My baseball “laboratory” used to be very well equipped in all necessities: pitching mound, plate, backstop, pitching machines, cameras, tripods, JUGS gun… all of it third rate, I’ll grant you. I had no one with deep pockets bankrolling me: the set-up I’ve just described was–all joking aside–a suburban back yard and whatever stage props I could build with shovel and hammer or buy with a teacher’s salary. As Achilles says, “A small thing, but my own.”
Now I haven’t even that degree of sophistication–but times will soon change. I’m trying to complete a very complicated retirement move to 25 acres in the Appalachian foothills. My hillside was virtually uncleared except for the house itself, but I’m steadily hacking my way to possessing another practice field; and all my years and years of cheaply acquired technology have followed me to Georgia. So stay tuned.
What I have indeed been able to continue testing, even as I move furniture and clear land, is the exciting (and, at first flush, bizarre-seeming) “Tris Speaker Shuffle” that I had just begun researching in Landing Safeties. (See the demonstrations, The Tris Speaker Shuffle and The Golden Plane, among others in the Hitting Tab’s video library.) I knew from the accounts of sportswriters that The Grey Eagle had taken a couple of little hops in his swing. I had also found a passage in Charley Lau’s Art of Hitting .300 that raves over the ability of Australian kids (this would have been around 1970) to stroke line drives after taking a shuffle-step forward. Charley wasn’t recommending the technique, but was vaguely aware that it had something to do with Australia’s cricket heritage and could see that, for these boys, it worked.
Yet whenever I tried to to make this old crate fly, she always skipped off the ground and then took a nosedive. I describe in my book how I finally blundered upon the discovery that the back foot must make the first move. Even then, as I obtained terrific results with low liners to the opposite field, my observers and I agreed that my head was moving too much in the initial hop. At the time of my book’s publication, I acknowledged that the rear foot’s role in the load had to diminish any lifting effect almost to nothing. The shuffle had to be made in a sustained crouch.
This is what I’ve been working on. The whole glide into the pitch now seems perfectly smooth and level to me. I’ve reproduced below nine frames illustrating the stroke that I pulled from a live sequence (which is why the bothersome arrow appears in the middle of all nine). You can tell how what had been a hop before is now a stealthy creep of the rear foot, almost as if I’m preparing to drag a bunt. With the bat held out rather than gathered back, I can slide right into a position of poise over the back leg. In fact, I’ve found that I can coil downward on that back knee if the pitcher is making me wait–and that this coiling actually stores up more energy.
The launch into the pitch is just the linear, direct attack that I want. The barrel cuts straight into the ball’s center (though there’s no live pitch in this demo) at a very slightly downward angle as the weight shifts fully forward. Notice that the hands never do load far back on their own initiative; to the extent that they recede before the strike, it’s because the aggressive weight shift has “left them behind”.
A finish straight through the ball, achieving full extension of the arms, and then a lift of the bat high over the front shoulder as the weight continues toward first base shows that I have channeled my energy like an arrow through its target.
By the way, from the third frame (where the rear knee catches the weight) onward, I could be modeling Ty Cobb’s swing just as closely as Tris Speaker’s. The shuffle-step is an ingenious way of catalyzing forward motion and, as well, of shifting the swing’s direction at a point when the pitcher can’t possibly try to neutralize the “cheat”… but it’s not really necessary to create the bat path of the hitter with the game’s highest lifetime average.