The inside story on Bonds' swing
By John Schlegel / MLB.com
SAN FRANCISCO -- The late Ted Williams said it, lived by it when he played and passed on the wisdom to hitters who followed him down baseball's path to greatness: Major League history is made on the inside part of the plate.
On his way to becoming only the fourth player to hit 600 career homers, Barry Bonds certainly has made a lot of history on the inside part of the plate.
The amazing part is Bonds can practically look down to his shoetops and see the inside corner -- he stands as close to the plate as anyone in the game. Yet he's still able to turn on pitches that would tie most hitters in knots, and he managed to send a lot of those pitches skyward toward McCovey Cove or some other destination beyond the fences.
How does he do it?
The answer is short and sweet -- like his swing.
"He's real short and he's real compact," said Giants hitting coach Gene Clines, referring to Bonds' swing of a relatively short 34-inch maple bat, obviously not the hulking slugger's body. "There aren't a lot of moving parts to his swing. He's really short to the ball."
Dodgers slugger Shawn Green, who stands on the same side of the plate as Bonds but not quite as close to it, sees the same thing.
"He has a really short swing and chokes up on the bat, and he's using a pretty small bat, which isn't really traditional for power hitters," Green said.
Green has more of a traditional power swing. He also stands a more conventional distance from the plate for a power hitter, far enough so he can use arm extension to produce his power.
"I have long arms and I feel I've got to give myself a chance to get to every pitch," Green said. "Ideally, if you can stand on top of the plate and get to everything, you're better off.
"I think that's a big reason why he's the best hitter in the game. He's able to have the approach of a guy who's a contact hitter who just puts the ball in play."
So what's an opposing pitcher to do?
Conventional wisdom says, a guy stands on top of the plate, you work him in, tie him up -- or perhaps you get in his kitchen and knock him back off the plate. Aside from the fact that Bonds wears a huge chunk of armor on his exposed right elbow and has demonstrated clearly that he won't back off even if you throw behind him, trying to get a strike on the inside part of the plate is a lot more dangerous with this hitter than your average guy standing on top of the dish.
According to one Major League advance scout, the conventional wisdom just doesn't fly with Bonds, so you just have to pitch him carefully -- if you pitch to him at all.
"Inside is where you would like to be able to get him out, but you have to be perfect," the scout said. "He does have a small hole in there. But it's up, so don't miss. He can hit the ball out anywhere.
"You can't just pound him in, because he'll make the adjustment. He's got such quick hands. His hands disappear in the zone. He always gets his hands past the baseball so it's all barrel in the zone, and the bat's in the plane for a long time."
Quick hands isn't all Bonds has. He also has a quick mind to go along with tremendous eyesight, says Clines.
"He picks up the ball extremely early, extremely fast," Clines said. "So he can stand as close as he does to the plate and not worry about the ball getting in on him. If he didn't have a short, compact swing, there's no way he could do that."
OK, so you can't get a strike on the outside half because he'll really get his arms extended and crush the ball, and you can't get a strike on the inside part of the plate because he's so quick he can still turn on it.
Now what do you do?
Well, if you're like most teams, you put more players where he might hit the ball -- no, that doesn't include putting them in the stands.
Like Williams decades before him, Bonds often sees a radical shift toward right field, because that's where the majority of his hits in play go. The Arizona Diamondbacks take it to the extreme, placing their second baseman in short right field, like a rover in beer-league softball.
That still doesn't seem to bother him.
"A lot of guys, a shift gets in their heads," Clines said. "Not Barry. Nothing fazes him."
One question about the shift: Couldn't Bonds just bunt once or twice to draw the infielders back to the left side of the infield?
"He'd get a standing ovation from the other team if he ever did that," Clines said. "They like nothing better."
The advance scout agreed.
"I'd love to have him bunt," he said. "But he's not going to bunt. How many soft balls do you see him hit? Zero. So you can shift all you want, but he can hit a line drive by anybody."
Or over anybody -- like he has done 600 times and counting.
No matter where you play him, or where you pitch him, Bonds can hit it. If it's a strike -- inside, outside, up or down -- he can send it to the seats.
And that's the inside story on Barry Bonds.
John Schlegel is a writer for MLB.com based in the Bay Area. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.