Upon request, I took a look back at some of the greats to play this game to find out what made these guys so good. Two names that most people would have in their list of top 10 outfielders would be Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. Some might even argue that Willie Mays was the single greatest player of all time. We have all seen "the catch" at least 100 times. Whether you believe Mays or Aaron is the best player of all time, we all can agree that these two men were two of the most feared hitters the game has ever seen. This article begins by looking individually at each player and then will compare what these two Hall of Famers had in common.
Willie Howard Mays, a.k.a. "The Say Hey Kid", was signed by the New York Giants in 1950. For 22 years, the kid from Alabama put up crazy numbers. Mays was in the race for MVP each year from 1954 to 1966! In ten of those years, he won Gold Gloves and All Star bids. Only twice during that span of time did he hit less that 30 home runs, and the one season he did hit less than 30, he hit 29. Now let's take a look at Willie's swing and find out where that consistent power came from.
Henry Louis Aaron, a.k.a. "Hamerin' Hank", played from 1954 to 1976. Talk about putting up video game type numbers for a long period of time. Hank Aaron might be the best "not talked about" (as much) player of all time. Everybody, of course, remembered his home runs but look at some of those other numbers like RBIs, slugging, etc. Aaron stood at 6'0 tall and was roughly 180 lbs. Let's see how he used that frame to become one of, if not the best home run hitters of all time.
Both guys seem comfortable and relaxed with subtle differences. Mays likes to keep his hands a little lower and in doing so they will be lower in his stride. You will see both move out of their stances very well and get to good positions.
Overall Mays gets to a better spot with a little longer back leg and bent front knee. Again, small sample size but these guys were very consistent with their lower half On these particular swings, Mays also opens his front side a little better than Aaron. Aaron's mistakes here can be covered up slightly since he is bigger than Mays.
This is where you see major differences between generations of hitting. Tremendous lower half with a somewhat less impressive upper half. Over the years, hitters refined the upper half mechanics to combat the array of moving balls and higher speeds. Over time this led to most modern day techniques that focus more on the hitter's hands than athletic movements. Some of which are good but only in certain circumstances and should not be used as a broad way to teach hitting.
Overall both players were super athletic in their forward move but only Mays landed in a better position. Both Mays and Aaron would receive an "A" in aggressive athletic movement forward with Mays scoring a bit higher because he lands in a slightly better position with his front foot open and more flex in his front knee.
Their upper half mechanics are a direct result of their aggressiveness and timing. Being a home run derby, Mays and Aaron are clearly trying to catch the ball way out in front of the plate. Willie does a slightly better job of creating a backward spine during his turn but the angle is still far too high for optimal depth and therefore, power. With a deeper trunk spine rotation, Mays and especially Aaron would be able to allow more depth for the ball to travel therefore increasing speed, strength at contact, bat control, and most importantly, time to see the ball.
Obviously, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron have gone down as two of the greatest hitters of all time. Like the great players of today, they did not always get to optimal positions on every pitch. There is no doubt, however, that they were both aggressive ALL the time. Their attack minded nature led to their natural athletic movements in their swing. Yes, they sometimes missed big, but boy did they hit big too.