Do you want to hit like Hall of Famer Edgar Martinez? Step right up and learn the trade secret behind the sweetest right-handed swing Seattle’s ever seen.
We’ll tee it up for you.
Perhaps no one understood Edgar’s swing better than Lee Elia, the Mariners’ hitting coach during the team’s 1990s breakthrough. And Elia is convinced the one basic drill Edgar did every day of his major-league career can also be mastered by every eager Little Leaguer out there.
The hitting tee, Elia believes, is the most underappreciated and underused tool in baseball.
Elia, now 82 and retired in Florida, spent 60 years in pro baseball as a player, manager and coach, and he says he knew of no hitter more diligent — more maniacal — about hitting than Edgar.
“Edgar wanted to master every pitch in the hitting areas,” Elia said in a recent phone interview, “and the best way to do it is to hit off a tee.”
Before arriving in Seattle on Lou Piniella’s staff in 1993, Elia had only casually incorporated the tee as part of his teaching drills. It wasn’t until seeing Edgar — and learning from Edgar — that Elia realized how important, how powerful, the tee could be.
A decade later, Elia made a how-to instructional video — “Secrets of the Hitting Tee” — with Edgar’s techniques a focal point.
“The secret …,” Elia explained over the phone, “that’s me using what Edgar did.”
In the 40-minute VHS video, Elia walks a little-league hitter through the steps Edgar and fellow Mariners All-Stars of that era — Jay Buhner, John Olerud and Dan Wilson also make cameo appearances — used in the batting cage. A few basic tee-time tips to share for hitters young and old:
• Tee setup: Concentrate on the three areas of the strike zone: outside, middle and inside. For an outside pitch (right-handed batter), place the tee on the right front edge of the plate and have the hitter focus on hitting to the right (opposite) field. For middle, place the center of the tee 3 to 4 inches in front of the plate; hitters focus on hitting to center field. For inside pitches, place the center off the tee 6 to 8 inches in front of the left front corner of the plate and have the hitter pull the ball to left field, attempting to use the same swing with regardless of the location.
Before every game, Elia says Edgar would hit up to 50 pitches at each of the three locations off the tee, creating rhythm in his swing/stride and building muscle memory. “The simplicity of him reacting to those areas,” Elia said, “it was paramount.”
• Balance: The goal for coaches, Elia says, should be “to help your young players develop a sense of a fluid swing … a nice, easy swing … and a swing with balance.” The batter’s feet should be about shoulder-width apart, knees bent, to create a strong base. Edgar had a classic pose in the batter’s box, wagging the bat over his head and swaying his lower half back and forth off his left front foot.
• Weight transfer: The transition of power from the backside to the front, and the rotation of the hips, is one of the most crucial components of the swing. And repetitions off a tee are especially useful in transferring weight properly — building that muscle memory — because the hitter doesn’t have to also worry about timing up a pitched ball.
• Back leg release: This is where Edgar excelled. The back-leg release might be a little more advanced for some young hitters, but there’s no one better to learn it from than Edgar. The ability to release, or drag, the back leg forward is especially important to square up the outside pitch. Edgar was an exceptional opposite-field hitter, which has become a lost art in this Launch Angle Era, and he demonstrated that back-leg release off a hitting tee during a useful in-studio tutorial for the MLB Network in 2018.
There’s much more to the development of a full swing — and much more that made Edgar a Hall of Fame hitter — but those are at least a few starting points to home in on with a hitting tee.
Looking back at his time in Seattle, Elia said it was Edgar’s mental approach — and the effort he put into that approach — that separated him from most hitters.
“The great ones are prepared,” Elia said. “And he truly, truly was a great hitter. To watch him go about his task every day, he was very, very special. I love him.”
Elia and Edgar had a connection, an well-earned trust. If Elia didn’t feel he was getting through to another player, “Uncle Lee,” as Edgar called him, would ask his DH for help.
“If Edgar had a moment to speak to a teammate, teammate to teammate, it was volumes of information for that guy. It was a gift the way he could present little things to the other guys,” Elia said. “Deep down, he was never a ‘me-me’ guy. That’s why you love him so much more.”