On a trip to Italy last week, I had the privilege to view Michelangelo’s David in the Accademia Gallery in Florence. This was my second opportunity to examine and appreciate this famous work of art. On both occasions, I was struck by the athleticism of David, which is the topic I would like to explore. If you are an art lover or art snob, you may want to stop reading right now and find another blog to read, because what I am about to write will strike many as a bit of a stretch. However, appreciation of art is very subjective, so I am comfortable taking a few liberties with my interpretation of how David’s posture can provide modern-day athletes, especially baseball and softball hitters, with some valuable tips.
There is some dispute whether David’s pose is before or after his battle with Goliath. The consensus among experts is David is at a point immediately before engaging in battle. One scholar writes, “The statue appears to show David after he has made the decision to fight Goliath but before the battle has actually taken place, a moment between conscious choice and action. His brow is drawn, his neck tense and the veins bulge out of his lowered right hand. The twist of his body effectively conveys to the viewer the feeling that he is in motion.” If David is indeed preparing for battle, then Michelangelo has a lot to tell us about capitalizing on the natural power of the human body.
Let’s start with David’s posture. What struck me immediately after seeing this masterpiece for the first time was how relaxed this athletic looking figure was. Even though David’s muscles are well-defined and appear to be flexing, he seems calm and ready to engage in some sort of athletic action. I have written about how important it is to be relaxed in the batter’s box. If we were at the actual battle, I bet David was taking several deep breaths to calm his nerves. I also see some subtle arrogance in his posture. This is how a hitter should look right before the pitch is thrown. Hitters who stands in the box with a confident posture and a calm demeanor, will send a clear message to pitchers. Goliath would have surely been surprised to see this teenager ready for battle with a such a quiet confidence and a lack of fear.
How about David’s weight distribution? If he is about to sling one of the stones, his body is in a powerful “launch position”. Proper weight distribution is key for any athletic action, especially when hitting or throwing a baseball or a softball. It is obvious that David’s weight is stacked on his back leg. which would allow him to quickly and powerfully sling the rock in his right hand. In hitting, this is called “loading”. By loading, David will capture the energy that comes from the ground in his back foot and leg. This energy will eventually be transferred kinetically through his entire body to generate as much “sling speed” as possible. Goliath would never see it coming.
In the recent best-selling book, “David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battle”, written by Malcolm Gladwell, the historian Robert Dohrenwend writes, “Goliath had as much chance against David, as any Bronze Age warrior with a sword would have had against an opponent with a .45 automatic pistol.” Gladwell supports this by writing, “An experienced slinger could kill or seriously injure a target at a distance of up to two hundred yards. The Romans even had a special set of tongs made just to remove stones that had been embedded in the poor soldier’s body by the sling. Imagine standing in front of a Major League Baseball pitcher as he aims a baseball at your head. That’s what facing a slinger was like–only what was being thrown was not a ball of cork and leather but a solid rock.” Gladwell uses a Major League Baseball pitcher as a comparison, but the same could be said about a hitter. A Major League hitter using the power hitting mechanics I have been detailing in this blog, would generate similar bat speed as David’s sling speed with equally devastating results to the ERA of pitchers.
Hitters can pick up another tip by looking at the slight angle of David’s shoulders. As I wrote in a previous post, “Stay On The Right Path” https://torque-hitting.com/2013/07/29/stay-on-the-right-path/, all great hitters will dip their shoulders slightly during the rotation of the upper body to create more leverage in order to drive the ball powerfully. As David loads his weight to his back leg, his back shoulder naturally dips slightly. He is now in a position to generate optimum power when it comes time to unleash the power from his muscular upper body.
Finally, the position of David’s face is another key to his slinging success. His head is turned and he is looking directly at Goliath. As I have written before, looking at the pitcher with both eyes is critical for hitters. Some hitters try to watch the approaching pitch by looking across their body, without turning the head completely toward the pitcher. Hitters who do this have a difficult time really focusing on the approaching ball. More importantly, when a hitter’s head is completely turned toward the pitcher, this automatically causes the shoulders to turn in slightly. This subtle coil of the shoulders will create additional bat speed. If you look at David from the side (see below), it is obvious that Michelangelo knew the shoulders would have to rotate if David looked directly at his target. This will give David additional sling speed, which is bad news for Goliath.
That’s enough art history for now, but I hope this unique look at the athleticism of Michelangelo’s David will help baseball and softball hitters slay their own giants. In the future, I will try resist the temptation to make connections between masterpieces in the art world and hitting. Although, the Mona Lisa……………..
** If you are looking for a great book to read about the “advantages of the disadvantaged”, I would strongly recommend reading David and Goliath, by Malcolm Gladwell. Gladwell writes about several people in history who were seemingly at a distinct disadvantage, but used that disadvantage to overcome adversity or to succeed in life–just like David.