Baseball psychology examined

By Contributing Writer

by: Kyle Rich, Contributing Writer

While watching a professional baseball game, one will notice outfielders shifting around depending on wind speeds and whether the batter is right- or left-handed. The infielders creep on their toes in anticipation. The pitcher quickly glances at the runner on first before firing a pitch down the middle.

Players make it appear effortless to field a popup or scoop up a swift groundball and throw the opposing runner out. However, baseball has little room for mistakes; so little, in fact, that the number of errors made during a game are counted on the scoreboard with most games ending up with zero for either team.

There is no denying that there is a certain personality profile to those who play the game. Some players come equipped with mental and physical abilities above those of  the average population; others crack under

the pressure.

“The most important factors seem to be mental toughness and emotional control,” said Mike Stadler, professor of psychology at the University of Missouri and author of “The Psychology of Baseball.” “Baseball players have to be mentally tough because it is a game of failure, especially for hitters. And emotional control is important. When the ball is in play, the game requires intense concentration, so it is important to keep emotions under control.”

Albert Johanson and Joseph Holmes, from the psychology lab of Columbia University in New York, decided to test what exactly made a ballplayer great in 1921.

The researchers studied Babe Ruth’s dynamic baseball swing, his brain, hearing, muscle and eye coordination, along with examining all the elements working together simultaneously.  They found Ruth’s eyes were about 12 percent faster than those of the average human being. His hearing also functioned 10 percent faster than the average adults’. When it came to attention and quickness of perception, he rated one -and-half times above the human average. His intelligence was approximately 10 percent above average. And these dynamic traits are transferable outside the baseball field.

“Hockey goalies seem to require this, defensive backs in football and defenders in basketball,” Stadler said. “Outside sports, fighter pilots come to mind first. Ted Williams was as successful as a fighter pilot as he was on the baseball field, for instance.”

In the past two years, there have been three MLB players who wound up on the disabled list. However, their injuries weren’t visible—they were mental.

Former Detroit Tigers pitcher Dontrelle Willis, St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Khalil Greene and Cincinnati Reds first baseman Joey Votto all spent time on the disabled list with anxiety disorders in 2009. Willis, who returned to the lineup a month later, was put on the list again in mid-June for the same problems. Votto won the MVP award last season with the Reds.

“I think there’s a lot more mental fatigue [compared to other sports],” said Mark Brticevich, coordinator of fitness and recreation at Columbia. “The hardest thing in sports to do is to hit a baseball. Baseball is more proactive and about thinking ahead of time. Every play requires you to think.”

With an established baseball club at Columbia, one may wonder whether any of these stresses reach student athletes.

“In no other game can the whole outcome fall on one person in just one moment,” said Columbia baseball captain Michael Grantz.

With spring approaching, baseball teams have started their season. While this excites fans, it can either bring excitement and opportunity to its players or

unwanted dismay.