There was a time in the game of baseball when unique approaches to the game led to all sorts of crazy moves, maneuvers and mechanics. Think Juan Marichal on the mound. Think Darryl Strawberry's front leg flying.
While the sport's current crop of players still includes its share of weirdness, it seems as though consistency and conformity are slowly taking over.
Today, with online videos, 24-hour-a-day media coverage and state-of-the-art training programs, there seem to be fewer and fewer unique batting stances. I can't think of a single player who aligns himself with his back to the pitcher like Stan Musial did. That wacky stance, which involved Stan the Man twisting his head and staring at the mound over his shoulder, was later adopted in a less extreme version by the Hit Dog, Mo Vaughn.
Then there was Mickey Tettleton, who stood stock-still and held the bat straight away from his body like a fishing rod. Hardly the soundest method for handling a 90 mile per hour projectile.
There was Tony Batista, whose stance was so open it looked like he was trying to get a head start out of the batter's box—and run to third base.
There was Rickey Henderson, whose exaggerated crouch explains his low K rate with the simple truth that it was tough to fit three whole strikes into his zone.
There was Julio Franco with his bat hanging over his helmet, and there was Ruben Sierra with a leg kick so high it pulled other people's hamstrings.
There was Jeff Bagwell, who evidently arrived at the plate riding the world's fattest horse.
There was Gary Sheffield, who vibrated as though someone had dumped live eels down his pants. Electric eels.
And there was my personal favorite, Blue Jays third baseman Garth Iorg. Iorg leaned so far over his own back leg that he looked like a human Barcalounger.
But fear not, because in these modern times there are still a handful of brave souls who aren't afraid to do things the wrong way. Forget those instructional videos by back-to-back-to-back AAU champion Tom Emanski. The players on this list aren't as interested in looking like hitters as they are in being hitters.
Here are some of the craziest hitting mechanics found among active major leaguers, led by perhaps the ugliest swing in baseball history.
Ordinarily I like to save the best for last. But in this case, it all starts with Youkilis. This is a guy with more goofiness in his swing and stance than just about any player I've ever seen. He grips the handle with only one hand, allowing the other to play over the surface of bat with fluttering fingertips.
He waggles his entire body.
And as he begins his swing, that loose hand slides down toward the pommel.
In all, it is a bizarre symphony of quirks that would give any high school hitting coach an apoplectic fit. Yet no one could argue with the results. The "Greek God of Walks" has a lifetime batting average just south of .300 and lifetime on-base percentage just south of .400 and is one of Boston's most reliable producers.
Youk isn't alone in Beantown. His teammate Dustin Pedroia also brings some wackiness to the plate, although his is less about the stance and more about the swing.
Pedroia is, by varying accounts, somewhere between 5'6" and 5'9". I think the officially listed height is overly generous. But somehow, despite his lack of size, Pedroia swings big with a big bat. Watching him at the plate, it's a wonder his shoes stay on; Pedroia doesn't know the meaning of a controlled cut.
It's not that he's hacking wildly. It's just that every swing is an uncoiling of epic proportions, clearly intended to prove wrong every doubter who thought this diminutive infielder wouldn't make it in The Show.
As a lifetime .300 hitter, a former Rookie of the Year and MVP and a Silver Slugger award winner, he obviously has.
We can't talk about guys swinging out of their shoes and fail to mention Vlad. Again, this selection isn't so much about a wacky stance as a wacky swing. Vlad is seemingly made of rubber, able to contort and extend his body and arms to reach any pitch, anytime, anywhere.
Guerrero is just as likely to catch up to a high fastball as he is to lift a home run off a pitch in the dirt. He's slapped fastballs off of his shoelaces and watched them fall lazily into the gap. Any pitcher who believes that going outside will help his cause is sorely mistaken.
In fact, odds are that you could throw one into the on-deck circle and Vlad would still reach it.
Textbook? Hardly. But effective nonetheless. Though he's slowing down, the slugger is already well north of 400 homers.
If Vlad has a polar opposite at the dish it might be LaRoche. While Guerrero is ready and waiting to hammer anything that comes within 10 yards of his bat, Laroche's lazy approach makes him look about as unprepared as humanly possible.
Until the ball begins to close in on the batter's box, LaRoche appears to be waiting for a bus—not a leather-wrapped missile. His nonchalance is impressive, though one can't help but wonder if his career .267 average might not benefit from some additional enthusiasm.
LaRoche is the poster boy for the "baseball is boring" crowd.
A fellow disciple of LaRoche's "less is more" philosophy is Overbay. Standing perfectly upright with bat resting lightly on his shoulder, this guy hardly looks capable of blasting homers. Yet when he connects, Overbay is a solid hitter.
Some players clearly favor stillness over motion when it comes to getting their timing down, but guys like Overbay take it a step further. His look is usually more at home on the top step of the dugout than in the box.
But again, he makes it work. While he's not the game's biggest offensive threat, he has his moments.
LaRoche and Overbay represent the upright stance. Plenty of player elect to go in a different direction, digging in and dropping down nice and low. Some do it via the crouch, while other,s like Rowand, prefer the squat.
Rowand's uncomfortable-looking straddle isn't quite as severe as Bagwell's was, but it still looks painful and exhausting. It also seems to minimize the role his lower body plays in generating power. It also looks like it would be hell on the lower back.
Rowand honestly looks like he's horseback riding. It's inexplicable.
Butler is the next of the squatters. He's not on the same level of Rowand; that is, he doesn't look like he's perched atop a hoofed animal. Instead, Butler flexes his knees and drops down in his stance in a way that would seem to kill his rotation.
Butler is a 240-pounder who should have quite a bit of power. Maybe that will develop over time. Thus far, he's proven himself to be more of an on-base guy. That gives him value, but it does make one wonder about his mechanics.
If Butler had a more traditional stance, would more home runs result?
On the other hand, Pujols has a rather extreme squat in his stance, and it's tough to argue that his power has been impacted. Albert will likely be the second-youngest player to swat 500 dingers, so if he can make the approach work, then maybe it's not so flawed after all.
Again, his squat is nothing like Bagwell's, but Pujols drops low to the ground, especially with his rear leg. Not exactly how they teach it at summer camp. But hey, maybe it should be. A lifetime 1.040 OPS can't be wrong.
Of course, the truth is that Albert could stand on his head and still mash. He's simply a very rare talent.
While on the subject of rare talents, I might as well get to Ichiro. He couldn't be more different from Pujols; Ichiro is a slap hitter whose sole purpose is to get on base by any means possible.
The Japanese import has been quite effective in the majors, but his approach at the plate is anything but all-American. Ichiro more or less throws his bat at the ball, turning his entire body in preparation for flight down the first-base line. It all looks rather spastic and wild, but in his prime, Ichiro was turning out OBP numbers around the .400 mark.
He took slap hitting to a whole new level and did it in a whole new way. It's ugly. But the outcome usually is not.
Speaking of ugly, here's Jason Kendall, proving that there's no bad time to choke up on a bat. My B/R colleague Rich Stowe reminded me of this one. We've all seen smaller players move their hands up the barrel in certain situations, but Kendall made a career out of it. I always wondered why he didn't just use a shorter bat.
Kendall's preferred technique was to leave the bottom three inches of the bat untouched as he leaned out over the plate. The way he hung there, crouched up and contorted, always looked a little out of whack to me.
But for the most part, his idiosyncrasies worked. Though his career has been marred by injuries, Kendall is a lifetime .288 hitter with a very solid OBP for a catcher.
Time for the reigning king of idiotic stances, Youkilis notwithstanding. No one in baseball looks as absurd as Counsell when he's awaiting a pitch. With the bat stretched out high over his head, he's almost on tiptoes in the batter's box.
No matter how many times I see it, I always wonder where he learned it, why he kept it and how he doesn't fall over more often.
If you look up awkward in the dictionary, there's a picture of Counsell. There's really not much more to say about it. Sometimes images speak for themselves.
This last one is, I admit, cheating. Braden is a pitcher, not a hitter—and pitchers, especially in the American League, can hardly be held to the same offensive standards as position players when it comes to mechanics or results.
Yet Braden goes so far as to give other hitting pitchers a bad name. He honestly looks like a statue. Or a Lally column with a bat. Or anything but a big league baseball player.
One would think that at some level of organized baseball, this guy would have learned to approximate a hitter's pose. Right?
This is just ridiculous.