I don't claim I never walked to first base on a 3-and-2 pitch without saying, "Gee, I wish I'd hit that first pitch." But for some reason I didn't. Either I was looking for something else, or it fooled me—and when a pitch fools you and you've got less than two strikes, take it, take it, take it. A batter learns in time where his happy zones are. There is no one living who can hit a high ball as well as he does a low ball, or vice versa, or hits an outside pitch as well as he does one on the inside. All hitters have areas they like to hit in. But you can't beat the fact that you've got to get a good ball to hit.
All right, so you've done your homework and your thinking is straight. Now you're up. Mechanics. Feet and hand position vary more than anything else from player to player, because, unlike golf, the baseball swing is not a grooved swing. It is more tailored to the individual, more natural. To hit the ball to the best advantage, I recommend an extremely firm grip with the fingers (the pressure is not on the palms), with the bottom hand holding the bat as you would a hammer, the index finger slightly open. The weight should be balanced, and slightly forward on the balls of the feet, knees bent and flexible. The feet are good and planted, the lead foot pointed out (so as not to restrict your pivot) but slightly closer to the plate than the back foot. My front foot was on a line with and 12 inches away from the front part of the plate; Hornsby and Stan Musial stayed deep in the box. Where to stand depends on a man's size, his bat length, his style. My bat was 35 inches long. The important thing is to have the plate covered on all pitches, inside or out.
Shoulders should at least start at level. Just as in golf, the head is always still and stays put, as level as possible, even as you stride into the ball. I will buy dropping the head down some to get to a lower pitch, but not forward toward the pitch, because then you're committing your weight, and the longer you can keep from committing yourself the better your chance of not getting fooled. You fight against going forward, against lunging. If you lunge, if you come forward with your head as you swing, you are diminishing your power. You are bringing the bat to the ball rather than swinging at it.
Shoulder positions vary. Some batters naturally fall into a low-ball position—that is, with the lead shoulder dropped a little from level. This results in a longer loop in the swing, which you can have on a low ball where you don't have to be as fast with the bat. The high ball is closer to your hands and you have to be quicker. The lead shoulder should be higher. When you find out what balls you hit best you will adjust your shoulders accordingly. Same with the hands. You can help yourself on high balls by raising your hands. This enables you to stay on top a little more.
I believe in a compact stance, which should come as a surprise. Baseball people used to say, "Keep the arms away from the body, keep 'em away," but I believe you feel more comfortable and can be quicker with your hands nearer the body rather than held away from it. It's a stronger position. The bat is easier to control when you decrease the arc of the swing. I held my bat upright, almost vertical to the ground. The bat felt lighter that way, more comfortable. Greenberg tended to flatten out his bat, but when he started to swing he cocked it back up a little. Joe DiMaggio held his at about a 45� angle and kept it there. So this varies, too. My feeling was if I stayed more vertical, thereby increasing the loop in the swing, I could get the ball in the air better, which is advantageous to a power hitter but no advantage at all to a guy who can't put it in the seats. When I wasn't going well, hitting too much into the air, I would start thinking in terms of getting on top of the ball, "chopping" a little more, shortening the swing, and at those times I'd flatten out the bat a little. As a left-hand batter, I kept my left elbow straight back. I felt it gave me that umph, that little extra something to get the bat moving. I think people who say they remember the way I hit recall that elbow held back.
Now we go into the area that breeds controversy: the moves of the hitter. Many of them have been misunderstood for years, and some of them have been completely overlooked. The most important I can think of is the cocking of the hips. Sam Snead was once quoted as telling President Eisenhower: "You can't hit with authority until you get your ass into the ball." The advice applies to the baseball hitter. I was always known as a "wrist" hitter, which was a gross exaggeration, and I'll get to that. But hip cocking is as important as wrist action any day. The way you bring your hips into the swing is directly proportionate to the power you generate. I never saw a good hitter who didn't have good hip cock. You would think it would be an instinctive thing, but 25% of the young hitters I see don't cock either their hips or their hands.
Now, with your weight evenly distributed, your hips start out at level. You don't worry about hips until you actually begin the performance of the swing. The hips and hands cock as you move your lead foot to stride, the front knee turning to help the hips rotate back. Your stride is pretty much square to the pitcher. It varies in length with the individual. Mine was about 12 inches as a kid, but shortened as the years went by, because as I got stronger and quicker I felt it an advantage to stay more within myself, more compact. But the direction of the stride should not vary more than 10� from a perpendicular line toward the pitcher. I saw all the good hitters for the last 30 years, and 90% of them strode straight into the ball—Greenberg, DiMaggio, Charlie Gehringer, Musial. Mel Ott bailed out—pulled his foot away from the line, into the bucket—but, remember, he was hitting in a park made to order for pull hitting. Al Simmons did the same thing, put his foot in the bucket. Vern Stephens was a hell of a hitter, and he opened up as he strode, but these three are exceptions.
Some hitters used to say that the direction of the stride depended on where the pitch was—inside pitch, you'd bail out a little; outside, you'd move in toward the plate. This is wrong because you have already made your stride before you know where the ball will be. You have made it in that split second when the pitcher's arm comes into that little area over his shoulder that you have been focusing on. (Think of it as a 15-inch square. The ball comes out there.) You have cocked and made your stride—but you have not moved your head. That's the difference. You have committed your feet, but not your hands or the weight of your swing. The weight is still back, evenly distributed. You do not shift your weight, as the golf pros teach.
All right. You are at bat. This is your first time up in a game. You are not concerned about mechanics now, you are thinking strictly about getting a good ball to hit and remembering what to expect from the pitcher. For me at this point there was one thing that was 95% certain: I was going to take the first pitch. Even a strike right down the middle. The reason I swung on the other 5% was because occasionally I got one that was so tempting, such a damn big balloon coming in, that I took a cut to keep the pitcher honest. But what advantage is there in taking the first pitch in a game (the rule doesn't apply in succeeding times up) if the pitch is a strike and you've automatically reduced by 33?% the number of strikes you'll get? These advantages: you've refreshed your memory of the pitcher's speed and his delivery; you see if he's got it on this particular day; you've given yourself a little time to get settled, to get the tempo. Just for fun, see what first-ball hitters average the next time you go to the park or watch a game on television. I'll bet there won't be one hit in 10.
In my case, I was always pitched to carefully, so I'd get to see maybe four or five pitches that first time up, maybe even six, and I was learning from each one of them. Second time up, you're even more alert, because now you've had a sampling—what did I do first time? A home run off what pitch? A pop-up? A strikeout? Why? Did he fool me?