On Friday night against the West Coast, Los Angeles, California Angels of Anaheim, Alex Gordon went 1 for 4. Most of the time 1 for 4 is nothing to write home about, but it was still good enough to raise Gordon’s average — by one point.
Alex Gordon is now hitting .196.
This season, as all Royals fans know, Gordon got off to a lousy start.
But — as some Royals fans know — Gordon has made an adjustment; over the last 14 days he’s hit .287 and slugged .632, over the last seven days those numbers are .350 and .750.
So what was the adjustment?
Thanks to Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com, we have some idea.
Royals hitting coach Dale Sveum told Flanagan that Gordon had gotten away from loading up weight on his back leg and that resulted in a lot of weak at-bats.
In sports — think boxing, basketball or archery — you first go back and then go forward to generate power. If a boxer threw a punch without drawing his fist back first, the punch wouldn’t have much sizzle.
Sveum also said Gordon is a “rotational guy,” and that needs some explaining.
Hitters use rotation (the spinning motion of the hips, hands and bat) and weight shift (the back-to-front motion) to generate power. A hitter who does not emphasize weight shift is a rotational guy. So with very little load on his back leg, Gordon was just spinning in place, coming off the ball and hitting it without much power.
And if that doesn’t make sense to you, rest assured it doesn’t need to.
But at least Sveum was trying to explain; Gordon was less revealing.
Gordon told Flanagan he was trying to put the work in and trying to keep his head up and neither cliché explains much.
But there’s a very good reason for that.
It’s easy to talk your way into a slump
As Yogi Berra once supposedly said, he couldn’t think and hit at the same time. Hitting is reacting to pitches arriving in a hurry and there’s no time to think about your bat path or hand position.
Here’s another story:
Ted Williams once asked Mickey Mantle if he was top or bottom-hand dominant and Mickey didn’t know — and that was bothersome. If Ted Williams thought it was important, Mantle felt like he ought to know and started thinking about it.
After that, Mantle couldn’t hit sand if he fell off a camel.
So after a period of scuffling, Mantle said to hell with it, quit thinking and started hitting again. (And if that story is not true, it certainly ought to be, because it makes a great point: when you’re going good, stop thinking.)
If Gordon talks about hitting he might start thinking about hitting when he’s in the batter’s box: Do I have enough weight on my back foot? Are my hands in the right spot? Is my head still?
And that kind of thinking would be disastrous.
Stubborn or disciplined?
Before we go on, let’s take a moment to point out that all the pet theories fans had about Gordon’s slump now appear to be wrong. Gordon did not need an eye test, he wasn’t over the hill and his body had not been taken over by space aliens.
(That last theory was mine because it helped explained why Gordon has six-pack abs and I look like I just polished off a 12-pack.)
But if the fix Gordon needed was something as simple as getting more weight on the back foot — a hitting fundamental — why did it take so long to implement?
The answer might have something to do with Gordon’s nature.
Alex Gordon is a very disciplined individual.
Gordon works out harder than anyone else and is determined to stick to his program. Other players roll their eyes when asked about Gordon’s pregame routine. When a young ballplayer asked Rusty Kuntz what he had to do to stick in the big leagues, Rusty pointed at Gordon and said: “Go where he goes, do what he does.”
The young ballplayer couldn’t keep up and quit trying after a few days.
One day Gordon and I were talking on the bench before a game and Alex had laid out three pieces of bubblegum next to him. Greg Holland was a rookie and mistakenly grabbed one of the three pieces of gum and popped it in his mouth. Gordon made Holland go back to the clubhouse and replace the piece of gum; it was part of his pregame routine and Gordon wouldn’t change it.
Here’s another one:
For a long time, there were two white footprints on the edge of the grass in front of the Royals dugout because Gordon had to stand in the same place before every at bat and that killed the grass.
When people were talking about Gordon leaving the team, I was thinking a guy who won’t change where he stands when he’s on deck isn’t likely to change cities.
So whether you consider Gordon stubborn or disciplined it probably took a while before Alex was ready to make a change at the plate. Now Gordon has finally made an adjustment and now Gordon is hitting again.
But don’t expect him to talk about it.