I once watched Frank Robinson take extra batting practice at the LA Coliseum back in 1959 and he drilled at least 20 straight pitches into right-center field as a right-handed hitter, and when he came up to the plate against Don Drysdale he drilled the first pitch into that alley for a triple. Robinson, a student of the game, a prodigious power hitter, spent hours learning to hit any pitch where he wanted by hugging the plate and being quick enough to hit the inside pitch and guard the outside corner. His hitting style was unique and unusual. Today’s hitters wear armor, stand far back from the plate, dive toward the plate, cannot handle the inside pitch and repeatedly flail at the low-outside slider or curve or cut fastball.
All this shifting started with the new wave of accumulating statistics so as to predict just where a certain player was prone to hit the ball. Statistics have taken over the game, and it works in most cases because the current major league hitter is not concerned with bat control, only power. The current big league hitter has an area where he likes the ball and a swing that is grooved to that area like a programmed robot. Almost like clones, they stand deep in the box, away from the plate, upright, bat held high, elbow raised, and seem obsessed with “extending their arms” so as to crush the ball. Many take huge high steps at the ball, making them vulnerable for off-speed pitches. You see very few short flat compact swings of the likes of Paul Molitor, one of the great hitters of his era, but instead the long looping semi-uppercut swings where the bottom hand is released in a beautiful majestic arc that has led to over a 100 guys striking out a 100 times over a season for some time now.
What these modern hitters must learn is that if they are going to put a shift on you it is because they are going to pitch you a certain way, and if you learn to be versatile at the plate you can counter-act their strategy and go the opposite way without altering your swing and timing, nobody can play you anywhere, and you will no longer look like a helpless, limited amateur at the plate interested only in the long ball.
The World Series last year, between San Francisco and Kansas City, was an example of teams who hit very few home runs but wore down pitching staffs by chipping away with 2 strikes and just trying to meet the ball and move runners into scoring position, a grand show of great baseball rarely seen in today’s game, where ESPN along with agents have stressed the big majestic swing and power, with no concern about striking out every third time and having no bat control. ESPN’s continual show of home runs and measuring the length of shots, and the home run contest at all star break, has turned a once strategic game of artful hitters and base runners into home run derby, a tribute to the ignorance and desire for instant gratification of the American baseball fan.