When the great Ted Williams sat down to write the book The Science of Hitting with co-author John Underwood, he talked about what it took to be a great hitter—from theory to mechanics to application.
In his other book, My Turn At Bat, Williams also said, "A man has to have goals—for a day, for a lifetime—and that was mine, to have people say, 'There goes Ted Williams, the greatest hitter who ever lived.'"
By many accounts, Williams reached his goal.
However, Williams not only conquered the science of hitting, but he did it in a way that looked majestic. He terrorized opposing pitchers, but they marveled at the beauty of his swing.
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Feller was one such admirer. “Trying to get a fastball by him was like trying to get a sunbeam by a rooster,” Feller said.
Ted Williams did indeed become one of the greatest hitters who ever lived, and he did it with a swing that was both admired and envied. However, many other hitters have graced the major leagues with swings that induced admiration as well.
In 1989, Ken Griffey Jr. made his debut with the Seattle Mariners, and players and fans alike were in awe of his natural, free swing that looked both effortless and mystifying.
Who else came into baseball with what was considered a sweet swing? We will take a look at 50 players with the prettiest swings in all of baseball.
For continuing coverage of Major League Baseball, follow Doug on Twitter @Sports_A_Holic.
In 2005, when shortstop Hanley Ramirez was included in the trade that sent him and Anibal Sanchez to the Florida Marlins in exchange for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett, Boston Red Sox fans were upset that a player considered to be the future shortstop of the franchise was given up on.
While the trade certainly worked out well for the Red Sox, who won the World Series in 2007 with Beckett and Lowell making enormous contributions, Ramirez has developed into one of the elite players in Major League Baseball, and with a gorgeous swing to boot.
Alex Eisenberg of Baseball Intellect describes Ramirez’ swing as ferocious.
“Ramirez lets the ball travel deep into his hitting zone and turns the hands and hips together on a very firm front leg. At contact, the arms extend and the ball explodes off his bat. Throughout this entire process, Ramirez’s head is stable, making it easier for him to track the ball out of the pitcher’s hand.”
When Colorado Rockies shortstop Troy Tulowitzki hit a dizzying 15 home runs in the month of September last season, the more casual baseball fans were truly amazed at the stunning display put on over a one-month period of time.
This season, "Tulo" is off to another hot start, hitting seven home runs and batting .325 thus far. However, the more knowledgeable baseball fans knew that Tulowitzki was a star waiting to shine, and much of that optimism was based on the beauty of his swing from the right side of the plate.
See the attached video for yourself.
Bill Terry was the last man to hit .400 in the National League, hitting .401 in 1930. He finished his career with a lifetime .341 average.
When the great Ted Williams sought out advice, one of his frequent consultants was none other than Terry.
Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean was one who marveled at Bill Terry’s swing.
"He [Bill Terry] once hit a ball between my legs so hard that my center fielder caught it on the fly backing up against the wall,” Dean said.
Source: Baseball Almanac.
Paul Waner was a sweet-swinging left-handed hitter who played 15 of his 20 seasons with the Pittsburgh Pirates, ending his career with a lifetime batting average of .333.
Waner collected 200 hits in a season eight times during his career, and also won three batting titles.
Waner had a very simplistic approach to hitting.
"Be relaxed and don't wave the bat, don't clench it. Be ready to hit down with the barrel of the bat. Just swing it and let the weight drive the ball,” Waner said.
Source: The Sporting News, April 27, 1955.
While slugger Mark McGwire only hit .263 during his 16-year career, it was his swing that captured the imagination of fans everywhere.
New York Times writer Allan Barra once wrote, "McGwire's swing is designed to produce home runs (and strikeouts). Anything else—doubles, singles, the occasional ground ball—is an accident."
That home-run swing also led to unprecedented crowds just for batting practice while McGwire played in St. Louis.
When Wade Boggs debuted with the Boston Red Sox in 1982, he was a relative unknown, taking over at third base for the injured Carney Lansford. By the time he ended his career in 1999, Boggs was known as one of the most prolific hitters of the 20th century, and the only hitter during that time to collect seven consecutive 200-hit seasons.
Five times, Boggs won the American League batting title, and four times, he did so with an average above .360.
The great Ted Williams had this to say about Wade Boggs:
"Boggs may have the best hand-eye coordination of anyone I've ever seen."
Third baseman Mike Schmidt won eight home-run titles during his Hall of Fame career, and was one of the most well-rounded third basemen in the history of baseball.
In 1993, Schmidt took his 20 years of research into hitting and wrote a ground-breaking book, The Mike Schmidt Study, which became a must-read for young hitters and coaches alike.
Third baseman Evan Longoria of the Tampa Bay Rays is only 25 years old, and has only completed three full seasons in the major leagues. However, fans and experts alike already marvel at the beauty of his swing from the right side of the plate.
Alex Eisenberg of Baseball Intellect is one of those who like what he sees.
“A reader asked me to look at the swing of Evan Longoria a while back. You really can’t find much not to like. He has what you look for in an elite player: a blend of bat-speed and quickness, terrific hand-eye coordination, pitch recognition…you name it.
"Everything stays closed—his hips and his shoulders specifically—until the very last second before unloading on the ball. He lets the ball travel deep into his hitting zone and he finishes with force, swinging through the ball and not cutting his swing short.”
When Adrian Gonzalez was growing up, he worked on honing his swing by playing hours upon hours of Wiffle Ball with his older brother, Edgar.
According to Tony Lee of NESN.com, Gonzalez “developed a batting stroke that enabled him to work with balls throughout the zone and hammer those that were in his wheelhouse.”
That sweet swing will now be admired in Boston for the next seven seasons.
When 20-year-old Jason Heyward debuted with the Atlanta Braves in 2010, his mighty swing began cracking windshields in cars beyond the right-field fence at their spring training complex in Lake Buena Vista, FL, prompting Braves officials to erect an awning the following spring.
Jason Heyward got home-run king Hank Aaron so excited that he proclaimed that Heyward "can mean an awful lot to what ails baseball."
To be fair, Aaron was speaking about what Heyward would mean for African-American players in baseball, but he also marveled at Heyward’s swing.
Former Braves manager Bobby Cox compared the sound of Heyward’s swing to Aaron's.
"There's a little sound off the bat. [Heyward's] line drives are kind of like ol' Hank Aaron's sound."
Source: USA Today.
Lou Piniella earned his nickname “Sweet Lou” because of the gorgeous swing that he developed, and not for his famous temper.
That sweet swing earned Piniella the Rookie of the Year award in 1969 with the Kansas City Royals, and led to a lifetime batting average of .291.
Left-handed hitting Enos Slaughter became renowned for his sweet swing that gave him one of the more reliable bats in the National League during the 1940s.
Slaughter ended his career with 2,383 hits and a .300 lifetime batting average, and became famous for his “mad dash” from first to home in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series that produced the winning run for the St. Louis Cardinals in their victory over the Boston Red Sox.
Slugger Harmon Killebrew was known for having an elongated, looping swing, one that produced 573 home runs in his 22-year career.
In a Sports Illustrated article, written back in 1963, one sportswriter recalled Killebrew’s swing.
"Harmon can hit a ball out of the park on a half swing, he's that strong," a sportswriter observed. "When he slumps, it's his timing that's off. He swings with his whole body, and once he starts he can't stop."
Eddie Mathews hit 512 home runs during his 18-year career, playing 17 seasons with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves. Mathews for years teamed with slugger Hank Aaron to form one of the most potent home-run-hitting duos in the history of Major League Baseball.
When the legendary Hall of Famer Ty Cobb first saw Eddie Mathews swing a bat, he proclaimed, “I’ve only known three or four perfect swings in my time—this lad has one of them.”
Source: Baseball Almanac.
In 1998, the baseball world was captivated by history in the making and a race for the record books between Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire of the St. Louis Cardinals. Sosa ended up hitting 66 home runs, four shy of the record set by McGwire.
However, Sosa ended up becoming the only player in Major League history to have three consecutive 60-home-run seasons, and his passion and excitement for the game of baseball was as famous as his swing.
Backup catcher Mark Parent, playing his last season for the Philadelphia Phillies in 1998, said that Sosa had a swing that didn’t allow for any mistakes.
"He's not missing mistakes. That's the big thing for all good hitters: Mark [McGwire], [Ken] Griffey and those guys. They don't swing at bad balls and they hammer mistakes. They make you pay for every mistake and that's what Sammy [Sosa]'s doing."
Source: Baseball Almanac.
While Gregg Jefferies was putting together a 14-year career, during which he hit .289, he was said to have perfected his swing practicing underwater, although he later refuted that claim.
Nonetheless, Jefferies was described as a switch-hitter who had an almost picture-perfect swing from both sides of the plate, and one that some described as a work of art.
Josh Hamilton, the 2010 American League MVP and batting champion, has become the subject of numerous batting videos; many authors say his swing is one for all youngsters to follow and adopt.
Hamilton’s swing features a compact stroke that allows him to get his hands in front and generate the type of bat-speed that produces power to all fields.
When Fred Lynn debuted with the Boston Red Sox, he and fellow slugger Jim Rice were dubbed “The Gold Dust Twins.” Lynn went on to win both the American League Rookie of the Year and Most Valuable Player awards in the same season, becoming the first player in Major League history ever to achieve that feat.
In the book Gold Dust, author Chris Lynch described Lynn’s swing.
“But the stroke was the thing. It was the most perfect and beautiful thing I had ever seen…Some people see what I’m talking about in ballet, or in the shapes of sculpture.
“But I don’t see that. I see, and believe that I see somehow everything that is good and right and important, in a flawless, speedy and powerful swing of a baseball in pursuit of a ball.
“And I never saw it perfect until I saw Fred Lynn. God gave it all to Fred Lynn.”
Source: Google Books.
Slugging first baseman Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers may be going through some struggles in his personal life, but when it comes to his plate appearances, there is rarely a struggle to be found.
Cabrera’s swing has been described as simple, efficient and powerful, and he makes contact at full extension better than just about everyone else in baseball.
Cabrera has the ability to use his body to create bat-speed early and keep the arms/hands connected so that he has a chance to transfer that energy as the swing progresses.
While left fielder Ryan Braun recently made news for signing a contract extension that keeps him in a Milwaukee Brewers uniform through the year 2020, Braun is also recognized as one of the most consistent hitters in baseball, with a swing that shows few flaws.
Here is how Braun described his own swing to Kory Kozak of ESPN.com:
“When my swing's going well, it is pretty effortless. To me, less is more. The less effort that I put in, the easier everything seems to happen.”
While many people may look at the statistics of slugging first baseman Todd Helton of the Colorado Rockies and think they're inflated because of the thinner air of Denver, there is no taking away from the fact that the guy simply has a gorgeous swing.
Drew Goodman, the television play-by-play voice for the Colorado Rockies, once said that Helton “came out of the womb swinging a bat.”
Helton has gotten off to a hot start in his 15th season with the Rockies, hitting .315 with one homer and eight runs batted in.
Paul Molitor racked up 3,319 hits in his stellar 21-year career, largely due to his simple and compact swing.
Molitor kept his rear elbow down before contact, an anomaly in his swing that is generally frowned upon if picked up by a youngster.
However, who are we to argue with success?
He may be hurt right now, and his status for the 2011 season may be in jeopardy, but no one denies the fact that Philadelphia Phillies second baseman Chase Utley has a gorgeous swing.
An All-Star for the past five seasons, Utley’s swing has been the subject of numerous conversations over the years. Sports Illustrated’s Joe Posnanski described Utley’s swing thus:
“That swing is so quick. It's rattlesnake quick. Jai Alai quick. Shell-game quick. That swing is so quick, it should make a cracking sound, like the tip of a whip. That Chase Utley swing.”
While center fielder Jim Edmonds could fill a highlight reel with incredible catches from his 17-year career, he was also a pretty fair hitter with a sweet swing.
With 393 lifetime home runs, Edmonds had a natural, looping swing with just the slightest of uppercuts, one that would have made Ted Williams proud.
There are many things that have been written and said about Alex Rodriguez, but one thing is for certain: He is a student of hitting.
Rodriguez perfectly exemplifies the “rotational hand path,” in which the hands follow a circular path without getting out in front of the hitter's center of gravity. A-Rod also has a much more level swing than other power hitters, and simply uses his transfer of weight and hits against his front foot to generate pop.
The attached slow-motion video illustrates the beauty of A-Rod’s swing.
I know. You’re thinking: "Why am I putting someone on this list who has classically underachieved?"
Say what you want about J.D. Drew of the Boston Red Sox, but the man does have a very nice swing.
Gordon Edes, formerly of the Boston Globe, once described Drew in this fashion:
"A five-tools player with an uncanny batting eye, a swing smoother than butter and long, measured strides that eat up great chunks of real estate, whether running the bases or tracking down fly balls [sic]."
The man couldn’t field, and he was slow as molasses. But man, could Edgar Martinez hit.
During his 18-year career with the Seattle Mariners—most of them as a designated hitter—Martinez was money, with 309 career home runs, 2,247 hits and a lifetime .312 batting average.
With power to all fields and a selective approach at the plate, Martinez made a living off his incredibly consistent stroke that produced nothing but line drives throughout his stellar career.
In his 17-year career that produced 434 home runs, a .295 lifetime batting average and two AL MVP awards in three seasons, right-fielder Juan Gonzalez always looked at himself more as a line-drive hitter than a power hitter.
Working for years with legendary Texas Rangers hitting coach Rudy Jaramillo, Gonzalez fashioned a swing that allowed him to shift his weight, keep his rhythm and generate bat-speed through the ball.
During his time with the Cincinnati Reds, outfielder Eric Davis was a joy to watch.
Six-time All-Star Dave Parker, a pretty special player in his own right, described Davis as “blessed with world-class speed, great leaping ability, the body to play until he's 42, tremendous bat-speed and power, and a throwing arm you wouldn't believe. There's an aura to everything he does. I tell you frankly that I'd pay to see him if I had to."
While Davis would also make many "weird batting stance" lists, his swing was a thing of beauty from the right side of the plate. I’m not sure if I ever saw a player that generated the kind of torque that Davis unleashed, especially given his unusual batting stance.
Fred McGriff’s swing is so pretty, he became the player behind the Tom Emansky instructional videos. The two have had a long-standing relationship, McGriff having first met Emansky when he was 18 years old.
It certainly didn’t hurt McGriff’s career; he fell just seven home runs short of the magical 500 mark, and hit .284 for his career.
Cubs outfielder Alfonso Soriano is only 6’ tall and weighs only 180 pounds, so he's far smaller than many of the power hitters in Major League Baseball today. However, in 13 seasons, Soriano has hit 320 home runs, largely due to his swing.
Soriano is much like former Milwaukee Brewers slugger Ben Oglivie in that both players generated tremendous bat-speed by using their wrists to get the bat through the hitting zone.
When looking at Hank Aaron’ swing, it’s hard to see how he became the all-time home-run king in 1974 (a title since taken by Barry Bonds).
Aaron’s swing was short and compact, and he generally kept it level through the hitting zone. However, it was his weight transfer and the positioning of his hands that allowed him to generate power to all fields, and his swing rarely changed during his 23-year career.
The career of Don Mattingly coincided with a time in the history of the Yankees franchise when they did not win a playoff series in 14 seasons—the exact length of "Donnie Baseball’s" career.
While the Yankees weren’t winning during Mattingly’s tenure, it certainly wasn’t because of his swing.
Mattingly, who ended his career with a .307 lifetime batting average and was the 1985 AL MVP, developed a swing that he believed was based on a solid foundation and that incorporated five steps: the tool, the grip, the stance, the stride and the weight transfer.
It seemed to work pretty well for 14 years.
First-baseman Wally Joyner put together a pretty nice 16-year career, compiling 2,060 hits and finishing with a .289 lifetime batting average. While Joyner wasn’t a flashy player and never garnered awards, he was known to have a pretty sweet swing.
Longtime Los Angeles Times writer Jim Murray once described Joyner’s swing in an article in 1988, saying, “Joyner doesn't even have muscles. What he does have is the most exquisite timing in the league.
"He sees to it that the ballistics are just right, that bat meets ball at the precise optimum instant. He does not have the raw strength of Jose Canseco to overpower mistakes. He cannot hit a pitch that he's fooled on 450 feet. On the other hand, Joyner is seldom that badly fooled on a pitch.”
Baseball’s all-time hits leader until 1985, Ty Cobb never subscribed to the Ted Williams way of hitting. In fact, Cobb for years vehemently argued against it, saying that players should hit on a downward plane rather than with a slight uppercut.
Cobb employed a unique, split-hand grip during his entire career, which he felt gave him better control through a swing.
While his swing and batting stance were undoubtedly unorthodox, it was still pretty to watch one of the greatest hitters in the history of the game.
While there will be a never-ending discussion on the merits of Barry Bonds and his potential admission into the Hall of Fame, here, we will stick to his swing, and its beauty.
Tony Gwynn, a pretty fair hitter in his own right, described Bonds’ swing for USA Today back in 2002.
"He can discuss it, and he can describe it any way he wants to," Gwynn says. "But good hitters have been doing this for years. You read Ted Williams' book, Charlie Lau, Rod Carew, Dusty Baker. I've read them all, and everybody talks about the same thing. You've got to get in a position so that your hands can work so your body can work.
"And that's what Barry Bonds does," Gwynn says. "He gets in position, he lets his hands go and, in letting his hands go, his body goes where it's supposed to go."
First-baseman John Olerud, who finished his career in 2005 with the Boston Red Sox and was said to have “a swing so sweet it should be poured on pancakes,” finished his career with 2,239 hits and a .295 lifetime batting average.
Toronto Blue Jays teammates actually took to calling Olerud “Hobby,” in reference to the mythical Roy Hobson of The Natural.
While many fans may remember right-fielder David Justice as a member of the great Atlanta Braves teams of the 1990s, and others may remember him as the ex-husband of actress Halle Berry, still others remember the sweet swing generated by Justice.
Former Braves hitting coach Clarence Jones was one who was enamored by Justice’s swing. Justice feature a top-hand release in his swing, an attribute that was highly praised by hitting guru Charley Lau.
When someone wins three batting titles over four seasons, people will naturally want a look at the swing of the player who achieved such an incredible feat. Understandably, they’d be surprised to see that swing comes from a catcher.
Joe Mauer is a pretty good defensive catcher, but he is an even better hitter. Joe Vavra, the hitting coach for the Minnesota Twins, marvels at the fact that Mauer can adapt his swing to various situations.
Vavra told NBC Sports this about Mauer: ”You're not going to find two swings of his that aren't alike. It's controlled aggressiveness. It's balanced, ready to explode.
"He can make decisions on pitches later than most hitters. So when he gets in two-strike mode, he's really comfortable. He understands the strike zone better than anybody I've been around.”
What is truly remarkable about Atlanta Braves third-baseman Chipper Jones is that his swing is marvelous from both sides of the plate.
His small leg-lift-toe-tap combination can be seen from both sides of the plate, and he has been remarkably consistent from both sides of the plate as well, hitting .312 right-handed and .303 left-handed during his 18-year career.
Described as one of the sweetest swingers ever from the right side of the dish, Manny Ramirez chose to retire just five games into the 2011 season rather than go through a suspension of 100 games for what was reported as his second positive test for PEDs under the MLB drug-testing program.
Nonetheless, Ramirez's swing was no doubt a work of art. His swing was considered masterful because of his nearly perfect mechanics from the right side of the plate. Numerous videos can be found online extolling the virtues of his swing.
Too bad it won’t help his chances for the Hall of Fame.
For many years, people made comparisons between the great Ted Williams and Joe DiMaggio. Ted himself thought he was a better hitter, but that Joe was a better all-around player.
Their swings couldn’t have been more different, either.
DiMaggio had a much wider stance from the right side (Williams stood on the left), and took a very short stride into the ball, with a level swing that produced more line drives than moon shots. With his swing, there wasn’t an area in the ballpark that was safe.
Say what you want about Darryl Strawberry and his imploding baseball career, but that man had a gorgeous swing.
At the height of his career during the mid-1980s, Strawberry hit some of the most prodigious home runs ever seen in Shea Stadium.
With his looping swing and slight uppercut, Strawberry could change the face of a game with just one swing. Unfortunately, he couldn’t change his life habits, and his swing was gone far before its time.
There are varying opinions about the mechanics of the swing of slugging first baseman Albert Pujols. However, who is going to argue with a man who has hit over .300 with at least 30 home runs and 100 runs batted in over his first 10 seasons?
No one else in the history of baseball has ever done that, and Mr. Pujols isn’t quite done yet.
Anybody who hits the way he does, in my estimation, has a beautiful swing.
Again, spare the PED jokes; here is another man who had one of the prettiest swings in baseball history. In his 20-year career, Palmeiro hit 569 home runs and collected 3,020 hits.
Palmeiro’s swing was described as fluid from start to finish. Former major-league shortstop and manager Larry Bowa, now an analyst for MLB Network, told ESPN.com that Palmeiro’s swing was effortless.
"Palmeiro's got great balance, great hands and he's got great power. You've got to have incredible eye-hand coordination to have a swing like that,” Bowa said.
For 16 of his 18 major league seasons, Billy Williams played in the shadow of the great Ernie Banks for the Chicago Cubs. However, he put together a career that included 426 home runs with a lifetime batting average of .290, earning induction into the Hall of Fame in 1987.
Billy Williams had what was widely considered the prettiest swing from the right side of the plate. Fondly known in Chicago as “Sweet Swinging” Billy Williams, his swing was described as flawless.
"Rogers Hornsby taught me the strike zone," Williams was quoted as telling Rick Talley for The Cubs of '69. "That you only get one good pitch to hit, to be patient, and the quick hands helped me be patient, to get that bat into the hitting area.
"Good hitters don't have bad swings. My stance and my swing were always the same. So was my bat (34.5 inches, 32 ounces), and it helped me against power pitchers."
The last man to seriously threaten the .400 mark (hitting .390 in 1980), George Brett was a throwback, with his classic swing that produced 317 home runs, 3,154 hits and a lifetime .305 batting average.
Brett was thought to have the perfect balance between weight transfer and rotation built into his swing. Brett credited his swing to the great teachings of the late Charley Lau.
Any baseball fan knows about the great Ted Williams, and the fact that he was the last man to hit over .400, hitting .406 in 1941.
What may not be known is that Ted was often at odds with some of the other great hitters in baseball over which particular swing was best. Chief among his critics was none other than Ty Cobb.
However, with one look at the swing of the Splendid Splinter, it’s not hard to see why he was one of the greatest hitters who ever lived.
Will Clark never quite lived up to all the hype that surrounded him following the 1984 Olympics. He was nicknamed “The Natural” based on the sweet swing that was first recognized during his days as a collegiate player at Mississippi State University.
While Clark was recognized as one of the premier first basemen in the National League during his early years with the San Francisco Giants, injuries derailed his career after 1992, and he never rediscovered the sort of production seen during the late 1980s.
At one time, Clark’s swing was thought to be the most imitated swing by young ballplayers across the country.
“The Kid” tops this list because I would be considered stupid if he wasn’t on top of the list. One look at any of a hundred forums, polls, articles or videos will tell you that Ken Griffey Jr., without a doubt, had the prettiest swing in the history of baseball.
The Statistician Magician at MLBBlogs Network said, “When we think of Ken Griffey Jr., I want us to associate his well-known ‘sweet swing’ with U2's song 'The Sweetest Thing.’"
I actually like that idea, because for me, there is nothing sweeter in the world than a sweet swing.
I know, I’m a dork. But you know what I mean.