Switch hitting to some is an act of brown noser desperation to attract a scout or manager’s attention. Others see it as compensation for an inadequacy like a poodle yapping louder than a bulldog. Gives Willie Wilson 705 at bats in 1980.
Pete Rose encouraged hitters afraid of getting beaned to turn around and bat from the other side and in doing so never face a curve ball that starts out heading toward you.
The first known switch hitter was Will White way back in 1877. He was also a pitcher and the first player to wear glasses. It seems like more than a coincidence. If you can’t hit the ball very well right handed, you better do something to stick out and double your chances, switch hit; slap the ball somewhere and run. The manager will pencil you in every day.
George Davis drove in 131 runs in 1897. Tommy Tucker hit .375 in 1889. Max Carey scored 140 runs in 1922. All three were switch hitters. Frankie Frisch is near the top for all time hits, runs, and at bats for switch hitters, but the name Mantle, as in Mickey Mantle sticks out as something all together different.
The Mick arrived in 1951 and turned a predominately punch and judy switch hit skill into a never before seen display of power from both sides of the plate. He hit 370 home runs as a left handed batter in 5,268 at bats and 161 as a right hander in 2,749 at bats. But numbers aside, no switch hitter prior to Mantle scared the opposition quite the same.
I found a graph detailing number of switch hitters from 1940 on up and the mid-1980’s was the peak followed by a somewhat steep decline. It makes sense with the rise of astro turf, the fashion of righty lefty spits and relievers galore. The switch hitter became baseball’s multi-tasker; a two for one on a roster of only 25 men; pounding balls into the cement and run rabbit.
There’s been plenty of switch hitting slapper types. Nothing new there, but Mantle marked the birth of a new species.
Nowadays, an all time switch hitting team can be made from sorting through a box of baseball cards from the post Mantle 1970’s, 80’s, and 90’s.
Eddie Murray at first base; Roberto Alomar at second, Pete Rose-third, unfortunately Ozzie Smith at SS. Mickey Mantle, Tim Raines, Carlos Beltran in the outfield; Ted Simmons, Jorge Posada behind the plate with Mark Teixera, Lance Berkman, Chili Davis, Chipper Jones, Carlos Santana, and maybe Pablo Sandoval ready on the bench.
I don’t know what the future holds for switch hitters. Anyone who can hit for power from both sides has a place, but so do the singles hitter with speed and defense, maybe even more than 100 years ago.
Players save runs with great defense. We always knew that; even with the naked eye, but nowadays, the skill is measured, analyzed and quantified with sabermetric formulas. If these switch hitters get on base and save runs on defense….that’s useful. But I wonder if coaches still discourage kids from messing around with switch hitting? Probably. They don’t even let kids pitch and bat anymore.
The Brewers didn’t play again Thursday; some weird glitch in the schedule. Kind of rare to have a Monday and a Thursday off in the same week. I watched Empire of the Sun and kept thinking John Malkovich was impersonating Tom Waits while teaching that fancy tongued British kid-Christian Bale how to be American.
The kid pulled it off; demonstrating a real knack for being both spoiled and street smart urchin; a switch hitter extraordinary.
The Brewers are 51-35.