Hitting

We’re trying to build a small library of videos. Here’s what we have so far:

ESSENTIALS OF THE DEADBALL ERA SWING

(Many images on this page have been reduced, cropped, mounted together, and otherwise prepared in ways that somewhat diminish their quality.  Our intent is only to  offer in crude outline certain stages of the archaic swing. Browse the Internet for clearer images or to seek access to matter that may be copyrighted.)

thompsonbroutherskelly
Thompson, Brouthers, and Kelly

These great “strikers” of the 1890’s—Sam Thompson, Dan Brouthers, and King Kelly—display several significant points of commonality.  All are choked up modestly on a long bat; two have visibly spread their hands, as well.  All have their feet set so close that they have almost assumed a “stand erect” posture, and they have also turned the forward foot toward the mound.  The hands are lifted just slightly above the belt buckle and project a mere few inches from the chest, where they hold the bat relatively loose.  Its barrel projects over the plate—in two cases.  With knob thrust outward, Brouthers appears to be mimicking a load just before the swing, though he’s done nothing to gather energy in his lower body.  Taking all three together, we can scarcely escape the conclusion that they intend to chop down into the pitch.

fourniergibson
Fournier and Gibson
stoweygriffin
Stovey and Griffin

Let’s break down those highly artificial poses with some that seem a little more realistic.  Jacques Fournier and George Gibson (to the left) have assumed a position just preceding the load.  When the pitcher’s hands break, and only then, they will draw up the bat into the notably relaxed wait suggested—somewhat too casually—by the three sluggers above.  (When he means business, a hitter of these days will likely draw back his highly mobile rear foot as the bat rises, with the front leg lifting or curling to dangle almost close to its rear prop.)From this posture of easy balance, the striker will descend upon the front foot with a more or less full transfer of weight.  Harry Stovey and Michael Joseph Griffin (the right pair) appear to be trying to model this most dynamic phase for a nineteenth-century camera with an interminable shutter speed.  We’re back to the artificial again; but notice how their bats are hinting at a mild but straight slope down into the hitting zone.  The downward chop is all about imparting lively backspin to the ball by cutting it through the center at a slightly descending angle.  No other stroke is so assured of creating a low line drive.

Notice, too, that both batsmen have separated their hands. (The talk of Ty Cobb being the only hitter to do this is complete folderol.)  With the bottom hand pulling in as the top hand drives down and through, the sticker doesn’t need a hefty leg kick or stride to create bat speed—and the spread in the hands maximizes this effect.  In fact, riding up on the front leg allows the hands, most importantly, to carry their sloping cut forward without pulling up and out in a finishing dip. 

lajoiepeckinpaugh
Lajoie and Peckinpaugh
snodgrasswagner
Snodgrass and Wagner

All four of these batsmen are a little farther along than Griffin and Stovey.  Napoleon Lajoie set up far away from the plate and took a huge stride from an upright piston to shoot balls the opposite way.  He’s trying to indicate that move here without making the camera produce a blurry image.  At the far end, Honus Wagner is completing a very similar stroke.  Notice that the weight does not stay back here (and wouldn’t have for Lajoie), but rather carries through entirely to the front leg just about the instant of contact.

Some hitters, indeed, were already up on the front leg before contact, the better to take their barrel’s line straight down into the ball.  Roger Peckinpaugh may actually be loading backward here, having waited till the last second to anchor his rear foot; we can’t be sure, because such a tactic was common.  Fred Snodgrass, however, has plainly begun his swing and has all but gone airborne with the back foot.

jacksoncravath
Jackson and Cravath

As you finish the linear, downward cut into the pitch, your bat typically rides up high over the front shoulder.  Gavy Cravath (he preferred his first name spelled with one “v”) is close to the classic follow-through.  Notice, too, how upright he has come over his front foot.  Joe Jackson’s Blonde Betsy was so heavy that a high finish was almost impossible; and if he hadn’t held his weight back just a little, the old girl would have corkscrewed him into the ground!  Edd Roush of Cincinnati, who used the weightiest club in the National League, was also forced into such low finishes.  Yet both hitters–and Cravath, as well–never swung from their heels.  It was because of their bat’s ponderous size that they could simply let it fall into the ball.  Gavy often hit with spread hands.  The carry-through of the barrel brought the top hand down on the bottom one in his and other strokes that employed this grip.

jrh2

jrh3

If these methods seem promising to you (as an ambitious contact hitter), just start simple and then add your own tweaks and hacks.  Most of all, remember that the essential objective of the Old School stroke is to get the barrel into the ball’s center on a linear, faintly downward path.  Don’t let your front leg gyrate all over the place: a mere straight lift, with a bit of coil, should suffice.  Don’t move the hands far up or back when loading: let the bottom hand cock the bat by pushing the knob out and rearward.  Then help the barrel to stay on its downward line by shifting completely to the front leg.  This should keep the barrel moving linearly even if it has to reach to the knees.  The bat stays inside the ball so well that hitting up the middle with a slight “oppo” tendency is the default product of contact–and almost always in low line drives!

WHY THIS METHOD IS IDEAL FOR SHORTER FRAMES

  1. It doesn’t rely on long limbs to sling a short stick through the zone at high velocity.
  2. It valorizes balance, a quality possessed more often by shorter, broader frames.
  3. It produces low liners; the steeply descending, hyperbolic swing of the lanky power hitter shoots up tall flies that become cans of corn off the short person’s bat.
  4. It rewards the activity of clever hands, which are seldom found in giants.
  5. It can shift into drag-bunt mode in a millisecond; again, good bunters are seldom of a tall, rangy, build.