Is there such a thing as a hitting funk, or on the other side of the spectrum, a hitting streak? Would that even matter, if you’re a batter looking at the pitcher on the mound, the same one that struck you out with a nifty curveball earlier in the bottom of the third? Yes, baseball is truly a mind game, maybe more so than any other ball game in the world.
That is why University of Missouri sports psychologist Mike Stadler published a very-well researched book, The Psychology of Baseball, Inside the Mental Game of the Major League Player, to try and answer baseball's age-long questions using findings of behavioral scientists including his own.
Indeed, quoting Stadler's personal words, the game of baseball is a living laboratory for psychologists and holds the key to the depth of the human mind. Stadler gives us an enlightened glimpse into the inner-mind workings of major league baseball from diverse perspectives. (off-site link)
The mental game of baseball: Is baseball truly a mind game, and are we exaggerating? Hardly. For example, hitting a baseball is scientifically a superhuman feat! How? A major league pitcher occasionally hurls fastballs at speeds of around 100 mph with the ball's angular velocity going up at right about 500 degrees per second. But an average person can only follow something that travels at an angular velocity of up to 70 degrees per second! A 90 mile-per-hour fastball reaches the plate in about 1/2 a second.
That even fails to mention the fact that a slugger would have to begin to swing first—even before a fastball is hurled—if he hopes to have any chance of hitting the ball; at that breakneck speed it will take less time for the ball to travel from the pitcher's hand to the catcher's mitt than to take a full swing.
How does the major league player transcend physical limitations and do what appears to be physically impossible? The Psychology of Baseball captivatingly answers those questions.
Stadler tends to dwell on the physics of baseball quite a bit and the book does get bogged down a little in statistics and wasn't always easy reading; but of course, one of the angle’s of baseball is its prolific use of statistics, statistics on players, teams and their performances from every conceivable angle, relevant or seemingly irrelevant.
The mind game of Stadlers' world of baseball is "a game of waiting", which helps explain, in part, why baseball players, coaches, and fans have a tendency towards superstitions more so than any other sport. Why wear your "lucky hat" as a fan to help your teams on to victory? Why do players make a sign of the cross on their chest before batting? Why do players tap the plate while preparing to bat.
Sports psychology and baseball superstitions: Roger Clemons touching the Babe Ruth Plaque at Monument Park for good luck before each home game.
Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
The Psychology of Baseball explores the mechanism of of throwing the ball by the pitcher, which he describes as a "violent" act, citing the fact that about 25 pitchers have had "spontaneous fracture of the humeral shaft, through the act of throwing the ball, which more than throwing a dart, must be done violently."
Stadler also tells the story of how fan bases are accumulated--how do you become a Yankees, Mets, Braves, or Red Sox fan? This though is developed in Chapter 6, Psychology in the Bleachers. We often times inherit our teams from our parents or from the area in which we live, but fandom starts in other ways as well.
Stadler considers the psychology in the stands in Chapter 6. Photo from
What about fan violence or general disorder in the stands? Why do fans trash the stadium of their team at the end of a successful playoff run, or throw debris at the opposing teams" players, and how does this affect the father and son who spend a day outing at the game?
The story of baseball is clearly not one of sterling integrity, and Stadler relates well-documented stories of gambling, sign-stealing, and other breaches of uprightness, touching on the subject of the use of illegal steroids, its affect on performance, and the psychology affects of the drugs, including "'roid rage".
Though there have been thousands of books written about baseball, Stadler's The Psychology of Baseball is one that should adorn any research sports library or be read by both those who love or who are annoyed by this sport. Whether or not you like America's favorite pastime, you'll find yourself believing in this very book from the beginning right down to the end. The mental game of baseball: baseball is truly a physical and mental game!
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