Long Beach Polytechnic High School players practice using unconventional equipment such as tennis rackets, paddles and a volleyball, 1966.
Not published in LIFE. Long Beach Polytechnic High School players practice using unconventional equipment such as tennis rackets, paddles and a volleyball, 1966.Ralph Crane—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
Long Beach Polytechnic High School players practice using unconventional equipment such as tennis rackets, paddles and a volleyball, 1966.
Long Beach Polytechnic High School baseball, 1966.
With a ball stuck to the end of a stick, Herbold makes a batter kneel to break a bad habit of uppercutting the ball. When he does, his bat hits the ground. Flat surface on bat indicates area that should come in contact with the ball.
Long Beach Polytechnic High School baseball, 1966.
To develop strength and stamina, Herbold loops an inner tube around waist of George Ambrow and hangs on while Ambrow tries to run. All Poly players must be fast enough to run a mile in six minutes before they make the team.
The "screwbat," specially engineered to teach a hitter not to roll his wrists when he swings.
Long Beach Polytechnic High School baseball, 1966.
Long Beach Polytechnic High School baseball, 1966.
Not published in LIFE. Long Beach Polytechnic High School players practice using unconventional equipment such as tennis
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Ralph Crane—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images
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'Screwbats' and Other Strange (But Effective) Tools for Teaching Baseball

Sep 30, 2014

Anyone who has ever played even a few innings of baseball knows some things for certain about the game. For instance, hitting a round ball "squarely" with a cylinder is well-nigh impossible, as is sliding into a base without looking (and feeling) like a dysfunctional whirligig. Staying in the batter's box when a breaking ball is headed for one's head feels wholly unnatural. Chasing a shot hit deep into the gap, meanwhile, while running full-tilt toward an outfield fence can be downright nerve-wracking.

Down through the years, of course, coaches have employed countless techniques, tactics and tools to help their players grow, at the very least, comfortable with the game's infinite variables. But in a sport so endearingly perverse that a hitter who fails in seven out of 10 trips to the plate is considered something of a star, there's only so much a coach can do.

Enter John Herbold. A coach at California's storied Long Beach Polytechnic High School, Herbold began using the devices in this gallery—many of them thought up by Dodgers coach and celebrated hitting instructor Kenny Meyers—in 1962. The next year, Poly won the American Legion National Championship and, LIFE magazine wrote in a July 1966 article, "its teams have been winning titles ever since."

Herbold [LIFE noted] credits his heretical training techniques for the wins but he believes the devices also get his players thinking. Herbold, himself a Phi Beta Kappa, encourages this by making players digest a thick manual on the sport, pass periodic tests, write a term paper on baseball and, on the fingers of their gloves, print the letters t-h-i-n-k.

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