While the “step into the ball” hitting stride dominated baseball for decades the “leg lift” is now in vogue. Where Mickey Mantle lifted his rear leg, barely off the ground, and slid it forward smoothly, today hitters lift their rear leg well off the ground and some even kick it forward, before landing.
Harold Baines and Ruben Sierra were modern examples of the hitters who used the “leg lift” method.
“Regardless of your preference in stride, a proper leg lift ALWAYS keeps the hitters weight inside his back leg thus keeping his center of gravity. The stride is always short. I can’t think of many hitters whose stride is long. Some hitters may start their leg lifts to late thus getting the foot down too late. This will disrupt timing, so read Getting front foot down in time:) Remember, the stride is the most important movement in your pre-swing so keep things comfortable and simple…”
It’s so much power releasing from the front side…I lock my front side as much as I can, so it stays straight. When it stays straight, that’s when my swing is the best. When I get out there” — he leaned forward with his knee bent — “my swing is terrible.”
His mechanics are being copied by amateur players:
“As Harper begins his swing, he starts by picking up his front foot and turning his ankle in, loading weight backward and starting to transfer energy from the ground to his hands. The key to his power comes in synchronized movements. As he twists his upper body, Harper separates his pelvis from his hips — if viewed from above, his shoulders and hips would form an ‘X.’” [http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/special/sports/bryce-harper-swing-of-beauty/]
The two historical examples of the “leg lift” are Japanese HR record-holder Sadahu Oh and the New York Giant’s Mel Ott.
When Mel Ott finished his career, he held the National League record with 511 home runs; he was one of the few members of the 500 Club with AL leaders Babe Ruth at 714, Jimmie Foxx with 534. Willie Mays passed him in May of 1966.
Ott was a career .304 hitter who knew his strike zone. He and Ted Williams are the only major leaguers who have both 500 round-trippers and fewer than 1000 strikeouts. He topped 100 walks for a major league record 7 consecutive years.
Sadaharu Oh’s total is simply mind boggling. He hit 868 career home runs. That’s over 100 more than Aaron, 150 in front of Ruth and surpasses Mays by 200.
Oh became a power hitter with 38 homers in 1962. He 40+ HRs, was a consistent .300+ hitter and had 100 or more RBIs every year for the remainder of the 1960’s. Between 1963 and 1977 he fell short of 40 HRs and 100 RBIs only twice and was under .300 three times.
Significantly, all his stats were achieved in 130-game seasons, while MLB was playing 154, then 162, games. The American League began playing 162 games during the 1961 season; the National League a year later.
“[Tokyo] Giants’ batting coach Hiroshi Arakawa guided Oh to perfect his swing. The two began a training method that involved Zen and martial arts to master mental, physical, and spiritual focus. Oh took samurai sword lessons so he could hit curveballs. He studied aikido for patience, practiced kendo for hip action and a downward swing, and focused his ki (life energy) from his shoulders to the bat.
To counter Oh’s hitch and gain balance when he swung, Arakawa and Oh developed Oh’s foot-in-the-air stance with his right foot raised as the ball reached home plate. This “flamingo” batting style was similar to American Mel Ott’s, yet each was developed independently. Oh was known to practice his batting 30-40 minutes per day.
After gaining new balance, his first two times at bat he singled and struck a home run.” [http://sports.jrank.org/pages/3481/Oh-Sadaharu-Zen-Art-Flamingo-Stance.html]
“The leg kick dates back to the nineteenth century and seems to have been designed simple as a timing device.” [*]
An early practitioner of the “Flamingo Leg Lift” was Dan O’Leary of the Empire Club of Detroit, who “had a habit of letting his right leg go through the swinging motion of the pitcher’s arm as the ball was delivered.” [Saginaw Evening Express, April 24, 1884]
A report in 1891 in the Brooklyn Eagle noted that Jack Nelson lifted his leg to “when he got ready to hit a curve.” [December 17, 1981]
Batter Jack Bentley’s approach was so extreme that he swung on one leg:
“As the pitcher released the ball, Bentley would step back, raise himself slowly on one foot, much the same as a shot putter would do, and lunge forward. When he met the ball, he was literally standing on one leg.” [F. C. Lane, Batting, p. 36.]
One of the oddest “leg lifts” was a form of Terpsichore:
“Doggy Miller was short and stout with plump little legs. He stood perfectly still until just when the pitcher was winding up to deliver the ball. Then he suddenly stuck his left leg out straight in front of [him], gave a funny little ballet girl kick, and threw himself forward to meet the ball.
His performance caused so much laughter that Doggy tried earnestly to stop kicking—but he couldn’t hit unless he did.” [Chicago Tribune, April 29, 1906]
Fads with their tidal rhythms, cause people to adopt “the latest” styles in clothing and hair, Hula Hoops and Pet Rocks, musical tastes and dances, iPhones and iPads, and other “in” or popular things, and baseball, with its changes of pitching and hitting methods is no exception.
[*] Peter Morris, A Game of Inches, pp. 70-71.