Which pitch did 500 Home Run Club members prefer, and Why?
Hammerin’ Hank Aaron
Henry Aaron (shown in this 1957 picture with Ted Williams below) said the best way to hit the curve ball was not to miss the fastball. "Guessing what the pitcher is going to throw is eighty percent of being a successful hitter. The other twenty percent is just execution."
Of course guessing what the opposing pitcher would throw was easier for Aaron than for most MLB players, thanks to his incredible intelligence and baseball instinct. It also didn’t hurt that he had two of the quickest wrists in baseball history.
“I looked for the same pitch my whole career, a breaking ball, all of the time. I never worried about the fastball,” Hank said. “They couldn't throw it past me, none of them.”
And opposing pitchers concurred with his assertion: "Throwing a fastball to Henry Aaron is like trying to sneak the sun past a rooster." --- Curt Simmons, pitcher
"You have to hit the fastball to play in the big leagues,” said Ted Williams. “But my first rule of hitting is to get a good ball to hit,” Willliams said in his best-selling book, The Science of Hitting. “I learned down to percentage points where those good balls were.”
Ted considered pitches down the center of the plate from waist high to his fists on the bat to be in his “happy zone” - where he could hit .400 or better (see diagram in photo to right).
“There isn’t a hitter living who can hit a high ball as well as he can a low, or visa-versa, or outside as well as inside,” observed The Splendid Splinter. “Since some players are better high-ball hitters than low-ball hitters, or better outside than in; each batter should work out his own set of percentages,” he recommended. “But more important, each should learn the strike zone, because once pitchers find a batter is going to swing at bad pitches he will get nothing else.”
Ken Griffey, Jr.
As chronicled in the Pepsi commercial with Ken Griffey, Jr. and Sammy Sosa that debuted during the 2001 All-Star Game telecast, great hitters have claimed they see things at a different pace while at the plate. Thanks to their superhuman concentration and skill, 500 Home Run Club members like Griffey and Sosa had enough time to think about whether the pitch was a fastball, slider or ..."Hmmm... did I lock my keys in the car?" Certainly an exaggeration, but you get the point; great hitters see things so well they appear to be in slow motion.
Eddie Murray In 1973, as a rookie moving quickly up through the Orioles’ minor league system, “Steady Eddie” Murray encountered a hitting problem that has ended the professional career of many promising baseball players before they reach the major leagues – the curve ball. After hitting well over .300 in Rookie league and Double AA ball, Murray’s hitting fell to off to .264.
A natural switch-hitter, Murray had been coached to bat right-handed exclusively, and right handed pitchers were making him look sick with curve balls low and away.
Cal Ripken, Sr., who was serving as the Oriole’s troubleshooter in the minor leagues, encourage Murray to start switch-hitting again, just like he did in high school. As a result, those curve balls from the right-handers broke into him, instead of away, and he was able to reach them easier. Better yet, Ripken advised, he might start seeing more fast balls.
Over the next 14 days, Murray batting left handed against right-handers, rapped out ten hits in 31 times at bat for a .322 average…and the rest is 500 Home Run Club history.
Reggie Jackson “I didn’t worry about ‘What kind of pitch am I going to get’ or ‘Am I gonna have a good swing?’ I knew I was going to have the barrel of the bat in the pay zone if the guy threw me a strike,” said “Mr. October” Reggie Jackson, after hitting five home runs against the Dodgers in the 1977 World Series.
According to Jackson “It didn't matter if it was a fastball, changeup, curveball, slider. All I prayed for when I played in big games was, ‘Just throw me a strike, because I'm gonna have the barrel on time.’ I trusted my God-given skills. I didn't try to outthink myself.”
On the other hand, there were some fastball pitchers that Jackson would just as soon not face. "Every hitter likes fastballs just like everybody likes ice cream. But you don't like it when someone's stuffing it into you by the gallon. That's how you feel when (Nolan) Ryan's throwing balls by you,” he said in a June 1975 Newsweek interview.
Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Gibson Dishes on 500 Home Run Club members When asked which batter he would rather face [Sammy Sosa or Mark McGwire] during the 1998 “Great Homerun Chase” and how he would pitch to them, Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson said “I would see no need to come right at Sosa, because he swings at a lot of bad pitches. So I'd give him a lot of bad pitches, probably sliders down and away. McGwire's just the opposite. I'd go right at him with fastballs up and in, because he can’t lay off them and he can’t catch up to them.”
“I'm not so sure McGwire would be looking for 62 against me; he might be content to wait for the next guy,” said a self-confident Gibson. “I'd be pumped up enough to really run the ball up there, and I'm not giving any secrets away by saying that McGwire doesn't handle the hard stuff belt-high or up a little bit. In that respect, pitching to McGwire wouldn't be as tough as pitching to Hank Aaron or Willie Mays. There's no way I'd throw a fastball up and in to Hank Aaron.