Now, the next pitch is on its way, and your hips and hands are cocked, your head staying back in place, your whole body more or less coiled for the opposite and equal application of power—the swivel or pivot, the opening of the hips. As the hips come around, the hands follow, just as in golf, and the bat follows the hands. As they get into the hitting area the speed is increasing.
The pitch is in your happy zone, and you're after it, intent on getting that four-inch joy part—the fat of the bat—on the ball. Now, two points of major importance, and you will be surprised hearing them from a "wrist" hitter and a "pull" hitter. No doubt the ideal hit is a pulled ball, because that can become the easiest kind of home run. At advantageous moments, when the count is right—3 and 0, 3 and 1, 2 and 0, 2 and 1—and the pitcher has to get it over, or it's a time when a long hit or homer is absolutely essential, the pulled fly is worth shooting for.
But stop and think about the perfect swing. The best chance of getting the joy spot of your bat on the ball occurs when the swing brings it into contact at 90� from the direction of the pitch. At that point, the joy is fully exposed—four inches. The more you sharpen the angle of the bat, the more you diminish your good hitting surface. Fifteen degrees either side of 90 is a reasonable tolerance area. An extra 15� in front is available for a batter hitting well. But at 45�—the real pull swing—you've cut the joy spot one-third. If you are that far ahead of the ball you also reduce the time you have in which to judge the pitch, and, as I said, the longer you can wait the less chance there is that you will be fooled by the pitch. Swing in back of that 15�, you haven't built up enough bat speed to hit with authority.
When I had such a hard time with Lou Boudreau's shift, I survived by learning how to hit to left field. I did it by taking my stance a little further from the plate and concentrating more on pushing the ball, a push swing, an inside-out swing, a downswing fully extended, the hands ahead of the fat part of the bat to produce contact at 90� or more. This sent the ball to the left of the pitcher's box, away from the shift.
I also learned one thing that most young hitters and 50% of the big-league players I've talked to have never considered—that the impact of bat on ball is reached not with the wrists rolling, or a "wrist" swing, but with the wrists square and unbroken, as they would be at impact when an ax is swung on a tree. The power is always applied before the wrists roll. Even when you are pulling? Yes, because the hips and arms bring the bat around, not the wrists. The wrists roll after the ball has left the bat. Try it for yourself. Get a bat and swing it against a telephone pole. Where is the wrist position at the point of impact? Square and unbroken, that's where. Conclusion? The baseball swing is a hard push swing. You get your power not from the wrists but from the arms and shoulders and the rotation of the hips into the ball.
This is not to say you need not have strong wrists. You do need them, and strong arms, shoulders, back and legs. I was always squeezing rubber balls, working hand grips, doing fingertip push-ups, swinging heavy bats, doing chin-ups, running, walking, anything to get stronger. But wrist action is overrated. One other thing. I said I moved away to help myself hit the inside pitch to left field. Be careful with this, because if you move too far back in the box there's a disadvantage, too: the balls that break over the front corners of the plate are difficult to reach, and they are still strikes.
Now, you have always heard that the ideal swing is "level" or "down," and with some hitters that is probably true. Certainly a Nellie Fox had more of a downswing than a Mickey Mantle does, because Fox was no fence pounder. He was a great little punch hitter who concentrated on being quick with the bat and on directing balls sharply through the holes instead of up in the air. But to produce the longer ball I advocate a slight upswing (from level to about 10�). The upswing makes sense for another reason. Say the average pitcher is 6'3". He's standing on a mound 15 inches high. He's pitching overhand, or three-quarter arm. The flight of the ball is down, about 5�. A slight upswing puts the bat flush in line with the path of the ball for a longer period of time.
Certainly there are moments when you want to think about swinging down—when you are having trouble, getting fooled, popping up. Then the downswing, which is the shortest possible stroke, has an advantage over the longer upswing, which requires more control. There is less chance of hitching or overstroking, and the downswing gives you more time to wait. It is also the ideal two-strike swing, and here is where so many of today's hitters are failing, aren't hitting as many singles and doubles, aren't hitting .300 but are striking out so much. They don't protect themselves on a two-strike pitch. Two strikes and they're still swinging 100%, swinging up, trying to pull, trying to hit the ball into the seats. Because big swingers of the past knew they shouldn't do this, they hit for average, too.
All right. What do you do about being the complete hitter? Up to two strikes, you have been selective. With two strikes, the advantage turns; you are now at the mercy of the pitcher. You have to concede to him. You have to make adjustments. You have to think in terms of making everything quicker. How do you do that? You choke up a little bit. You quit trying to pull. You think more about that push swing, that 90� impact from the direction of the pitch—you think about hitting the ball back through the box.
Harry Walker was a great student of hitting, and he was good at this. Roberto Clemente and Yastrzemski are probably the most flexible hitters around today. Psychologically, becoming a good two-strike hitter inspires confidence. A batter knows he can hit with authority. He learns, as I did, that he can cut strikeouts to less than 50 a year. He can bat 20 or 30 points higher. In 1957, when I hit .388, I got most of my hits on two-strike pitches.