Discover Ted Williams & His Everlasting Legacy of Hitting Knowledge
Ted Williams hit me like a ton of bricks.
(This article is 2,648 words, and should take an average reader about 11 minutes to read)
I was experimenting with the Splendid Splinter's swing one sunny day getting some extra work in the batting cage my sophomore year in high school with my head coach. You see, I revered Ted Williams and read everything about him I could get my hands on, yeah I kind of stalked him, my room resembling a 10-12 year old's infatuation with teeny bopper music sensation Miley Cyrus...I fanatically admired his no-nonsense style of hitting...plus he was an okay hitter :P
During this time, I was slumping, hitting about .220 or so at the Varsity level. Fortunately, coach was playing me, every day, I think in part because I was the best center-fielder in school, which didn't say much because the other outfielders were stay-out-all-night partying types...but my fielding did make up for my being wet-behind-the-ears as a hitter at that level.
Back to the batting cage story...
So, my coach asked me who I was hitting like...I said, "Ted Williams," of course...and then he gracefully brought my fantasy world crashing down with one of the most beautiful string of words I've ever heard in my playing career, "Why don't you try to hit like 'Joey Myers'?
Although crude, but once I thought about it, one of Ted Williams' best pieces of advice resonated through my ears, it was:
"To NOT let anyone change your style as a hitter."
It wasn't coach changing my style, because I was essentially wearing a Splendid Splinter hitting costume that day, it was the fact, "I" let myself change my own style, the 'Joey Myers' style of hitting.
I think I finished my sophomore year in high school a little above the Mendoza line, but by my Junior year, I finally hit like "me," hitting .395 my last two years in high school leading our team in doubles both years.
Ted Williams' goal in life was "To be the best hitter that ever lived." In an era where steroids weren't even a gleam in the eyes of the Russians, I think Ted Williams is arguably
one of the best hitter's to ever walk the planet. There has been nobody since Mr. Williams hit .406 in 1941 to ever come close, maybe Tony Gwynn, but he didn't have the power numbers
Mr. Ted did.
Just to think "our guys" on steroids were barely hitting the ball 500 feet, guys like Williams, Mantle, and Josh Gibson where hitting balls way beyond that, and the worst PED's (Performance Enhancing Drugs) the ol' timers had access to? Caffeine and tobacco, and I wouldn't classify alcohol as a PED, contrary to what The Mick believed ;)
He brought to light how cerebral great hitters really are. And it's a talent that isn't so much born, but can be taught and developed. I hate to break the news to y'all, but we can't
all hit like Ted Williams. And if we think this article will make us, then we're all sadly mistaken. Although, there is a glimmer of hope...
We can take the following information and use it immediately to bring our game up a grade. Here's what to expect,
In this power packed article, we'll be drawing from The Science of Hitting AND My Turn At Bat, both masterpieces co-authored by Ted Williams and John Underwood. A snippet of what we'll be diving into about the Physical part of the swing, according to "the greatest hitter to have ever lived":
The 3 Golden Rules to Hitting,
Having a relaxation outlet,
What kind of dedication does it take to be the best hitter ever?
A simple but powerful two strike approach,
Level Swing v. Uppercut, what's better, and to Swing Smarter, surprisingly neither, and
Ted gives credence to a nice "through" swing with unbroken squared wrists at contact.
Here's the best part, the mental side of "The Kid":
Taking the first pitch, constructively,
What's critical about our hitting style, AND
His thoughts on "guessing," this thought process will unpack critical mass!
This is a man who dealt with many hardships testing his mental toughness everyday: the Boston media tore him apart with zero gratitude for his achievements, he had an anti-social
personality type (not good in Boston), he lost 5 years to fighter piloting with the US Marine Corps in World War II and Korea, and he suffered a broken elbow during the 1950 All Star game, he says, making him a different less potent hitter.
Ted Williams is a testament to "the most cerebral hitter to ever walk the planet," yet his swing was most compared to twisting himself around like a Barber Pole...so, let's get started...
What's funny about how I grew attached to The Thumper was his disdain for being a stat head like some of the players I played with. Some guys can tell you every fricken' detail about the other team but can't hit a curve-ball (which is to say I wasn't any better;)...Ted Williams was different, he said,
"I followed the Big Leagues, but I wasn't all the time digging in the sports pages, memorizing the averages, I was out doing it."
Ted Williams' 3 Golden Rules to Hitting
Get a good ball to hit,
Proper thinking, and
Be quick with the bat.
1. Don't swing at pitches NOT in the strike zone...for every ball we "go fishing" for the pitcher betters his chances to get you out. Our walk to strikeout ration should be 2:1, in other words, we should be walking twice as many times as we're striking out, and that means we have to be patient and get a good ball to hit.
2. We'll go into this in more depth while discussing the mental part of the game according to Ted Williams, but we have to use the information collected with each pitcher and anticipate his next move. It's not difficult, it takes common sense and a little faith on the hitter's part.
3. Being short to the ball is critical to being consistent with our power. The more compact we are, the less wasted motion, the farther up the food chain we become...simple as that. Look at all the great hitters in the Big Leagues today, Albert Pujols, Chase Utley, Derek Jeter, they all are short and quick to the ball. They're as consistent as they come.
Keeping Our Sanity with a Healthy Outlet
Ted Williams had a fondness for fly fishing, this I think, was vital to his mental well being as one of the greatest hitters who ever lived.
At any level of play we need to develop a break away from the action, a mental vacation if you will. Some players play in a band, go fishing, play another sport, work in their charity foundations, and on and on. We can't hit all year long, take a break sometime to recharge your batteries.
Muscles grow, NOT when we're lifting, but when we're resting. The same goes for our brains. I'm tired of seeing 12-year-olds pushed into more games a year than a Major Leaguer, this is getting out of control.
What kind of Dedication does it take to be the Best?
When Ted Williams was a kid he used to get 100 at-bats/day on the sandlot fields with other above average ball players. Most Little Leagues have 1-3 games per week and a player might get 4
at-bats. Sure, Little League is great, but in order to be the best, we have to get tons of real at-bats early on.
Let me put it another way...the faster we learn "our style" as a hitter about our swing, the faster we can work the mental side of the game to get ahead.
Rogers Hornsby (one player Ted Williams held to super high esteem) said to him at one point in his career,
"A great hitter isn't born, he's made out of practice, fault correction, and confidence."
What good news to those who weren't born with trophy genes ;)
Ted's 3 Simple but Effective Two Strike Hitting Points
Shorten up on the bat,
Hit through the box, and
Be quick with the stick.
1. We have to concede on power a bit and NOT swing from our heels with two strikes because the pitcher is at an advantage unless the count is 3-2. Sabermetrics shows batting averages
go way down in 0-1, 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts. These are the counts hitters are most likely going to see purposely thrown balls out of the zone and the pitcher's best pitch, so shorten up and play a little pepper...we have to swallow our pride every once in awhile.
2. This is an old fashion way of saying, set your sites to hit up the middle. It's much easier to make solid contact on an inside OR outside pitch with an up the middle approach, but it's
so much more difficult to pull an outside pitch or inside-out an inside pitch with 2 strikes.
3. Again, this goes along with one of the three Ted Williams Golden Rules for hitting, the shorter and more compact we are with our swing, the more time we can take to get a good read
on the pitch, and the more pop we can muster on the baseball.
Level Swing v. The Uppercut
The Kid argues an uppercut is the way to go because of the "downward" trajectory of a pitched baseball, so we need to be on plane with the ball. And a level cut kind-of slices through the original plane of the downward thrown baseball.
So what's the answer?
Factoring in how great Ted Williams was, how can I argue with him, you'd all think I was nuts!! How about improving on what he's saying?? Is that fair?
I think we have to "cut the ball off" out in front of the plate (Jack Clark said this), keeping the barrel up over our rear shoulder until dropping it below the hands in the contact zone. We then push through contact, on plane of the baseball, like a Martial Artist does in order to break bricks and boards.
I guarantee Ted Williams would agree because he's doing virtually the same thing during his animated pictures in The Science of Hitting pages 38-39.
Evidence of the "Through" Swing in The Splendid Splinter's own words...
"The baseball swing is a hard push-swing. You are pushing right through the impact area, about six to eight inches on plane with the flight of the ball." The Science of Hitting, Page 58
And then he goes onto say, where swing power comes from,
"You get your power not so much from the wrists or the arms and shoulders, but from the rotation of the hips into the ball." Same page and reference as above.
Like Ted Williams says, the wrists roll over 6-8 inches after contact, if not more. So, we should be top hand palm up, bottom hand palm down through the contact point. The thought of a "wrist snap" is extremely overrated.
Moving onto Ted's mental tips on hitting...
Taking the First Pitch, Constructively
I always liked Ted's approach to taking the first pitch, the first at-bat of every game. Taking a pitch serves two purposes:
Gives us information about what kind of stuff the pitcher has on a given day, AND
Pushes the swing reset button; by watching the ball all the way to the catcher's glove, in a
always helped me to see the ball better.
What's So Critical About Our Hitting Style
Don't change it.
Another great piece of advice, according to Ted Williams, he received from an esteemed colleague was to never let anyone change his hitting style. Now, don't confuse swing style with technique because they're different. A hitter's style is his pre-swing locomotion and the way he looks prior to the pitch.
A hitter's technique is the approach to the incoming pitch, which is the same with every hitter. All great hitters follow the same mechanical principals from the weight shift and load to the follow through.
When we impersonate our favorite Major Leaguer hitting...that's his style.
Teddy's thoughts on "Guessing"
Guessing, or anticipating, is about being more observant. Most hitters are scared to death of guessing pitches, and most coaches will urge you not to. The reason is simple, "what if I guess wrong and look horrible?"
I didn't get this concept until my Senior year at Fresno State, and once I got the hang of it, the better my offensive numbers got. If I had the knowledge early on and was able to develop the skill, then God only knows where I'd be. This is what separates exceptional Major Leaguers from "the rest." Here's the plate discipline plan to success article we did on Swing Smarter I learned my last year at State (Sorry, this is unavailable now, unless you sign up for The Dugout Newsletter).
Which brings me to another point, TW says proper thinking is 50% of hitting (remember Ted's 3 Golden Rules?).
Most of the best hitters in the Big Leagues "anticipate" pitches, they look for certain pitches in certain locations based on information given to them in scouting reports and their
own history with a particular pitcher.
If a pitcher throws fastballs and curve-balls but can't get his curve-ball over the plate, then we'd be silly to look for the curve-ball...you see, the pitcher eliminated the pitch for you, so now you can sit 100% dead red. It's about reducing risk, so we're less likely to anticipate wrong.
However, anticipating wrong, tells us something about the pitcher, so next time we have more information to use on next time up.
Always know which pitch the pitcher got us out on and what location, especially on a swing-and-miss or weak contact. The pitcher will most likely come back with it in later AB's. Ted Williams used to get ticked when a guy would get out, and after asking him what pitch he got out on, the hitter responded, "I dunno."
If there are runners on base, then that will often times dictate which pitch a pitcher will choose to throw...and also who's on deck. If Babe Ruth was hitting behind Albert Pujols, then I guarantee Pujols would get way more good pitches to hit than he does now.
Counts are also a factor in anticipating pitches, 1-0, 2-0, 3-0, 2-1, 3-1, and 3-2 counts are great hitter counts almost forcing a pitcher to throw with his "most sure" pitch, and more times than not it's a fastball. The reverse is true of: 0-1, 0-2, 1-2, and 2-2 counts...working ahead in the count gives the pitcher the option to work out of the strike zone getting the hitter fishing for bad pitches.
Here's how you eliminate that option...
As a hitter, plate discipline is the golden ticket to getting good pitches and to make "guessing" look and feel more like "educated anticipation." If we have a good feel for the strike zone, we give the pitcher less to work with, and a better chance to get our pitch to hit. Again, Pujols is a machine when it comes to plate discipline, he rarely ever swings at a bad pitch.
The bottom line?
Without plate discipline, as a hitter, it's going to be a constant uphill battle. The better we are at knowing the strike zone, the more meatballs we'll get to hit ;)