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Written by Jim Rednour   
Saturday, 01 November 2008

500 HR Club Members Tell Us What It’s Like To Be “In The Zone” At The Plate Experienced hitters, such as the members of The 500 Home Run Club®, are (were) experts at reading the pitcher’s tendencies in order to gain an advantage by anticipating the type of pitch that was traveling the 60 feet 6 inches from the mound to home plate.

In a typical baseball game, batters will gain an advantage over the pitcher with each consecutive at bat; as they begin to tip their pitches to their opponents.  But when facing the game’s greatest hitters, such as Hank Aaron, Ted Williams and Ernie Banks, and their contemporaries Alex Rodriguez, Ken Griffey, Jr. and Manny Ramirez, opposing pitchers are (were) at a distinct disadvantage from the first pitch of the game.

And, many great hitters have observed that, once they step(ped) into the batter’s box, everything slows down and you block out the crowd noise and you can see every nuance of the pitcher’s delivery…so you know exactly what’s coming.

Ernie Banks says that he studied each pitcher and knew what they were going to throw in a sequence before they even threw it. “Hitting, for me, started in the head and worked its way down to my wrists.  I knew in my mind what each pitcher’s strongest pitch was, his routine, pattern and delivery so well that I pretty much knew what to expect at the plate.  Sometimes they surprised me, but not too often.”

Likewise, Mark McGwire attributes his success at the plate with studying the mechanics and timing of opposing pitchers’ deliveries.  “I studied pitchers. I visualized their pitches. That (gave) me a better chance every time I stepped into the box,” Big Mac said.  “That doesn't mean (I was) going to get a hit every game, but that's one of the reasons I’ve come a long way as a hitter.”

A few batters, such as Hammerin’ Henry Aaron, possessed such a rare combination of reflexes and bat speed that few, if any pitchers could blow one past them.   “I never worried about the fastball. They couldn't throw it past me, none of them,” Hank said. “I looked for the same pitch my whole career, a breaking ball.” 

During his prime, when he was pursuing and eventually passing Babe Ruth’s record, Aaron was so feared by American League pitchers that he was often pitched around, even with the opposing Eddie Mathews following him in the line up.  “I don't see pitches down the middle anymore - not even in batting practice,” he quipped, but he never let pitchers’ head games break his concentration at home plate.  “Guessing what the pitcher is going to throw is eighty percent of being a successful hitter. The other twenty percent is just execution.”

Others, like Frank Robinson, employed unbridled bravado to out duel pitchers. “Pitchers did me a favor when they knocked me down. It made me more determined,” said the Baltimore Hall-of-Famer.  “I wouldn't let that pitcher get me out. They say you can't hit if you're on your back, but I didn't hit on my back. I got up.”

“The Killer” Harmon Killebrew terrorized his opponents with his physical prowess and demeanor at the plate. “I didn't have evil intentions, but I guess I did have power,” he observed, likewise, Babe Ruth bulled his way through opposing pitcher with sheer intimidation and perseverance. “You just can't beat the person who never gives up.  So don't let the fear of striking out hold you back,” Ruth was overheard telling his younger teammates.  “Every strike brings me closer to the next home run.”

And, like everything he did in life, The Bambino swung for the fence with each and every cut. “If I'd just tried for them dinky singles I could've batted around .600,” he laughed. When someone asked Ruth how he hit so many home runs, he said: “I swing as hard as I can, and I try to swing right through the ball. The harder you grip the bat, the more you can swing it through the ball, and the farther the ball will go. I swing big, with everything I've got. I hit big or I miss big. I like to live as big as I can."

When asked the same question, Willie Mays took the time to build a social comment that reflected his easy-going personality and ease at home plate into his response “It's not hard. When I'm not hitting, I don't hit nobody. But when I'm hitting, I hit anybody.”  A natural in all phases of the game, Mays kept things simple throughout his career: “They throw the ball, I hit it. They hit the ball, I catch it.”

But, no one was more single minded in his approach at the plate than Mickey Mantle, who summed up his hitting style in a few words: “Somebody once asked me if I ever went up to the plate trying to hit a home run. I said, 'Sure, every time.'

Mike Schmidt is known as one of the hardest working third basemen the game has ever seen, and he was proud of it. "If you could equate the amount of time and effort put in mentally and physically into succeeding on the baseball field and measured it by the dirt on your uniform, mine would have been black."

 





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