Twins catcher, Joe MauerThink of some swings that are/were just beautiful to watch. For me, I think of Ken Griffey Jr., Adrian Gonzalez, Ted Williams, Albert Pujols, and Joe Mauer. I also think of Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in golf. What makes them beautiful is that all their swings have the combination of power and grace. Power relates to the aggressiveness of the swing. The bat speed generated. The violent contact on the barrel with the ball. Grace involves the rhythm and the timing of the swing. The fluidness and smoothness of one step to the next from the stride to the follow through. When you see a hitter who has the correct combination of both, the entire process looks effortless. That is, until you see how hard and/or how far the ball is hit.
Most hitters have an imbalance between the two. Some have too much power and not enough grace. Others have too much grace and not enough power. This is the challenge for players and the coaches who are trying to get them to improve.
The great, free swinging Roberto ClementeIf I had to pick which aspect I’d rather have a kid be higher in it would clearly be power. Having a very aggressive swing overall, in my opinion, will work in the hitters favor in the long run. As any coach will tell you, it is always easier to calm a player down then it is to light a fire under him. Latin players are great examples of this. There is a popular saying among players from the Latin areas (Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, etc.) which is “You can’t walk off the island.” Translation: If you want to get noticed by scouts so you can leave the island to go play baseball in America, you’d better show them you can hit. In other words, you have to “hit” your way off the island. This is why many young Latin players are free swingers who often lack discipline early in their careers – Rafael Soriano, Vladimir Guerrero, Juan Samuel, and Roberto Clemente are some that come to mind. They have been programed from day one to error on the side of being aggressive. However, when they mature as hitters they become very dangerous because they have the aggressiveness already there and now are beginning to add the grace.
I think we as Americans have a problem when it comes to hitting. Being a prosperous nation, many kids now have the ability to pay for instruction from day one. We have hitting camps and clinics everywhere for players and coaches to pass on the intricate mechanical details of hitting a baseball. Leaving alone the fact that some instructors flat out teach concepts that don’t work, even the best instructors tend to put most of their focus on the mechanical side - the “grace.” In my opinion, too many hitters are “neutered” by this early focus on mechanics. When kids went out into the backyards to play Wiffle Ball and into the streets to play stick ball, they didn’t care about mechanics. It was just about hitting the ball hard. They learned all the mechanical details later in their career or just by trial and error through making adjustments. They started with “power” and learned the “grace” later.
My son is four years old. He is eligible to play Tee-Ball but will not. He loves to play baseball on our driveway. He sometimes holds the bat incorrectly. He literally stands on the plate whenever he hits. He swings from his heels so that he can hit the ball hard enough and far enough for it to hit my car. He falls down laughing every time he does. His front side flies out a lot. He doesn't keep his head still. He pays absolutely no attention to the mechanical side to hitting.
… and I couldn’t care less.