The 25 Sweetest Swings in MLB History

Josh BenjaminCorrespondent IJanuary 16, 2012

The 25 Sweetest Swings in MLB History

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    My grandfather always told me that you could measure a hitter's potential by his swing.  Sure enough, when Derek Jeter (pictured) came along and showcased that signature inside-out move of his, the old man went crazy.

    Though that may just sound like a generic piece of baseball wisdom, it couldn't be more true.  Looking at the great hitters throughout the years, each one has had a swing that had its own unique little twist.  From Ted Williams' perfect movement to Vladimir Guerrero's freakish abilities with the stick, each of baseball's best hitters has had a swing that has more or less defined their careers.

    Thus, folks, let's dive right in and stir the debate pot.  Here are the 25 sweetest swings in MLB history, from the early days to the modern era.

25. Keith Hernandez

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    Keith Hernandez was never a truly dominating hitter at any point in his career.  He never hit more than 16 home runs in a season and only had over 200 hits in a year once.  Still, for a lefty-hitting first baseman, his swing was something to watch.

    I don't know what it was, but Hernandez's swing was just so smooth and full of finesse that it seemed odd for him not to hit for a high average.  Sure enough, he won the NL Batting Title with a .344 mark in 1979 and ended his career with a lifetime average of .296.

    He may not have been one of the most memorable hitters of his time, but that swing sure was pretty.

24. Mark Grace

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    Like Hernandez, Mark Grace wasn't what one would call a dominant hitter.  His power was average at best, and he never once reached the 100 RBI plateau.  Yet, considering how he posted an average of over .300 in nine of his 16 seasons to go with a career mark of .303, some respect must be given to his swing.

    At the plate, Grace's swing was almost cat-like.  Sometimes it was smooth and graceful, and other times it was lightning fast and attacking in nature.

    He may not have reached any major hitting milestones, but one thing was for sure: Grace's swing was a lot of fun to watch.

23. Paul Molitor

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    Paul Molitor was one of my favorite players growing up, and any time I played ball at the park with my friends or in the backyard with my family, I would try to imitate his swing.  His motion was much like Derek Jeter's today, except Molitor was able to pull the ball effectively as well as slap it.

    Whenever he took a swing, it was as though he tensed up in his arms and just hacked at the ball.  In a sense, how he swung the bat was how every baseball coach I've ever had told me not to do so.  Yet, with his .306 lifetime batting average and 3,319 career hits, Molitor must have been doing something right with that unconventional swing.

22. Alex Rodriguez

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    I don't care about all the haters he has, his recent injury history or the fact that he's the most overpaid player in baseball.  The fact remains that Alex Rodriguez is going to end his career as the all-time leader in home runs.  To date, he has hit .302 for his career and smacked 629 homers, and in a year or two, he'll have reached 3,000 hits.

    Simply put, the only way to describe Rodriguez's swing is pure strength.  He's a big man at 6'3", 230 pounds and even though he has had his share of struggles at the plate, you can't deny that he's always locked in focus.  When he finds a pitch he likes, the swing is definitely a moment to cherish.

21. Ryan Braun

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    Ryan Braun may not look like much of a hitter, but he's one of the best in the game today.  In just five seasons, he already has a .312 lifetime average.

    Simply put, if you're pitching to the man, be scared.  His swing is short and compact, but his wrists and hands are so powerful that the ball could go anywhere.  On top of that, Braun is constantly driving the ball.

    Even if he is found guilty of using an illegal substance, that won't keep me from being a fan of his.  Braun is still one of the most talented hitters in the game today, and with his athleticism and beautiful swing, it's hard to believe that he would even need PEDs of any kind.

20. Todd Helton

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    Say what you want about Todd Helton's offensive production being the product of the thin air at Coors Field.  The fact remains that his career numbers still wouldn't be what they are today if his swing weren't one of the most beautiful things on the face of the earth.

    I mean, come on.  Who's going to look at a .323 lifetime batting average, not to mention the fact that Helton has hit over .300 in 12 of his 15 seasons, and say that Coors Field gave him those numbers?  I understand why one may feel that way, but that production is no fluke.

    Simply put, the man's swing gives him an edge along with the thin air.

19. Chipper Jones

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    If you're going to be a switch-hitter in the majors, your swing had better be something special.  In Chipper Jones' case, special isn't a good enough word.  The 6'4" third baseman set a new standard for this particular category of hitter, and in 18 years, he has hit .304 with 454 home runs and 1,561 RBI.

    Jones just looks so poised and focused at the plate and his swing is so fluid that he can hit the ball anywhere, showing good power as well as ability to hit for average.  Oh, and let's not forget that he won the NL batting title with a .364 average in 2008, when he was 36 years old.

    Love him or hate him, you have to admit this much: Jones was and still is a wizard with swinging form despite his age.  Even last year, at age 39 and coming off a serious knee injury, he was still able to put up effective numbers.  If that isn't the product of a pretty swing, then I don't know what is.

18. Sammy Sosa

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    I don't care that most of his prime career years were helped by the use of steroids.  The fact is that if you watched baseball in the late '90s/early 2000s, you were a fan of Sammy Sosa.

    This guy's swing was just so strong and so perfect that every time he came up to bat, you inched forward in anticipation.  Whenever he hit a home run, you just had to wait for that little arch backward that he used to do, followed by the signature bunny hop.

    Even in the last couple of years of his career, when he was off steroids, Sosa's swing still was one of the best.  Playing at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington may have helped, but it's hard to argue that Sosa's form at the plate was something unique and special and something that the fans loved watching.

17. Stan Musial

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    When Stan "The Man" Musial first came up to the majors, I wouldn't at all be shocked if opposing pitchers and managers thought his hitting to be sub-par, given his unorthodox batting stance.  Instead of standing up straight-ish with the bat back, Musial hunched his upper back, kept the bat back and shimmied his front leg up just a bit.

    Yet, within this stance was a nasty swing that Musial rode all the way to the Hall of Fame.  In 22 seasons, Musial hit .331 with 3,630 career hits and took home seven NL batting titles to go with three MVP awards.  I don't know what it was about it, but his swing just gave him an edge that made him one of the game's most dangerous hitters.

16. George Brett

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    Easily the best man ever to put on a Kansas City Royals uniform, George Brett's swing could be defined in two words: old school.  Even for a lefty batter, he could hit the ball practically anywhere and was a legitimate home run threat too.  On top of that, Brett was the last hitter to come close to hitting .400 for a season when he hit .390 in 1980, the second of three batting titles he would win.

    Ultimately, he would finish his 21-year career with a .305 lifetime average to go with 3,154 hits and 317 home runs.  In the end, he rode that beautiful swing all the way to becoming a first-ballot Hall of Famer.

15. Rod Carew

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    By regular standards, Rod Carew's swing was not exactly pretty.  His stance was extremely awkward, and he always seemed to be hacking at the ball.

    Yet, given the results, it's hard to argue with the swing's sweetness.  From 1969 to 1978, Carew won seven batting titles and hit .344 over that stretch.  In a 19-year career, he hit .328 with 3,053 career hits compared to just 92 home runs.

    This type of hitter is rare in today's game, so Carew and his swing will forever give us a lasting reminder of what a pure hitter should look like.

14. Wade Boggs

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    I can only imagine what it must have been like for pitchers to face Wade Boggs in the 1980s.  The man's swing was so wrist oriented yet so strong, that each pitch thrown to him must have had a prayer behind it.  Unfortunately for the pitcher, most of these prayers went unanswered.

    Boggs and his flickish swing won five batting titles in six years, from 1983-1988.  Over that span, he hit an incredible .356.

    He would never win another batting title after that, but Boggs was a lock to hit over .300 even as he started to age.  He finished his career with a .328 lifetime batting average to go with 3,010 hits, and today he is remembered as one of the best contact hitters to ever play the game.

    Even with that unorthodox swing, Boggs found a way to make it look pretty and become a baseball legend.

13. Vladimir Guerrero

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    I don't know what it was about Vladimir Guerrero's swing, but it was just plain awesome.  No matter where the ball was, be it really low in the zone or way outside, this man could turn it into a base hit or even a long home run.

    Even crazier, the man did it without the aid of batting gloves.  He just did it on raw physical ability and incredible strength.

    Injuries may have robbed him of a potential membership to the 500 Home Run Club, but that doesn't matter.  The man's swing is still one of the best in baseball history and a .318 lifetime batting average with 449 home runs is still Cooperstown-worthy.

12. Will Clark

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    When your nickname in college is "The Natural," chances are that your swing is something special.  Such was the case for first baseman Will Clark, who garnered that nickname during his playing days at Mississippi State and as a member of the 1984 U.S. Olympic Team.

    Clark would eventually go on to spend 16 years in the majors with the San Francisco Giants, Texas Rangers, Baltimore Orioles and St. Louis Cardinals.  While injuries hampered him starting in the early '90s, the swing that made him famous in college still helped him to a successful stretch at the start of his career and as a whole.  From 1986-1991, Clark hit .302 with 146 home runs and 563 RBI.

    Ultimately, he would finish his career with a .303 lifetime average with 284 homers and 1,205 RBI.  One can only imagine what that swing would have done for him had he been able to stay healthy.

11. Mickey Mantle

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    As I mentioned before, switch-hitters in the majors need to bring something special to the table in order to make a mark.  Given that, Mickey Mantle might be the greatest switch hitter of all time.

    Mantle wasn't built like a power hitter at just 5'10" and maybe 180 pounds, but he took the game by storm once he became a regular in 1952.  By the time he retired in 1969, he had hit 536 home runs to go with a .298 lifetime batting average and also had seven World Series rings and three MVP trophies.

    Simply put, his swing was just so fast and powerful that his size was a mere facade.  He just did it all on pure ability and desire.  The crazy part is that Mantle was also one of the game's most injury-prone players, having played in 150-plus games just three times in an 18-year career.

    Who knows what he could have done if he had played regularly and never been injured?

10. Derek Jeter

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    In an era where so much emphasis has been put on offense and pulling the ball, Derek Jeter has done quite well for someone whose approach has him do the complete opposite.  The man's inside-out swing gives him tremendous ability to hit to the opposite field and in doing that, Jeter has become one of the best hitters of his generation.

    He's never had much power, but he just isn't that type of hitter.  Whenever he comes to bat, Jeter will find a way to get on base, be it via a walk or a single to right-center.

    In 17 years, he has a .313 lifetime batting average and recently became a member of the 3,000 hit club.  He may be getting old at age 37, but chances are that we'll be watching him work his magic with that swing for a few more years.

9. Roberto Clemente

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    My dad is a hardcore Pittsburgh Pirates fan, and if the topic of conversation ever gets to Roberto Clemente, he'll go on and on for at least 45 minutes.  After reading up on the man and watching some footage of him, I can see why Pirates fans love him so much.

    Like Mantle, Clemente was not a big guy, standing just 5'11" and weighing only 175 pounds.  Yet his swing was just so quick and powerful that he rode it all the way to four batting titles and a .317 career average to go with exactly 3,000 hits.

    His career may have ended prematurely, but one thing is for sure: Clemente's swing was one of the best and if you were pitching to him, chances were he would win the battle.

8. Ichiro Suzuki

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    Even before he came to the majors in 2001, Ichiro Suzuki's swing was getting him a lot of press in his native Japan.  In nine years spent with the Orix BlueWave, the man had hit .353 and also showed great power at times.

    Though he more or less abandoned the power hitting upon becoming the Seattle Mariners' leadoff man in 2001, his rookie year, Ichiro still made a name for himself as one of the most dangerous hitters in Major League Baseball.  In his first season, he won the AL batting crown with a .353 average, led the majors with 242 hits and 56 steals and became just the second player to win both Rookie of the Year and MVP in the same season.

    Simply put, with his tight swing that lets him slap the ball to any part of the field, Ichiro is a force to be reckoned with.  He's only been in the majors for 11 years, but he has a .326 lifetime batting average to go with 423 steals and 2,428 career hits.

    Given how he doesn't seem to be showing any signs of slowing down, we'll be seeing his swing for a long time.

7. Hank Aaron

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    When you're the only real home run king (yes, I'm asterisking Barry Bonds) with 755 career longballs and the all-time leader with 2,297 RBI, chances are you have a swing that's pretty awesome.  Such is the case with Hank Aaron, whose powerful hands earned him two batting titles and four NL home run crowns.

    Yet Aaron was more than just a home run hitter.  Believe it or not, he was good at getting on base too.  In 23 seasons, he had an astounding 3,771 career hits.

    If that number isn't the result of a beautiful swing, then I don't know what is.

6. Tony Gwynn

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    Tony Gwynn's MLB career lasted 20 years, and he hit .300 or better in 19 of them.  His swing was just so compact and so perfect that you just knew something special was going to happen whenever he stepped up to the plate.  For his career, Gwynn hit .338.

    On top of that, had it not been for the unfortunate players' strike that wiped out much of the latter half of the 1994 season, chances are we may have seen Gwynn hit .400.  By the time the players went on strike, he was hitting .394.

    Throw in eight batting titles and 3,141 career hits, and Gwynn's swing is definitely one of the best.

5. Ty Cobb

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    Say what you want about Ty Cobb's controversial behavior as a player or the fact that he was a Grade A jerk off the field.  The fact remains that Ty Cobb was one of the best players in the history of the game, if not the best.

    He's the all-time leader in career batting average with a mark of .366, won 11 batting titles and finished his 24-season career with 4,189 hits (2nd all-time) and 897 career steals.

    Simply put, you don't put up those kinds of numbers and not have a sweet swing.

4. Pete Rose

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    I'm not going to get into a debate about his Hall-of-Fame eligibility, but the fact is that Pete Rose should be there.  He's the all-time leader in hits with 4,256 and has a .303 lifetime average to go with three World Series rings. Since he has been open about the fact that he bet on baseball during his playing/managing days, it's time to let him in.

    Anyway, back to his swing.  Rose was one of few switch-hitters who brought something special to the lineup, as he did anything he could to get on base and help his team win.  In doing this, he earned the nickname "Charlie Hustle."

    Even though he got banged up playing that hard, Rose still managed to play through the pain and work some magic with his swing, hitting the ball to all areas of the field.  Not to go back to the Cooperstown comments, but it's time to give that swing its due recognition.

3. Joe DiMaggio

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    He may have had a great advantage in playing for the New York Yankees during the heyday of their dominance, but Joe DiMaggio was still a phenomenal hitter with an even more phenomenal swing.  He was just a master at getting on base, finishing his 13 seasons with a .325 lifetime average and in 6,821 at-bats, the man struck out just 369 times.

    Oh, and let's not forget the record 56-game hitting streak he had in 1941.  Throw in the 361 career home runs and two batting titles, and this swing is easily one of the best.

2. Ted Williams

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    Considering how he basically missed five seasons to serve in the military during World War II and the Korean War, the fact that Ted Williams still managed to put up the numbers he did in his career is pretty amazing.  In 19 years, the man won six batting titles and two MVP awards, finishing his career with a .344 lifetime average.  On top of that, he also had 521 career home runs and 2,654 career hits.

    Williams is also the all-time leader in on-base percentage (.482) and was the last player to hit .400 or better in a single season, when he hit .406 in 1941 at age 22.  With his career stats, it's pretty safe to say that his swing was one of the smoothest in the game.

1. Ken Griffey Jr.

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    Even though his Seattle Mariners eliminated my beloved New York Yankees in the 1995 playoffs, I'm not ashamed to say that I was happy for my favorite player, Ken Griffey Jr.  The man was just the epitome of cool among baseball players in the 1990s, and kids everywhere wanted to be him.  In my case, I taught myself how to bat left-handed just so I could imitate his beautiful home run swing.

    Injuries ultimately derailed the career of a man who easily could have been the all-time leader in home runs, but Griffey will still end up in Cooperstown and probably have an entire wing dedicated to his work with the bat.  In 22 seasons, he hit .284 with 630 home runs and led the AL in that category four times.  In 1997, he won the AL MVP Award.

    Still not convinced?  Well, then I pose you this challenge: Ask any baseball fan which player, specifically throughout the 1990s, had the best swing.

    I guarantee that at least 9 out of 10 will name Griffey as that player.