Of our major sports, baseball is the one with the strongest embrace of quirks and individuality. Football is so uniform that you can’t take your helmet off while on the field. Basketball lets you tattoo your forehead, but running a pick and roll every 24 seconds is the definition of robotic. Baseball allows any sort of crazy dance or superstition as long as you get the job done. The batting stance has long been the Cadillac of the player’s repertoire. It’s their one moment to stand apart from the team and strut. Only wrestlers and the President have more grandiose entrances.
The build up is deserved because the real show starts when a player enters the batter’s box. Here is where they whip out their personal stamp on the game. Part Broadway dance routine and part long lost tribal dance, the batting stance is a highly personal beast. If great enough it can end up as a player’s calling card long after they have left the diamond. In no particular order here are some of the player’s whose names keep on popping up when the topic is quirky hitters.
When I mentioned this column to people I was surprised by the amount of Tettleton love out there. His stance involved holding the bat horizontal and almost hiding half his body from the pitcher. I enjoyed his cameo in Little Big League, but that wasn’t close to the performance he put on in the box. It was a stance made even more famous when Cal Ripken tried it out, but Tettleton was the player who made lazy bat handling famous.
Batista was the Usher of open stance batting. His final swing involved facing the pitcher before haphazardly stepping back to swing. Boy was it fun to watch. He was taking an extremely difficult job and making it harder. That always makes for great TV. My favorite Batista incarnation was when he was a Montreal Expo. His swing perfectly matched the bizarre vibe at that aging stadium.
Juan Gone was a good representation of how the Hulk might have stood if he played baseball. Of course the Hulk eventually changes back into a normal man, but Juan had until his next cycle ran out before that was a problem. His giant arms hung over the plate as if to warn off pitchers. I’m also very afraid of him, so let me state what a quality career he had. Hear that Juan, I think you’re great. Please don’t smash me.
People suffering from OCD–and by the look of reality TV that means most of us–found their hero in Nomar. He swung at so many first pitches because it was exhausting to keep that whole routine going. The body twitching was just an opening act for his glove work. The Velcro straps on his gloves were pulled and retightened with all the drama of Shakespeare. The man never seemed to have gloves that fit. If your accountant was this fidgety you might consider closing your account.
Sheffield created the ultimate whiffle ball swing. Players had twitched the bat before, but he waggled the bat so hard it danced in front of his helmet lip. Nothing makes a terrible hitter feel better than by adding on the Sheffield bat twitch. As he got older the bat waggle grew in concert with his gold necklaces until both weighed him down.
Counsell’s stance took from ideas first handed out in kindergarten. He’d step into the box and reach as high as he could on his tippy toes. The bat floated above to add height. It’s the same approach to take in the wild when confronted with predators. A small guy like Counsell needs to make himself bigger. He made sure to get on those toes and reach into the sky. He took standing on your toes all the way to a World Series.
Not many players have a stance that combines pilates and intimidation. Ichiro makes pointing a bat down the line seem like a deep shoulder stretch. He’s a guava protein shake away from an intro zumba class. The actual swing seems secondary to the burst of speed Ichiro gets out of the box. During his all-star years the man was the master of the infield single due to that motion. The Ichiro playing on the Yankees is just a copy of the original master cut.
Was there ever a more nonchalant batter than Zeile? He just looked eternally bored out there like some MLB Eeyore. His bat rested on his shoulder as if he was taking a little league photo. He was a competent player, but his batting stance left you worried he’d taken too many Ambien the night before. He drove Met fans crazy, and that is always deserving of being on a list.