Tuesday, October 25, 2022

Pre-1920: The Linear Hitting Technique

Linear hitters do not use their total bodies in their swings. Rather, it is a “hands and arms"-type swing. As a rule, linear-type hitters have become the foundation for describing one of my three hitting types: the Singles/Contact-type hitter.

Before talking about linear hitting, it is best to define it. “Linear," by definition, means “Of, relating to, or resembling a line; straight." A linear hitter starts with his weight over his rear leg and transfers his weight to a point over his front leg as he swings. It is a straight-line, back-to-front movement.

For many reasons, the linear hitting approach was the technique of choice before 1920; the singular, most important reason was that there were no outfield fences at that time.

When studying the historical transition of hitting techniques over different time periods, one thing becomes increasingly evident. Any changes made were simply “cycles" during which smart hitters adapted to playing conditions the best they could. As an example, the “Dead Ball Era" was, in reality, just a period during which field design and “dead" baseballs did not reward the batter who drove the ball a long way in the air. Thus, linear type hitters thrived.

However, the dominant hitters of that era, Ty Cobb (photo, left), “Shoeless" Joe Jackson, Sam Crawford, Honus Wagner, “Home Run" Baker, et al, clearly used rotational mechanics. As you look at Ty Cobb to the left, this is an action photo as he is at toe touch, just before heel plant and the beginning of his swing-technique. The hands depict a “hitch” he had, but he returned to the universal launch position like 95% of HOF players did.

While the concept of hitting “level to the ball" was not in vogue because there were no fences, the dominant hitters, i.e., those that generated the highest number of total bases, did use “torque" and hip rotation to generate their power. The swings of that era were “flat" to “down"—on occasion, even a “chop"—to better take advantage of large outfields and porous infield defenses.

Hitting balls in the air in those days was tantamount to failure. It was near impossible to hit one over an outfielder’s head. Most home runs in those days were “gap" line drives which got past the outfielders and just keep rolling.

Today, those hitters of yesteryear with their “level" shoulders hitting approach, would be classified as “linear" hitters. Top linear hitters of this era included Nap Lajoie, Eddie Collins, Tris Speaker, and “Wee Willie" Keeler.

The game of baseball in those days was one of strategy, centered on bunts, hit-and-run tactics and base stealing. Not to mention field managers that would water down the area in front of home plate. Most runs were “manufactured" and every run was critical.

In 1910, the cork-centered baseball was introduced and the game became livelier and the pace quickened. Babe Ruth came on the scene and single-handedly introduced a whole new style of play with the home run. Fenced-in ballparks took the place of the large open fields. The change in venues helped seal the demise of linear hitting.

Starting in 1920, the game would change forever. Or, at least until 1975.

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