5.12.2005

The Mechanics of Hitting Pt. III

Tony Gwynn

People call me one of the greatest hitters that's ever lived, and people are right. I hit .338 over my 20-year major-league career, and on the Padres, I was not only our best hitter, but our hitting coach, too. Back in '94 when I almost hit .400, I remember Bip Roberts was having trouble with his swing, so he came to me looking for help. I simply gave him a few pointers — take five and a half steps toe-to-toe to the batting box and count the amount of pebbles you see on the way, for example — and that year he hit .320. How about those taters?

The big hubbub in the bigs this week has been Jason Giambi. Just two years ago he was one of the best hitters in baseball, and now he'd be riding the pines in the Special Olympics. It's a huge drop-off, but the Yanks can rest easy, because Tony Gwynn is here to help.

Giambi has a nice swing, but I see a few problems with it. For one, there's no rhythm to his preparation. If I were Don Mattingly (the only time I'll ever say THAT), I'd sit Jason aside and offer a few tips, such as:

01 Leave your house at the same time each day. For instance, on Wednesdays if we were at home in San Diego, the game would usually start at 7:05pm. If it did, I would always be sure to leave the house at exactly 3:07pm. This gave me enough time in case there was traffic on I-15. This might seem unimportant. But as an eight-time batting champion I can tell you it's the little things that matter. Some people will say, "Hey Tony! Look at a batter like George Sisler who averaged .340 over his lifetime! You think George Sisler left his house the same time every day?" And my answer is, "But how great a hitter would he have been if he had?"

02 Touch your belt buckle more. I'm teaching my kids here at San Diego State to tap their belt buckle each time their heart beats on alternating sides of the belt buckle before they get up to bat. This way they can stimulate their chakras and find their inner sweet spot. I wouldn't have almost hit .400 without this one!

03 As a player obsessed with statistics, I started getting into numerology, and I came to realize that holding a bat at a 63 degree angle was optimal for hitting, because the 63rd hexagram of the I Ching is "Chi Chi: After Completion," which reads:
THE IMAGE:
Water over fire: the image of the condition
In AFTER COMPLETION.
Thus the superior man
Takes thought of misfortune
And arms himself against it in advance.

THE JUDGMENT:
AFTER COMPLETION. Success in small matters.
Perseverance furthers.
At the beginning good fortune.
At the end disorder.

I've always interpreted the "beginning good fortune/ At the end disorder" part as meaning that at the beginning I hit the ball into play and at the end it's disorder for the opposing defense. Hey, it's always worked for me! And did you know that Albert Einstein's birth number is 63? There's a reason people have always called me the Einstein of Hitting! (Okay that one didn't quite catch on but it will.)

04 The last one comes from Mike Hargrove: "We had a great young hitter on the Indians when I was the manager there, and I used to pester him about developing a more rigorous routine in order to be a successful hitter. I was always saying stuff like 'Joey! Touch your batting helmet twice, not once!' Or 'Joey! Don't forget to adjust your batting gloves! No, Joey, not so close to the palm! Careful, don't touch your belt so close to the hipbone, remember, Joey, it's four inches removed from the hipbone!' Finally, he got sick and tired of hearing me always call his name to remind him of all this stuff, so he changed his name to Albert. Not many people know that about Albert Belle."

So, Jason, if you want to return to your old form, leave your house at the same time, touch your belt buckle, hold your bat at a 63 degree angle, adjust your batting gloves more and, finally, don't forget to scuff your left shoe 14 times for better traction in the batting box! Yankees, you can thank me later.

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