Hitting a baseball well is one of the toughest things to do in all of sports. Even otherwise great athletes never master the art. Consider, for instance, Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A’s and lead character in the upcoming movie Moneyball, who was bigger, stronger, and faster than anyone the year he was drafted but bombed out of the Major Leagues with a mere 66 hits over 5 years (he was a reserve outfielder) and a batting average of .219. But even those who master the art of hitting a baseball get a successful hit only 3 out of 10 times.
Now you might think that hitting a baseball is straightforward in the sense of “here’s what you do and just do it”—those who have a special knack will then do great and those who lack the essential talent or gifting will fall by the way side. But it’s not that easy. In fact, instruction in the art of hitting a baseball is filled with mis-instruction. And this mis-instruction affects not just professional ball players but youngsters nine, ten, and eleven years old. It’s not uncommon to find a nine-year old hitting the ball better than as a ten-year old after having gotten some batting lessons!
What’s going on here? Hitting a baseball starts with the swing. But what’s the right way to swing a bat at a ball? Hitting instructors, even those who have played in the majors, have all sorts of stock phrases to tell budding hitters what they should be doing, such as “drive the ball,” “keep a level swing,” “accelerate the bat through the ball,” “don’t dip your shoulders,” etc. Not all of this advice is bad or inappropriate, but some of it simply doesn’t square with what the best hitters are actually doing at the plate.
Enter Chris O’Leary. O’Leary was never a great baseball player. In fact, he never got to play ball at the college or professional level. But he did begin to question why his little-league son was becoming a worse batter over time even though he was receiving batting instruction and getting quicker and stronger. O’Leary decided to systematically examine what the best hitters in the game were ACTUALLY doing (and not just what instructors were saying they were doing). He found quite a disconnect. Take the “level swing,” for instance, which is supposed be the gold standard of proper hitting. He found that the best betters were doing anything but that. For instance, Albert Pujols would lean back, dip his right shoulder, and let his bat head sometimes fall as much as 45 degrees below a level plane.
O’Leary, to document just what the best batters were doing, compiled flipbook after flipbook of photographic stills, which, if flipped through, showed the precise motion of a swing and showed exactly at each instance what the batter was doing. Some of these flipbooks are available on O’Leary’s public website: www.chrisoleary.com (for instance, check out this homerun swing by Albert Pujols). But if you really want to see a full sampling of swings, you will need to purchase O’Leary’s DVD on rotational hitting and then move to the client portion of his website.
With this DVD and then on the client website, O’Leary develops at length the concept of rotational hitting. This concept is not new with him, but he has developed in a most accessible way, supplementing it with his flipbooks that make clear precisely what the best batters are doing. Even though Chris O’Leary may have been an amateur at playing the game, he is no longer an amateur when it comes to hitting a baseball or softball. Professional baseball players have sought him out to improve their hitting. Sports Illustrated, for instance, notes how Andres Torres consulted with O’Leary to improve his hitting (click here for the SI story). As O’Leary notes in his connection with Torres:
After studying my Pujols flipbook in depth, Andres called me to discuss some of the things I said in it. He was a bit confused because while he could see that my observations about what Pujols was doing seemed to be correct — all he had to do was look at the pictures — they contradicted pretty much everything he had been taught about hitting up to that point.
O’Leary’s work should not be seen as aimed only at baseball players. As he points out and makes clear, hitting a softball involves the same technique of rotational hitting. Thus O’leary analyzes the swings not just of the best professional baseball players but also of the best softball players. On his client site, he even has a flip book with a split screen that has Albert Pujols on one side hitting a home run with a baseball and Megan Bush on the other side hitting a home run with a softball (click here, though you’ll need to be logged in as a client). Their technique, as O’Leary underscores, is identical. This is important for softball coaches to realize, since young girls playing softball are often taught slap-hitting and other approaches to hitting that drain their bats of power.
Of course, nothing beats personal instruction with an expert who really knows what he or she is doing. But how do you know who really is an expert and who can convey that expertise in a way that really makes a positive difference in the student? For such reasons, it’s often good to have an online school to get the ball rolling. TheBestSchools.org is therefore pleased to recommend Chris O’Leary and his website as the best online school for hitting a baseball or softball: www.chrisoleary.com.