Can any ball player be the best batter, or pitcher, without striving for perfection? It is very unlikely that one’s natural ability alone will entitle him to the position of a prominent Major League player. To attain the status of a “Big-Leaguer,” a naturally phenomenal athlete must refine what might be considered his undisciplined “artistic” talents, and nurture them under the auspices of an established tutelary principle. However, Professional Baseball hasn’t yet established such a principle by which aspiring young athletes (batters and pitchers) can easily transform their crude, individually designated operational mechanisms into the precisely fine-tuned generic machinery for which their consistent productivity would certainly be validated and universally appreciated. What is currently in practice is a trial and error forum that culminates in either pronounced enhancement or deterioration, according to the sensitive responsiveness of the applicant for development. “Many are called, but few are chosen!”
There is enough practical evidence to preclude the possibility that anyone could actually attain the status of Perfection, either on the mound or at-bat. However, is it not reasonable that the current standards for excellence, in the departments of pitching and batting, could be significantly advanced, were it not for the arrogant or narrow-minded presumption that nothing more can be done by scientifically reducing all margins for technical error?
Although the most proficient pitchers and batters are they who strive to be the best that they can be, and espouse the most rigorous of physical regimens in order to sustain a productive readiness, if the principle to which they commit their efforts is not founded on an exact science, then the results of those efforts will be highly imperfect at best, and ultimately discouraging to earnest seekers for optimal accomplishment. If the practice of an imperfect principle is what diminishes the quality of their work as a batter or pitcher, would it not be conducive to their betterment to explore and find the principle that promotes the most consistent success? Excellence can be achieved as a goal only if excellence is the starting point from which to proceed.
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. Then 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.
But what if a concrete example of definable perfection can not be found and emulated? If one searches unsuccessfully for a tangible reference point from which to exploit a specific enterprise, all is not lost if he rests his constructive hope in the ever-inexhaustible realm of mind (consciousness).
Surely, if one had the aptitude, he could glean some resolve from the intent of a famous quote, whose paraphrase would read as such: “Some people see the imperfect things of the world, and wonder why? But I envision the perfect things not present in the world, and wonder why not?” When Michelangelo was asked how he could create such beautiful sculpture from a block of stone, he replied, “The sculpture’s beauty was always there. I merely chiseled away the debris from off its form”. He must have known the form of the image before it was made evident by his handiwork.
An astutely perceptive mind could visualize those attributes closely aligned to the proper mechanics of the flawless expression of the perfect swing of the bat, and throw of the pitched ball. Mark the perfection in thought, and behold its expression in action: for the end result is beautiful efficiency. And the “Hope” of success is inspired from the confidence which issues forth from one’s understanding of the principle that expedites the most precisely scientific demonstration of function. Confidence, an intangible element, is acquired through an absolute faith in the principle from which a batter or pitcher bases his ability to produce the stroke or throw that can be applied consistently in any given situation, in the “box” or on the mound. Is there anything close to the “Perfect Principle” for achieving maximum success in batting and pitching?
Perfection on a human level is most improbable, as an axiom from a “Quantum” analysis has suitably implied, “at the fundamental levels of matter, causation is a matter of statistical probabilities, not certainties.” But when the margins for error are attenuated, the probability of success is proportionately increased. Taking Aristotle’s proposal into consideration, an astute batting and pitching analyst should certainly acknowledge the primary, near-perfect facilitators of excellence to be Barry Bonds (as well as Ted Williams) and Nolan Ryan (as well as Curt Schilling).
What is it that Barry Bonds does consistently right, that most, if not all, other batters do only sporadically? The answer is 5 separate things. They are the following:
1. He establishes a strong low center of gravity within his stance.
2. He limits the movement of his head and eyes as he strides.
3. He waits patiently for the ball to get to him, while he quietly “gathers his body and lowers his hands to begin an unobtrusive rhythm of his arms.
4. When the ball gets to his hitting zone, 4 things happen simultaneously:
a. The front foot plants quickly and firmly – front leg straightens.
b. Front shoulder shrugs upward, while back shoulder and elbow drive downward (hands, while staying behind back shoulder, present a flat bat as the body is turning to address the pitched ball).
c. Back bent-knee drives forward and down, as hips turn rapidly.
d. The shoulders follow the hips in rapid succession with arms extending through the contact of the ball.
5. From contact, through the straightening of arms, through the follow through, the shoulders are continuously flowing, until they (shoulders) have changed position (back to front and vice-versa).
Consistency in batting effectiveness (efficiency in striking a baseball) has never been more highly demonstrated than by Barry Bonds, in the 2001season, as well as in 2002 – 2004. Throughout his Major League career, accolades were heaped upon him for what seemed like a remarkable consistency for slugging the ball better than anyone else, at least in the 1990s and the first part of the new millenium.
The only area of his batting regimen, from which there is a conceivable margin of error, appears, to this observer, in what he did in the on-deck circle. It is there that he seemed to prep his back shoulder and arm to perform in a manner that did not come into play during his swing in a live situation. This malpractice of swinging his leaded bat downward while accentuating the roll of the back shoulder and wrists was probably the reason why he incurred any negligible slump for which he had no explanation. The “muscle-memory” he had unwittingly developed prevented him from avoiding the turn-over hands and wrists that created top-spin bouncing balls and looping line drives, or swinging over the ball, any time he was out in front of the pitch. This condition didn’t manifest itself often, but when did, he could be assured that it stemmed from his antics in the on-deck circle. If he reduced or eliminated this margin of error, what would it have meant to his already marvelously productive batting technique?
Nolan Ryan is at the top of list of outstanding pitchers in Baseball history because of the ultimate use of proper “mechanics” that not only fostered the most economically sound use of his body to control and propel the baseball with maximum intent, but also secured an unusually long career. The critical factor in his masterful mounds-man-ship was the simple fact that he never straightened his pitching-arm as he began and continued the action through the course of his delivery. It wasn’t until after the forward momentum of the turning backside of the body catapulted the shoulder, bent-arm, and ball toward the plate that the arm began to straighten. At that point, the arm straightened and extended forward with the follow-through. The leverage that the bent arm provided diminished the weight imposed on the shoulder and elbow, thus fortifying their strength to implement function with speed, control and optimal force. The lighter the weight, the faster the shoulder would rotate, and the faster and more accurately controlled would be the ball as it leaves the hand of the pitcher whose total body mechanics are intact.
The only fallible aspect of Nolan Ryan’s delivery was his high front-leg kick as he began his delivery. It was wasted motion and compromised his status when a runner was on base. Runners could steal more easily because of the wasted and time-consuming movement. The move was wasteful because the foot had to come down to a low position before the forward body-drive began (which was really initiated by the back bent-knee, driving forward).
Many pitchers think that the momentum in coming-down contributes to the power drive. Actually it does nothing except waste energy that could be conserved for more practical use. It is hard to believe that Nolan could have been even more effective than he was.
Wouldn’t it be nice if every Big League organization had at its disposal an insightful view of the potential of most (if not all) of its players, and the critical discernment to evaluate and rectify the flaws that would detract from perfect performance? Once it is established that the secret to success (even in sports) is not predicated on the predisposed, abundant abilities of the so-called “natural-ballplayer,” but in learned and assimilated techniques derived from principle, administrative scrutiny would no longer have to cater to the egotistical whims of selfish non-compliant players. The organizational “Farm Systems” could then legitimately become the fountains from which the Major League teams gather their prominent performers, instead of through trades and exorbitant free-agent bidding and spending.