Midway through the 1998 season Tampa Bay Devil Rays second baseman Miguel Cairo was struggling at the plate. "I was hitting a lot of fly balls, so I asked [then hitting coach] Steve Henderson what would happen if I separated my hands a bit," he says. "I figured I had nothing to lose."
Cairo got two hits in his first game using the new grip, and he has stuck with the split-handed hold on the bat, which bewilders fellow hitters and makes him look like the second coming of Ty Cobb—at least in stance if not in substance. "Players come up to me and say, 'How do you do that? If I tried that, I'd break my wrist,' " says Cairo, who through Sunday was hitting an un-Cobb-like .282. (His career average stood at .278, which was .027 higher than before he made the change.)
The drawback of the novel grip—Cairo is the only current major leaguer who hits with his hands apart—is a decrease in power. Cairo's single-season high for home runs is five, in 1998 (including three before splitting his hands), and through Sunday he had hit only three since, but the grip gives him better bat control and allows him to get on top of the ball to slap high pitches for line drives and ground balls instead of the pop-ups he hit with a conventional grip. "I figure I'm not going to hit 20 homers anyway?' says Cairo, who at first didn't realize he shared Cobb's style. "My game is to play defense and try to get on base. I rim pretty well, so if I hit the ball hard on the ground, I like my chances."