There's something simply captivating about baseball swings. Some are near perfect, like Darryl Strawberry's sweet stroke, and some are all herky-jerky all over the place, like Mel Ott's bizarre 511-homer swing. It's a bummer that more video doesn't exist of swings from decades ago, as it would be quite intriguing to observe how they have evolved over the years. However, there is some scant footage of these older players. I thought if would be fun to GIF these older Yankees' swings and put them together in a post just because it can be tricky to get all of that in one place. It's easier to find video footage from the '70s onward and those swings are more well-known, so I ended the GIFs with Mickey Mantle. (Although I could certainly do another post sometime with more modern Yankees hitting GIFs.) Anyway, enjoy.
Ruth's big swing is the quintessential power stroke. He modeled his swing after the infamous Joe Jackson and brought home runs to the game in a way no one had ever seen before. Of course, his swing also led to him striking out more than most hitters in his era, though his career-high of 93 truly speaks to how much more often hitters fan these days. They were more than worth it, as Ruth belted 1,356 extra-base hits in 2,503 games, at least one every two games. He homered once every 11.7 plate appearances, a truly ridiculous rate.
In contrast to the "Sultan of Swat," Gehrig had a hack more suited for vicious line drives. A contemporary of Gehrig's once said that going up to the plate, he had one thing in mind: "to knock the hell out of the ball." Indeed, it was very difficult to defense Gehrig's smashes, which led to 534 doubles, 163 triples, 493 homers, and a staggering career 1.080 OPS, the third-best mark in MLB history.
If the Yankees were to retire #6, it should really be for the Hall of Fame second baseman Lazzeri, not a manager. "Poosh 'em Up Tony" was not the home run hitter that Ruth and Gehrig were, though he did once belt two grand slams in a single game. He was a fearsome member of "Murderers' Row," ripping 627 career extra-base hits of his own.
The "Yankee Clipper" had some of the quickest wrists in the game, and that is quite evident in these series of swings. Until Alex Rodriguez came along, no righthanded hitter in Yankees history could compare to DiMaggio's power, which despite Yankee Stadium's highly unfavorable dimensions for a righty (457 feet to left-center), led to 881 extra-base hits in just 1,736 career games. DiMaggio rarely missed the ball when he swung for it--he incredibly averaged a mere 28 strikeouts per season and only fanned 13 times in his landmark '41 campaign. An uncharacteristic 14 strikeouts during his final two career months made his career strikeout total (369) barely exceed his career homer total (361).
Broadcaster Mel Allen called Henrich "Ol' Reliable" for his propensity to come through in late-game situations, and he did belt four homers in World Series play. None were more famous than the one that resulted from this somewhat-odd swing, which ended a scoreless tie against the Dodgers in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game 1 of the '49 World Series. For many years, Henrich's 183 career homers ranked among the top 10 in Yankees history.
"The Scooter" did not have a ton of power, but he did step up for 200 hits, 36 doubles, and a league-leading 6.7 WAR during his 1950 AL MVP season. Rizzuto held his hands high up on the bat, leading to a short swing focused on contact. He was one of baseball's greatest bunters, a skill that while often counterproductive could also lead to many bunt singles as Rizzuto beat out numerous infield hits. In a pennant race one time, he somehow executed a perfect walk-off suicide squeeze on a Bob Lemon pitch around his head. Like DiMaggio, he also prided himself on avoiding strikeouts and only fanned 398 times in a 13-year career, never more than 42 times.
Yogi's up there with the likes of Vladimir Guerrero as baseball's best bad-ball hitters. It almost didn't matter where the pitcher threw hit--Yogi could drill it for extra bases regardless. Yogi felt humiliated by strikeouts, so again, he was of the DiMaggio/Rizzuto breed to avoid strikeouts at all costs. The short and stocky hitter's bad-ball approach obviously helped with that, as his 162-game strikeout average was a mere 32 per season, only 12 in a 151-game 1950. Berra's 358 homers were the standard for catchers until the much-later days of Carlton Fisk and Mike Piazza.
Maris had a lefty swing tailor-made for Yankee Stadium's short porch in right field, and he still holds the American League record with his 61-homer season in '61. It was a very pull-heavy swing, but it clearly generated results. Maris's bat did not take long to zoom through the zone and send balls flying.
"Ellie" was a trailblazer in becoming the first African-American to play for the Yankees, but he was also a formidable hitter. He won the 1963 AL MVP, capably succeeding Berra behind the plate, both on defense and with the bat. He did not waste much time in his stance, which was very quiet until he executed his swing. Howard hit 218 doubles, 50 triples, and 167 homers, and at the time of his retirement in '68, his .427 career slugging percentage was exceeded by just seven other backstops in MLB history.
The tour of old swings had to end with Mantle, who could be regarded as the greatest overall hitter in major league history if one considers that unlike say, Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Hank Aaron, Mantle mastered both the lefthanded AND the righthanded swing. His amazing career wRC+ of 170 (the result of a .298/.421/.557 triple slash) remains the best among all center fielders to every play the game. Like Ruth, his power swings generated a lot of strikeouts, more than anyone until Reggie Jackson came along. When he made contact though, the ball shot off his bat like lightning, to further distances than anyone had ever seen, be it a reported 565 feet all the way out of Griffith Stadium in Washington, D.C. or hitting the facade of the old Yankee Stadium. We might never see power like the Mick's ever again, and seeing his swing, is anyone surprised that the ball went so far?