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There are good hitters, there are great hitters, and there is The Hitter. Ted Williams is the gold standard when it comes to honing and crafting a swing. While there were other hitters who put up better statistics or had better raw physical tools, there is no one who could more accurately be described as the physical embodiment of what it meant to be a hitter. Let’s take a moment to appreciate the pure genius that was Williams’ swing.

It’s not like Williams is the only elite hitter in baseball history, yet his swing has been in a league of its own, one that has been much celebrated over time. How did the smooth stroke of Teddy Ballgame attain this status? There are two main factors that stand out to me. The first is Ted was vocal in the fact that he actively worked on his swing, that was something to which the general public could relate. Here was a man who didn’t just luck into the genetics to hit the cover off the ball, Williams was just a regular person who needed to put in the time and effort to find success. Thus, his process was relatable to the public.

The second factor that has kept Williams atop the hitting mountain is the idea that his swing (just like his process) was relatable to the average person. A typical person watching baseball when Williams was playing was lucky enough to watch a slew of tremendous hitters that seemed almost super human in the way they swung the bat. Mickey Mantle could hit from both sides of the plate and swing harder than just about anybody. Stan Musial had that crazy stance that only he could pull off. Joe DiMaggio was so smooth that it was almost unfair. There was something about all the swings of all the elite hitters around Williams that made their swings seem unattainable.

Williams swing differed from his peers in that it looked like something you could learn. He had a nice relaxed stance and even had a bit of a “hitch” when he first got started. Remember the one thing your coach said you should never do? Step in the bucket. Williams did that once in a while. He was dominating big-league pitching in a way that allowed the public to imagine themselves doing the same.

Of course nobody can really replicate that swing, and that’s the beauty of Williams. Parts of his swing looks like something you could accomplish, but the end result is something only Teddy Ballgame can know.

Starting with his feet about shoulder width apart and hands held low, Williams takes a small stride out to the ball with his left foot. Look at all the little movements going on in this sequence. What looks like one small movement (the stride) encompasses a handful of other movements that are so seamlessly blended together you don’t even notice them.

Watch his stride again. As soon as his foot starts, the rest of his body is positioning itself. Before his foot touches the ground, he has coiled his hips inward just a tiny bit. His bat has gone from its vertical starting position close to his body to a more angled alignment further from his body. Like his bat, his body has gone from a nearly vertical posture to a more tilted posture at foot strike. His front foot has changed orientation going from nine o’clock (imagine a clock face laid over home plate) to somewhere around 11 o’clock. Even though his foot has rotated slightly, his hips are still primed and ready to fire.

Even with all these movements going on does his swing look busy or rushed? Not in the least. Everything is timed out so well that all these moves just blend into the overall aesthetic of his swing. It’s art.

Once his foot lands, art gives way to violence. The side view of his of swing is picturesque. The moment when he turns the end of the bat from pointing skyward to getting the bat nearly parallel to the ground is perfection. Obviously his hands are helping this movement happen, but they are not the only actors involved in this time frame of his swing.

Using the side and back view, we see the relationship between the angle of his bat and his shoulders. There are three items to watch here: His bat, his back arm, and his front shoulder. They all move in perfect harmony. As his bat begins to flatten out, his back arm starts to turn over. While it turns, it maintains that ‘L’ shape and prevents the bat from casting away from his body. His front shoulder is also turning and angling up just a bit. Look how little his hands have really moved. He uses the much bigger muscles through his back and shoulders, saving his hands for the moment of truth in his swing.

In his lower half, his hips are rotating well before contact. As he turns through the hips, the big muscles in his legs are pulling his back knee forward and forcing his heel to release from the ground. While his hips are going, his upper body is active as well. His shoulders are rotating with his perfectly timed upper half. Watch his back elbow and front shoulder. When his back elbow starts to turn and go forward, his front shoulder is an active dance partner. The back elbow turns and fires in synchronization with the front shoulder turning. Nothing is moving in a vacuum in his swing. His timing is perfect.

His path to the ball is just like his timing, perfect. There is an uppercut in his swing, but it’s done in the easiest, most repeatable way possible. Instead of selling out for extra tilt or trying to manipulate his body, he simply positions the barrel in the perfect spot. Look at these three points: front elbow, hands, and barrel. Look at where those points are the instant before contact.

Front elbow: above ball

Hands: slightly above ball

Barrel: slightly below ball

Hitting coaches have had a tendency to go a bit overboard with bat path. Many grew up hearing swing down on the ball. Nowadays, the pendulum has swung the other way. I love the fact there is the constant search for knowledge. The problem is Williams set the standard for bat path 60 years ago and could have saved all of us some time.

At contact, Williams has gotten every bit of energy from his swing into the ball. How can we be sure of this? Look at the big muscle groups in his legs and back. Prior to contact, they are active movers in the swing, but post contact their activity is essentially a support role. His back knee doesn’t keep driving forward after he hits the ball, his hips were already fully rotated, and even his upper half is done creating force. Yes, his shoulders rotate after contact, but that’s due to the mass of the bat continuing its path and Williams not wanting to hit the brakes on his swing.

Even the follow through of his swing is awesome. His shoulders keep rotating while his hips have stopped, this was a flexible human being. His arms end up in a textbook position. His top arm has cleared his body and looks like it could put him into a chokehold, while his bottom arm is in a solid 90 degree angle.

Williams’ swing is the gold standard for swings and with good reason. There are so many small moves that occur in his swing that are tough to notice because everything is timed out so precisely. Teddy Ballgame crafted a swing that has gone down in history as the best of all time, and it’s not likely anyone will be coming for that title any time soon.

Thank you for reading

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I saw Ted Williams play. I saw him hit a mammoth home run over the deep center field wall in Griffith Stadium in the 1960 Presidential Opener. The Splendid Splinter's round-tripper was the only run given up by Camilo Pascual as the Nats won 10-1.

Fifty-five years later, seeing Ted Williams hit a home run remains on of my biggest baseball thrills.

I heard that game on the radio from my hometown in Maine.
Ted always said his swing was a push and most hitters, including Mantle, pull their hands through the ball.
"Williams was just a regular person who needed to put in the time and effort to find success."

I can't tell, but I'm assuming you mean that was the public's perception of him at the time, right? Because his vision (fighter pilot) and (IIRC) reflexes (world-class angler) were extraordinary and legendary.

I don't know if I've said this here before, but his "The Science of Hitting" made me into a much better hitter than I had any right being. Although I still wasn't very good.
Good call. Sorry I didn't make that clear. The public perception angle is the one I was going for.
I saw Williams play quite a few times and many visits to Fenway were simply to see Ted's four AB's. I got a chance years later to have lunch with him when he was representing Sears as a fishing consultant. When he entered the room his outsized personality dominated all conversation as he spoke with equal facility on fly-fishing, flying during two wars,(our HS principal was a fighter pilot) and, of course, hitting a baseball. I had memorized his book as I was in the midst of a coaching career and he gravitated a bit to me, all the while testing me with questions to see if I was worthy of conversation. It was exhilarating.

I can say this with certainty. If Ryan Parker had shown up that day and presented this piece to Ted, none of us would have had a chance to talk. He would have loved this brilliant analysis and he and Ryan would have been off in some corner with an animated Ted sifting over each detail.

Bravo! Fabulous piece, Ryan.
This might be my favorite comment ever. Thank you for the kind words!
Possibly dumb thing, but, isn't the stride with his right foot, not his left?
Good catch. Been writing about too many righties lately.
The way he pops his hips through the end of the swing reminds me of Joey Bats. Or I guess I should say it the other way around?
I keep wishing that Brandon Belt would learn to complete his swing as Williams does in these gifs, but I don't think he ever will. FWIW, I think Barry Bonds swing was even better than Williams.
I love these articles, and reading (and seeing) the breakdown is a treat.

I think it would be interesting to compare the swings of the some of the old-timers to players of today. Mantle and Stanton, Reggie and Harper, DiMaggio and Cabrera. Just a thought.

Brilliant piece Ryan! For a modern player, scouts have suggested Mike Trout's swing is almost "slump proof" due to it's simplicity. (I think I read that here on BP).

I know you're not taking requests, but I'd love this type of analysis to continue. Maybe even a Trout breakdown at some point?

Thanks Ryan, again, well done.
Barry Bond's swing reminds me of Teddy Ballgame. He had that hitch and economy of movement. Their swing ended differently but seemed pretty similar up to the point of contact.
As for the caption, why would you think nobody reading this site ever saw Ted Williams? I did, in Kansas City in the late 1950's, first major league game I ever saw. We were sitting down the left field line and The Spendid Splinter played left field. There was a rain delay we had to wait out and then the sun came out brilliantly and there was Williams what seemed like a few yards away. It was like God appeared.
Things I noticed: first, his toe tap is barely discernable. Charley Lau wrote that Williams was a front leg hitter and had a big wright shift but that doesn't appear to be the case. Second, he finishes high. That's common now, but there was a long stretch in the 70s and 80s when everyone -- even Mike Schmidt -- finished with the bat level at the shoulder. This is great stuff.
In the middle video with the first base side view he's almost doing a no stride, but I also notice that this is an older Ted Williams than in the other videos. Even though the stride is short he does seem to get all of his weight into the front leg by kind of rocking down on it. Another thing I notice, in the last video where he's hitting the low pitch, is that his swing is actually a perfect golf swing in that instance.
The contrast from the first and second GIFs in Williams' weight and build is staggering.
Great article Ryan ! See you in May