“Like so many other businesses, baseball tolerates the unconventional so long as you’re getting hits.”
Isn’t that the truth.
Just look at how controversial defensive shifts were until they were proven effective.
Shawn’s book and approach to hitting is definitely unconventional and absolutely fascinating.
What I like about this book is that it challenges you, gets you thinking there may be other ways to success than the path you’re following.
TONS of great info in this book, summarizing was tough (get a copy of the book here).
Let’s dive in!
Meditation is not about training oneself to live without thoughts; rather it is about training oneself to move beyond thought.
Yeah, Shawn Green is deep.
As a young player in Toronto, a clash with coaches over his hitting style led to him being banished to tee drills only.
He never would have guessed that it would change his career:
“At first, I took my swings at the tee with the same angry and fearful thoughts that had swirled in my head that first day. I can see now that I initiated my tee work merely as a way to get loose and for a chance to parade my ego a little.
However, four or five days into it something changed. I began to enjoy it. After the first fifteen or so swings, my mind would quiet and the swings would start to feel more fluid. I began to enjoy the 20-30 minutes I spent at the tee every day, even developing a routing of moving the tee to different places in the strike zone. I would visualize game situations and pretend I was facing all of the pitchers that I was currently being forced to merely watch from the distance of my seat in the dugout. I began to notice the sound of the ball swishing against the back net, like a perfectly shot basketball. I even made a ritual of placing the ball onto the tee the same way every time. My breathing became rhythmic: inhaling as I put the ball on the tee, holding my breath as I got in my stance, and exhaling as I took my swing. What was happening here? My tee work had started out as a form of punishment, yet suddenly it felt like something else, something more than just a hitting exercise.
Was it becoming a meditation?”
“Stillness” and “Awareness” are two concepts Shawn talks about in great detail.
His time on the tee allowed for stillness to come to his mind (quieting the internal chatter) and through that stillness became more aware of his present moment (how his body felt, the tee itself, surroundings, etc).
2. Hitting Mechanics – Fixing His Problems
Perhaps as a result of stillness and awareness, Shawn seemed to have a better grasp than most on what his strengths and weaknesses from a mechanical standpoint.
One thing I appreciated about this book is that Shawn spent zero time lecturing to the reader about how everyone should hit, he merely discusses how *he* hit.
Shawn understands hitting is not one size fits all and is just sharing what worked well for him.
I love that.
At age 25 Shawn finally confronted the negative tendencies in his swing which had been with him since Little League: an imperfect stride, hand position and shoulder rotation.
Ideally, a hitter wants a short stride, so his swing can be quicker, providing extra milliseconds to judge the pitch.
The catch, however, is that it is usually that extra length of swing that provides power.
My former teammate Paul Molitor had no stride. He just picked up his front heel and put it back down.
This made his swing extremely efficient and contributed to his amassing more than three thousand hits in a Hall of Fame career, but he didn’t hit many home runs.
On the other hand, Reggie Jackson had a big stride and big swing, striking out often but hitting more than five hundred home runs in his Hall of Fame career. Only the very best all around hitters in each generation, guys like Barry Bonds and Albert Pujols, have the ability to take short, quick strides and still have home run power. I could never do that. The goal for me was to find a happy medium.
“Complicating the problem was that I tended to step toward home plate rather than toward the pitcher, which is know as diving in.
Instinctively, I was better able to read the pitch by moving my head and eyes toward the plate; however, this misdirection brought every pitch closer than necessary to my body, which made it harder for me to put the barrel of the bat on the ball because I lacked the space to get to inside strikes.
Meantime, pitches over the middle felt as if they were on the inside corner, meaning the only pitch I could hit truly well was the one on the outside part of the plate. And Major League pitchers very quickly get stingy with putting pitches in the location you prefer.”
Problems 2 & 3:
Hand Position & Shoulder Rotation:
My other two unhealthy tendencies were both related to the loading of my upper body for an aggressive swing.
Most hitters push their hands and bat back as they stride for the ensuing swing. An analogy is the act of throwing a punch. The first move is to cock one’s arm back before thrusting the fist forward to create the blow. The farther back the fist is loaded, the more power in the punch.
However, the farther back the loading, the longer the time the punch takes to be delivered. As a hitter, I brought my hands back as far as they would go, to the extent that my right arm was no longer bent. In hitting, this is referred to as barring out the front arm.
Additionally, I rotated my right shoulder too far toward home plate in an attempt to generate more bat speed by coiling backward. I’d developed these habits of overextension as a child, simply by trying to hit the baseball harder.
Unfortunately, they’d accompanied me all the way to the big leagues.”
You can see the compromise on he had to find:
Strong and Long vs. Efficient and Short.
Fixing the problems:
I began to see my three swing issues in a new light that off-season. One day, it hit me. I had always viewed the challenges in my swing as three separate issues and had tried to fix each problem on an individual basis. In reality, all three issues were the result of one underlying flaw in my swing: the upper half of my body and the lower half of my body were working as one connected piece.
In other words, my hands going back too far during my stride, ultimately causing my arm to bar out, was directly proportional to my stride being too long. During the time that my foot was in the air, my arms and bat had to go further back in the other direction to act as a counterbalance. The tendency for my stride to dive in toward the plate also forced my right shoulder to turn in toward the plate with it, and vice versa.
First step to fixing the problem was to move from a square stance to an open stance.
Step two was to allow the top half and bottom half to work as two separate pieces instead of one connected pieces previously noted.”
Basically, he taught his mind to allow his lower half to move on every pitch as if it were inside while allowing his upper body to move on the pitch as an outside pitch.
“My initial reasons for making these changes were to free up the inside part of the plate and to shore up my weaknesses as a hitter, but in the process I had unwittingly created much more power in my swing. It stands to reason. The lower half of my body was now twisted toward the second baseman while my upper body was facing the pitcher, thereby creating more torque as my body unwound with each swing.
I realized that the best way to hit was to not swing at all, but to get the body in the proper separated position then simply allow the body to naturally uncoil.”
Read that last sentence again, that’s so good.
3. Practice Habits – Hitting As Far As I Can
Obviously Shawn’s tee routine was essential throughout his career, but one of the biggest development changes came when he began trying to hit HR’s to centerfield during batting practice.
Coaches had always wanted me to hit more power, but, oddly, they’d never told me to practice hitting home runs during batting practice. Instead, they’d give mechanical suggestions as to what changes in my swing or approach would help me hit more home runs, but they never suggested I simply practice hitting the ball as far as I could.
Often, the simplest ideas are the best.
Shawn’s swings off of the tee were taken at an easy pace, 50 to 70 percent effort.
His batting practice swings were much more vicious, swinging with 100 percent of the force his body could muster.
4. Wisdom from Career
I was no longer battling against a pitcher trying to get me out. By the time the ball left his hand, I was fully alert in the moment, so that the pitcher was now my partner in hitting rather than my opponent.
Shawn talks a lot about *becoming* the act of hitting.
Meaning that the “little man” inside your head shuts down and you allow for your body to swing as opposed to telling it to swing.
Without the constant chatter from little man in Shawn’s head he was able to calm the mind and actually began noticing that most pitchers tip their pitches.
Green should actually teach a class on tipping pitches, he’s a master.
Over the remaining ten years of my career, close to half of the pitchers I faced (including more than a few Hall of Famers) gave away their pitches.
Think knowing what half of the pitches you’re thrown would be kinda helpful?
Things he looked for:
– The most common way pitchers tip is with their gloves. Different pitches = different grip, and the changeup glove is wider than the fastball. As a hitter, I’d observe the glove flare, or get wider about an inch on the changeup. Skinny glove = fastball.
– With a pitcher in the windup, often as he turns sideways in the middle of his windup his glove will pop open if he has changed from a fastball grip.
– Fast slow, slow fast. Many pitchers – either consciously or not are trying to trick the hitter with the speed of their windup. A fast windup is trying to build anxiety in the hitter as if a fastball were coming, and a slow windup trying to lull them to sleep. Thus: fast windup equals offspeed, slow windup means fastball. This is also true with how quick/slow a pitcher comes set. Very common according to Shawn.
(Side note, I did this when I moonighted as a pitcher! I didn’t even think to look for it as a hitter, but when on the mound I felt like if I slowed my motions coming set and even through the leg lift I’d lull them to sleep on my heater! And here I thought I was the only one smart enough (dumb enough?) to think of this.)
– Pitchers who wind up over their head, sometimes more of their palm is exposed behind the heel of the glove on faster pitches. Almost no palm exposed on offspeed.
And he lists more in the book.
Often if Shawn didn’t see a pitcher’s tell very well he’d ask for time from the ump so he could try it again.
Many of these tips came in the middle or very late in the delivery, so the only way he could pick up these tells was by being completely aware and lack of chatter in his mind.
As a younger hitter I’d go up there guessing with my mind rather than seeing with my eyes.
Common sense would tell you that the pitcher is always in control because he decides what pitch to throw, whereas the hitter isn’t supposed to know what’s coming. Of course, much of the time I did know what pitch was on the way, but even when I didn’t, I was still often in control of my at-bats. This is because I knew which pitches I wanted to hit, so I simply watched for those pitches.
I didn’t sit on pitches or jump at pitches, as many hitters describe their calculated anticipation of a particular pitch. In my view, these practices rely too much on an effortful process of guessing and analyzing and reacting. I simply watched for pitches with no thought or action, just patiently waiting and seeing. And if I watched for my pitch with full attention, my swing happened spontaneously.
Still, pitchers often confounded me, but I didn’t have to be right every time. If I correctly anticipated one changeup in an at-bat or two or three pitches in an entire game, I was bound to have a lot of success over the course of the season.
Interesting stuff here.
This reminds me a great deal of The Percentage Pitch, a hitting philosophy Mike Schmidt used in his career (Summary coming soon!).
Basically, there were certain counts where he just sat fastball or off speed.
He’d be wrong about 25% of the time….but he’d be right about 75%!
The key is to not give up or panic when you’re wrong. Big league stuff here.
Back to Shawn –
What stands out to me about his approach is his willingness to concede the pitches he didn’t want to hit.
He made it clear he wasn’t guessing.
I wasn’t guessing; rather, I was following a plan that provided a few optimal pitches to hit each day. sometimes i was wrong for an entire at-bat or for a whole game, but i was giving myself my best chance.
More wisdom gained from a career at the plate:
– When pitchers are in doubt, they rely on their best stuff rather than trying to exploit a hitters weakness.
– With a runner on second base pitchers would throw more curveballs and sliders in the strike zone.
– With a runner on third base and simple contact would score the run, pitchers tend to throw more fastballs high and inside (inducing a pop up).
– Also with a runner on third pitchers threw less curveball’s/forkballs as to not bounce one past the catcher.
– Many pitchers would throw the same pitch on a full count as they’ve thrown the pitch before, because they already have a feel for the pitch.
Love it. These are great nuggets to help hitters see the bigger picture during an AB. It takes a lifetime to understand nuances like these.
5. Ego & Presence
(During a poor season) By the time mid July rolled around I was swinging to hit my numerical goals rather to simply hit the ball. I was swinging to reach the future rather than the present. In the process, the present was lost, along with any chance of playing up to my potential.
A main purpose of the meditation process is to honor and connect fully with the present moment. His meditation habits allowed for him to be aware of when his mind would focus too deeply on the past or future.
Shawn talks a lot about how the ego and thoughts about what you want or don’t want to happen can pull a person out of the present moment and into the internal chatter.
No matter how much life wisdom a person acquires, the chores of daily life remain the same. the enlightened, however, do not do their daily work as a mere means to an end; The chopping of the wood is not done for the purpose of building a fire, the carrying of the water is not done for the purpose of cooking food, because everything is done in the same state of presence, for its own sake, without goals.
I’ve been trying to tell you – this dude is deep.
As a Blue Jay, my ego would jump in to take the credit for my success as if I’d done something great. Now, I knew that there wasn’t any doing with which to credit myself; instead, there was only allowing. My job as a wiser hitter was just to take my swings with the proper balance, separation, space, and presence. I needed to do this as my daily, disciplined routine without any further motive or purpose. By creating this environment, I allowed it to show up. I didn’t will it to show up, but allowed it. If it never showed up, I like to think that would have been okay too and I’d have kept on with the daily work regardless.
Shawn says it takes discipline to keep your eyes on the process rather than the results:
We may try to control and change the flow of life to fit into our own schedules, but life moves at its own pace. All we can do is chop wood each day, and make adjustments as needed, and remain nonresistant to life.
This book was so unique and much more than a “How-To” hitters manual that again, I could go on and on with the big ideas.
I’ve tried meditation a few times. I feel kind of hippy dippy while doing it, but I think there’s something to it. It does calm the chatter in your head.
About half of the planet meditates regularly but only 8% of Americans, but it seems like its growing in acceptance here.
Have you tried meditation or mental calming techniques? Leave a comment below, we’d love to hear about it!
I definitely think you pick up this book and spend some deeper time with these ideas. You won’t be disappointed. (Get it here)