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Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Batting by F.C. Lane

I mentioned in a previous post that I recently came across a copy of F.C. Lane's (1885-1984) 1925 book Batting: One Thousand Expert Opinions on Every Conceivable Angle of Batting Science. This book was originally published as a supplement to Baseball Magazine at the price of $1 and contains quotes from over 250 players, managers, umpires, and owners on the nature of hitting covering everything from choosing a bat to dealing with umpires to pulling the ball and the merits of "slugging". Lane pulled these quotations from pieces he wrote for Baseball Magazine starting in 1910 or 1911. He continued to write for the magazine through the December 1937 issue and is prominately featured in the book The Numbers Game by Alan Schwarz. The copy I have was published by SABR in 2001 coming in at 218 pages in the original typesetting and contains an index of the quotations.

If you'd like to read something written by Lane see "The Base on Balls: Why Should the Records Ignore This Powerful Factor in Brainy Baseball?" posted by Cyril Morong from 1917.

Here are just a few of the tidbits that caught my attention while perusing the book.

On baseball records:
"The records are the whole thing in baseball. You can't make them too important and you can't be too careful in how you handle them."
- John Heydler, former Secretary of the National League:

"His batting average, then, is the ball player's principal stock in trade and is valuable to him in a personal and business sense. Where the records fail to give him credit due, he has suffered a genuine loss...In 1915, which was not my best year, I made twenty-four homeruns, a modern record. I also made thirty one doubles. I hit for 117 extra bases. The next best man in the League hit for 76. I scored more runs than anybody else on the circuit and drove in more runs. In all the really effective work of the batter I should have led the League by a wide margin." - Cactus Cravath

Lane was a pioneer in pointing out the one-dimensional nature of batting average and used Caravath as a prime example. As documented Schwarz observed in 1916 that batting average was an inadequate way of measuring the contribution individual players by remarking,

"Would a system that placed nickels, dimes, quarters, 50-cent pieces on the same basis be much of a system whereby to compute a man's financial resources? And yet it is precisely such a loose, inaccurate system which obtains in baseball..."

Although slugging percentage was adopted by the National League in 1923 and the American League in 1946 it would take many more years before weighted formulas for run production (Lane produced one himself) would start to take hold.

On slugging versus place hitting:
"My theory is that the bigger the bat, the faster the ball will travel. It's really the weight of the bat that drives the ball. My bat weighs 52 ounces. Most bats weigh 36 to 40 ounces...The harder you grip the bat, the faster the ball will travel...When I swing to meet the baseball I follow it all the way around." - Babe Ruth

"The sluggers have wrecked baseball. They are a thorn in the side of every pitcher. You never know when you have won the game. A homerun dumped into the stands may rob you of a victory any time until the last man is out." - Red Faber

"I do not lay my long hitting to any unusual strength. I believe it is due rather to meeting the ball fair, with a quick snap motion that sends it straight and true out over the diamond...It doesn't follow, however, that a heavy bat is necessary. Some sluggers use heavy bats. Chief Meyers did so and so does Babe Ruth. Most batters will find that an extra heavy bat cuts down the speed of their swing more than enough to offset what the extra weight of the bat can accomplish...I would say that in general the chop hitter would best use a heavy bat and the slugger a light one." - Rogers Hornsby

The debate between using a heavy versus a light bat is one that's had a long life. Over the course of time hitters have tended to move towards smaller bats with thin handles to increase the whip-like motion and therefore the speed of the barrel through the hitting surface. This is backed up by some recent research I wrote about in February. Both Harry Heilmann and Zack Wheat are quoted by Lane as favoring the lighter bat while Ken Williams and Hack Miller favor Ruth's approach. Note also that Robert Adair in his book The Physics of Baseball makes the point that the impact of bat and ball lasts about 1/1000 of a second. Therefore a tight or lose grip makes virtually no difference, nor does releasing the top hand after impact. The impact happens so quickly that the signal does not get processed until long after the ball is gone.

"Ruth is more than a slugger, he is a homerun hitter. Fortunately for him, he began as a pitcher. A pitcher is not expected to hit. Therefore, he can follow his own system without managerial interference. Ruth made the most of this opportunity...I have tried to make myself a batter, which is something quite different. A batter is a man who can bunt, place his hits, beat out infield drives, and slug when the occasion demands it, but he doesn't slug all the time." - Ty Cobb

I thought this was an interesting observation and seems reasonable to me. Had Ruth not been a pitcher a coach along the way might have tried to change his style thereby diminshing his power. It's also interesting to notice that in Lane's book Ruth's ability to hit homeruns and others ability to follow his example is chalked up to adopting a particular style or "speciality" of hitting rather than any influence of different baseballs as is the common perception. To me, the style that Ruth popularized along with the fact that whiter baseballs were kept in play after Ray Chapman's death after being hit with a Carl Mays pitch (Lane has some interesting quotes about beanballs as well including one from Walter Johnson that is especially emotional), and the reluctance of owners to make rules that handicapped Ruth in light of the Black Sox scandal all served to usher in the new slugger's era.

"If I had set out to be a homerun hitter, I am confident in a good season I would have made between twenty and thirty homers...I would naturally have sacrificed place hitting, which, to my way of thinking, is the supreme pinnacle of batting art." - Ty Cobb

This point is emphasized in other quotes Lane records as well. Many of the players, and Lane himself, seem to be of the opinion that while slugging is effective, it isn't pretty and requires less skill. Almost to a man Lane records that everyone thinks Ruth the greatest slugger (and slugging as a specialty) but Cobb the greatest hitter (there are few votes for Honus Wagner as well). Sabermetrics of course, would argue that Cobb should have taken his 30 homeruns. Overall Ty Cobb and George Sisler are most appealed to on the subject of hitting while Ruth and Hornsby are close behind.

There are countless other fascinating little insights as well that any fan of baseball history will enjoy. Highly recommended.


obsessivegiantscompulsive said...

How does one get a copy of "Batting"?

Dan Agonistes said...

I happened to find one at a Borders but you can order at amazon as well:

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