The most unsatisfactory feature in base-ball to the player himself, is
batting. In theory it is so simple, yet in practice so difficult, that
one is forever finding fault with himself and thinking, when too late,
of what he might have done if only he had not done as he did.
Of course, the element of chance or luck, as it is called, enters
largely into the question. The hardest hit will sometimes go directly
into the waiting hands of a fielder, while a little punk hit from the
handle or extreme end of the bat may drop lazily into some unguarded
spot. But, in the course of a season, these chances should about
equalize one another, and, though fate may seem to be against a man for
a half dozen or more games, he will be found finally to have benefited
as much by scratch hits as he has lost in good, hard drives.
The theory of batting is simplicity itself. All that is necessary is to
wait until the ball comes over the plate and then hit it on a line back
into the field. From the grand stand, nothing could be easier. To sit
back of the catcher and see the balls come sailing over the plate, one
will wonder why they are not hit out of creation, and when some player,
who has allowed a couple of balls to pass directly over the plate
without making the least attempt to hit at them, finally lets go at one
that he could scarcely reach with a wagon tongue, much less with a 36-
inch bat, the spectator is likely to question the fellow's sanity. It is
amusing to sit in a base-ball crowd and hear the remarks. There are more
good batters and umpires and all-round ball players in the grand stand
within one's hearing, than are to be found in both the contesting teams.
It would be more amusing still if some of these prodigies could be
lifted out of their seats and taken down into the field, and, with a bat
in hand, made to face some first-class pitcher until they had hit the
ball just once. They would be surprised to see how differently it looks.
At a distance of only fifty feet from a man who can throw a ball like a
streak of lightning, or with the same apparent motion, send it so slowly
that one will think it is never going to reach him, who can curve it in
or out, up or down, the question of hitting the ball at all becomes one
of some doubt, to say nothing of base hits. And then, add to this the
danger of a swift, wild pitch carrying away an arm or burying itself in
the batsman's stomach, and the difficulty is greatly increased. Just
think of it for a moment. A player who can throw a ball, say one hundred
and sixteen and two-thirds yards, goes into the pitcher's box and from a
distance of only sixteen and two-thirds yards throws the ball to the
batter with all speed. If the throw is wild and the ball hits the batter
it strikes him with a force that would have been sufficient to carry the
ball one hundred yards further. It would be interesting to know just how
many mule power there is behind such a blow. There are a few moments
after a man has been hit during which he wishes he had never seen a
base-ball, and for the next couple of games, at least, he will think
more of escaping a recurrence of the accident than of hitting the ball.
Hines, of Indianapolis, has already been hit on the head this season by
one of the Chicago pitchers, and the result is a long, ragged-looking
scar that he will always carry. An inch lower, and the blow might have
cost him his life.
The first consideration in learning to bat is to acquire the proper
form. By this is not meant the position to be assumed while waiting for
the pitch, because each batter may, and generally does have his
distinctive style. But when in the act of hitting there is a certain
form to be observed, and this, in its salient points, is the same with
all good batters.
Standing within easy reach of the plate, the batter should hold his bat
ready to hit a breast-high ball. It is easier to hit a low ball when
expecting a high one than to hit a high ball when a low one was
expected, for the reason that it is easier to drop the bat quickly and
swing underhand than it is to elevate it and chop overhand. When the
ball is pitched be should not move until he has seen where the ball is
going. Not until in the act of swinging his bat should he step forward,
and then his step should be short, and, generally, directly toward the
pitcher. When he hits, the body should be held erect and flung slightly
forward, so that when the bat meets the ball the weight is principally
on the forward foot.
If he steps too soon, his position is taken and he cannot change it to
suit any slight miscalculation he may have made in the speed or
direction of the ball.
Neither should he make too long a stride, for the same reasons given in
the preceding paragraph, and also because it puts him in bad form to hit
at a high ball.
He should generally step directly toward the pitcher, unless he has
special reasons for doing otherwise. For instance, if a right-hand
hitter wishes to hit to left-field, he had better step so as to face
slightly in that direction; and if he wishes to hit to right-field, he
will stand farther from the plate and step in with the left foot so as
to face somewhat in the direction he intends to hit.
The object in standing erect is to keep well the balance and be in a
position to cut under or over at a low or high ball. The body is thrown
slightly forward so that the weight and force of the body may be given
to the stroke. It is not necessary to hit hard, but solidly, and this is
done not so much by the swing of the arms as by the push and weight of
the shoulder behind it.
The accompanying cut of Ewing is an excellent representation of a
batter, in the act of hitting. He not only swings the bat with the arms,
but pushes it with the weight of the shoulders. The position is a
picture of strength.
In hitting at a high ball the bat should be swung overhand, in an almost
perpendicular plane, and so, also, for a low ball, the batter should
stand erect and cut underhand. If the bat is swung in a horizontal plane
the least miscalculation in the height of the ball will be fatal. If it
strikes above or below the centre line of the bat, it will be driven
either up into the air or down to the ground. Whereas, if the bat is
swung perpendicularly, the same mistake will only cause it to strike a
little farther up or down on the bat, but still on the centre line, and
if it misses the centre line it will be thrown off toward first or
third, instead of up or down.
There are two classes of good batters whose styles of hitting are so
different that they may be said to be distinct. The one, comprising such
hitters as Connor, Brouthers, Tiernan, Wise, Fogarty, Whitney, Ryan,
Denny, and Fred Carroll, use the full length of the bat, and in addition
to the push of the shoulders make a decided swing at the ball. In the
other, in which are Anson, Kelly, Dunlap, and a few others, the motion
is more of a push than a swing. Anson, who, if not the best batter in
the country, is certainly the surest, seldom does anything but push the
bat against the ball, only occasionally making what might be called a
swing. Many of the latter class grasp the bat up short, and some of them
keep the hands a few inches apart. If I were advising a novice which
style to learn I should say the latter, because it is the surer, though
such batters seldom hit as hard as the others.
Every ball player who pretends to play the game with his brain as well
as with his body, should be able to hit in whatever direction he wishes.
It may not be always possible to hit in the exact direction desired,
and, of course, he cannot place the ball in any particular spot, but
he can and should be able to hit either to left field or right, as the
occasion demands. The advantage of this to the player himself and to his
team cannot be overestimated. For example, there is a runner on first
who signals to the batter that he will try to steal second on the second
ball pitched. When he starts to run the second baseman goes for his base
and the entire field between first and second is left open. Now, if the
batter gets a ball anywhere within reach and taps it down toward right
field, the chances are that it will be safe, and the runner from first
will keep right on to third. Oftentimes, too, the batter himself will
reach second on the throw from right field to third to catch the runner
ahead of him. Here, now, by a little head-work, are runners on third and
second, whereas, an attempt to smash the ball, trusting to luck as to
where it should go, might have resulted in a double play or at least one
man out and no advantage gained. Many a game is won by such scientific
work, and the club that can do the most of it, day after day, will come
in the winners in the finish.
When a batter is known as one who will attempt a play of this kind, it
is usual for the second baseman to play well over into right field,
allowing the second to be covered by the short-stop. When the batter
discovers such a scheme to catch him he should continue to face toward
right field, in order not to betray his intention, but when the ball is
pitched, he should turn and hit toward left field. If the short-stop has
gone to take the base, the space between second and third is left open
just as the other side was.
A great fault with many batters is that they try to hit the ball too
hard. This is especially true of the younger players, the colts, as
they are called. A young player with a reputation as a hitter in some
minor league, goes into a big club and at once thinks he must hit the
ball over the fence. The result is that he doesn't hit it at all, and
unless he corrects his fault, he goes on fanning the atmosphere until
he is handed his release. And yet the same player, if he would steady
himself down and once get started hitting might do just as well as he
did in his former club.
And this brings up the reflection that there is a great virtue in
confidence. The player who goes timidly to the bat with his mind made up
that he can't hit, anyhow, might just as well keep his seat. But the one
who walks up, saying to himself, Other men hit this ball, and I can,
too, will be inspired by his own confidence, and for that very reason
he will be more likely to hit. So it is that batting goes so much by
streaks. A nine that has not made a hit for several innings will
suddenly start in and bat out a victory. One player leads off with a
good hit and is followed by another and another, each benefited by the
confidence and enthusiasm the preceding batters have aroused.
It goes without saying that the player's eyesight must be perfect or he
can never hope to be a good batter. It requires the keenest kind of an
eye to keep track of the ball and tell when it is over the plate and at
the proper height.
So, too, the nerves must be kept in good condition or the player will be
unable to resist the temptation to hit at wide balls. A nervous batter
is easily worked, because he is so anxious to hit that he can't wait
for a good ball.
But the most important attribute of all in the composition of a good
batter is courage. In this term I include the self-control and the
resolution by which a man will force himself to stand before the
swiftest and wildest pitching without flinching, the fearlessness that
can contemplate the probability of a blow from the ball without allowing
the judgment to be affected. Out of ten poor batters nine are so because
they are afraid of being hit. It is often asked, Why are pitchers, as a
rule, such poor batters? and to this the answer in my own mind has
always been that it is because they know so well the danger which the
batter incurs. There is perhaps no such thing as absolute fearlessness;
the batter who has once been hit hard--and all of them have--will never
quite forget the occurrence, and he will forever after have the respect
for the ball that a burned child has for the fire. But some men will not
allow this feeling to overcome them.
It is absolutely necessary, then, to first conquer one's self, to fight
down fear and forget everything except that the ball must be hit. To
some, this seems not a difficult matter, to many it comes only after the
most determined effort and schooling of the nerves, while to a few it
seems to be an utter impossibility. The instinct of self-preservation is
such a controlling power with them that unconsciously they draw away
from the ball, and, try as they will, they cannot stand up to the plate.
The player who cannot overcome this feeling will never be a good hitter,
though when he finds that he is a victim he should not give up without a
struggle. Some players have broken themselves of the habit of running
away from the plate by stepping back with the rear foot, instead of
forward with the forward foot, when in the act of hitting. Thompson, of
Detroit, who is a remarkably good hitter, steps backward instead of
forward. Others, like Hecker, of Louisville, step neither way, but hit
as they stand, simply throwing the body forward. Every expedient should
be tried before the case is given up as incurable. In my own case I was
forced to change from right to left-hand hitting. I had been hit so hard
several times that I grew afraid of the ball and contracted the habit of
stepping away from the plate. It was a nervous fear over which I had no
control, and the habit became so confirmed that I resolved to turn
around left-handed. I thought that in learning to hit the new way I
could avoid the mistakes into which I had before fallen. It took time
and practice to learn, but the result, I think, has been an improvement.
While not able to hit so hard left-handed, because the muscles are not
yet so strong, I make more single hits, reach first base oftener, and
score more runs.
Next: The Base-runner
Previous: The Right Fielder