These are words that occur to me while watching Brett Gardner swing the bat: flick, flip, flail, fling, wisp, slice, slash, stab, slap, poke, yank, jerk, and (perhaps a case of wishful thinking) drag and bunt. Doesn’t this unique hack deserve a nickname?
I have a batting tee set up in the living room for my two young sons (one and two-and-a-half) and occasionally they paddle over and take a swipe at the ball without provocation and sans instruction. The bat we’ve got is a little too hefty for the one year old to manage on his own, so he turns it around, holds the barrel, and addresses the ball with the handle. He doesn’t blast the ball off the windows, but he makes contact.
Brett Gardner has never gone up holding the wrong end of the bat (though in his debut season, he had considerable difficulty holding onto the right end – I personally saw him chuck the bat on a swing and miss three times in two games), but he has taken a similar approach to hitting. He has developed a convoluted swing that allows him to make consistent contact against Major League quality pitching. This is no small feat, but the result is not pleasing to watch. In his brief time in the Majors, I have developed a strong negative opinion of him as a player because of this swing and the often meager results. I’ve never looked forward to watching his at bats.
Melky Cabrera had a somewhat more orthodox swing, but the results were not all that great. He popped out to shortstop just like Gardner pops out to shortstop, but when Gardner does it, I say to myself, “Of course you did, with a swing like that…”
In the second game of the season, Gardner produced one of the most improbable hits I’ve ever seen. Against Hideki Okajima, he inside-outted a just-off-the-plate 88 MPH fastball off the handle of his bat. That means he was so far behind an inside pitch, while employing that pronounced downward and inward slice typical of his defensive hacks, that the plane of the bat upon contact on the handle was still behind the ball – the barrel was still pointing towards the Yankee dugout rather than the infield.
He looped the ball about 100 feet towards the SS/3B hole and only a miracle of placement allowed the ball to land safely. Through a combination of the unlikelihood of the ball’s flight path and Jorge Posada’s nonexistent baserunning acumen, a ball that rolled untouched into the outfield failed to advance a baserunner from 2nd to 3rd.
But you know what, it’s a line drive in the scorebook. And if the Yanks are giving Gardner a chance this year, if his defense is as great as they hope/think it is (where the heck was he on Scutaro’s fly ball to left vs Rivera Wednesday night?) I am going to separate the mechanics of his swing from the results of his at bats.
His swing should not be (could not be?) duplicated, but his desire to get the job done, even it means taking an unorthodox approach, should be commended. Just because he doesn’t swing the way I would teach my kids to swing, doesn’t mean he should be discredited before the stats pile up against him. Good luck Brett, I’ll be watching.