By Rod Carew
Editor's Note: Rod Carew was voted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1991. He won seven American League batting titles and retired with 3,053 career hits. He is one of baseball's most sought-after hitting instructors. A few players who have blossomed under his watchful eye include: Jim Edmonds, Troy Glaus, Garret Anderson, Torii Hunter and Darin Erstad.
Throughout my career, and even since the conclusion of my playing days, people always took notice of my unique batting stance. My stance actually came about because of Nolan Ryan, the great Hall of Fame pitcher known for, among many other highlights, his seven career no-hitters.
Nolan struck me out 29 times, with most of them coming early in my career when he would overpower me with fastballs up in the zone. So, I decided to go into a “crouch” to force him to bring the ball down.
The stance actually aggravated Nolan, as he would yell from the mound, “Stand up there like a man.” But the adjustment worked – not just versus Nolan, but against the rest of the league for the balance of my career.
And so began my years with what many refer to as the Carew flex-stance.
While it looks vastly different than most stances, the flex-stance begins with your feet, just like any other good, solid stance.
Your feet should generally be about a shoulder width apart, allowing an easy transfer of weight from the back foot to the front as the ball approaches the “contact zone.” For me, the contact zone was the area just off my front foot, about a foot in front of the plate. Just how far the zone extends is dependent on the location of the pitch.
Generally, the location of the pitch from the outside to the inside is in direct proportion to how far out front you want to make contact. Basically, if the pitch is outside, wait just a split second longer before you swing. If the pitch is headed down the middle, swing just a bit earlier – and swing even earlier if it’s an inside offering.
There are many reasons for this approach.
The deeper the ball gets into the strike zone, the harder it is to put the ball into fair territory. Also, the most difficult movement to handle on fastballs and curveballs often comes two to three feet before the pitch reaches the plate. In addition, if you’re slow and the ball gets in on you, you tighten up and lose arm extension and, thus, you’re unable to get the fat part of the bat on the ball. Therefore, it’s of utmost importance to make contact with the ball out in front of the plate.
Lastly, much is always made about having a balanced stance; not leaning too far forward or too far back. In my view, the need to be balanced is a gross misconception. I was never a balanced hitter – at least not during my setup in the box. I liked to hit out of a slightly coiled stance, with my weight back so that I could moved forward comfortably and controlled. In a balanced stance, when the ball is released you have to lean back in order to push toward the ball and generate the power to open your hips and push off your legs.
Why not eliminate the excess movement and try to begin the whole process with your weight already back?
But, remember, it all begins with your feet.