I’m getting excited about a new avenue of exploration for the Old School stroke. In both Hitting Secrets and Landing Safeties, I held out little hope that the techniques I had studied from the Deadball Era could be transferred to today’s metal bat. In the later book, especially, this struck me belatedly as a pretty defeatist admission. Why expect people to read a manual pushing an alternative hitting style and then wind up telling them that they can’t use the only widely available type of bat? This could be the ultimate case of sawing off the limb you’re sitting on!
So I revisited my conclusions. I published a couple of videos that I wish I had back now, exploring the possibility of wrapping a finger or two of the bottom hand around the knob. The solution preached therein is far too extreme, but here’s what sent me off in that direction. I had sometimes encountered pain in the bottom wrist or even all the way up to the elbow. That area of the leading arm apparently stood at risk for becoming too compressed if you swung down into the ball while also shifting your weight decisively forward. Of course, you can strain a joint out of any swing if it’s rushed—but this discomfort was happening too regularly to suit me. The last thing I ever want to do is recommend a technique that isn’t healthy. As the Hippocratic Oath runs, First do no harm.
Turns out that the risk can be virtually removed, however, if you focus on gripping the metal handle only with the bottom two fingers. Oldtimers (and I mean those of Mantle and Aaron vintage, long after the Deadball Era) always used to keep the index and middle fingers—of both hands—very loose on the handle (though the top hand would clamp down as the stroke entered the zone). With a metal bat, the bottom hand needs to have sufficient control to steer, yet it must not allow the larger fingers to close until the finish. I think the reason for this is the handle’s extreme thinness. Though we’re only talking about a differential ranging, probably, between a quarter and a half inch, that little bit of extra grip in wooden models seems to avert the “braking train” effect of jammed joints, where one joint comes crashing into the one immediately preceding it.
Now, you practically never see a kid using a metal bat who doesn’t clamp his thumbs—both thumbs—tightly around the handle. That’s what the handle is made for. To resist such a grip is like trying to resist running your palm along the rounded arm of an old rocker. The consequence of the tight-fisted swing, though, is a one-handed finish; the one-handed finish (with the top hand coming off very early) requires that the weight not be shifted heavily forward; and holding back the weight causes the barrel to describe a very “dippy” path through the zone. These are all movements drawing us far, far away from the Deadball Era; hence my pessimism in the earlier books about being able to combine “then” with “now”.
It still amazes me that something as minor as adjusting the lower hand’s grip could completely “rewrite the book”—and I actually hope to bring out a new book later this summer, devoted strictly to the metal bat. I’ve already updated my videos to reflect my altered thinking on the subject. Good things are coming!