The Hit List
I thought that in light of the Cubs hiring of a new hitting coach this past week, it would be appropriate to post something about hitting, in this case a book by Ted Williams.
I saw the name of the primary author (Ted Williams) and knew I was gonna have to look at this one. It’s titled “Ted Williams’ Hit List – The Ultimate Ranking of Baseball’s Greatest Hitters”. The authors are Ted Williams and Jim Prime. It was published in 1996.
I could describe this as an “un-sabermetric” work. Although metrics such as OBP, Slugging Percentage, et al. are included, this is really about Ted Williams’ eyes and his gut reactions, coupled with his love for the art of hitting.
Hank Aaron is quoted at the top of the inside front jacket cover: “Ted loves talking about hitting and he knows what he’s talking about.”
Ted Williams himself opens the book with these words: “The prime interest of my life is baseball, and to me the heart of baseball is hitting….Mays and Aaron and DiMaggio rank high as all-round players. They could do it all on the basepath and in the field – but don’t forget one thing: All those guys were great hitters, and if they couldn’t have hit nobody would have ever heard of them.”
Mr. Williams continues: “I truly feel that the technique of hitting has – in my eyes – deteriorated over the last 35 or 40 years. I see that gradual decline and it concerns me. I see hitters not taking advantage of the pitch; hitters not hitting according to the type of pitcher they’re hitting against; hitters not compensating for different styles of pitching, different kinds of deliveries. I see hitters not hitting according to the count; hitters not hitting according to the wind and other conditions; hitters not hitting according to the dimensions of the ballpark. Hitters apparently not even realizing what they did the last time at bat! And on and on.”
Ted Williams ranks the top 25 hitters (in his opinion) with 3 or 4 page write ups on each. He follows that with an “Honorable Mention” of a few who almost make the list.
Rogers Hornsby ranks #4 on Ted’s all-time best hitters list. “…he averaged an incredible .402 over a five-year span, and in 1924 he achieved the highest average in the modern history of the game, hitting .424. His .358 lifetime mark is second only to Ty Cobb’s .367, but unlike Cobb over in the American League, Hornsby also featured power in his offensive arsenal. In fact, he led the National League in homers on two separate occasions and hit over 300 round-trippers throughout his career.”
– “And Hornsby was a smart hitter too. He gave me the most positive advice when I asked him, “What do I have to do to become a great hitter?” He couldn’t have been nicer, and I’ll always have a warm spot in my heart for him. Hornsby’s advice was this: “Get a good ball to hit.”
– “I’ve read that Hornsby was so completely dedicated to hitting that he avoided movies and reading for fear that they would detract from his sharp eye at the plate.”
“In the late ‘50s, a baseball old-timer was asked by a young sportswriter how the immortal Georgia Peach, Ty Cobb, might fare in today’s “new and improved” game. “Oh, he’d probably hit about .320 or so,” allowed the old man. “Is that all?” shrugged the reporter. “That’s not so great.” “Maybe not, came the reply, “but you’ve got to remember he’s 73 years old.”
Speaking of Shoeless Joe Jackson, whom he admired immensely, Ted says: “He still led everybody in batting in the 1919 World Series. He hit .375 and had a good Series and all the rest of it. If he was trying to throw the Series, he did a damn poor job of it.”
Speaking about Henry Aaron and Willie Mays, Ted says: “While Aaron seemed content with being the consummate ballplayer, Mays was also the consummate performer, always drawing the spotlight. They were like two sides of the same coin. You could say that Aaron had a flair for consistency while Mays had a consistent flair.”
About Tris Speaker (#13 on the list): “He struck out a total of 220 times in his 22-year career. Hell, that’s ten times a season. Some players do that in a week.”
On the subject of Hack Wilson: “His record 190 RBIs in ‘30 stands with DiMaggio’s 56-game hit streak and Maris’ 61 home run season as marks that stand beyond the reach of mere mortals. In that same year, Wilson batted .356 and powered 56 home runs, a National League record. If he had been able to sustain, or even approach that pace for a few more years, he would have eclipsed Babe Ruth as the nation’s #1 sporting icon. Unfortunately, after attaining this hitters’ Everest, it was all downhill for Hack Wilson.”
– “His downfall was alcohol, which he is said to have consumed in prodigious quantities. Some wags of his day say that he was a lowball hitter and a highball drinker.”
While speaking about Albert Belle we are reminded: “One of the guidelines for MVP selection is “General character, disposition, loyalty and effort,” and apparently he was found wanting in this regard.”
Our coauthor, Jim Prime, proclaims in the introduction to this book “There was never anything phony about Ted. He was always brutally honest with the press and with fans.” That description applies to this entire book as well. Brutally honest. Too little of that going around these days.