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Split Decision Hands down--and up--Miguel Cairo has the most unorthodox grip in the bigs

Midway through the 1998 season Tampa Bay Devil Rays second
baseman Miguel Cairo was struggling at the plate. "I was hitting
a lot of fly balls, so I asked [then hitting coach] Steve
Henderson what would happen if I separated my hands a bit," he
says. "I figured I had nothing to lose."

Cairo got two hits in his first game using the new grip, and he
has stuck with the split-handed hold on the bat, which bewilders
fellow hitters and makes him look like the second coming of Ty
Cobb--at least in stance if not in substance. "Players come up to
me and say, 'How do you do that? If I tried that, I'd break my
wrist,'" says Cairo, who through Sunday was hitting an
un-Cobb-like .282. (His career average stood at .278, which was
.027 higher than before he made the change.)

The drawback of the novel grip--Cairo is the only current major
leaguer who hits with his hands apart--is a decrease in power.
Cairo's single-season high for home runs is five, in 1998
(including three before splitting his hands), and through Sunday
he had hit only three since, but the grip gives him better bat
control and allows him to get on top of the ball to slap high
pitches for line drives and ground balls instead of the pop-ups
he hit with a conventional grip. "I figure I'm not going to hit
20 homers anyway," says Cairo, who at first didn't realize he
shared Cobb's style. "My game is to play defense and try to get
on base. I run pretty well, so if I hit the ball hard on the
ground, I like my chances."

COLOR PHOTO: RICH PILLING/MLB PHOTOS Gap hitters Cairo (above) may not have Cobb's gaudy average, but he has embraced his goofy grip.

B/W PHOTO: AP [See caption above]