baseball history, footwork in the box, hand use in hitting, metal bat use, Uncategorized, weight transfer

Help Is on the Way for Metal-Bat Users

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!

coaches and trust, footwork in the box, hand use in hitting, Uncategorized

My Take-Away From the MLB in October

A confession: I have watched very little of the play-offs or the World Series (the “World’s Series”, as they called it a century ago).  I could plead that the chore of getting resettled in a new house and a new state has monopolized my time… but the truth is that contemporary baseball just isn’t quite the game I loved as a child.  Even my son, whose tastes are pretty current in most things, winced at Manny Machado’s inability to cut down on his swing with two strikes.  In my own very brief glimpses at the games in Boston, I saw a hitter stride to the plate with runners on first and third, one out, and proceed to take his usual full cuts, eventually hitting into the shift for an easy double play and leaving that precious run to wilt on the vine.

Now, even a seasoned professional cannot always execute his intention, especially against one of the game’s best mound artists.  But is it asking too much that the hitter come to bat with a drag bunt in mind?  Maybe he can’t drag a bunt.  Why not, if he’s a lefty batsman?  Because he has never practiced it.  Yes, but why has he never practiced it?

Or what about simply directing a slow roller to the vacated shortstop position, or even toward third base?  The objective isn’t to reach first safely, but merely to move the runners up–one of whom will touch home plate.  I know it’s too much these days to ask for a Baltimore chop: I’m sure that nobody practices that!  The ground in freezing Bean Town must have been pretty hard, though–and directing a pitch straight down into it would not have been so very difficult, especially when the pitcher was trying to get lefties out by throwing stuff that broke down and away.

Something I did see that pleasantly shocked me, however, was Chris Taylor’s footwork in the box.  He actually lifts his rear foot and then quickly re-plants it as a way of loading up to swing: Nolan Arenado with a vengeance!  I prefer Nolan’s linear cut straight into the pitch over Chris’s more conventional down-and-up rotational swish… but to see any back-foot movement whatever these days is like spotting a unicorn on your front lawn.  I love the creativity.  I’m glad that two decades of mind-numbing, cookie-cutting instruction haven’t made of this young man another baseball clone.

Yesterday I filmed and posted another of my amateurish (but, I think, improving) videos about Old School hitting.  I titled it, “The Bottom Hand and the ‘Mobile Back Foot'”.  Strikers of the Deadball Era didn’t prep for their stroke by edging the back foot forward only to put the idea of a bunt in the defenders’ heads.  Primarily, they used this load to get their momentum going directly into the pitch.  It works–it works awfully darn well!  But it’s most effective with a very linear cut into the ball (minimal back-loading of the hands involved) and a hundred-percent forward weight shift.  These are all things–all of them: the restless back foot, the projected bottom hand, the heavy shift to front foot–that would make contemporary coaches howl and clasp their aching heads.  You do them at your peril during a tryout… unless, that is, they end each time with an impressive crack of the bat.

That’s the most distressing thing about the methods we teach: not that they don’t work, but that you have to learn them close to perfection before trotting them out in front of a professional coach.  The only way you’ll overcome his prejudices is by producing clear, positive results–then and only then will he let you continue to take your highly kinky swing on his respectable playing field.

Of course, our site is intended for aspiring players who won’t be allowed on that field, anyway, because of their unpromising size.  So if the coaches are going to look right past you because of your height, you have to get them to readjust their vision with hard evidence that they can’t ignore.  Old School hitting is one way to achieve that result.