One of the most aesthetically pleasing elements of baseball, other than the beauty of a baseball field or a fantastic defensive play, is a sweet swing. There have been many players throughout MLB history who have had that special quality of a beautiful motion through the strike zone, and here's a look at 10 of the best:
Ken Griffey Jr.
If there was ever poetry in motion on a baseball field, it was in Griffey's swing. The Kid is not only one of the greatest players in baseball history, with 630 home runs and 10 Gold Glove Awards to his name, the Hall of Famer also had one of the prettiest swings we've ever seen.
From Day 1, when he doubled to left-center in his first big league at-bat against the Athletics at the Coliseum, to the home run he hit in his first Kingdome plate appearance, and on through the 629 others he would launch, Griffey's stroke was the epitome of a sweet swing.
And even beyond the swing itself, there was the smooth finish of the bat drop, a perfectly fluid conclusion to the violent, yet beautiful collision of his bat with the ball.
Williams is considered by many to be "the best hitter that ever lived." And while the author of "The Science of Hitting" was all about mechanics, to the outsider, his swing was more art than anything else. He remains the last man to hit .400 or better in a season, and it's been 79 years since he did that. The numbers are legendary -- a .344/.482/.634 slash line and 521 home runs (and he spent three of his prime years serving in World War II). But there's nothing quite like watching film of the Splendid Splinter swinging a bat.
They didn't call him "The Thrill" for nothing. He was one of the greatest clutch hitters of his time, and on a Hall of Fame trajectory before injuries took their toll and his production declined. But from 1986-2000, we got to witness one of the all-time sweet swings. Clark was a six-time All-Star and the MVP of the 1989 National League Championship Series, batting .650 with a pair of homers against the Cubs, including a grand slam off Greg Maddux in Game 1. He also delivered the go-ahead single off Mitch Williams in the eighth inning of the series-clinching Game 5. Over his first six seasons, from 1986-91, Clark slashed .302/.372/.512 with 146 home runs.
Nobody has won more batting average titles in the last four decades than Gwynn, who won eight of them from 1982-2001. The Hall of Famer and Padres legend was a 15-time All-Star and -- we tend to forget this given his otherworldy hitting ability -- a five-time Gold Glove Award winner in right field. Over a 20-year career, Gwynn hit .338/.388/.459, nearly becoming the first player since Williams in 1941 to hit .400 or better when he hit .394 in 1994.
It comes as no surprise that all of that success at the plate came with a sweet swing, one that consistently frustrated opposing pitchers and defenses -- ask shortstops and third basemen who watched countless Gwynn hits go into what he called "the 5.5 hole" between the two positions.
He was the first Japanese-born position player in Major League history, as well as the best. From 2001-19, Ichiro terrorized opposing pitchers with a swing that was pure art. He was a renaissance master at the plate, having honed his craft from childhood and through nine seasons in the Nippon Professional Baseball organization. In an age of record-setting slugging, Ichiro was a throwback, wielding his bat with an unmatched ability to take great pitches and turn them into hits.
Ichiro was named both AL Rookie of the Year and AL MVP in '01, and would go on to set the single-season record for hits, with 262 in '04. He led the Majors in hits seven times, was a 10-time All-Star and a 10-time Gold Glove Award winner. In 2016, he became the 30th player in history to reach the 3,000-hit milestone, and he didn't debut in the Majors until he was 27.
Say what you will about his goofy antics, but Ramirez had one of the prettiest swings of any right-handed hitter in baseball history. It was all part of "Manny Being Manny" -- the slugger belted 555 homers in a 19-year MLB career and was a 12-time All-Star. He also hit 29 postseason homers while with the Indians, Red Sox and Dodgers, winning World Series MVP honors in '04 with Boston. His was a swing that began with his hands above his head and finished with a full extension of his left arm holding the bat, a swift and fluid motion all the way through. Beautiful.
He wasn't called "Sweet-swinging Billy from Whistler (Alabama)" for nothing. Williams' textbook swing was picture-perfect, and it led to a Hall of Fame career that featured 426 home runs and six All-Star appearances over 16 years with the Cubs and two with the Athletics. He hit 30 or more homers five times, with his finest season coming in 1972, when he led the NL with a 1.005 OPS to go along with 37 home runs. His career high was 42 homers two seasons earlier, when he led the Majors with 137 runs scored and 205 hits. He was also very durable, keeping his sweet swing in the lineup consistently by playing in 1,117 straight games from 1962-70.
Yes, he was the 1979 NL MVP, hitting .344/.417/.513 with an MLB-best 48 doubles. And yes, he was primarily known for his tremendous defense at first base (11 Gold Glove Awards). But Hernandez had as smooth a swing as they come, using it to hit .296/.384/.486 over a 17-year career with the Cardinals, Mets and Indians. He also helped St. Louis and New York win the World Series in 1982 and '86, respectively.
You'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who had more "easy power" than Palmeiro, who parlayed his sweet and effortless swing into 569 career home runs. Go down and in to Palmeiro at your own peril -- he dropped the barrel on that pitch with the best of them, and over two decades spent with the Cubs, Rangers and Orioles, the first baseman left fans in awe with his towering home runs.
Hey, we've gotta get a switch-hitter in here, right? Jones went down in history as one of the greatest switch-hitters of all time. The owner of 468 home runs -- and some would add "owner" of the Mets -- the Hall of Fame third baseman/left fielder had a picturesque swing from both sides of the plate. He was the 1999 NL MVP, an eight-time All-Star and helped the Braves to a World Series title in '95. When it was all said and done, Jones had launched 361 homers as a left-handed hitter and 107 as a right-handed hitter. For perspective, Mickey Mantle hit 374 left-handed and 162 right-handed.