Mickey Mantle was one of the greatest and most recognized baseball players of the 1950′s and early 1960′s. He was arguably one of the best athletes in the world during his time at the top, and the epitome of baseball and everything it stood for at that time. In case you are unfamiliar with his career, here are a few of his accolades:
- 20 x All-Star
- 7 x World Series Champion
- 3 x AL MVP (was in the vote from 1952 – 1962)
- 4 x AL Home Run Champion
- Triple Crown Winner (1956)
If you are curious about his career stats, you can find them here.
Mickey was a tremendous athlete and ahead of his time. Out of high school he was offered a football scholarship to The University of Oklahoma. Bill Dickey, Yankees manager at the time of Mantle’s rookie year, said,
He’s the greatest prospect I’ve ever seen in my time, and I go back quite a ways.
Physical fitness of that era was not at all what we see today. Players were more likely to drink a six pack of beer in the locker room, than water. For a baseball player in the 50′s and 60′s, Mickey Mantle was a man among boys. He stood at 5’11 with nearly 200 pounds of muscle and athleticism and people say that he stretched the pinstripes to their fullest, every time he put on the uniform. Dale Lancaster of the Chicago Times said Mantle’s back looked like a “barrel full of snakes”. His training consisted of sledge hammering rocks in the coal mines of Oklahoma and farm work, which created an unmatched strength to ball players in his time.
Mantle hit some of the furthest home runs in MLB history, and was known to hit the facade at the old Yankee Stadium regularly. In 1960, he hit one over the right field fence and the ball continued clear out of the stadium. This ball was estimated around 734 feet. Click Here for a comprehensive list of Mickey’s most memorable home runs and their stories.
On top of his tremendous power, Mantle was also known for his unparalleled speed. Many reports state that he ran a 3.1(seconds) from home to first. Seeing that Ichiro runs about a 3.7, this stat is a little hard to believe. However, more than just one person has verified that number. If you were to speak with anybody who watched him play, he was the fastest, and even arguably faster than the great Willie Mays.
Throughout his career, Mantle was plagued by injury. Whether it was running down fly balls or hustling around the bases, not a year went by where Mantle was completely healthy. Playing in his first World Series as a 19-year-old, Mantle had a devastating knee injury. Called off by Joe DiMaggio for a fly ball, Mickey stepped on a drain and snapped his ACL. Surgeries and rehabilitation for such an injury were far from what is standard today, and Mantle played on a torn ACL the rest of his career. Nellie Fox once said,
On two legs, Mickey Mantle would have been the greatest ball player who ever lived.
It is easy to say “what if” about Mickey Mantle. Had he taken better care of himself through his playing years, what kind of numbers could he have put up? This is hard to fathom considering all he did and how long he played.
In this case study, we will not be examining the man, but the swing that got him to the Hall of Fame. Combined with talent, athleticism, and strength, how did Mantle’s swing bring it all together?
Stance and Grip
Let’s first look at Mickey Mantle’s grip. Right away you notice, NO door knocking knuckles! In both his left and right-handed grips, he holds onto the bat in his fingers, with comfort and strength. This allows him to keep his elbows apart as he turns, and enables him to have strong wrist position at contact.
Mickey Mantle’s stance, both left handed and right-handed, has an almost “calm, before the storm” look. In the picture on the left, Mantle is obviously posing, but the picture is still accurate to his game stance. Like most players of his era, there is nothing fancy in his setup. His feet are, slightly outside, shoulder width apart and his hands are, in a “pre-slotted” position. Today, this is where you see most players get to, right as the front foot hits the ground. Mickey, like many players in his era swung HUGE bats, and were small compared to the athletes we see today. He swung a 35- inch and 33-ounce bat, an inch longer and only half an ounce lighter than Mark McGuire! Who who is 6 ’5, 250 pounds! This hand position was popular not because it looked cool, but because physically, it had to be low and close to the back shoulder, for support and strength.
The Mick didn’t have a ton of pre-pitch movement in his stance, but he tended to round his back. He really tried to use all of his strength in almost every swing he took. Given the chance, I would have advised Mickey to slightly keep his shoulders more square to the pitcher, which would allow for a mechanically correct pelvis/shoulder separation. Turning the back in early can falsely feel like a powerful way to stand, so I would also recommend Mickey to feel a better rowing move to create the separation.
There was a little looseness in his body and a slight bat wiggle, but no big movements until he started forward. Mickey always said that he felt more comfortable from the right side, due to the fact he was a naturally a right-handed guy. However, learning how to hit from the left side at an early age, he actually developed more power from his left side.
For more on stances, ready Chas’s latest on proper stances here.
1. From his stance, Mantle clearly gains ground toward the pitcher. Remember, he is not a trained hitter, his swing (movement) pattern was natural and fluid. He moves this way because his brain tells him to generate power and this is how the most efficient way to do it.
2. Mantle lengthens out his back leg at an angle, allowing his hips and body mass to calmly move forward. Before striking the ground, he begins to open his front hip (3) and in doing so, open his front foot. After watching many of his swings (left and right), Mantle does not always perform this movement to the best of his ability. Remember, we are talking about a super strong, athletic, and one of the best hitting talents ever. He was able to overcome this flaw in his swing on many occasions. By not opening his front foot like he does here in this swing, Mickey put years of extra stress on his front knee which reduced his power. Could he have actually his the ball harder? Yes, and this is definitely something I would want him to work on.
3. The opening of his front foot begins with the separation of his front hip and back shoulder. The front hip stretch allows him to get his knee and front foot facing fair territory. This leads to a good knee bend which we see here.
4. Notice the hand and shoulder staying together pretty well. Mantle’s back shoulder is stretching away from front hip, creating separation or stretching his core. If you notice where his belly button would be, you see that it is pointed at the first baseman while the center of his chest is at the dugout. The hands do get a little away from him here towards the catcher, which can result in loss of control and strength later in the swing.
5. With the opening of his front hip, Mantle also starts to “shape the barrel”. By this, we mean start the barrel moving into a position to be turned behind the ball, and then thrown uphill. Remember how heavy the bat is compared to his body size. He has to get the bat moving early in his move so that his barrel will have it’s own momentum going into the “flail” part of the swing.
Hip/Shoulder Separation and Barrel Shaping
1. As expected, Mickey continues to swing with his hip rotation leading the swing. You can also see how this rotation is happening in the same place in space. Mickey has not continued to move forward through his swing. He has created a backward angle with his body to promote his uphill swing.
2. In this frame you can start to see the back knee, ankle, and foot begin to start its move around Mantle’s axis. We will see how it really takes off in the next frame.
3. Here you can see Mantle’s barrel do two things: 1) it really begins to take shape around his back shoulder and 2) the barrel begins to pick up speed. The barrel blurring in this video is key to seeing the “early acceleration”. Notice how nothing else in this frame has this type of blur. Cameras in the late 1950′s were obviously not the cameras we use today but the effect is the same. We will see more blurring later. Also, notice how Mantle has brought his hand back to his shoulder. In doing so, he reestablishes the connection between his bat and power source (his body). In earlier frames, it looked like this part of Mantle’s swing was going to get away from him, but he has done a great job of bringing it back.
In a previous article, Chas talks about shaping the barrel in a sew-saw motion. Click here for more!
Super Thrust and Barrel Flail
1. Mantle continues to rotate from his core.
2. As you can see, the back knee is now moving faster and the ankle and foot begin to follow the same path. In the frame above, the toes are the only thing left on the ground as the heel is clearly moving forward, being pulled by the hip.
3. The barrel begins it’s super acceleration around Mantle’s back shoulder, and you can see by the blur how much it speeds up. Look at how his hands are still connected to his back shoulder as the barrel is turning close to the catcher’s mitt. This is where Mickey will begin to turn into the path of the pitch. I circled Mantle’s hands to show you how they are not out in front of him going to the ball, but everything is staying connected to his shoulder, therefore optimizing speed and strength. I describe this move as a barrel flail, sideways into the hitting zone. To learn more on barrel flail, check out this full article on it.
4. You can really see the shoulders rotating out in order to continue to turn his back shoulder, hands, and barrel around him and into the path of the ball.
Contact (Back Foot off the Ground)
1. At contact we can now see the side of Mickey’s body and hardly any of his front. Mantle did not stop his rotation to make his hands go to the ball, but he wanted to complete every turn to ensure maximum power. This is why his swing and misses were so dramatic. Not once did he want to JUST put the ball in play like many of our youth players are taught today.
2. Here we see the the back heel has moved further towards the pitcher. I have also marked where Mantle’s back toe started and where it has moved to in this frame. At contact, Mantle is not on his back tip toe, he is simply turning in space. In the next frame we will see how far Mickey will make his back foot move with his super hip thrust.
3. Mantle’s front knee has now begun to really push back. This will do multiple high-level things for him. 1) It will keep his head trapped in the same space as his back hip/knee/foot are moving around him. If you go back and notice, Mickey’s head has not moved in any of these frames. 2) It will assist with his explosive super hip thrust by pushing his front hip around and away from the camera. 3) It will also assist with keeping a good backward body angle as he turns on his axis, thus keeping his head still. This is apparent in so many good hitters in that era and today. The front knee is the only part of the body that is allowed to push. Going back to the beginning forward move, if the knee does not bend, this move CAN NOT happen effectively.
4. Mantle’s shoulder/elbow/wrist positions here are nearly perfect. He has successfully turned his “box” around his axis and came into contact with the ball. Both of his elbows are bent, which will allow for optimal support, speed, and release of the bat through the full path of the pitch. I have marked the distance between Mantle’s back shoulder and hands to show the very little distance lost through the turn of his upper body.
1. Still continuing the turn through the entire course of this swing.
2. Mickey’s back hip, knee, and entire foot have now gained the maximum amount of ground needed for maximum hip turn. Notice the marks at his feet. I would say the distance is about 5 inches give or take. This amount is perfect for hip optimal hip rotation but not so much that he won’t have support of his body weight at the end of his swing. The back foot will stay behind his head to where is can properly support him.
3. Here you can see Mantle continues to push his front knee back through contact of the ball, while the backward body angle is maintained with this move. I have shown you this angle with the red line going from his shoulders to his front foot.
4. The red line from Mickey’s back shoulder to his barrel shows the release or what most people call extension. If you’re curious on how extension really happens in a high level swing, you can read my previous article here. Here, Mickey has released his arms and barrel out, NOT extended them. This is the furthest his hands and barrel will be from his body.
5. I wanted to point out that Mickey’s head is no longer looking down but out. His back shoulder has rotated to the point of contact with his head. This type of head movement is necessary to continue to the finish of his swing. His head is NOT flying out, but in fact, being turned out by the shoulder rotation. This can be a big misread by coaches today. There is a big difference between head movement before/during contact and head movement after release and coaches need to know the difference.
Turn Continued to Finish
The last four frames above are the continuation of Mantle’s turn into his finish. Here we can see Mantle’s back foot now securely on the ground supporting his weight in the last frame, and he continues to maintain the backward body angle throughout his finish.
In his finish, Mantle continues to rotate the top half of his body. We can clearly see the iconic number seven in the last frame. Too many young players in baseball and softball are taught to swing in a way to prepare to run. To a young player, this means contact with the ball is the finish line. Does Mickey look like he is ready to run in this last frame? NO. He finishes every swing completely and THEN he runs. Mantle wanted to use 100% of his power EVERY swing. Here is the swing we broke down in full speed.
Mickey Mantle was an unbelievable baseball talent. He had talent, speed, strength, and unmatched power for his day. Guys like Mickey did not have hitting lessons or swing analysis. They just swung the bat the best way they knew how in order to hit the ball hard. EVERY SINGLE TIME. His technique is what made him one of the greatest hitters of all time and he produced massive power because the moving parts of his swing worked in the correct order (pattern) and at the right time. Mickey figured this out at an early age and never looked back.
MLB Network did an interesting comparison video. Check it out here! Is it a coincidence that Mantle’s swing pattern is identical to the super stars of today? At the (1:50) mark, listen to Billy Ripken say, “unconventional to the way people want to teach it today”. That is the problem. Kids CAN be taught to move this way from a very young age. We do it every day at the Baseball Rebellion and I.T.S. Baseball. Coaches/Hitting Instructors either, 1) see MLB players really move like this and are scared. They know that they are unable to teach a player those movements, or 2) they simply do not have the time to really learn the techniques and apply them. Mostly, those same coaches and instructors just do not think your son or daughter can do it. This thought process justifies why they think it is a waste of time to learn these patterns. I’ve heard this Classic quote a lot, “Oh, he is Bryce Harper, he can get away with that type of movement”. No, he is Bryce Harper because of that movement.
JK Whited – Leader of the Baseball Rebellion