How are hitters created? Bozeman Bulger of The New York Evening World attempted to answer the question, and described the hitting styles of some of the game’s biggest stars in 1906:
“Batting is a natural gift and to be a success the player must be allowed to swing the willow in his own sweet way.”
Bulger said John McGraw who “For nine years…had a batting average of .330” (actually .346 from 1893 to 1901) was asked his secret:
“Don’t know, I simply used my eye and my arms and figured it out.”
When McGraw played for the Baltimore Orioles, Manager Ned Hanlon tried to show him “how to hit (and) on one occasion he corrected him sharply.” McGraw said:
“That set me to thinking, and I went to my room and dug up a lot of old records. In these I saw that Hanlon had never hit as good as .300, that is for a period of two or three seasons (Hanlon hit .302 in 1885) while I had been hitting over .300 right along. Therefore, I asked myself ‘what right has Hanlon to show me how to hit?’”
“In the past few years Yale and Harvard and Princeton and other colleges have employed coaches to teach them how to hit. The experiment was futile, and no hitters were developed that did not already possess the gift.
“Take the great batters of to-day and you will find that no two of them stand at the plate alike. Long since astute managers have found that it is a useless waste of time to attempt a correction of habits easily acquired. To be successful a ball player must do everything in a perfectly natural manner. This is paramount in batting.”
Bulger then wrote about the “peculiarities” of some contemporary hitters:
“Sam Mertes of the Giants invariably pulls his left foot back as he swings at the ball. Mertes also crouches with somewhat of a forward lean and keeps his feet wide apart.
“Roger Bresnahan and Mike Donlin, two of the greatest hitters in the world, are what are called vicious swingers. Bresnahan has absolutely no fear. He never thinks of being hit, but runs squarely into the ball, and when he plants his bat squarely against it a scorching line drive follows. Nobody hits a ball with more force than Bresnahan.
“Donlin stands with his feet about one foot apart and usually holds the bat perfectly rigid at his waist, slanting at an angle of about 45 degrees. He can either ‘chop’ or swing hard with the same degree of accuracy. Donlin is said to be the greatest natural hitter in the business. He says he has no idea how he does it.
“George Stone, one of the most remarkable batters of the age, has a (boxer Jim) Jeffries crouch at bat which has caused experienced baseball managers to say George wouldn’t last as soon as the pitchers got next to him. Stone puts a terrific amount of weight into one of his blows, swinging with his shoulders and smashing a line with fearful force.
“His position has been termed awkward, inelegant, and not conducive to good hitting, but Stone to-day leads the American League with a better average than the great (Napoleon) Lajoie.
“Larry is the personification of grace and elegance at bat. He has that careless indifferent method which attracts, is devoid of nervousness but active and alert. Infielders will tell you that there is a force in the balls smashed by Lajoie which makes them unpleasant to handle. Lajoie is the finished artist.
“His great rival in the National League Honus Wagner is just the opposite. Hans grabs his stick at the end, holds it high about his shoulders, and when he swings his legs are spread from one end of the batter’s box to the other. Wagner is awkward standing almost straight and goes after outcurves and drops with equal avidity. Hans often reaches to the far outside of the plate for a low outcurve and plants it into right center field.
“Charlie Hickman stands at the outer edge of the box and swings with his body and shoulders His fondness for the balls on the outside of the pan are known to opposing pitchers. Lave Cross puts his two feet into the angle of the batter’s box nearest the catcher, while (Dave) Altizer usually spreads out, varying this position with a crouching posture, from which he runs up on a ball.”