Born: April 12, 1933|
Died: March 18, 1984 (aged 50)|
Key Colony Beach, Florida
|September 12, 1956, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|September 29, 1967, for the Atlanta Braves|
Lau was signed by the Detroit Tigers as an amateur free agent. After spending three seasons with the organization (1956, 1958–59) he was traded (with Don Lee) to the Milwaukee Braves for Casey Wise, Don Kaiser, and Mike Roarke. After the Baltimore Orioles purchased him from the Braves in 1962, he adopted a contact hitter's batting stance (feet wide apart, bat held almost parallel to the ground). That season he had a .294 batting average with six home runs and thirty-seven runs batted in.
After hitting .194 in 23 games, he was sold by the Orioles to the Kansas City Athletics on July 1, 1963, hitting .294 in Kansas City and having a batting average of .272 in 92 games. On June 15, 1964, he was traded back to the Orioles for Wes Stock. On May 31, 1967, he was purchased by the Braves, now located in Atlanta, and on November 27, 1967, he was released by the Braves.
As a hitting coach
After his playing career ended, Lau became a hitting coach for the Orioles, Oakland Athletics, Kansas City Royals, New York Yankees and Chicago White Sox. Contrary to popular belief, Lau did not emphasize releasing the top hand after making contact with the pitch and following through with only the lower hand on the bat. He did, however, suggest this measure to hitters who—for whatever reason—could not fully extend their arms during their swings.
Lau developed a list of "Absolutes" about hitting, which included:
- A balanced, workable stance
- Rhythm and movement in the stance (as opposed to standing still)
- A good weight shift from a firm rigid backside to a firm rigid frontside
- Striding with the front toe closed
- Having the bat in the launching position as soon as the front foot touches down
- Making the stride a positive, aggressive motion toward the pitcher
- A tension-free swing
- Hitting through the ball
- Hitting the ball where it is pitched, rather than trying to direct it
Lau served as batting coach for the Royals from 1971 to 1978, with the exception of the early part of the 1975 season when he was the team's minor league hitting coach after his temporary ouster from the Royals' staff by then-skipper Jack McKeon. He worked with Hal McRae, Amos Otis, Willie Wilson and George Brett. He is also credited for reviving Cookie Rojas' career. Lou Piniella called him "the greatest batting instructor of them all." After becoming the Chicago White Sox' hitting instructor in 1982, his pupils included Greg Luzinski, Carlton Fisk, Steve Kemp, Harold Baines and Ron Kittle.
While serving as the White Sox hitting coach, he died in 1984 in Key Colony Beach, Florida at the age of 50 after a long bout with cancer. Since his death, no White Sox player or coach (except Lau disciple Walt Hriniak, the Chisox' hitting coach from 1989 to 1995) has worn his number 6 jersey, although it has not been officially retired. The baseball field at Romulus Senior High School in his hometown is named the Charley Lau Baseball Field.
Off the field
- Professor of hitting
- Lou: Fifty Years of Kicking Dirt, Playing Hard, and Winning Big in the Sweet Spot of Baseball by Lou Piniella with Bill Madden (HarperCollins, 2017), p. 329
- Baseball Digest Official Chicago White Sox roster; April 1989, p. 105; April 1990-91-92, p. 103; April 1993, p. 101; April 1994, p. 100; July 1995, p. 83