I never received any formal hitting instruction when I was a young baseball player. I learned how to hit by emulating the swings of my baseball hitting heroes, including Lou Gehrig, Billy Williams, Roberto Clemente, and Henry Aaron. As I shifted from being a player to a coach, hitters like George Brett and Tony Gwynn strongly influenced my hitting philosophy and the mechanics I teach today. All of these great hitters had one thing in common—they looked good! I’m not referring to their appearance, but rather their beautiful swings.
I have always been mesmerized by hitters with smooth and powerful swings that look effortless. As a young hitter, I would try to mimic every move of these hitters. I would stand like them in the batter’s box, and I would swing over and over until I looked like them. Heck, I even tried to spit like them! I had no idea why the hitting mechanics of these great hitters were so effective. I just knew they were the best hitters in baseball and I wanted to look and hit like them.
I am as guilty as other hitting instructors when I focus too much on the individual moves and motions that comprise the baseball and softball swings. Sometimes, it is wise to just step back and look at the swing holistically. Is the swing smooth and natural from start to finish or are there unnecessary movements and “hitches”? Does it look like the swing is repeatable or does each swing look different? Finally, does the swing resemble the swings of great baseball and softball hitters? I often shake my head and ask the rhetorical question, “Who hits like that?”, when I see an unorthodox swing at a baseball or softball game. All swings should not look the same, but it is easy to tell the difference between a good swing and a bad one.
I recently heard a story about Joc Pederson, a young player for the Los Angeles Dodgers, who has quickly emerged as one of the top young hitters in Baseball. Even though he was a top prospect of the Dodgers, Pederson struggled early in his professional career. Pederson strongly resisted making changes to improve his swing until Johnny Washington, a young minor league coach, showed him videos of the top power hitters in Baseball. While watching the videos, Washington asked Pederson to find the similarities in his own swing. He could not. This convinced Pederson to change his swing to pattern it after the best power hitters in the game. Now, Pederson has one of the prettiest and most powerful swings in the Game.
So, here is my advice for young hitters. Take a look at the swings of the best hitters and copy every movement they make. Don’t worry why they swing the way they do, just try to look like them. At some point, it will become obvious to young hitters why the swings of their heroes are so effective. Through this imitation and repetition, young hitters will eventually gain an understanding of the hitting mechanics involved in these swings, and why they are important to power and consistency.
The same holds true for high school and college hitters. When hitters reach these levels, they often try to develop a personal hitting style. While this may work for some hitters, most actually regress when they try to look unique or different, compared to the best hitters at their level.
I still believe the keys to being a great hitter are the rotational hitting mechanics I have described in this blog. Solid rotational hitting mechanics will naturally lead to a beautiful swing. For hitters who do not have access to a good hitting instructor, all they should do is try to LOOK GOOD IN ORDER TO BE GOOD!
** The picture at the top is Billy Williams, a Chicago Cub in the 1960s and 1970s. I love this picture because it not only shows how pretty Billy’s swing is, but it also illustrates how he uses the energy from the ground as leverage to generate power. Notice how his front foot digs forcefully into the ground, kicking up dirt as he creates a barrier to keep his weight back as he rotates powerfully, with full extension into the ball. His swing was the epitome of power and grace. It’s no wonder his nickname was “Sweet Swinging” Billy Williams.