Tens of thousands of people have played Major League Baseball, and all told, they've been similar in a lot of different ways. They've all been men. They've all been older than 16 and younger than 59. They've all been generally athletic, and able to either throw, hit and catch a ball, sometimes all three. You could usually pick a baseball player out of a lineup.
But there is one way in which all baseball players, from when the game began, are different. They all have their own batting stance. Some stances are similar to others, but like snowflakes, no two are exactly the same. A batting stance is unique, personal - it is about comfort. Whatever makes you comfortable is what matters, which is why it's yours: A batting stance is like an old chair you've spent so much time in that it feels like an extension of you.
Thus, when someone like Gar Ryness -- known to most as The Batting Stance Guy -- comes along (and there has only been one of him), it feels like some sort of magic. Ryness has made a career -- a passion -- out of being able to impersonate just about every batting stance known to man. He is a genius at it.
To call him the Rich Little, the Darrell Hammond, of batting stances is not to do him justice. He somehow channels the hitter, taking something that's unique and special and not just copying it, but magnifying it. Ryness says that he merely takes one aspect of a hitter's stance and exaggerates it, but he's being too modest: Somehow, he's able to conjure up the very player himself, and make you feel like you are watching that batter, not a a bald 40-something Angeleno family man. He seems to know the player better than they know themselves.
Ryness has only been doing this for a few years: In the summer of 2008, he was discovered by Deadspin and ESPN's Bill Simmons. Less than a year later, he was on late-night talk shows, being profiled in the New York Times and wowing players, out on the field, with impressions of themselves. He calls it "the least marketable skill in America." I beg to differ.
Don't take my word for it. Watch him impress:
and David Letterman:
So as the weather freezes, the holidays approach and baseball seems farther away than ever, I thought I'd ask Ryness -- just to keep us baseball fans warm -- to give us his 10 favorite batting stances of all time. There is no greater authority. He even happily provided his personal impersonations of each stance, and what makes some of them so great.
10. Jeff Bagwell
He might make it into the Hall of Fame next month and he might not, but his stance is iconic. Bagwell looks like he's sitting in an imaginary chair, though I'm not sure I'd want that chair in real life. It looks awfully uncomfortable.
9. Mickey Tettleton
The former A's catcher's stance looks less like a stance than a man preparing to enter a duel. An associate sits behind him. "Prepare me my pistol," Imaginary Tettleton says, and reaches backwards, eyes never leaving his target, and prepares for battle.
8. Phil Plantier
Remember in "Arrested Development," when Buster Bluth would protect himself from attack by crawling into a ball and pretending to be hidden? This is what Phil Plantier's batting stance looks like.
7. Cal Ripken
As Gar helpfully points out, Ripken changed his stances throughout his career, but they were all fascinating. I'm a fan of The Violin, myself.
6. Gary Sheffield
The one man whose batting stance actually scared me. Sheffield looked like if you threw 10 balls at him at once, he'd hit every single one. Right at you.
5. Rickey Henderson
The man got on base more than all but three players in baseball history, and it's little wonder: Where in the world are you supposed to throw to? Henderson's stance essentially eliminated the strike zone.
4. Julio Franco
What was impressive about Julio Franco's batting stances wasn't that he was able to hit the ball. It was that he was able to stand upright without falling over forward onto his face.
3. Tony Batista
The funniest thing about Batista's batting stance was the way that, as he prepared and got himself into position, his body acted like someone kept moving home plate around on him, and he was just trying to catch up.
2. Craig Counsell
Later in his career, Counsell abandoned this batting stance. Perhaps it was because he finally realized he could get his stretching in before the game, rather than in the batters box.
1. Kevin Youkilis
Youkilis' stance is so insane - so ridiculous in every possible way - that it looks designed to do just about anything else other than hitting a baseball. Posing in a ballet? Smelling your own armpit? Tapping your toes like it'll get you back to Kansas? Maybe. But hitting a baseball. It seems impossible.
You can get tons more of Gar's stances at his site. And please, tell me your own favorites. Everybody's is different. Maybe you even have your own.