Spooky at the Bat
A much-needed critique of the batting styles of America's favorite comic-book characters.
You can tell a lot about someone by the way they carry themselves in the batter's box. Aggressive? Tentative? Clever? Traits will out in subtle and not-so-subtle ways. Here is an overview of the stances and batting strategies of some players renowned and obscure, complete with an assessment of their chances for success using the styles they have chosen for themselves. (Next week, we'll examine pitching and defense.)
Felix the Cat
Felix is very open; he starts with his foot deep in the bucket. Years ago, Brian Downing proved this can work, but the stance is moot if you're so unfocused you don't realize a beaver is sneaking up behind you with a stepladder.
Winnie the Pooh
The bear has pretty good form. He's a straight-up hitter, weight equally spread to either foot. It's also clear he's not afraid to take a pitch he doesn't think he can drive, although it might serve him better to swing at everything when the umpire has such obvious ties to an opponent.
The most important thing Ms. Duck needs to learn is to keep the bat still. You can tell from the motion lines above the top of the barrel that she's a waggler. Unless you've got the bat speed of Gary Sheffield, all but the slowest pitchers are going to make you pay for this.
Frosty utilizes what is probably the most closed batting stance in baseball history. His back is turned completely toward the pitcher. Can it work? We don't know. Nobody's ever tried it before. One thing we do know: Opposing managers are going to stack their defense down the right-field line and Frosty's going to be hard-pressed to find any gaps.
Porky's got an open stance with his weight back a bit. He's also up on his hooves, which is probably not the best method for driving the ball. Some very great players have excelled with greater quirks than that, though, which brings us to Porky's real problem: focus. If you're going to get that thousand-yard stare every time an opponent says something about your heritage or pulls some bush-league stunt to distract you, they'll be putting you on the Greyhound home. At one time, Porky had an Ichiro Suzuki-like leg kick:
It's an approach he might want to consider going back to.
Aside from pointing out the obvious - that Tubby needs to spend more time in the gym and less in the woodshop, creating crude Frankenbats - would this even work? What kind of wood is that? Because unless it's a variety with a lot of backbone, like ebony or teak, it's going to be cracked right off by any decent fastball. And shouldn't Tubby have countersunk those nails? What happens when a pitch hits one of them? The chicanery needs to take place in the interior of the bat, not the exterior.
...Which is not to condone doctoring bats. Here's someone who, given his track record with purpose-designed devices, could probably doctor up a helluva bat. Not that Batman would get away with it in this instance, given the umpire's Kryptonian eyesight. Batman's got a standard stance, at least from the right side. He's much more crouched when batting left-handed and is not afraid to keep the bat on his shoulder when the situation calls for that.
Audrey Smith is quite closed and also carries herself with a combination of menace and disinterest - wiggling her bat and keeping her eyes shut, as if to say to the pitcher, "You are not worthy of my sight." Furthermore, she is obviously not above playing head games, such as, in this case, with long-time nemesis right hander Melvin Wisenheimer. Given his unsettled appearance, it's working.
Scouts love Blue Bolt. They're fighting for contract-signing space at Mom Bolt's kitchen table. He's got the good body and the good face, and he makes a uniform look good. But check out that follow-through - it almost seems like he ran up on the ball. Can you finish on your front foot like that and hope to compete against baseball's upper echelons?
Peter the Little Pest
There is no denying that Peter has some skills, but when opponents catch on to his free-swinging act, he'll never see another good pitch as long as he lives. It's also not a good idea to play angry. Trying to kill the ball will only kill your chances for success.
Case in point: Donald Duck. He's so riled up that he's let his mechanics go to ruin. His footwork is confused and he's even hitting cross-handed. Why? Because he goes up to the plate with a chip on his shoulder. That's a recipe for failure, right there.
The fan makes an excellent point in the specific (that Superman is no Mantle) and an even better point in general: A good physique is not going to overcome poor mechanics. Superman's ass is halfway to the dugout while taking this swing. You can't drive anything that way, even with the above-average strength he possesses. Clearly, the curve ball has joined Kryptonite on the short list of holes in Supes' game -- which is why it's so silly to challenge him with heat the way this pitcher did...
-- even if he did manage to jam him and saw off his bat.