There is an extraordinary paradox at work whenever Giancarlo Stanton steps into the batter's box. He is a 6-foot-6, 245-pound specimen of an athlete, one who would look right at home catching passes across the middle on Sundays or perhaps even jumping off the top rope at SummerSlam. With muscles on top of muscles, he seems to fill every last inch of the 24 square feet to which he is entitled.
Stanton's ability to crush baseballs hard, high and far is the stuff of nightmares for most any pitcher on the planet. But look closely, and you'll see that underneath the terrifying raw power, there is a delicate choreography taking place. Stepping into the box, he gently taps his right foot into the dirt, finding a firm, comfortable position in which to plant it. His hands form a relaxed grip around his black G27 model Marucci bat, and he bends his knees ever so slightly as the pitcher sets.
Then, like a rattlesnake coiled and ready to strike, he barely moves a muscle as he awaits the pitch. There is no intimidating posturing to mess with the pitcher's head; no overtly obvious mechanisms to cue his timing. There's no exaggerated bat waggle, no high leg-kick. Just focus -- followed by firepower.
"I need to be quiet and soft, if that makes sense," Stanton says. "For everything to work right, I have to just simplify everything and just not try to hit it out, but put my body in the right position to be on time and get the barrel to it. It's not the harder you swing, the more you can hit homers. It's the more precise and balanced that you swing that they're going to come. And what it feels like …"
Stanton tries unsuccessfully to suppress a smile. This feeling he's trying to describe is one that 99.99999 percent of us can only dream about. Yet it's something Stanton knows better than almost anyone. And he plans to do a lot more of it before all is said and done.
Soon after slipping on the pinstripes for the first time last December, the 28-year-old Stanton, in response to a question from the YES Network's Jack Curry about joining Aaron Judge in the Yankees' lineup, quipped, "I feel sorry for the baseballs." This season, the slugger went out and showed why. Stanton's first season in New York came with the expected bumps in the road for a player who had spent his entire career in the National League. But when he squared up a baseball -- which was often -- it was a sight (and sound) to behold.
Yankees fans, accustomed to seeing Judge's magnificently powerful and graceful swing with its long follow-through, were immediately taken aback by the difference in Stanton's violently compact (yet equally powerful) swing. His first hack, on an 0-1 pitch from J.A. Happ at Toronto's Rogers Centre on Opening Day, resulted in a 426-foot rocket shot to right-center. While fans listening on the radio struggled to make sense of John Sterling's home run call for the newest Bronx Bomber ("Giancarlo, non si puo stoparlo!"), those watching on TV were just as flabbergasted by what they had witnessed.
It didn't always look this way. Like any batter who has been in the big leagues as long as Stanton, who made his debut on June 8, 2010, and hit 22 home runs in 100 games as a 20-year-old rookie with the then-Florida Marlins, he has tinkered with his stance over the years. His quest was ultimately to find something simple that worked for someone his size.
"It's developed over the years as just trying to be as soft and quick as possible, giving me the most time to see what pitch it is and strike with a powerful but comfortable swing," Stanton says. "Just years and years of watching film and seeing my best striking position, and trying to get there as quick and [with as little] movement as possible."
It wasn't always easy, either. Two weeks after Stanton's big league debut, the Marlins fired manager Fredi Gonzalez, along with bench coach Carlos Tosca and hitting coach Jim Presley. Stanton would eventually play for eight managers and eight hitting coaches in his eight seasons in Miami. The constant changes made it hard to find a rhythm from one season to the next, yet Stanton made the best of the challenging situation by absorbing whatever lessons he could from the array of coaches that came and went.
"I've had great coaches over the years, but the thing is, I had a new hitting coach every year. So it was tough to get like, 'This is what happened last year, let's do this and this,'" he says. "So, you have to be your own coach -- but with good guidance and support along the way from knowledgeable teammates and coaches."
That kind of turnover is unlikely in New York, where just three men have occupied the manager's office since 1996. But facing a challenge head-on and turning it into a positive is an experience that has already come in handy.
Despite all the turmoil in Miami, as long as Stanton was healthy enough to play, he knew he would be starting in right field. In New York, things are much different. Stanton was initially deemed to be the team's designated hitter, with the occasional corner outfield appearance to give Judge or Brett Gardner a respite here and there. But through mid-August, Stanton had played more games in the outfield (60) than at DH (58), and of those 60 games in the field, 31 of them had been in left -- a position he had never played in the Major Leagues prior to this season. So as he adjusted to a new home ballpark in a different league with unfamiliar pitchers, and while he was getting to know his new teammates and coaches and learn his way around a new city, Stanton also had to figure out a new routine that accounted for the fact that he could be playing a new outfield position -- or no position at all.
"That was another new challenge, but that one's the most fun," Stanton says. "Because wherever I'm at, it's to help the team. It's not so much, 'You're better here or there.' It's to give other outfielders a blow, or it's to get my bat in the lineup [as the] DH. So, it's been fun trying to master left field and still stay sharp in right and learn a new routine at DH."
At first, he says, he made the mistake of trying to tackle all of his new responsibilities at the same time. But Stanton soon realized that he was better off handling his duties one day at a time, while still mentally preparing for the next day.
"It seems obvious, but I had a lot to catch up on in left," he says. "And sometimes if I was playing right, I'd be like, 'All right, well I still need to get better in left. Let's try to get it all better.' But that's been my best routine -- knowing what I'm going to be playing tomorrow, handle what I'm playing that day, and then be prepared for my routine tomorrow, also."
Stanton settled in nicely to his new reality. Through Aug. 15, he had played 282 error-free innings in left and had made just one error in right. And at the plate? He has settled in there pretty nicely, too.
Baseball is a game of adjustments. A pitcher owns a certain hitter, until that hitter figures out the pitcher's approach and formulates a different plan of attack. In Stanton's case, a hitter figures out how to dominate an entire league, then gets traded to the other circuit.
He'd always been good at ramping himself up to speed quickly, dating back to his days as a three-sport star at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, California. While his basketball teammates were practicing and playing scrimmages in preparation for the season, he was starring as a defensive back and wide receiver for the Knights' football team. Some folks wanted him to quit basketball and focus on baseball, but Stanton wasn't trying to hear that. He'd play out the season, then trade his sneakers for cleats and hop right into game action.
"I didn't have this in my head then, but now I'm really glad that I had the mindset of playing it all because I can never play competitive football or basketball -- other than shooting around with my friends, I'll never be able to play two sports that I loved," he says. "So, I got to play until I was as old as possible, roughly, and have memories that I'll enjoy for the rest of my life by doing that."
By missing out on preseason training sessions, it forced Stanton to figure out a way to be successful in a hurry. So when his 2018 Opening Day heroics -- he homered again in the ninth at Toronto, finishing with three hits, three runs and four RBI in his Yankees debut -- gave way to some struggles in April and early May, Stanton once again met the challenge head-on, turning a negative into a positive. His mantra has always been to get the most out of himself, so he thought about all the work he had put in to establish himself as not just a big leaguer, but one of the game's best, the 2017 NL MVP. He trusted that his efforts in the weight room, the batting cage and the video room would soon yield favorable results. And he remembered one very important thing about baseball that can get lost during tough times: It's a game.
"There's years of figuring yourself out as a ballplayer -- understanding what type of player you are, how you can best fit into a big league team," Stanton says. "And then, you've just got to trust your work, trust all the years you've put into this and start enjoying it, trying to have fun even with all the outside noise, whether it's positive or negative. For me, I feel I've worked my whole life to be here, as have all the guys around me, and we should enjoy the process -- struggles and positives."
Becoming a true professional, Stanton says, is about coming to grips with the fact that failure is a huge part of this game. And while it's never easy to deal with failure, it's a lot more manageable when you can look yourself in the mirror at the end of the day and say, "Today wasn't my day. Tomorrow will be."
"You're not going to get it done always, but if you prepare the best you can and put yourself in the best opportunity [to succeed], then I can be OK with the results."
Stanton's first homestand in pinstripes was memorable, and not in a good way: 3-for-28 (.107) with 16 strikeouts and more than a few boos. His next homestand was markedly better: 9-for-38 (.237) with 10 runs scored. Then, a 10-for-31 (.323) homestand with more RBI (seven) than strikeouts (six).
Yet the first one -- specifically, the way he handled it -- may resonate longest with Yankees fans. There were no excuses from Stanton -- not even about the weather, which was abysmal even by New York's early April standards. He stood at his locker night after night and vowed to do better.
On the last official day of spring, June 20, Stanton seemed to tell the weather gods, the baseball gods and everyone else that it was time for summer. The Yankees, clinging to a one-game lead in the AL East, were losing to the Mariners, 5-0, in the fifth inning. They chipped away: two runs in the bottom of the fifth, one in the seventh, then a two-run homer by Gary Sanchez tied it in the eighth.
"We have been waiting for his signature Yankee moment," YES announcer Michael Kay said as Stanton came up with two outs and a runner on first the following inning. Seattle right-hander Ryan Cook quickly got ahead, 0-2. Stanton calmly stepped halfway out of the box, keeping his right foot where it had been planted. He gave a little tug on the brim of his helmet, looked up, took a deep breath, shimmied his hips slightly, and stepped back into the batter's box to await the next pitch.
Then, he pounced.
The beautiful, destructive symphony that Stanton has conducted nearly 300 times in his career set off bedlam in the Bronx. Cook bent at the waist and cursed at the ground long before the ball reached its final resting place beyond the outfield wall in left-center. Stanton had delivered a signature moment -- his first walk-off in pinstripes. And that feeling? The one that the vast majority of us will never know? Pure bliss.
"It's just like everything's in sync," he says. "Sometimes if you swing and don't make contact, or you swing and you hit a ground ball, you might lean over to the side and not be completely balanced. But usually when you hit a home run, everything is completely in sync, and you don't feel much on the bat. You just see the trajectory of the ball. I think you get the second-best view -- the catcher gets the best view."
American League backstops and batterymates: This is your warning. Giancarlo Stanton's transition period has just about ended. And the crescendo is building toward his next big bang.
Nathan Maciborski is the executive editor of Yankees Magazine. This article appears in the September 2018 issue of Yankees Magazine. Get more articles like this delivered to your doorstep by purchasing a subscription to Yankees Magazine at yankees.com/publications.