Wisdom From The Coach: Hitting to the Opposite Field

“I became a good hitter because early in my career I learned how to hit the ball to the opposite field.” Stan Musial

The hitter’s task certainly seems simple enough: get on, get ‘em over, get ‘em in, based on the score and situation. But with everything factored in, basic math can become Calculus III.

Stan Musial simplified things for himself by having the philosophy that he would use the entire field to hit in. Musial wasn’t simply a pull hitter, and he likely could have a good one. Had he chosen to yank the ball, his average would have suffered. He probably could have hit more than 475 home runs, but he preferred to spray the ball around, hitting it where it was pitched, and driving the ball out of the park when the pitcher gave him the opportunity.

“There are one hundred points for your average in the opposite field.” Hugh Tyson – Dad

Musial, as with many hitters of days gone by, stood off the plate, let the ball travel, and didn’t try to do too much with the pitch. He also didn’t strike out more than 46 times in a single season. (Let that number sink in for a second!) He got his hits and took his walks, and obviously wasn’t afraid to work the count. He had a powerful, aggressive, slashing swing as he came out of his peek-a-boo, looking-around-the-corner batting stance. But he didn’t think pull, pull, pull.

Today, many hitters tend to stand on the plate and try to pull the ball. Great OPS/OPS+ numbers can be reached with the long ball and maybe the walk. Looking pull automatically puts them in danger of being ahead of the breaking ball and off-speed pitch, and often takes away one-third of the field. The result can be an all-or-nothing scenario, with numerous strikeouts and lazy fly balls or possibly a prodigious home run.

Musial figured he would drive the ball the other way, pull it when the pitch and situation called for it, and he knew that strikeouts only help out when they keep you out of the double play. My guess is that Musial’s outs often were more useful than strikeouts and weak pop flies. Stan the Man got his OPS/OPS+ with power, walks and hit .331 lifetime.

We are wowed today when we see a player with an OPS over .950, or with an OPS+ of 125 or better. Musial had seven seasons with a season OPS greater than 1.000. His lifetime OPS was .976.  As for OPS+, Stan closed out his brilliant career with at 159!  His 3,000th hit was an RBI double against the Cubs to – you guessed it – the opposite field.

Joe Garagiola recalled a day in which Musial had a double down the left field line, a double down the right field line, a triple to the left-center field gap, an homer to the right-center field gap and a single back up the middle:

“I’d love to see the scouting report. It’s like, “Pitch behind him, or call a priest.”

Musial got it.  He knew you had to give a little to get a little. When all was said and done with his incredible career and even more incredible life, Stan The Man had gone to the opposite field and reaped its rewards. He had been a wonderful teammate, husband, father and citizen. He knew how to use the whole field not only in baseball, but in life.

Thank you to the Musial family for letting us be a part of his experience. He not only built, but lived his legacy, each and every day.

Wayne Tyson was a high school and community college baseball coach for 26 years including six years at Florida Air Academy. His FAA team won the Florida Class 3A State Championship in 1998 and was runner-up in 1999, when the team included freshman Prince Fielder. Wayne currently writes for Cowbell Clankers, the Aerys Sports home of the Tampa Bay Rays. Follow him on Twitter @WayneTyson11.

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