Don’t Swing Big All the Time

The Science of Hitting by Ted Williams and John UnderwoodIn The Science of Hitting, by Ted Williams and John Underwood, there’s a a section titled “Smarter is Better,” which starts out by talking about Frank Howard, then of the Senators.

“He hit a lot of home runs, he’s the strongest man I’ve ever seen in baseball, but he wasn’t getting on base nearly as often as he should. He struck out a lot, he swung at bad pitches, he swung big all the time.”

When Williams finally had an opportunity to work with Howard, they focused on NOT swinging big all the time.

“Halfway through the 1969 season he had almost as many walks as he drew the entire previous season. He wound up with 102 and cut his strikeouts by a third. His average was higher than ever, he scored more runs, and he still hit more home runs, some of them out of sight. In 1970 he led the league in home runs (45) and RBIs (140) and walked 130 times.”

For the non-baseball fans, this boils down to one thing: Once Howard stopped trying to crush every ball that came his way, his stats improved.

I met another author last month, whose goal was to make it to the New York Times bestseller list. He knows that first-time authors have made the list. He ignores the greater number of first-time authors that haven’t made the list, as well as the long-time successful authors who haven’t made the list.

His goal is to hit home runs and only home runs.

As Williams wrote, “you can’t beat the fact that you’ve got to get a good ball to hit.” For publishing, it might mean you have an amazing book, but the time just isn’t right for it. Think of the long list of artists that didn’t gain recognition until after they died. In baseball terms, you could be an amazing hitter, but you need “a good ball to hit.”

If you ask a group of Little League player their goals, you’ll hear many of them say they want to hit homeruns. Their goal, instead, should be to get on base.

That should be your goal, too — even if it means getting there because a pitcher sent four balls your way and you walked to first base.

Too often the goal is the New York Times bestseller list, when it needs to be “to get on base.” Get in the game first and then adjust your goal. You’ve got to be able to play at the basic level in order to reach and maintain higher levels.

Or, you could be like Frank Howard was, swinging hard every time, but not always getting on base. Once he mastered more than one way of responding to the pitch, he changed his game.

So what does that look like for authors?

It means walking and advancing on errors, and all the other ways to get in the game that aren’t as sexy homeruns. It means writing op-eds and articles for small publications as you grow toward the big ones, publishing’s version of playing in the minor leagues before making it to the majors. It means learning about all aspects of publishing at a lower level, so that you have what it takes to advance at the higher level. It means building your platform, starting at zero.

When Howard played for the Dodgers, he struggled to the point of submitting a letter of resignation, stating he was quitting baseball. Instead, a change of mind and a trade landed him in Washington, D.C., with the Senators and Williams. The rest is history.

Remember: Homeruns get the crowds cheering, but what get’s them sticking with you is consistency and quality, of you showing up and getting into the game series after series, and season after season. Fans are fickle. If you want to be a one-hit wonder, they’ll stick with you for a while, but if you want a career, you’ve got to show them you have the chops and discipline to maintain it.

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  1. Mary Doyle on May 20, 2016 at 5:30 am

    Brilliant! And wouldn’t Steve also argue that dreams of the New York Times bestseller list is really just Resistance rearing its ugly head? Thanks for another great post Callie!

  2. Joe on May 20, 2016 at 6:26 am

    I like how you combine seemingly disparate concepts and come up with 1+1=3. Nice.

  3. Mia Sherwood Landau on May 20, 2016 at 6:33 am

    It’s all about just doing the next thing, the needed thing now. Right? It works in baseball and in life. Good one, Callie.

  4. gwen abitz on May 20, 2016 at 7:51 am

    As always, for me The SP Team blogs relate to other than being an author or writer. Callie I couldn’t help but think of the Abbot and Costello’s routine Who’s On First I think it is the funniest routine ever. Metaphorically maybe when the game being played is what Steve mentions in THE WAR OF ART – “having two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us. Between the two stands Resistance” For me, The Journey T.S. Elliot refers to when he wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.” I am very familiar with wanting the “home run”. The PTA when I was in physical therapy after hip surgery told me – he had me pegged and was going to be very difficult “to change” now in physical therapy. He said I forget about addition and subtraction and go right to the Algebra. I was given no choice with him as the objection with the therapy was “just get on base.”

  5. Joel D Canfield on May 20, 2016 at 7:54 am

    Can you say Moneyball?

    When I was helping authors self-publish, this is the sentence few of them would have wanted to hear: Once he mastered more than one way of responding to the pitch, he changed his game.

    Sexy, like perfect, can be the enemy of done.

    A company called Serial Box ( has found what looks to me like a way to steal 1st base: serialized fiction a la television, not the old magazine serials. Loved it so much I’ve already started three series of my own.

  6. David McWilliams on May 20, 2016 at 8:45 am

    Terry Prachett was the first author that comes to mind when I read this.

  7. Michael Beverly on May 20, 2016 at 8:52 am

    I think we can extend the analogy further:

    A first book or even the first several books you produce don’t even need to be good (what should be of high quality is the practice).

    Why beginning writers seem to think that working for a year or two on their first book (unless it’s a hobby) or why they should try to “polish” it so they can “submit” to an agent is beyond me.

    Nobody expects a high school student to enter the Majors, the NFL, or the NBA (Kobe Bryant types are demigods, so an exception to the rule).

    I think this post makes a very important observation, Callie, and I hope to see more from the Black Irish team about how grinders like myself (and Joel as noted above) can realistically work ourselves into a career.

    I think I’m on the right path, writing what amounts to old school pulp fiction (which can now be published electronically for a lot less than the dime novels of the 50s and 60s, for instance).

    But I’d like to hear more.

    Between comments on blogs, the SG forum, an online writers group I’m in, and personal emails, I probably burn up 2500 words a day. Wasted? No way.

    I’ve learned to communicate better and with more clarity.

    I still struggle with the axiom: Omit Needless Words.

    Do I want to hit a home run someday?


    My dream is to say that Shawn Coyne is my agent and he just sold a book for 5.6 million dollars.

    And, oh, I got to go… Ridley Scott is calling.

    But as Joel pointed out: Moneyball is about getting on base.

    So, yeah. Keep encouraging us and teaching us how to walk up to the plate as a professional.

    And never forget, looking at this baseball analogy from the other side of the field, Nolan Ryan, Hall of Fame pitcher, walked more batters than any other pitcher in history (by a huge margin).

    But nobody remembers him as the pitcher that walked a lot of batters, he’s remembered as the pitcher who holds the record for the most no-hitters.

  8. Tine on May 20, 2016 at 9:16 pm

    Thank you, Callie! Beautifully written.

  9. David Kaufmann on May 21, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    My son’s Little League coach emphasized the importance of small ball – singles, bunts – but the kids all wanted to hit home runs. It took them a while to learn. Work on the small things, the details, and the big one will follow.

  10. Talmage on May 22, 2016 at 12:58 pm

    Thanks for this great advice. I think it applies to song lyrics, too, in a way: trying not to make every line of every verse the most profound, emotive thing ever written. And in stories, it seems there’s a sort of home-run mindset that applies to technical aspects – not too many adjectives, few if any adverbs, not too many passive verbs, not too many similes, endless rewording of dialogue to make it sound a little more natural.

    Or maybe I’m projecting.

  11. Sonja on May 23, 2016 at 9:57 pm

    I took this one to heart…great examples and wise counsel. Thank you, Callie.

  12. Fred Mike on December 5, 2023 at 9:08 pm

    This post beautifully illustrates the importance of strategy and adaptability in achieving success, drawing parallels between baseball and the pursuit of goals in life.
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