A broken bat on a check swing used to be a part of Jim Rice’s legend. The Red Sox slugger and alleged “most feared hitter in baseball,” was supposedly so strong that he had actually snapped a bat in half with the whip-like action of a check swing. It seemed like a tall tale, another dubious claim to support a not entirely-deserving Hall of Fame candidacy. In the Internet age, however, in which every unusual occurrence becomes commonplace via endless video replays, looping GIFs and Vines, and the relative permanence and search-ability of the World Wide Web, such tall tales can be quickly debunked or confirmed.
I thus feel confident in confirming that Rice did indeed break a bat on a check swing, because Yasiel Puig did the same thing Friday night. Facing Brewers reliever Zach Duke in the seventh inning of a 9-3 Brewers home win, Puig checked his swing only to have the barrel of his bat spiral out toward third base while the handle remained in his hand (note the look of shock and confusion on Puig’s face).
The natural and, I believe, necessary assumption here is there was a crack in Puig’s bat before the checked swing. Puig hadn’t made contact with a pitch in that at-bat, but he did foul out in his previous trip and made contact with three pitches on the night.
A quick Google search reveals that something very similar happened earlier this season, when the Phillies’ Marlon Byrd had a bat break on a full swing despite his missing the pitch from the Mets’ Jonathan Niese. That was June 1 and, again, Byrd had made contact three times prior to that at-bat and likely had a similar crack in his bat.
This isn’t merely a recent phenomenon, either. Tigers slugger Willie Horton supposedly broke his bat on a check swing on multiple occasions in the 1960s, and YouTube provides this clip of Reggie Sanders batting against the Mets' Robert Person on June 23, 1996. Sanders not only broke his bat on a check swing in that sixth-inning at-bat against Person, he finished the trip by hitting a home run.
The most significant thing these examples have in common is the bat broke in the same place, down by the hands, for all four batters. I’m guessing the same is likely true for Rice. That, of course, is the inflection point caused by the (check) swing, but also the most likely location of the pre-existing crack in the bat.
And so, the Rice legend is both confirmed and undermined in one fell swoop. Thanks, Internet!