#CardCorner: The Original Hit Man
After attacking a pitcher’s offering with a fierce uppercut, Easler finished off each swing with his signature flourish—an exaggerated rotation of the bat, the equivalent of a helicopter motion. Even as college students in the 1980s, we used to mimic the Easler “helicopter” during meetings with fellow baseball diehards. No one of Easler’s era finished his swing in such a way, and no one since has matched Easler’s twirling of the bat.
In addition to his distinctive batting style, Easler also had a descriptive nickname. Although most New York Yankee fans remember Don Mattingly as “The Hit Man,” he was actually not the first to acquire the nickname. It was Easler who preceded Mattingly as the original Hit Man, a testament to his aggressive style at the plate and his ability to pepper line drives from one outfield gap to another. Unlike most left-handed hitters with power, Easler boasted a particularly effective opposite-field stroke, which he seemed to prefer over pulling the ball to right field. Easler was usually at his best hitting the ball with gusto toward left-center, an ability that he honed during his years with the Boston Red Sox. Easler became particularly adept at hitting “The Wall” at Fenway Park.
Unfortunately, Easler would lose that advantage during his two stints with the Yankees. Left field at the old Yankee Stadium did not provide a reachable target for most left-handed hitters. The dimensions of “Death Valley,” as it used to be call, made life difficult for Easler, who struggled to fill the shoes of the player for whom he was traded, Don Baylor.
Still, Easler was reasonably productive in his first go-round in Yankee pinstripes. He played well as a platoon DH and left fielder, sustaining a role that he had filled with the Red Sox. Prior to that, Easler had forged a niche as a highly successful part-time player with the Pittsburgh Pirates, which included a cameo during the team’s World Championship season in 1979.
Bruce Markusen is the manager of digital and outreach learning at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum