Chasing the Babe

T   
he pursuit of Babe Ruth's home run record (now current - 9/5/98) brings to mind the debates about "swing styles".

Namely, the Ruthian style (non-formalized as far as I know) versus the upstart Charlie Lau style. These are in fact the only two basic styles for hitting away. I will introduce a new "Samurai style" here but it is not a power stance-swing.

Most hitters use a combo Ruth-Lau style. That's OK ... whatever works for you. Really, the most important thing in hitting is picking up the pitch and putting the wood square on that sweet spot (where the "hammer" doesn't vibrate ... i.e. where the angular momentum of both ends of the bat are balanced).

McGwire is using a slightly modified Lau style. This is fine. It's working for him (probably as a placebo effect). So don't see this as advice to change. It's just that the Ruthian style was made for his physique. If he mastered it he might hit "the limit" for home runs in a season which is about ~100 give or take a dozen.

What? Only 100 homers is possible?

Yup. Figure it this way.
Suppose you could hit a homer each and every time you went up to bat. How many do you think you could hit? 582? For the season I mean.......

Get real. The pitcher also must be part of the act. Who's gonna' pitch to you if he gets zinged for a homer every time? Answer: Nobody.

Once in a while they might try you to see if you'd cooled. The fans would agitate. Then you'd homer and the fans would laugh and the pitcher would ever after give you IW's. In this scenario you probably couldn't get more than about twenty homers the whole year (and 562 I-walks).

Now, if you only get a homer about every fifth time at bat some pitchers would think "Well maybe I can get him out this game so I'll try pitching to him.". But if you're gonna' get a homer even every game ... well, they might as well walk you four times and suck it up. (figure 1 homer = four free bases more or less)

Now, back to the style question

There are only a few factors involved here if we consider that you have the capacity to put the wood on the ball regularly.

These are:
The speed of the bat
The mass of the bat
There's no more that you can control.

Lau and order

The Lau style favors increasing the speed of the bat (and therefore it's energy) by extending to maximum the arc of the bat which will then be going just a wee bit faster out where the ball meets it. This is a fine tactic. But ... you can only swing the bat so fast and then you're maxed out by physiology. Like, you can't throw a ball faster than you can throw your hand (underhanded-bicep = ~120 mph ; overhand-tricep = ~100 mph). I would recommend this tactic to weaker muscled players, i.e. those who can't muscle it out like "The Sultan of Swat".

tRuth

Ever mistake the "Babe" for Humpty Dumpty? I have.

His thin arms (relative to McGwire) and spindly legs make me think of "the Dumper". How did this boozer-carouser get so many homers? What's the secret?

Answer: He increased the mass of the bat.

That's right. No ... he didn't fill it full of lead. He "swatted" the ball. He gripped the bat very hard and made the bat an extension of his own bady mass. So he became the equivalent of a statue rotating in space hitting the ball at nearly the same velocity as the normal guys swinging bat (Lau style).

See my page on Karate
If you take this tactic you will lose some speed but gain momentum. So much momentum that you may impart more energy to the ball in this fashion than with the other.

Here's the gist:

Consider a 32 oz. bat flying in space and hitting an ~8oz baseball with a closing speed of ~ 180 mph. = Home run. But the ball imparts some energy to the bat. i.e. at home plate the bat is slowed up by hitting the ball. So the ball flies off the bat a little slower (same as a bunt). Resultant speed of ball relative to home plate = 160 mph.

Or, Consider a 240 pound bronze statue of a ballplayer rotating in space hitting a baseball with a closing bat-ball speed of about 170 mph. = Home run. Here the bat is hardly slowed at all by the ball because it is "defacto" 120 times more massive. The ball can't move the bat back so it flies off the bat faster.Resultant speed of ball relative to home plate = 170 mph.

Get it?

Is it better? You decide. Could McGwire hit even more with the sultan's style? I tend to think so. It doesn't take much power improvement to put all your warning track outs into the first row of left field seats does it? And how many warning track outs would you get per annum?

No one has ever used (consciously) the "swat" like the babe. Least ways no one that I know of.

The Samurai Stance

This is probably silly and won't work. Grip the bat with both hands on top ... knuckles up ... about four inches apart ... like you're standing at the edge of a cliff with your hands on a guardrail. Now, tuck the fat end of the bat under your right upper arm touching your side. Hunch over. Yell ... "Kawasaki" as loud as you can and HACK the damn ball in two ... er ... I mean hit it out of the infield ;o)

To the best of my knowledge no one has used this. It might fill the gap between swinging away and bunting.



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