is known, contracts to lift the upper arm away from the body as it prepares for the swing. But if the deltoid muscle alone is thought to be the stabilizing mechanism to begin the arm involvement of the swing, the strength necessary for the number of intricate functions is drastically reduced.Therefore, I assert that a driving force of parallel shoulders, to bring the arms and bat to the ball, is not what is essential. A more correct elaboration of the action of the upper body would be to insist that all the muscles of the “shoulder-girdle” (including the trapezius, supra-spinatus, etc.) contract to lift the entire front shoulder, while stabilizing the arm socket. This provides not only a stable reference point from which to begin the twist-turn of the swing, but is also the initiating agent for flattening the bat as it is to begin its approach to the ball. With these large muscles in complete control of the upper arm, the facilitation of proper arm-action for the swing is now set in order.The arm socket is locked into position. Now, the turning thrust of the entire body provides a powerful centrifugal force which disperses its energy through the connection of a tightly bound shoulder joint, through the extending front arm, to the viselike grip of the stiff wrist-hand-fingers. In conjunction with the action of the front side of the upper-body, is the coordinated action of the backside.When the front shoulder “shrugs” upwardly, it automatically creates an opposite reaction for the back shoulder and corresponding arm, elbow, and “top” hand. The back shoulder pulls downward, bringing the back bent-elbow to a low vertical position, and changing the position of the top hand to one above and even with the back elbow, with the bat flattening in its approach to the ball.thBarry Bonds 2Barry Bonds 4Barry Bonds HRAs the body reaches the point of full expression of power (the legs, hips, and shoulders having brought the arms and bat into the “range of decision”) the batter has to decide whether to complete the mission (attack the ball), or quickly abort (hold up). If the pitch is a strike, then a full commitment is in order, and the front forearm extends through a locking elbow (whose upper arm is just releasing from the chest, to extend away from the body), assisted by way of the driving force of the extending back arm. If the shoulders continue in the “follow-through” in a manner which allows for the front shoulder to end up in back, and vice versa, and the bat goes through the ball with the top-hand in a “palm-up” position, then the batter can assume an optimum effectiveness in the swing.If the pitch is not a strike, all the momentum built up by the powerfully turning body would have to come to an abrupt halt. Fortunately, if the batter’s preliminary front shoulder preparation was correctly applied, the large muscles of the “shrug” will supply adequate force to stop the arms from committing the bat too far over the plate, and prevent an inadvertent strike-call. It would be virtually impossible to stop such a powerful force of momentum with just the strength of arms alone, or the wrists and hands. pony_baseball_6(You can always tell a batter who does not understand the value of the “Shrug” by the frequency with which he cannot hold up on a “close-pitch”.)

    The “Shrug” is definitely the least exposed secret in the “Science of Hitting”. Most players would deny its validity on the mistaken grounds of two illegitimate hypotheses. First, that the shoulders are supposed to remain parallel throughout the swing to assure a “level-swing”. Secondly, that an upward tilt of the front shoulder would automatically include a high risk of the batter’s “popping-up”.

    The Truth to both of those matters is that the “shrug” is beneficial to maintaining a level swing as well as in preventing a high frequency of “pop-ups”. Parallel shoulders, throughout the swing, prevent the top hand from completing the process of palmation, thus forcing a premature rolling of the wrists over the descending ball, in a majority of swings (e.g. Eric Karros). While the shrug helps to level the bat to the plane of the ball, the turning body and extending arms supply the power and direct guidance along the same line as the descending ball. Also, more pop-ups occur when a bat is swung on a downward angle at a downward moving ball. That is unless the ball is hit squarely, which, of course, would result in a ground ball, most other times!

    Most of the great Power-Hitters of Today and Yesteryears, especially Home-Run hitters, used the “Shrug” in their applications to the swinging of the baseball bat. All you have to do is watch films of the great hitters like Willie(s) Mays and McCovey, Hank Aaron, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, Roger Maris, Mark McGwire, Barry Bonds, Albert Puljos, Ken Griffey Jr., Sammy Sosa, and Ted Williams, just to name a few. And if you look closely at the initial move of the upper body, as the swing begins, you will notice the tilt of the shoulders, either consciously or unconsciously, created by the “Rodney Dangerfield” of the Perfect-Baseball-Swing—“The Shrug”.Mark McGwire 3Barry Bonds 21Barry&TedChris Davis 4C.Davis 7AlbertPujolsLOWER_HALF_DRIVE_HIPSHanley Ramirez105Matt Kemp 10Mark McGwire 6

 

The “Premier Batting Principle” is based on the perfect application and integration of all the preceding components!

* The proper body-mechanics for throwing (Pitching) is described in another essay, COMING SOON!

Correct Batting Technique!?

Joe Morgan1Mickey Mantle 1Albert Pujols 1joe-dimaggio-s-legs-in-batting-stance-at-home-plateTedWilliamsShortSwing2Barry Bonds HRhankaaron 1

Many will argue, “Is there only one correct way for a batter to hit a baseball”? And the correct answer depends upon what any individual hopes to accomplish in the baseball setting that he finds himself. A Little-Leaguer who is playing in his first organized game, and is not yet accustomed to the tormenting threat of being hit by a pitch(mean baseball face)might at first exude a confidence that he normally has when “dad” is softly lobbing the ball into that part of the strike zone Baseball - Jesuswhere his natural body mechanics allows his arms and hands to synergize the coordinates of his swinging bat to contact the ball with remarkable proficiency and redirect the pitched ball on the ground, or in the air, in the opposite direction.

As an aspiring player matures he recognizes that the effect of his mechanical effort to strike the ball in a manner that provides him the “most” satisfaction might be different from otherspony_baseball_6Boy swinging baseball bat 2Boy swinging baseball bat 1. Every person who picks up a bat, to hit a baseball, wants to hit a “Home-Run” (over the fence), or at least a solidly contacted ascending line-drive that could split the outfielders and allow his speed to garner a double, triple, or an “inside-the-parker”.

Many “little-kids” dream of hitting home-runsCoaching10, but their reality usually has them settling for merely making contact with the pitched ball, and hoping that a grounder through the infield will get them a base-hit. Their instincts tell them that only “big-guys” can hit the ball over the fence for Home-Runs. Joe Morgan 2Until they learn that proper mechanics is the requirement for hitting a baseball correctly, they are doomed to languish in the realm of mediocrity or below. In the early years of a baseball experience, it seems obvious that the “big-guy” is the one to count on for the big home-runs. But as a growing experience mounts, it is perceived by an astute observer that “form” and “technique” play essential roles in developing into a proficient bats-manModel Barry Bonds 1. And, what better way for a youngster to find the right form or technique than to copy the batting stance and swing of his favorite Major League Player?

When we were kids, my brother and I would play a game we called “Strike-Out”. Sometimes we included a few neighborhood kids, but most often it was simply him against me. We would find an area on a public tennis court, or an isolated section of an opened grass or dirt area. We’d mark off the parameters of boundaries for fair or foul balls, and designate the distances for what would be a single, double, triple, and home-run. After a “choose-up” with alternating hands clasping the continuum of the lesser end of the bat, then either of us would win the right to be the visitor or home team. It was a game of Pitcher vs Batter, usually using a tennis ball. (If the playing area was limited, we’d use a whiffle-ball.) The Pitcher and Batter would be more close to each other than normally, the emphases being to strike out the batter, or make him work especially hard to hit the ball solidly while testing the quickness of his reflexes. The game carried on for 9 or more innings. The catcher-umpire was a marked off area on the fence or wall behind the batter, to designate strikes and balls. Each of us would make a list of our favorite batters (right or left-handed)and assemble a 9-batter line-up, while making an effort to mimic their stances and batting styles. Sometimes we’d have the same players representing each of our teams. We both like Ted WilliamsTed Williams - swing, Stan Musial, Babe RuthBabe Ruth 3, Jimmy Fox, Mickey MantleMickey Mantle 2, Yogi Berra, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gerrig, Al Kaline, Dick McCaullif, Norm Cash, Rocky Collivito, Willy Mays, Hank Aaron, Duke Snider, and others. It was fun, and provided our initial means to figuring out which batters’ techniques best suited our own particular physical attributes for batting a ball efficiently.

Did any, or all, of the players on that list of hitters practice what would be considered the correct batting mechanics that would warrant any aspiring “prospect” to copy his style, and advance his own diligence to an inevitable “stardom”? “Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in all of sports”, was a statement made by Mr. Ted Williams. And, from the list of the players above, he was probably the Game’s most astute practitioner of correct body mechanics for Batting. His scientific inquirysi_ted-williams-science-2 into what constituted a precise manner for which to hit a baseball most efficiently was revolutionary for his time, and in the aftermath of his great and successful career, he attained many ardent followers, but few who were able to understand and duplicate his relevant and practical theories, and their applications.

In this “ultra-modern” era of Baseball, the players are bigger and stronger; the pitchers consistently throw harder than their predecessors and the batters are capable of consistently hitting the ball farther than ever before. With the advent of so many multiples of “off-speed” pitches to complement their blazing fast-balls, pitchers who are closer to flawless mechanics seem to be able to dominate most (if not all) batters that they facebryce-harper1. The “Premier Pitching Principle” leaves most modern batters at a loss for productive bats-man-ship. But what the “modern batsmen” fail to realize is that there is a Principle for Batting that would supersede the predominance that the “modern pitcher” seems to have acquired.Chris Davis (Stance)Albert Pujols 8RodriguezAlex 1Bo Jackson 2

The missing link in applying the hitting principle has always been the inconsistent visual acuity of the batter in accurately detecting the speed of the fast-ball, as well as the direction and varying speeds of “breaking” and other off-speed pitches. All this, of course, was due to excessive movement of the head, the primary culprits being the high stance and batter’s stride (or high leg-kick). Although the pitcher’s arsenal of distracting and illusory forces will always wreak their havoc on unsuspecting “head-gliders,” the Einsteins of a new era of batting prominence would set the standard for proficient hitting elegance.

Hitting a baseball is the most difficult task to perform in all of sports.” That’s what Ted Williams once said about “batting”, the claim about which has been verified by the many expert athletes who have tested the veracity of such an arguable statementmichael-jordan 3. Then why would someone (like myself) have the audacity to declare that “Batting-Efficiency is a Simple Process”?

IF ITS SCIENCE IS UNDERSTOOD!

Most astute baseball observers recognize that “batting a baseball” proficiently can be esteemed as an artistic display of uncommon physical prowess. Those who demonstrate a high degree of talent in any of the various art forms could easily be described as “artists”. There is adequate evidence to indicate that many or most good artists (of which Baseball’s Bats-men are included) have a “natural” propensity toward the artisanship in which they are engaged. But their optimal level of proficiency is most often derived from the degree to which they accumulate enhanced understanding by means of scientific examination of all aspects of their chosen profession.

Therefore, hitting a baseball most effectively would have to elicit from the batter’s technique a scientific componentBarry&Ted to complement his otherwise unfulfilled artistic talent. Thus the process is simple and the results are sure if the Science is understood. BUT!

WHAT IS THE ESSENCE OF SIMPLICITY?

Einstein made E=MC2 look like a simple formula that would enlighten an ignorant, chaotic world as to the heightened prospect of infinite possibility. But that simple acronymic equation involves a seemingly endless continuum of sequential deliberation to effectuate a profitable facsimile thereof. Simplicity is the integration and coordination of life’s infinite array of variables brought within the control of understanding. Simplicity is not the beginning of primitive evolvement, but rather the end result of organization. When chaos is changed into order, the universe (one voice) sings in simple chords of harmonious function. The only way to describe the best of batters is that “he makes it look simple.” Look at how Barry Bonds and Ted Williams approached “Hitting”! Although it is not really simple, abiding by a strict discipline of simple mechanics, they had perfected their technique(s) through arduous, repetitive labor, from which the human physical endeavor appeared effortless and instinctive.

The three major components in effecting the proper technique for batting a baseball are these: balance, vision, and power. As the pitcher throws the ball, the batter’s strong balanced position allows his eyes to focus on the point where the ball is being released. Preliminary movement implies that his body is “gathering” itself to brace for any number of possible conditions. The body maintains a low center of gravity to ensure stability, while shifting its weight slightly inward (not back) to initiate a quick twisting response to the ball as it presumably enters the “zone.” The quick twisting response is effected by a rapid sequence of fluid rotary movements simultaneously by the entire turning body, beneath the stationary head. If balance and focus are maintained from start to finish, the power and effectiveness will be evident in the beauty of the “follow-through.” A batter establishes stability and balance to perform his task when his center of gravity is low. His ability to see the ball most clearly is determined by the extent to which his eyes are on a parallel level to the ball, and the degree to which the body and head maintain a stable vehicle for proper focus. Power is generated most effectively with the body in a stable, balanced position, from which all movements can be produced most speedily, and with a minimum strain to accompanying body parts. The centripetal force provided by the stable position of the vertical axis produces the powerful centrifugal force, which magnifies the power elicited by the turning hips and shoulders.

The rules are simple and orderly. To abide by them and commit them to proper interpretation are what seem to be difficult, especially to those who prefer to act on their own fallible human instincts instead of a sound basic principle. A prominent 19th century philosopher makes this statement for our consideration, “The higher false knowledge builds on the basis of evidence obtained from the physical senses, the more confusion ensues and the more certain is the downfall of its structure”. Therefore, make it SIMPLE—by letting Principle speak for itself! The scientifically minded “artist-of-the-bat” should understand and adhere strictly to the rules of his mental-physical application, and rest his performance on this sure foundation. He should hold his thought perpetually to the idea that his natural talent and indisputable scientific certainty can and will evoke from Principle the rule for mastering the most difficult task in all of sports.

Coming Soon: Important things to remember in applying the Principle for Correctly Hitting a Baseball.