Kids, don't try to imitate Jose Canseco at the plate.
For years, batting coaches have warned hitters about "stepping in the bucket" - moving the front foot back from the plate into a position that reduces the power of a swing and leads to pop-ups and groundouts.Canseco, a right-handed hitter, starts with his left foot in the bucket, farther from the plate than his right and pointing toward the shortstop or pitcher instead of being nearly parallel with the right.
The Oakland A's slugger's enormous strength and quickness allow him to compensate for this unortho
dox, open stance as he moves into the more common position during the pitcher's delivery.
But rather than stepping into the ball with a stride toward the pitcher, Canseco often strides toward right field. That results in many of his homers going to right or right-center, albeit with just as much power as the strongest left-handers.
Canseco experimented with open stances when he hurt his back last year, he said, "because I didn't have the strength to get the bat head through the strike zone. But toward the later part of the year, nothing really worked. Once your back goes, you have no stroke and your mechanics are just awful."
He is staying with open stances this year, varying them slightly depending on the pitcher and the situation.
Rick Burleson, named Oakland's hitting coach in December after a 13-year major league career, said he wondered whether Canseco's open stance was hurting his back, rather than helping it.
"Those hips really go," Burleson said. "He feels it doesn't (hurt) and we can only go by what he says. He stands right on the plate with his back foot. We've tried to get him off the plate, thinking he could be better by extending his arms out over the plate. But this is what he wants to do right now, so we're going to let him go.
"I think he just wants to get his hands through and not have to worry about his lower half. He feels he's strong enough where he can hit the ball out with his arms."
Canseco, who has 165 homers, 525 RBIs and a .270 batting average since reaching the majors in 1985, wants to boost his average, but isn't interested in swinging only at strikes as most coaches suggest.
"He just wants to see the ball in an area, and he'll hit it," Burleson said. "Jose can hit the ball out if it's up and away, in the middle, inside, it doesn't matter. He's that strong."
Canseco disagrees with those who say he's just a big, strong hitter who tries to overpower every ball.
"I've never been that way," he says. "I've been more or less a technical type hitter. I try to use my strength to my advantage totally. Part of my technique is making more contact, trying to be crisp and hard, not just overpowering."
Actually, Canseco has little use for hitting coaches.
"I know what I'm doing up there, believe me," he snapped when asked if he'd ever talked to a hitting coach about whether his batting stances might be contributing to his back problems. "I don't need a hitting coach. That's all I need after six years in the major leagues is to ask a hitting coach to teach me how to hit. People go to them when they get psychologically off track. When you're not mentally prepared, that's when you go to a hitting coach."