Psycho Baseball

So, what’s your opinion on Rick Ankiel? Who, they keep telling me on ESPN, has “mental/psychological issues” that prohibit him from getting control over his pitches and has driven him down from being a big league phenom to a guy who’s going to be in single A ball next week.

There was much talk last season about Chuck Knoblauch, who also seemed to just forget how to play baseball for a while (I believe he’s recovered from that), and that was attributed to ‘psychological blocks’.

What do you think or speculate is the problem? Big league nerves? Is it the ol’ Bull Durham issue of ‘thinking too much’? Not breathing from the eyes? Does rick ankiel need to wear a garter belt on the mound?

Ah, yes, ESPN, sees all, knows all…

I certainly haven’t got the answer to the Ankeil Problem, but I just wanna say that if Scott Rolen should decide that, say, wearing a black cocktail dress at the plate would help him to finally start producing some RBI’s, go for it.

Oh well, maybe a few days of relaxation with the Pirates and the Fish will help clear his mind in time for the series with Atlanta…

Who knows what the reason is? It’s just something that randomly strikes major leaguers. Some recover, some adapt, and some just can’t handle it.

Steve Blass (the original sufferer of this condition) just couldn’t find the strike zone one day. Mackey Sasser found that he suddenly couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher or second base unless he “pumped” it several times. At times it got so bad that players on the opposing benches would count the pumps he made out loud.

Another player was a Yankee farmhand from a number of years ago named Sam Militello. He had a lot of talent. One spring, however, he found that he could no longer find the strike zone; and that was the end of his career.

Dale Murphy adapted. When Murphy started, he was a catcher. However, he found that he could not throw the ball to second base, no matter what. The Braves, rather than try to fight it, switched him to the OF, where he had a borderline Hall of Fame career.

Steve Sax (like Knoblauch) had this problem at second base for a while too. Sax, however, recovered.

No one knows why this happens. It’s just a mental block that happens to certain players.

Zev Steinhardt

There was also Joe Cowley. As a White Sox pitcher, he had a very flawed no-hitter once (walked a whollllllle lotta people, IIRC). A few years later, with the Phillies, he couldn’t find the plate.

In Ankiel’s case, one determining factor has to be the time he spent in the minor leagues in the first place; that is, hardly any at all. As more and more players are rushed from the minors to the majors (and more and more from high school directly to The Show), you’ll see more and more of these problems. In fact, you see them now, but they’re usually not as pronounced as Ankiel’s. Remember, he was outstanding last fall as the Cards headed into the playoffs. Everyone was suitably impressed. This only added to the pressure placed on him to succeed in the playoffs. When he was on that huge, national stage, he faltered. That’s why it’s more psychological than anything else. If the team (and St. Louis is certainly not the only one) had taken its time in developing him both mentally and physically, he’d be a serviceable pitcher right now. But there’s a lot of pressure on the teams to win right this second, and they don’t have time to fart around with some kid.


Yeah, I remember Joe Cowley. He used to pitch for the Yankees too.

Cowley, however, even on his best control day, had trouble finding the plate. It’s not like he had great throwing control once and lost it due to a mental block. He never had it to begin with.

Zev Steinhardt

I think an athlete developing a mental block about performing a particular task has been going on for quite a while. There is a very fine line between an elite athlete and someone who bounces pitches to the backstop.

I get mental blocks about everyday tasks sometimes. Sometimes I just forget how to spell very easy words. This usually happens when I’m particularly anxious.

In golf, mental lapses frequently spell disaster, as witnessed by this year’s U.S. Open.

The phenomenon is sometimes called “choking” (especially when it happens in a tight game). What happens is that the person begins to “think too much” about what he’s doing. Instead of just tossing the ball, you start to worry about the mechanics, which makes it hard to get the right “feel” for what you’re doing.

For many players, this happens from time to time. In some cases, however, the problem doesn’t go away, and you end up trying to think through every bit of the motion to attempt to fix it – which only makes things worse.

The solution is to forget about what you’re doing and just do it. That can be difficult, and you can easily lapse back when things go wrong.

Though I did think this topic was about Ty Cobb . . . :wink:

A lot of these cases might not exist if it weren’t for the massive attention they get. If you’re a burger-flipper who drops a patty on the floor, you can shrug it off and get on with the job, and it may never happen again. But if the falling burger cost your restaurant a big order, and it gets shown on replay endlessly on every cable sports channel, and every burger commentator talks about it and asks you what the matter is and do you think you can get over it, and asks your boss if you really have what it takes or if you should go back to the burger minors, then it would be a surprise if it DIDN’T happen again.

It’s a shame, really, that not enough fans realize these are real people trying to do a job under difficult circumstances.

As a Cub fan from way back…I’m fully aware of the choking concept :smiley: We like to do it every June (except this one, thank God)

But there’s a distinct difference between Rick Ankiel choking (which, like BobT said, is like forgeting how to spell cow) and Todd Hundley’s current choking which everyone just refers to as a slump.

People threw around all kinds of theories as to why Knoblauch went off the rail (the loss of his dad, pressure, change of team…), but no one just says ‘yikes, guess he’s done playing baseball’. I’m wondering how we discern what’s what.

the love of my life, Kerry Wood walks six thousand people a game and is always chastised for his lack of control…and yet everyone’s confident that he’s still one of the current greats.

So, I guess I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m not even sure what my question is…except how do you know when a player’s just outplayed his career and when they’ve got some “psychological block”? I don’t know. I just think the Ankiel story is fascinating.


gee, coming out of Chicago, was I the only one who thought of someone who slid into first and dropped trou?

Dan, Rob Neyer on ESPN analyzed the “more young players than ever before” a few days ago. It didn’t hold up.

Jarbaby, strikeout pitchers almost always walk a lot of men. Ryan walked over 200 men at least once. BTW, only 1 3000 K man had less than 1000 BB - and he played in Chicago…

Ankiel may come back. He may not. The mind is hard to understand.

Did Mark Fidrych (former Tiger pitcher) blow his arm out, or did he snap mentally as well? I recall that the guy talked to the ball or whatever, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he just lost it one day. He was a bit before my time, though.

Fidrych was physical injuries. He went from appearing in 31 games as a rookie to 11 his sophomore year to three the next. His ERA remained below 3.00 those three years, indicating that when he did pitch, he was effective.

He struck out 20 in one game, that’s a sure sign of impending greatness. AS for his lack of control, wood’s young and he’ll learn control. Both Bob Gibson and Sandy Koufax were wild as hell when they first started pitching.

As for Ankiel - they brought him up too soon and are being careful not to do the same with the Cards new hot pitching prospect Bud Smith. They know Ankiel had lots of talent and rushed him through the system without really testing him.

Then, after a sweep of the Braves, he is started in the 1st game of the NLCS against the Mets to see who goes to the World Series. Kile doesn’t get the start, Ankiel. That’s a hell of a lot of pressure. It got to him.

Then it carried on as all the local baseball press wanted to know “How’s Ankiel? How’s Ankiel? Can he pitch? Is he still wild?” More pressure. So now the Cards are slowly bringing Ankiel back.

They’ll know if he’s washed up or just got a block depending on how well he does in the minors.

In the case of pitchers, most Steve Blass Disease cases are undiagnosed injuries. Mark Wohlers, a recent Blass case, had a shoulder injury, as it turned out. Blass himself probably had a shoulder injury; he’d been worked very hard, and they didn’t know as much about arm problems then as they do now.

Ankiel’s troubles may help his career. Virtually ALL pitchers who become major league starters as young as he did blow their arms out sooner or later. Maybe a few years off will save him from that fate.