Posts Tagged ‘baseball psychology’

L.A. Angels keeping memory of late teammate Nick Adenhart close during march through playoffs

The Star Ledger – October 15, 2009 – Brian Costa – One hundred eighty-nine days have passed since the night that changed the Angels season. And not one has gone by without a reminder of Nick Adenhart.

His locker at Angel Stadium remains intact. His mural remains on the outfield wall. Patches bearing his name and uniform number, 34, remain stitched to their jerseys. And his own jersey hangs in the dugout during every game.

When the Angels begin the ALCS against the Yankees Friday night, they will be motivated by the memory of Adenhart, the 22-year-old pitcher killed by an alleged drunk driver on April 9.

He’s definitely been with us the whole way, the entire season and so far in the playoffs, reliever Kevin Jepsen said. And he’s going to continue to be with us every step of the way.

Some players were close to Adenhart. Some hardly knew him. But all have paid tribute to him.

When the Angels clinched the AL West last month, they ran out to touch Adenhart’s photo on the outfield wall at Angel Stadium and placed an unopened bottle of champagne by his locker. And as they have advanced through the playoffs, Adenhart has been a source of inspiration and even confidence.

I can go out there feeling like there’s no pressure on me, said catcher Bobby Wilson, who was one of Adenhart’s best friends. I’ve got my best buddy in my heart right now. If I can’t do it, I know he’s going to help me out.

Only a handful of teams in the history of professional sports have experienced what the Angels went through this year: the death of a teammate during the season.

Some of the most notable examples are the 1979 Yankees, who endured the death of captain Thurman Munson; the 2002 Cardinals, who lost pitcher Darryl Kile; and the 2007 Washington Redskins, who mourned the shooting death of safety Sean Taylor.

All were inspired to play on in memory of a fallen teammate. And while that motivation may not outweigh pitching, hitting and defense, a leading sports psychologist said it can have a powerful impact on a team’s play.

It can actually enhance the team’s performance if the meaningfulness of it is able to be synergized into a battle cry or a unifying theme to play for that player or to do what that player would want, said John F. Murray, a sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla. It almost adds a spiritual component to performance to have something like that.

That doesn’t make the loss of Adenhart any less devastating.

On April 8, he tossed six shutout innings against the Athletics at Angel Stadium to begin what appeared to be a promising season. It was only his fourth career major-league start, but already, Adenhart appeared to be a much-improved pitcher after giving up 12 runs in 12 innings in 2008. He earned a rotation spot in spring training, making him the youngest pitcher on a major-league roster, and the Angels had high hopes for him in 2009.

I said last year he had all the talent in the world and couldn’t figure it out, said Rangers reliever Darren O’Day, a close friend of Adenhart and former Angels prospect. Then he figures it out, and then six hours later, he’s gone.

Adenhart was killed along with two friends when their car was broadsided at an intersection near Angel Stadium. And the Angels have been playing with him in mind ever since.

Pitcher Scot Shields started the routine of bringing Adenhart’s jersey down to the dugout before each game and hanging it over the Angels’ bench. When Shields went down with a season-ending knee injury in May, Jepsen took over the responsibility.

He’s not necessarily on your mind while you’re playing, Jepsen said. But you never forget about him. There’s always times when in between the games and everything, at least for me, he’ll pop up in my mind.

As Jepsen spoke Thursday, sitting in front of his locker in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium, Adenhart’s jersey hung in an otherwise empty locker a few feet away.

It will be there for the rest of the ALCS. If the Angels reach the World Series, they will continue to take it on the road with them. And if they win the World Series, they will give Adenhart’s family a full share of the bonus players receive, along with a championship ring.

It just shows you what kind of guy Nick is, Wilson said. A lot of guys, they love him and they only knew him a short amount of time. It just shows Nick’s character and his upbringing. This group of guys, we’re moving toward one common goal, and we have the inspiration of Nick within all of us.

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A-Rod on Kate & narrow

New York Post – Angela Montfinise and Douglas Montero – It’s another Miracle on the Hudson.

Alex Rodriguez’s newfound playoff prowess after years of choking in the post-season is a product of his steamy — and surprisingly honest — romance with sexy screen siren Kate Hudson, a team source and a top sports shrink said yesterday.

A team insider said A-Rod has ditched his philandering ways and is making a big effort to inject honesty and openness into his relationship with the actress.

“He’s decided to be completely honest with her because what he was doing in the past didn’t work,” the source said, referring to his ugly 2008 divorce.

The healthy off-field relationship with Hudson is translating into October success on the baseball diamond, experts said.

“If he’s becoming a little more honest . . . he would have less anxiety,” said Palm Beach sports psychologist Dr. John Murray. “He would sleep better at night and be more relaxed. More focused. That is key.”

The steamy slugger has a long history of failing in the clutch — and in his personal relationships.

While racking up a paltry .212 lifetime batting average in the playoffs, he carried on “extramarital affairs and other marital misconduct,” according to papers filed by his ex-wife, Cynthia.

Cameras caught him with stripper Joslyn Morse in Toronto in 2007, and he was later linked to Madonna while still married.

In postseason play from 2005 to 2007, A-Rod had a grand total of one RBI. The Yankees were bounced in the first round in each of those years.

But this year, A-Rod has “looked really relaxed, really great,” Murray said.

He has hit .500 over two games and smacked five RBIs, and his game-tying, ninth-inning homer Friday night set up a Yankee win. A victory today in Minnesota would complete the sweep and put the Bombers in the American League Championship series.

Hudson — who has accompanied Rodriguez on road trips and often cheers him from his personal seats in The Bronx — was at both playoff games last week.

“If you get somebody like a gorgeous woman, someone who you admire, somebody who’s behind you, [athletes] know it,” Murray said.

Even when she isn’t cheering for A-Rod in person, Hudson has been rooting for him at bars. In June, she watched the Yankees take on the Indians at Bar 108 in SoHo.

“She was clapping, rooting for him and even hollering. She was very animated. She was pushing him hard, and I think she’s a good influence,” a bartender there said yesterday.

He added, “If I got a woman that pretty rooting for me, I’d do good, too.”

People are realizing more and more the benefits of a solid mental game and sports psychology.

Baseball’s Most-Ejected Managers

Sports psychology commentary in Forbes.com – Monte Burke – June 22, 2009 – Sure, home runs and stolen bases are cool, but the ejection of a manager is baseball’s greatest performance art. Two actors (manager and umpire) meet on center stage in front of thousands to kick dirt, toss bases and hats and spit tobacco juice and obscenities into each other’s faces. The fact that we already know exactly how the spectacle will end–with the outstretched arm of an ump–diminishes it not one bit.

Earl Weaver, the fiery, longtime manager of the Baltimore Orioles, was perhaps the art’s most flashy practitioner. While he argued, he furiously pecked the brim of his hat on an umpire like a bird. He once tore up a rulebook and scattered the pages all over the field. In an infamous incident, Weaver was tossed for smoking a cigarette in the dugout. The next day he delivered the lineup card to the ump with a candy cig dangling from his lip. He was tossed again.
In Depth: Baseball‘s Most-Ejected Managers

Legendary as he was, however, Weaver has nothing on Atlanta Braves skipper Bobby Cox, who is the all-time leader in manager ejections, with 143 (which doesn’t even count his two ejections in World Series games). The most recent one? Yesterday, when he was tossed in a game against the Boston Red Sox for arguing balls and strikes, giving him 34 ejections since 2004. “I don’t know why umpires miss strikes,” Cox grumbled after the game.

Behind the Numbers

To determine our list of most-ejected managers, we looked only at who’s been tossed the most since the 2004 season. Our statistics come courtesy of David Vincent, a contributor to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) and the author of Home Runs Most Wanted. Cox tops our list by just a hair, over Ron Gardenhire of the Minnesota Twins. But his all-time ejection record may prove unbreakable.

St. Louis Cardinal’s manager Tony LaRussa has the second-highest total of active managers with 78. That’s roughly half of Cox’s all-time total. And LaRussa is only ninth in ejections since 2004, with 11 dismissals. He’ll have to work very hard to catch Cox.

Cox is the Cal Ripken Jr. to Weaver’s Mickey Mantle. The Braves manager lacks flash, but he’s consistent, averaging a little more than five ejections a year in a 27-year career (Weaver, who is No. 4 on the all-time list with 98, averaged almost six a year for 17 seasons). What sets Cox apart is his seemingly shorter fuse: He’s been tossed mostly for arguing balls and strikes, but last August a dismissal came for something as simple as arguing with ump Joe West about turning on the stadium lights.

A fiery manager can be an asset more than a liability at times. Last August, with his team down 4-3 to the Chicago White Sox, The Twins’ Gardenhire was booted for arguing about a hit batsman. As he steamed off the field, he punted his hat 15 feet into the air. The Twins then rallied to win game.

“I hope [Vikings head coach Brad Childress] saw that,” Gardenhire said later. “If he ever needs a kicker, I got good height on it.”

No. 3 on the list is Charlie Manuel from the world champion Philadelphia Phillies, with 21 ejections. A late-season ejection last year was followed by the Phillies winning the National League East, then going on to win the World Series.

Does getting ejected have a material effect on the team’s play? Perhaps. Including Cox and Manuel, seven of the 11 men on our list have won the World Series: the Red Sox’s Terry Francona, the Chicago White Sox’s Ozzie Guillen, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim’s Mike Scioscia (all tied for sixth place), the Cardinals LaRussa (ninth) and the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Joe Torre (tied for 10th).

Two others, the San Francisco Giants Bruce Bochy (fifth) and the Tampa Bay Rays’ Joe Maddon (tied with Torre) have taken teams to the World Series. On our list, only Gardenhire and the Cleveland Indians’ Eric Wedge (tied for third) have not taken a team to the World Series.

Rallying Cry?

Ejections have had short-term positive effects, too: Lou Piniella, who surprisingly didn’t make this list (he only has six ejections since 2004), had a famous blowup and ejection on June 2, 2007 against the Braves, when his Chicago Cubs were a disappointing 22-30. He kicked dirt on the third-base umpire’s shoes and kicked his hat across the diamond as the crowd bellowed “Loooooooo!” The Cubs went 63-47 the rest of the way and made the playoffs.

Then again, ejections can have no impact whatsoever. At the time of Cox’s ejection last August, the Braves were 55-63 and on the verge of being eliminated from playoff contention. After his tossing, they went 17-27 the rest of the season and missed the postseason.

Says John F. Murray, a sports performance psychologist: “The managerial ejection is a way to change the tempo of a game, a very tactical way of delaying and distracting.”

It’s certainly been a useful tool in the careers of most of the managers on our list. But frequent ejections can also be a sign of serious trouble. Former Milwaukee Brewers manager Ned Yost would have been on our list of active managers, with 18 ejections since 2004, but he was fired in September 2008. Former Colorado Rockies skipper Clint Hurdle and former Houston Astros manager Phil Garner also would have made the list, with 14 and 13 ejections, respectively, but they, too, were canned. These guys lost their cool–then lost their jobs.

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Dr. John F Murray Talks Sports Psychology on NY Baseball Digest

Sports Psychology Interview with Dr. John F. Murray

Click here to hear Dr. John F. Murray in a 20 minute interview with Mike Silva of New York Baseball Digest

This interview was conducted on May 28, 2009