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Masters of Movement: Willie Mays and Hank Aaron

Written By: JK Whited

Willie Mays

hankwillieUpon 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 Mays

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.

 

 

Hank Aaron

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.

 

 

The Comparison

Stance

Stances togther

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.

 

Stride

stride together

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.

Contact

Contact together

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.

Conclusion

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.

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9 thoughts on "Masters of Movement: Willie Mays and Hank Aaron"

  1. Owen says:

    I think Aaron in particular was a guy who could succeed against the higher degree of movement and speed from modern pitchers because of his famously quick hands and wrists. There’s a great story about how an umpire, anticipating a strikeout because Aaron hadn’t swung and the ball was almost to the plate, rang him up, only Aaron swung at the last possible moment and cranked a home run. The catcher turned around to ask what that was all about, and the embarrassed umpire could only reply, “Just practicing.”

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Owen,

      Thank you for following and for the reply.

      That story is great! There are lots of famous tales about guys and there tremendous athletic abilities on the field. Like most great stories out there, there are some real explanations. No amount of quick wrists or hands would allow such as story to take place. Hank Aaron swung a 35 inch 33 ounce tree limb that could not generate speed on pure wrist snap action. The REAL reason behind such a story would come from his ability to move in an athletic and explosive way. His ability to transfer his forward momentum into and explosive rotation of his body and THEN into his barrel flail is where the “wrist” snap comes from. It is important that everybody knows were real barrel speed comes from and how you say it can really damage good swings.

      Thanks for reading!

      JK-

  2. Jon Ball says:

    Great article.

    I have always used Hank Aaron as an example of the 5% of great hitters who do not/ did not use modern day techniques due to his extension at contact and handsy swing.

    I explain that he was such a great athlete and so strong that he could get away with it. Most of my clients agree that they were probably not blessed with Hank’s god given talents and know they should focus on modern day technique at the point of contact.

  3. Will says:

    JK,
    Excellent article. All you ever here is how much these old school
    hitters would strike out today. I don’t see that. I see deep barrel plane
    and solid contact. These guys didn’t flame out like today hitters.
    Their swings were built to last.

    Thank you,
    Wil.

  4. rupert says:

    Like it all but the “contact” position. The pics are after contact by a frame or two and are into extension after contact.

  5. Chad says:

    Look at Willie Mays left arm in the photo at the top!! Dang lol

  6. Mike Rytelewski says:

    Guys, some quick questions for either you or Chas regarding the forward move.
    First off, I have the BDB and the Rebel’s Rack which I use religiously and they are by far the best purchases I have made to help improve my swing and I finally feel the concept of separation/turning of the hitter’s box.
    My problem is during a live at bat in game, when I start my leg kick slow and early I sometimes feel a push off my back foot which causes me to not “fall” into my load but rather “lunge” at the ball making me miss pitches (weak pop up/foul ball). Any tips/suggestions that I can use to help me prevent this?

    Thanks
    -Mike

    1. jkhittingrebel says:

      Mike,

      That’s awesome that those tools have been super helpful for you! We use them everyday and they have proven themselves over and over again.

      Good question about the move forward. There are some physical changes that you could make to possibly make that better. The first thing that comes to mind is a higher leg kick. Think about keeping foot in the air longer and make sure you have a double inside load. There could be a number of things that make you push in games that you may or may not do in practice. Hard to say without having ever seen you swing before. Really though, you have to commit to falling more in games even though it may feel out of control for a while.

      JK-

  7. Khalil Bell says:

    When you were breakong down Wille Mays’ swing, what would he have to do in order to keep is head from moving during his turn?

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