Hitting is the most difficult of the athletic arts," once declared Garry Schumacher, veteran publicity man for the New York Giants and one of the few constant observers of baseball who can be truly described as a student of the game.
"You can't teach a man to hit," adds George Kell, who knows how. Kell's credentials include an American League batting championship, 2,000 major league hits and a lifetime batting average of .307.
Kell argues: "You can't teach a man to hit. You can correct his mistakes and help him to improve, but he has to be able to hit to begin with. He needs certain things: good eyesight, reflexes, coordination, strength. But he has to be able to hit. You can't make a hitter.
"Take Paul Richards [the astute manager of the Baltimore Orioles, who had a lifetime major league batting average of only .227]. Paul knows how to hit. He can show a man the right things to do and what he's doing wrong. He knows what you're supposed to do. Paul's a brilliant man. If anybody ever could learn how to hit, Paul Richards could have learned. But Paul couldn't hit."
Hitting, then, is an instinctive art, a pure skill. Ben Hogan can take the hacker in golf, instruct him in detail as to the correct grip of the hands on the club, the necessary position of the feet, the proper movement of the arms...and turn the duffer into a reasonably competent golfer. A good golf swing is a habit.
But in baseball the swinging of a bat cannot be frozen in an amber drop of precisely taught and carefully acquired habit. The baseball is not held rigidly in one spot waiting for the batter to swing at it according to a carefully tested stereotyped procedure. The baseball moves. Can you imagine trying to hit a golf ball that was moving in slow circles around the tee?
Yet a baseball not only moves, it is projected in the batter's direction at high speed and in such a way that it shifts its direction in flight. The only constant a batter has to rely on is the fact that the pitcher must throw the ball through the strike zone over home plate.
Batters have to approach the problem of hitting such a fast-moving, wavering projectile according to their own individual capabilities and needs. Duke Snider has superior strength abetted by a wonderful coordination of wrist and forearm and shoulder and back. Ted Kluszewski is immensely strong, but not so well coordinated. Both are home run hitters. Snider swings fully, extravagantly. Frequently he misses the ball completely (Hogan would blanch) and he strikes out a good deal; but frequently—or at least more often than any other major league player in the past eight seasons—he hits his home runs.
Kluszewski, and this was so even before the onset of his current back injury, does not swing freely. His swing is short, stubby and controlled, but his brute strength achieves the desired home run.
Richie Ashburn is comparatively small. He has the coordination to swing like Snider but not the strength to hit home runs. So he holds the bat short to better control its leverage, snaps the bat quickly and gains, not home runs but many base hits and very few strikeouts.