“90% OF THIS GAME IS MENTAL – THE OTHER HALF IS PHYSICAL ” (Yogi Berra)


Okay, well maybe Yogi wouldn’t qualify as a baseball statistician or mathematician,image
but he certainly understands a underlying truth about baseball – a game that is engulfed in failure and the ability to bounce back from it over the course of a long season.

But at the same time, imagine the mental fatigue of someone like Corey Kluber  (below) imageof the Cleveland Indians who was the AL Cy Young Award winner only two years ago  – but who now finds himself with a record of 10-19 since then and a ERA of about 5.50. What happened?

Or, how about Adam Wainwright  who won twenty games just two years ago with a ERA of just 2.38. How does he get from there to a point where he’s still looking for his first win of the season and allowing more than seven runs a game. With injuries that should be behind him now………..what happened?

Or, how about Michael Cuddyer  image (who wins a batting title in 2013 with a.331 average, comes to the New York Mets two years later, hits .259 and abruptly retires from baseball saying “I just can’t hit anymore.” while leaving millions of dollars on the table………

Like riding a bike, you don’t suddenly forget how to pitch or hit a baseball…….or do you? Does Paul McCartney wake up one morning realizing he’s forgotten the lyrics to “Hey Jude”? Does James Patterson lose his ability to write best selling novels?

What is it then about baseball that seems to be so different…….

How often do we hear quotes from ballplayers like “I was really in the zone tonight ” or “The ball came out of my hand differently today ” or “The ball coming to the plate looked as big as a basketball today “…….

All of these are statements about mental perspective and capacity. Obviously, the ball doesn’t change size from game to game – but on a given dayimage when you hit two home runs and drive in five – you do in fact “see” the ball differently than a day when you go 0-4 with three strikeouts. 

Here’s a excerpt from a compelling article that appeared in Competitive Edge ……. “You play your best baseball when you’re trusting yourself and “unconscious”, that is, not thinking. Thinking tightens your muscles up in knots, distracts your focus from the task at hand and kills every part of your game. Baseball skills happen imagetoo quickly for your thoughts to be able to keep up with your actions. Thinking slows your reflexes and reaction times way down. Not to mention, making them uncoordinated.”

So, to play baseball you’re not supposed to think. Don’t think….just do it!  A novel idea – except for one thing – in everything else about how we are trained to approach our daily lives, we get pummeled with the notion that unless we think things are bound to go badly. Mindlessly drive your car and you won’t “see ” the person in front of you come to a sudden stop……..so, with that in mind, does that mean that a ballplayer has to develop a on-off switch to be consistently successful? Probably, yes.

And maybe that’s whyimage we hear these guys say (on a good day), “Boy, I was really in the zone today.” And it’s also why we’ll hear a manager say about a player mired in a slump, “He looks like he’s really pressing out there.” When in fact, probably all he is doing is thinking too hard and his switch is in the off position.

Besides, in baseball you don’t usually have the luxury of time to think. A 95mph fastball is on you in less than a second. If you are lucky, you’ll have enough “time ” to recognize the spin on a pitched ball to judge whether it’s a slider or or change of speed coming at you, but that’s about imageit. Same with a line drive hit down the third base line……you instinctively “see” and catch it……or you don’t.

Similarly, how often do we hear a coach say about one of his pitchers, “He’s gotta learn to trust his stuff .” In other words, there’s no question in anyone’s mind that this pitcher has the physical talent to be good…….it’s justimage the mental side of his game that needs work.

The ability to focus and concentrate for extended periods of time is also a factor in telling yourself not to think during a ballgame. And in all likelihood, the same percentage of ballplayers have different versions of OCD as people in the rest of society do. And for those that do suffer from this disability, baseball becomes even more challenging.

Especially for pitchers, who rely heavily on what they call mechanics, all of this can raise a myriad of problems that can cause them to be “a little off” from one start to the next. And sometimes even from one pitch to the next……..so we’ll hear them say……”I just didn’t get that pitch where I imagewanted to “………..a simple loss in concentration in, as they say, not trusting your stuff and trying to be too fine with a pitch.

Oddly, it’s the same strategy I employ when I’m teaching my students how to do math integer problems, “Hey guys, put your stupid hat on, don’t think. Just memorize (i.e. mechanics again) the rules and let your brain do the work for you from there.” Not surprisingly, almost no one “gets it” and they continue to stumble along getting the problems wrong and wondering why……….

On the bright side though, Corey Kluber won his first game of the year yesterday tossing a two hitter gem against the Tigers……….so maybe he didn’t forget how to pitch and all he needs to do is take the same mental game with him for his next start and beyond…….

I remind myself of these things every time I see a player flub an easy popup or get picked off first………or fail to lay down a sacrifice bunt or leave third too early on a fly ball to the outfield ………….

These usually happen when the switch to baseball is in the off position when it needs to be on………..

2 responses to ““90% OF THIS GAME IS MENTAL – THE OTHER HALF IS PHYSICAL ” (Yogi Berra)

  1. Pingback: All ABOARD THE “SCRANTON EXPRESS “ | REFLECTIONS ON BASEBALL

  2. Pingback: HAVING FUN IS BACK IN BASEBALL……. | REFLECTIONS ON BASEBALL

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