Posts Tagged ‘Baseball’

Baseball’s Winning Glue Guys

Wall Street Journal – July 15, 2009 – Darren Everson – Baseball’s Winning Glue Guys: The Gritty, Gutty Players Who Hold Teams Together and Help Them Succeed – There are aces, closers, sluggers and Gold Glovers. And then there are the really important people in a ballclub: the glue guys.

“Glueâ€? guys, in baseball parlance, are the players whose oft-overlooked performance quietly holds winning teams together—and without which, presumably, the team would fall apart. Statisticians don’t buy that they exist, but psychologists do. And players and managers swear by them.

“He’s the scrapper,â€? says Charlie Manuel, manager of the defending World Series-champion Philadelphia Phillies. “The guy who plays every day. Who gets big hits. Hustles. He’s the guy who, in his own way, whether it’s quiet or spoken or whatever, he leads.â€?
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Ryan Howard of the Philadelphia Phillies

Jason Bartlett is a glue guy. Before he joined the Rays last season, Tampa Bay had baseball’s worst record in 2007, due greatly to having the majors’ worst defense. Then Mr. Bartlett came over from the Twins and took over the shortstop position. The Rays’ defense became the best in baseball last season and they reached the World Series.

Tim Wakefield, the Red Sox’s knuckleball pitcher, is a glue guy. As Boston’s pitching staff has evolved over the past 15 years—with youngsters coming, veterans going and pricey additions like Daisuke Matsuzaka not always delivering—the dependable constant has been Mr. Wakefield, a first-time All-Star this year at 42 who has made at least 15 starts each season.

As baseball enters the second half of the season Thursday, the top contenders all have a glue guy or two whom they attribute part of their success to. With the Tigers, it’s All-Star third baseman Brandon Inge, who not only has a surprising 21 home runs but is also hitting .348 in close, late-game situations. With the Yankees, as usual, it’s shortstop Derek Jeter, who owns the highest on-base percentage among the American League’s starting shortstops despite being its oldest (35). And the Phillies insist slugger Ryan Howard is a glue guy—despite not fitting the tag’s small, scrappy stereotype—because he quietly never takes a day off.

“They’re the reliable guys,â€? says Braves president John Schuerholz, “who, in the toughest of circumstances, in the biggest of moments, deliver the goods.â€?

The legend of the glue guy is an extension of the age-old question in sports over whether natural “winnersâ€? exist—players who are greater than their statistics indicate, who win in part because of their force of will or ability to perform under pressure. Whether it’s with superstars who make clutch plays or unknowns who have a knack for being in the right place at the right time, fans and observers ascribe special talents to these players—often exaggerating their actual contributions.

Michael Jordan famously said in a 1997 Nike commercial that he’d missed 26 potential game-winning shots. “He’s probably been successful about 50 times,â€? then-Bulls coach Phil Jackson said at the time. But when Mr. Jordan retired from the Bulls in 1999—seven months after making his iconic shot to beat the Jazz for the championship—the total number of game-winning shots he’d hit was 25.

Skeptical about whether winners exist, statistician Scott Berry of Berry Consultants studied the matter in 2005. Taking the statistics of more than 14,000 players who had played in Major League Baseball, he created a formula to find the ultimate winner: the player whose teams exceeded their win-loss expectations the most when he happened to be on them.
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Tim Wakefield of the Boston Red Sox

The winners’ winner? Dennis Cook, a journeyman lefty reliever in the 1990s. Several players whom fans widely regard as winners and glue guys did fare well: Mr. Jeter, the Yankees shortstop, was in the 97th percentile, and David Wells, a noted big-game pitcher in the 1990s and 2000s, was in the 99th. But the presence of the relatively unknown Mr. Cook at the top, Mr. Berry says, proves his point. “Announcers refer to players who just have the will to win,â€? he says. “The fact that he comes out on top pokes fun at that notion.â€?

But Mr. Cook does believe in glue. Although he admits he was lucky to bounce from one winner to the next—including the 1996 division-winning Rangers, the 1997 world-champion Marlins and the 2000 National League-winning Mets—Mr. Cook says his teams won in part because they invested in overlooked roles like middle relievers.

“A long man who eats up 100 innings a year, he saves the rest of your pitching staff,â€? he says. “Those guys don’t get recognized, but they’re every bit as important. Baseball people see that, but number-crunchers don’t.â€?

Psychologists say there is indeed a spill-over effect with glue guys that helps their teams win, one which goes beyond quantifiable contributions. John F. Murray, a sports psychologist
in Palm Beach, Fla., says that teams are much like fraternities or high schools in that players spend a massive amount of time in close proximity to each other. Because of this, “they’re constantly influencing one another,â€? he says. “One of the keys to confidence is social support and modeling. If you have some outstanding role models who deal with pressure effectively, that glue is going to spill out of the bottle and help everyone.â€?

A huge hole in the reasoning of glue believers is that it’s impossible to know in retrospect how teams would have fared without their glue players. For example, the Rays won 58% of their games (11 of 19) earlier this season when Mr. Bartlett, their slick-fielding shortstop, was out with an injured ankle. They’ve won 54% overall. But the first-place Phillies’ abundance of glue, according to both them and their opponents, appears to be what’s put that franchise over the top—just a few years after it had a reputation for underachieving. “It’s not about just one guy,â€? says All-Star second baseman Chase Utley.

The Phillies’ most-talented players also happen to be their glue guys, including Mr. Utley, who has led the majors the past two years in times hit by pitch, and Mr. Howard, who has played in 362 of Philadelphia’s last 363 games. Unlike many left-handed hitters over the years, he even refused to take a day off against Randy Johnson once last season.

“He’s definitely a leader, just by keeping his mouth shut,â€? Mr. Manuel says. “I call him the Big Piece. As in the big piece of the puzzle.â€?

… just another example of the benefits of sports psychology.

Indians’ Snell deals with depression

Sports Psychology Commentary in the Indianapolis Star – July 2, 2009 – Phillip B. Wilson – He feared he would hurt himself while struggling with Pirates.

Ian Snell’s return to Indianapolis couldn’t have been more unusual. It’s not often a major league pitcher asks to be demoted.

Then he comes down to Triple-A and strikes out nearly everybody. His fastball clocked consistently between 94-96 mph, Snell struck out 17, including 13 in a row, Sunday at Victory Field. This was the same pitcher who threw the stadium’s only no-hitter on May 15, 2005.

But after his outing Sunday, Snell told WTHR-13 he has been battling depression and considered drastic measures about a month ago due to the growing negativity surrounding his struggles in Pittsburgh. He was 2-8 with a 5.36 ERA in 15 starts with the Pirates this year.

“Sometimes people do stupid stuff and I had to fight it, not to do something stupid and take my life for myself and from my family and my parents,” Snell told the station.

The demons, Snell called them, can be common in the high-pressure, big business world of professional sports. But they have earned more publicity recently in baseball. In the past two weeks, major leaguers Khalil Greene, Dontrelle Willis and Joey Votto have been on or off the disabled list with what have been described as anxiety-related issues.

One of the game’s best pitchers, Kansas City’s Zack Greinke, left the team for a while three years ago with a social anxiety disorder. Now he’s 10-3 with a 1.95 ERA.

Snell, 27, decided he needed to get out of Pittsburgh to get his mind right. He lashed out then at the media and fans.

“I just made a decision for myself, for my career and better for my life, so why not do it now than wait for later, until everything really blows up?” Snell said last week after a game in Pittsburgh.

The Indians said Snell is finished discussing the issue. Pirates director of player development Kyle Stark wrote in an e-mail the team does not want to do interviews on a private matter, but added “(we) have taken the appropriate steps to get the appropriate people involved. We are here to support Ian.”

That Snell seeks help is most important, said John Murray, a prominent sports psychologist based in Palm Beach, Fla.

“They’ll say they have a dislocated throwing shoulder, but they won’t say they have a social phobia,” Murray said of the most common problem with clinical depression and anxiety disorders. “Many people are suffering in society because they don’t seek help.

“The more we avoid problems, the more they have a hold on us.”

Snell had an impressive Triple-A season with the Indians in 2005. He went 11-3 with a 3.70 ERA in 18 starts, including that no-hitter. He overpowered Triple-A hitters with 104 strikeouts in 112 innings and had just 23 walks.

He stuck with the Pirates coming out of spring training in 2006 and went 14-11 with a 4.74 ERA, then went 9-12 with a 3.76 ERA the next year.

Last year’s ERA ballooned to 5.42, when he went 7-12. He walked a career-high 89 batters in 1641/3 innings.

Pirates general manager Neal Huntington acknowledged in a recent interview with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette that Snell has struggled with the backlash from bad outings.

“Sometimes, a player can be his own worst enemy,” Huntington said. “In this case, we have to find the right buttons to push to help Ian reach his potential.

“The most successful players block it out. The ones that aren’t able to, it wears on them. In Ian’s case, for the better part of a year and a half now, he hasn’t felt like he’s been supported by the fans because he has struggled, and he has not been able to block that out. I think it will be a big step for Ian to make that jump.”

Snell’s next scheduled start is Saturday. The July 4 fireworks crowd at Victory Field is again expected to be a sellout, in excess of 15,000 fans.

“Seek God and positive people around you and look for your true friends, and they’ll come out and support you,” Snell told the station. “A lot of people support me right now. I’m just grateful, because if I didn’t have them, I probably wouldn’t be standing here right now.”

Hope you enjoyed the commentary on sports psychology

Bad time for Ramirez to push reject button on Dodgers

LA Daily News – Jill Painter – Feb 4, 2009 – Manny Ramirez scoffed at $25 million.  He needed only one day to reject the latest offer from the Dodgers, aone-year deal in which Ramirez would become the second-highest paid player in baseball.

If that’s not good enough, what is?

Ramirez is a rock star in Los Angeles for powering the Dodgers to their first postseason series victory in 20years. The Dodgers couldn’t keep their shelves stocked with enough Manny wigs and skull caps.

But a lot has changed since Ramirez lumbered around left field in Dodger Stadium with those dreadlocks flapping on No. 99.

Many of those fans who scooped up expensive Dodgers jerseys and playoff tickets have undoubtedly lost their jobs and their homes in this unstable economy. They’ve watched the bottom fall out of their retirement accounts and stocks. They’ve delayed retirement plans.For $25 million, 50$500,000 homes could be saved from foreclosure in California.

Ramirez’s inability to run out some grounders and lackadaisical attitude wore on teammates and fans in Boston.

Money might crush his love affair in Los Angeles.

The Dodgers were willing to pay Ramirez about $154,320 per regular-season game, and Ramirez wasn’t buying it. How much more does he need?

“Everybody is conscious today about being modest,” sports psychologist John F. Murray.

“You want to keep things in perspective. Everyone is struggling and when a player of that status
(rejects that offer), it’s naturally going to create some dissent among people that might be enthusiastic about him.”Privately, this is a business, and he could get more money. What’s wrong with that?”

Ramirez’s contract negotiations are anything but private. Ramirez and agent Scott Boras never officially responded to a two-year, $45 million offer from the Dodgers, either.

Yet the Dodgers, who need power in the middle of the lineup, are still interested in signing him. They also need pitching.

A soon-to-be 37-year-old outfielder known for his hot bat and not the ground he can cover in the outfield is digging in his heels and holding out for more. When spring training starts, Ramirez might still be waiting. He has no other known offers.

What’s a parent to tell their child? How do you explain that $25million isn’t good enough?

“We’re pretty straightforward,” said Sandra Shaikin, whose 12-year-old son, Sam, is a Dodgers fan. “I think it’s ridiculous turning down $25million when people are losing their jobs and starving. I know the economy and supply and demand. We explain this.”

Sandra’s son, Sam, couldn’t believe Ramirez didn’t accept the Dodgers’ offer. He’s a Ramirez enthusiast and has worn his wig, but he doesn’t get it.

“It was pretty dumb,” Sam Shaikin said. “I think they should’ve taken the offer. I don’t think anyone is going to sign him. They don’t want him for four years like he wants.”

Does Ramirez think he’s smarter than this sixth-grader?

Since Sam was in kindergarten, his father, John, has taken him out of school to go to Opening Day at Dodger Stadium. It’s a tradition.

Shaikin, who plays shortstop, catcher and pitcher for the Woodland Hills Sunrise Little League team, would give Ramirez more years for less money if he was running the Dodgers.

And if he was Ramirez, he’d sign for $25 million. First, he’d give some to charity. Then he’d buy a house, a car and provide for his parents and little sister.

“Well, because of the economy, he should be looking for less money and a better deal,” Sam said. “Last year with the Red Sox, he didn’t want to play for them anymore so he didn’t play his best. Teams don’t want that.”

And fans don’t want another superstar who’s insistent on ridiculous money.

It’s not the time.

Baseball

Baseball
Baseball is Extremely Demanding Mentaly! Solid Sport Psychology is a Must in this Great Sport

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THE BALCO SCANDAL – CLOUD OF UNCERTAINTY

Sacramento Bee – Dec 4, 2004 – Nick Peters – There are more questions than answers
Recent revelations regarding sluggers Barry Bonds’ and Jason Giambi’s use of steroids squarely placed the responsibility on Major League Baseball to adopt a tougher drug-testing policy, doctors and ethicists said Friday.

Giambi told a grand jury that he used steroids provided by the Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative. Bonds said he used substances from BALCO but did not know they contained steroids.

Despite his insistence he used steroids unknowingly, Bonds’ reputation has been tainted as he chases Hank Aaron’s all-time home-run record. And Giambi is facing the possibility of having all or part of the remainder of his $120 million contract with the Yankees voided.

The revelations come at a bad time for baseball, which saw record attendance last season and was riding the wave of positive reaction to the Boston Red Sox winning their first World Series title since 1918.

The escalating BALCO scandal is creating a cloud of uncertainty over the integrity of the game.

“As I have repeatedly stated, I am fully committed to the goal of immediately ridding our great game of illegal performance-enhancing substances,” Commissioner Bud Selig said in a prepared statement Friday.

“The use of these substances continues to raise issues regarding the game’s integrity and raises serious concerns about the health and well-being of our players. … I urge the players and their association to … join me in adopting a new, stronger drug-testing policy modeled after our minor-league program that will once and for all rid the game of the scourge of illegal drugs.”

Giants players and management would not comment on Bonds’ alleged involvement with steroids. A club spokesman said, “We can’t comment. It’s a legal matter, and we’ve been asked to direct questions to the Commissioner’s office.”

BALCO founder Victor Conte went on ABC’s “20/20″ Friday night and declared that more than 50 percent of the athletes are taking some form of anabolic steroids.

He also said he saw track star Marion Jones inject herself with steroids that he provided.

Asked specifically about baseball’s dealing with drugs, Conte replied: “I think they still believe there’s a Santa Claus. … They’re not in contact with reality. … The program they have put together is a joke.”

Selig told reporters Thursday in Washington that he hoped to have the minor-league program instituted at the major-league level by spring training. Minor-leaguers are tested in and out of season four times for illegal substances and face increased punishment for each positive test. A fifth positive test brings a lifetime ban.

Under an agreement between MLB and the players’ union, there was increased testing in the majors last season, but it was infrequent.

Here’s how the current system works:

* The first positive test results in treatment and continued testing.

* Any subsequent positive testing means a fine and suspension, beginning with 15 days and up to $10,000. By the fifth violation, the penalty is a one-year suspension and up to $100,000 fine.

* The suspensions would be without pay, and the reason for the player’s absence would be disclosed.

Why would athletes take the risk of using illegal substances?

“It’s a combination of extremism and perfectionism, and a lack of education (on the dangers),” said sports performance psychologist Dr. John F. Murray, who works with the Miami Dolphins and golfers in Florida.

“I don’t buy the argument athletes don’t know what’s in their bodies. They’re aware of what they’re doing. In some ways, it’s good this is coming out. How many more are doing it? It’s just the tip of the iceberg. … We need to be more strict and have better measures in place.”

Dr. William O. Roberts, a team physician in St. Paul, Minn., and president of the American College of Sports Medicine, commented in an e-mail Friday on the unresolved issue of steroid use by professional athletes and the need of reform.

“Too much of the focus this week has been on competition and performance issues such as records and cheating,” Roberts wrote. “Not enough attention is being paid to the messages being sent to impressionable young athletes.

“… Without an appropriate level of focus on the negative health implications of steroid use, young athletes may be led to believe that steroids can help them achieve greatness on the playing field, and that the only danger is getting caught.”

He pointed his finger squarely at baseball.

“No other entity in American culture is in a better position to address this than Major League Baseball,” he wrote. “Baseball and its players union simply cannot shun their ethical responsibility to society by failing to eradicate steroid use by its players.”

Baseball’s relatively soft stance on drug testing at the major-league level has been under scrutiny for some time. While Selig gets much of the blame, the biggest culprit could be the strength of the Players Association.

“It is stronger than what the other sports have in place, and they hide under the guise of privacy issues,” said a former player who spoke on condition of anonymity. “(Union head) Donald Fehr and (legal counsel) Gene Orza are unwilling to compromise.”

The union’s stance also explains why players are reluctant to condemn teammates who cheat. There was an uproar two years ago when former MVPs Jose Canseco and the late Ken Caminiti admitted to steroid use. Canseco estimated 85 percent of major-leaguers took the illegal substances; Caminiti put the figure at around 50 percent.

Sacramento’s Pat Gomez, a former major-league pitcher and now an assistant coach at Del Campo High School, recalled baseball’s lax attitude toward drugs when he pitched for the Padres and the Giants from 1993 to 1995.

“Basically, if they said they suspected you (of drug use), that was it, and you didn’t have to do anything,” he said. “You had to darn well be caught with a needle in your arm.

“The temptation is very real and the money is very large when you move into that category of player.”

Gomez said baseball needs a strict policy for the players’ health and the integrity of the game.

“If a guy who spends $18 on a ticket realizes if he loaded himself up, too, he could be out there, that’s not good for the game,” Gomez said.

Despite Selig’s recent get-tough stance, he came to the defense of Mark McGwire last spring when reminded that the former A’s and Cardinals slugger used a since-banned supplement while hitting a record 70 home runs in 1998. Selig said he’d never put an asterisk by McGwire’s records.

By comparison, the NFL and the NBA have their share of off-field problems, yet steroid use is not one of them. The NFL’s drug policy is regarded as the most stringent of all major sports.

It was established through a collective-bargaining agreement between the league and the Players Association in 1993. It has been updated to address concerns about whether the NFL is doing all it can to eliminate its biggest concern: steroid use as a means of a competitive advantage.

Each year, the league routinely tests all players for recreational drugs. They are given a specified date and advanced warning, usually at the start of training camp. If a player fails a test for recreational drugs, it is kept confidential.

The league considers recreational-drug use a medical issue and wants to treat instead of punish the player.

It is not until he fails a second test that he receives a four-game suspension. A third positive test can be a year’s suspension.

Steroid use, which can be detected through weekly random testing of six players per team, is a more serious matter. The first positive test means a four-game suspension. A second is six games, and a third will result in at least a one-year suspension.

In addition, the league also tests for masking agents.

If a player tries to pass a test by using a masking agent, that also means a suspension, even if a steroid isn’t detected.

In the NBA, where drug issues have been a familiar dark headline for decades, there has never been a perception problem with steroids that comes close with marijuana, alcohol or even cocaine.

Steroids were added to the list of banned substances in March 2000, and without fanfare. Officials don’t recall anything close to heated negotiations between the NBA and the Players Association after the union conceded key points to end the 1999 lockout.

Eight types of steroids later became an addendum to that deal, most notably Androstenedione, which within years would become known as Andro and a focus on the debate regarding steroids in sports when McGwire went on his home-run spree.

A player testing positive the first time would be suspended for five games and be required to enter a program under the supervision of professionals jointly selected by the league and the union.

A second positive test would result in 10 games and re-entry into the program, and any subsequent violation would mean 25 games and another re-entry Also, a player would be banned from the NBA if he is convicted or pleads guilty or no contest to a crime involving the use or possession of steroids.

Selig was questioned after the San Francisco Chronicle published grand-jury testimony in which Giambi admitted that he had used steroids.

His testimony was given a year ago to a federal grand jury investigating BALCO. An investigation into the leak was ordered by a U.S. District judge Friday.

Selig said he has instructed Rob Manfred, MLB’s executive vice president of labor relations and human resources, to continue working with the Players Association to implement a tougher testing program in baseball.

“I instituted a very tough program on steroids in the minor leagues in 2001,” Selig said. “We need to have that same program at the major-league level.

“I’m going to leave no stone unturned until we have that policy in place by spring training. We need a tough policy, and I’m going to be very aggressive in the implementation of that policy.”

YOU CAN’T BLAME THE GOOD FOLKS OF COLORADO FOR BEING ON A ROCKY MOUNTAIN HIGH. THEIR BASEBALL TEAM IS GOING TO THE WORLD SERIES

Los Angeles Times – Oct 17, 2007 – Larry Stewart – You can’t blame the good folks of Colorado for being on a Rocky Mountain high. Their baseball team is going to the World Series.

“The Boys of Rocktober have climbed the loftiest summit in baseball,” wrote Woody Paige in the Denver Post. “Look out, Pikes Peak, and look out world. From the mountains to the prairies, to the oceans white with foam, here come the Rockies.”

From Mike Littwin in the Rocky Mountain News: “Trying to explain how it is the Rockies are going to the World Series would just risk spoiling it. . . . I don’t know what it was — except completely and entirely unexpected. Until, eventually, somehow, it became completely and entirely inevitable.”

Trivia time

The Rockies advanced to the World Series by going 7-0 in the postseason. Which is the only other major league team to have a 7-0 postseason record?

Expert opinion

Trying to explain the Rockies’ late-season success — winning 21 of their last 22 games — sports psychologist John F. Murray recently told the Denver Post, “I call it effortless effort. Some people call it ‘getting in the zone.’ That’s when athletes are less self-conscious of their effort. They don’t analyze things or dissect things, they just accept them and appreciate what’s going on. It’s about attention to the present.”

And then this

It was another poor showing for Mark Cuban on ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars” on Monday. Cuban’s score of 22 was lowest of the night.

Cuban’s dance partner, Kym Johnson, says he thinks way too much on the dance floor.

“He’s a super intelligent man and he writes everything down,” Johnson said. “That’s the way his mind works. . . . With dancing, you need to feel everything and he has to let himself go.”

Maybe Cuban, who generally doesn’t seem to be so careful in planning out his actions, should make an appointment with sports psychologist Murray.

Another kind of doctor

Regarding the lead item in Monday’s Morning Briefing about Andy Roddick’s playing tennis with a frying pan, reader Craig Woo remembers reading in Lee Trevino’s biography that when Trevino was a caddie he would bet unsuspecting golfers that he could beat them playing with a coke bottle wrapped in tape and attached to a broomstick.

A check on the Internet found several versions of this story. One was that he would tee off with the Coke bottle, hitting the ball about 100 yards down the middle, then reach the green with a three-wood.

In another version, Trevino is quoted saying he preferred using a Dr Pepper bottle. That must have earned him an endorsement check or two.

Another Tiger deal

Speaking of endorsements, it was announced Tuesday that Tiger Woods and Gatorade are coming out with a drink called Gatorade Tiger.

Look for a commercial in which Tiger, using a Gatorade bottle, tries to outhit Trevino and his Dr Pepper bottle.

Trivia answer

The 1976 Cincinnati Reds defeated the Philadelphia Phillies, 3-0, in the National League Championship Series and the New York Yankees, 4-0, in the World Series for a 7-0 record.

And finally

Outside New England, the Patriots are fast becoming the most hated team in the NFL, and not only because they’re undefeated or their coaches steal signals.

Bill Simmons, in his Page 2 column for ESPN.com, pointed out another problem: Even when a game is in hand, they stick it to their opponent.

In Sunday’s 48-27 victory at Dallas, fourth-string running back Kyle Eckel rammed home a touchdown on fourth and one with 19 seconds remaining.

“Normally, you take a knee there,” Simmons wrote.

A knee is what a lot of people around the NFL would like to give Bill Belichick.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

Where have all our sports heroes gone? Maybe they were never there in the first place

NBC Sports – August 8, 2007 – Outside of San Francisco, where Barry Bonds enjoyed the home-field advantage of unconditional love, his pursuit and capture of one of sports’ most hallowed records was a mostly joyless affair.

The long ascent to No. 756 was awkward, and sometimes heartbreaking. Away from his kingdom of AT&T Park, Bonds was serenaded by full choirs of boos. Grown men taunted him with giant foam asterisks. Little children held up signs that said, “Cheater.â€?

So it was tempting to contrast Bonds, who falls between plaque and auto exhaust on the likability scale, with the greats of the game — the outsized personality of the cigar-chomping Babe Ruth, the steady, quiet excellence of Joe DiMaggio, the determination of Jackie Robinson.
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It may be that the heroes we locate in sports are not what they used to be.

Or maybe we aren’t.

“We have a very different expectation of our heroes than we used to,â€? says John Thorn.

“They have to somehow tickle us in the short term as well as provide sustenance for the long,â€? says Thorn, a sports historian who was senior creative consultant for Ken Burns’ PBS “Baseballâ€? documentary. “They have to be clever. They have to do things on the field that amuse. It’s not enough to hit 756 home runs. We need to be entertained.â€?

Instead, we’ve been disoriented: It was possible one recent morning to turn on one of the sports channels and see highlights of Bonds at bat, bathed in popping flash bulbs, and also see the on-screen headline, “BALCO chemist says Bonds used steroids.â€?

Bonds, of course, has denied that he took knowingly performance-enhancing drugs. But the juxtaposition of heroic highlights and allegations of deceitful lowlights was consistently jarring.

The two previous home run records that Bonds surpassed on his way to 756 were attached to Ruth, arguably the best-known American sports figure of all time, and Hank Aaron, who was resanctified, including a Sports Illustrated cover, as Bonds closed in.

Each of the three men faced media attention, and thus fan scrutiny, that expanded by orders of magnitude. Ruth dealt with the New York papers. Aaron dealt with a media horde that included a traveling pack of television cameras.

But Bonds is a creature — an unwilling creature at that — of something else entirely, an era of blogs and reality television (including his own series, for a time) and a dozen airings of “SportsCenterâ€? every day.

When Aaron eclipsed Ruth’s mark with his 715th home run in 1974, John F. Murray was just a boy, holding a tape recorder up to his television. He can still recite Curt Gowdy’s call on NBC.

“We didn’t have video games or computers,â€? says Murray, now a sports psychologist in Palm Beach, Fla. “We weren’t distracted by 200 channels. I think individuals need someone, some kind of role model to look up to. It’s just a more complex world.â€?

Then again, baseball is more popular than ever: More than 76 million fans attended games at its 30 major-league parks last year, beating by 1 million the previous record, set just a year earlier.

Perhaps more to the point, the line once observed by the press — that personal lives were mostly off limits, that reportage was limited to on-field performance and the occasional visit to hospital-bound child, has been obliterated.

“The heroes of past years were not scrutinized at all personally,â€? said author W.P. Kinsella, whose novel “Shoeless Joeâ€? became the movie “Field of Dreams.â€?

Kinsella knows a thing or two about baseball and heroes. Take Ruth.

“He was drunk half the time,â€? he said. “He was a good-hearted, tough guy, but he probably would have been run out of the game today.â€?

Kinsella does draw a line between the personal flaws of athletes and the suspicion of steroid use that hovers over Bonds, whom the author calls a “narcissistic jerkâ€? who “shouldn’t even be allowed to park cars at the Hall of Fame.â€?

But his point applies to so many of the baseball players we hold up today as exemplars of some golden age. Ruth lived hard. Mickey Mantle was a raging alcoholic. Ty Cobb is almost celebrated now, in a tortured-soul way, for being surly.

And in “The Hero’s Life,â€? his 2000 biography of DiMaggio, Richard Ben Cramer portrayed a man who was paranoid, sensitive, insecure and generally difficult.

Aaron, who dealt with a racist swell of antipathy that included death threats, had the support of about three-fourths of the fans in the month before he beat Ruth’s mark of 714, according to a poll taken at the time.

But a recent Associated Press-Ipsos poll found fans about equally split between rooting for Bonds to break Aaron’s record and rooting against him. Fully one-fifth — startlingly high among self-identified active fans of the game — just didn’t care.

Thorn says he believes the steroid rumors swirling around Bonds are no more than a cover for “moralistsâ€? looking to savage him. The playing field has always been unlevel, he says — by segregation or amphetamines or game-fixing or who knows what else.

He says he has a “strange affectionâ€? for Bonds because he has decided not to chase what he can never have — the admiration of the fans, on the fans’ terms, by the fans’ script.

Anyway, the historian wonders, isn’t Bonds only giving us what we have a right to expect — sustained excellence on the diamond — as well as what we always believed we wanted — prodigious home runs?

He recalls Charles Barkley’s infamous ad for Nike: “I am not a role model.â€?

Of course, Barkley was viciously attacked, not least by the fans, for the suggestion. And a survey of sports columns from around the country from the past month or so shows they are overwhelmingly against Bonds.
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It may be that writers and fans are bitter because they felt burned by the home run race of 1998, during which Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa chased after Roger Maris’ single-season mark of 61 home runs. McGwire hit 70. (Bonds hit 73 three years later.)

At the time McGwire and Sosa were held up as paragons of dignity and as saviors of baseball itself, left in critical condition by a 1994 players strike.

“Where have all the heroes gone?â€? West Virginia Sen. Robert Byrd demanded to know, speaking on the Senate floor in the depths of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal.

The answer, he said, was on the baseball diamond, in the persons of McGwire and Sosa.

Then McGwire and Sosa gave embarrassing, evasive performances before a congressional committee investigating steroid use in 2005. Sosa is still playing; McGwire failed by a long shot in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.

It has been all downhill since.

Just in the past few weeks, a betting scandal shook the NBA to its foundations. One of the NFL’s star quarterbacks faced ghastly dogfighting charges. Doping scandals abounded on the Tour de France.

And Barry Bonds swung for the fences with heroic forearms and ran the bases with clay feet.

Maybe our sports heroes are not what they used to be. Or maybe what they used to be was only an illusion, a dream in soft focus. Vivid and real to us, just not true.

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

BENDING THE RULES; SHADY ETHICS DEEPLY INGRAINED IN BASEBALL

Sun-Sentinel – Nov 3, 2005 – Harvey Fialkov – In a time when nearly everyone knows someone who cheats, whether it’s on their income taxes, golf score or spouses, it’s a wonder why baseball fans seem surprised that players are using steroids to gain a competitive advantage.

Long before bitter slugger Jose Canseco accused some of baseball’s superstars of using performance-enhancing drugs, ballplayers have been caught breaking the rules or at least stretching them to gain a competitive edge.

The underlying issue is what does baseball consider acceptable cheating, and is this win-at-all costs behavior just a sad reflection of society?

“Everyone cheats,” White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen told reporters earlier this season. “If you don’t get caught, you are a smart player. If you get caught, you are cheating. It has been part of the game for a long time.

“If you’re doing whatever you’re not supposed to do and you don’t get
caught, keep doing it.”

Guillen just led the White Sox to their first World Series championship since 1917. Coincidentally, it’s the same franchise that was forever sullied by the Black Sox scandal in which eight members of the White Sox allegedly were paid by gamblers to throw the 1919 World Series.

Say it ain’t so, Ozzie.

In Game 2 of the recently- completed ALCS, White Sox batter A.J. Pierzynski swung and missed a low pitch for strike three with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning. Pierzynski took a step toward the dugout before racing to first base after Angels catcher Josh Paul flipped the ball toward the mound.

Umpire Doug Eddings, who seemingly called Pierzynski out on strikes, ruled that that the ball was trapped by Paul. Thus, Pierzynski was safe at first.

Replays appeared to show that Paul caught the ball on the fly, which made Joe Crede’s game-winning double a few moments later a bitter pill for the Angels and their fans to swallow.

“I didn’t fake them out,” Pierzynski said. “I was off balance. I took one
step to the dugout and realized he didn’t tag me, so I ran. There’s no
faking.”

In Game 2 of the World Series, White Sox slugger Jermaine Dye was awarded first base when umpire Jeff Nelson incorrectly ruled that a pitch from Astros reliever Dan Wheeler hit Dye instead of his bat.

That set up Paul Konerko’s grand slam and a White Sox come-from-behind victory.

CHEATING STARTS EARLY

There’s a huge chalk line of distinction drawn between cheating and taking advantage when umpires make bad calls. But the concern is that cheating has already dripped down to the Little League level.

A coach of a T-ball team in a Pittsburgh suburb was charged this summer with paying off a 7-year-old player on his team to injure an autistic teammate so the latter wouldn’t be able to play in a big game.

It has been nearly five years since a scandal rocked the Little League World Series when it was discovered that the father of Danny Almonte, a left-handed pitching phenom for a Bronx All-Star team, had forged his birth certificate, saying his son was 12 instead of 14, or 2 years older than the limit.

Marlins reliever Todd Jones has admitted using pine tar on his glove to get a better grip on the ball when he pitched for the Rockies. He also has described the art of scuffing a baseball in a column for Sporting News.

“Tell your Little Leaguer you shouldn’t do it because you’re playing for
fun,” Jones said.

“When you’re playing for keeps in the big leagues, you’ve got to try and be creative as you can. It just depends on where you draw the line.”

The baseball rulebook specifically prohibits using foreign substances on
the ball (or glove) with a potential penalty of ejection and suspension.

Cheating was under scrutiny this season after Nationals manager Frank
Robinson correctly accused Angels reliever Brendan Donnelly of using pine tar. Donnelly was suspended for 10 games, but it was later reduced to eight.

“That’s the tightrope you walk if you’re going to cheat,” Robinson said.

JUST DON’T GET CAUGHT

So why shouldn’t pitchers and batters stock their locker with products from Home Depot and Walgreens when spit, Vaseline, shaving cream, pine tar and sandpaper have not only been accepted but rewarded for decades?

Hall of Fame pitcher Gaylord Perry won 314 games and wrote an autobiography entitled Me and the Spitter, as baseball’s hierarchy looked the other way.

“There’s an old saying, `If you’re not cheating, you’re not trying,’ so
you’re always looking for an edge,” said retired knuckleball pitcher Charlie Hough. “It’s not like it’s the end of the game.”

Marlins pitcher Brian Moehler was with the Tigers in 1999 when he was
caught with sandpaper taped to the thumb of his pitching hand while dazzling the Devil Rays through six innings. He was ejected and suspended for 10 games.

“I knew it was wrong,” Moehler said. “I was kind of persuaded into it, and obviously, I’d never do it again. It’s amazing that after it happened how many guys come up to you and say you should try it this way or that way.”

PAYING THE PRICE

Cheating has been part of the game for nearly a century, so why the sudden outcry, particularly concerning steroid use?

“Players used to fly in with their spikes high, and they fixed the World
Series, so I don’t think this is the most corrupt period in baseball, period,” said Randy Cohen, author of The Ethicist, a regular feature in the New York Times Magazine. “But the steroid issue, well, fans want the games to be played by human beings or otherwise there’d be giant monster robots on the field.

“There’s an ethical code in sports that everyone agrees to when they decide to play. Players have an obligation to obey the rules or the sport will cease to exist.”

Former Cubs favorite Sammy Sosa, now with the Orioles, tarnished his
pristine reputation when his bat popped its cork during a game two seasons ago.

“If you get caught, it’s just like committing a crime in the streets;
you’ve got to pay the price,” Marlins pinch hitter Lenny Harris said. “It’s
embarrassing.”

Astros manager Phil Garner still laughs when recalling the time 221-game winner Joe Niekro was frisked on the mound and an emery board fell out of his back pocket during a 1987 game.

“Corked bats do absolutely nothing but make the bat lighter. But I faced
[Don] Sutton, and you could see the mark on the ball where he [scuffed] it,” Garner said. “Yeah, it’s cheating.”

EVERYONE DOES IT

Late in the season, White Sox pitcher Mark Buehrle claimed that the Texas Rangers were stealing signs electronically and then signaling them to hitters using a high-tech light system from center field at Ameriquest Field.

Former Marlins manager Jack McKeon believes stealing signs from the
opposition is within the rules, but not if you need a telescope from the
center-field bleachers as the Giants allegedly did to help them “steal” the 1951 NL pennant from the Dodgers.

“Everyone who says they haven’t cheated is crazy,” McKeon said. “You cheat in school or driving down the highway exceeding the speed limit or not wearing your seat belt.”

Other than the obvious financial carrots, what possesses wealthy, talented players to resort to cheating?

“It can help or hurt an athlete depending on how it is done and when,” said Dr. John F. Murray, a West Palm Beach sports performance psychologist.

“Reputation is also important in sports, so an athlete or a team who engages in unfair behavior too much can actually reduce their chances of winning over time as referees and officials will be less accepting, and opponents can gain a motivational advantage.”

Marlins broadcaster Tommy Hutton, who batted .248 during a 12-year
big-league career is fed up with the bandwagon-jumping critics of baseball shortcuts.

“When the pitching rubber got muddy, pitchers used to stand three inches in front it,” Hutton said. “Everyone knew [Perry] threw a spitter and that Sutton and Rick Rhoden scuffed the ball. Nothing was ever done about it.

“[Cheating] is done in every sport. In basketball you get an offensive foul by bringing the guy into you. All of a sudden we’re a society that’s all concerned about that stuff.”

SAY IT AIN’T SO? From top, Shoeless Joe Jackson went down in history as a cheater, while A.J. Pierzynski, at left with Scott Podsednik, will be remembered as a sly opportunist. Sammy Sosa and Jose Canseco saw their stars tarnished by scandalous behavior. File photos

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

MIND GAME: CROSSWORD CRAZE HITS DEVIL RAYS’ CLUBHOUSE

Bradenton Herald – May 15, 2005 – Roger Mooney – One across: Nickname for rebounder Rodman. Lance Carter moved to another clue. Boston hockey great. Three letters. “Orr,” Carter said, and with a pen, he wrote the name of Hall of Famer Bobby Orr in blue ink.

It was four o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon in mid-April. The first pitch for the Tampa Bay Devil Rays’ game at Tropicana Field wasn’t for another 3 hours, 15 minutes. Carter and fellow Rays pitcher Travis Harper completed a long-toss session 20 minutes earlier. The players didn’t have to be on the field to stretch before batting practice for another half-hour. Now what? Why not warm up the brain? Crossword puzzles.

“In baseball there’s a lot of downtime,” said John F. Murray, Ph.D., a clinical and sports performance psychologist from Palm Beach. “Anything players can do in between, cross-train mentally, I call it, can give them a little breather and help them come back stronger.”

Crossword puzzles?

“I think it makes sense,” Murray said.

Baseball, it’s been said, is a timeless game.

If you believe that, you should watch time drip by before a game.

Players reach the clubhouse at least three hours before game time. Some arrive one to two hours earlier than that. Batting practice is scheduled for 1 hour, 15 minutes. That leaves nearly three hours of free time. Some players need that time to receive treatment for injuries. Others lift weights. Some watch film of the opposing pitchers or of themselves hitting.

Subtract another 15 or 20 minutes for a pregame meal, and you still have a lot of time to fill.

What to do . . .?

“Being bored can be a problem for athletes,” Murray said. “You can lose your edge. So anything you can do to occupy your mind is good.”

After his throwing session with Harper, Carter began a ritual he follows almost daily, at least when the Rays are home. He showered and changed into his batting practice attire – white uniform pants, green Rays T-shirt and green pullover warm-up jacket. He grabbed the classified section of a local newspaper, opened to Page 2, folded the paper into a small rectangle, reached for a pen and sat down in front of his locker.

Soon Harper appeared at his locker, which is to the left of Carter’s. Then Trever Miller, another member of the Rays’ bullpen whose locker is next to Harper’s, joined in. Together, they work through a crossword puzzle.

“I’m not very good at these,” said Carter, the former Manatee High and Manatee Community College standout. “I usually wait for Trever.”

There are four televisions in the Rays’ clubhouse. On this afternoon, players had their pick of the Cubs-Padres on one screen and ESPN Classic on another. One set was tuned to a music video channel. The one closest to Carter’s locker, for some unexplained reason, showed an infomercial touting a revolutionary new mop designed to make our lives easier.

Carter ignored the miracle of the once-dirty floor now sparkling clean. He was deep into his puzzle.

“I do these to kill boredom,” he said. “And to avoid sports writers.”

His wit obviously sharp, it’s his word power that could use some building.

“I’m learning a lot from these,” Carter said.

Like . . .

“Well, first and foremost, how to spell,” he said. “Different meaning for phrases and words.”

Harper leaned over.

“Worm,” he said.

“Worm?”

“One across. Dennis Rodman’s nickname. Worm,” Harper said.

“Dangit. I knew that,” Carter said.

Card games are popular in some clubhouses. Former Rays Esteban Yan and Felix Martinez used to play dominoes.

On a counter just inside the Rays’ clubhouse and on a table inside the visiting clubhouse, you’ll find a small stack of the newspaper sections that carry the crossword puzzle. Grab one quick. They go fast.

Greg Maddux, when he was with Atlanta, was spotted in the visiting clubhouse at Tropicana Field breezing through a crossword puzzle as if he were writing out a postcard.

Former Rays coach Frank Howard used to find a quiet corner in the tunnel under the stands and make his way through a puzzle. Once he found himself the answer to a clue.

New York Yankee Tino Martinez, who played in Tampa Bay last season, likes his pregame crossword puzzle.

So do current Rays Rocco Baldelli, Josh Phelps and Travis Lee.

“There’s a lot of dead time in this game,” Miller said. “You need something to fill up the time. Crosswords are as good as any. I think if baseball players took all the dead time in this game and used it to study, we’d all be doctors and lawyers.”

Carter shook his head.

“Not all of us,” he said.

Rays manager Lou Piniella occasionally works through a puzzle in his office while talking with reporters before a game, sometimes paying more attention to the clues than the questions.

“What do you think about your next series with the White Sox?” he was asked.

“Hmm?” Piniella said while filling in a word that sometimes can be used to describe himself.

“Testy.”

“I do them to take my mind off the game,” said Piniella who started the habit during his playing days with the Yankees.

A June 2005 edition of Dell’s Crossword Puzzles sat on the top left corner of his desk blotter.

“I can finish the ones early in the week,” Piniella said. “On Sunday, I can only do half.”

The puzzles, for those not in the know, become increasingly harder as the week moves on, with Sunday being the toughest.

Studies have shown crossword puzzles and other games that force participants to think, like chess, checkers, backgammon and word jumbles, can lower the risk of dementia as we grow older. Even ballroom dancing has its benefits.

A study published in the June 2003 issue of the “New England Journal of Medicine” found the risk of dementia in senior citizens who do four crosswords a week was lower then those who did one crossword.

If puzzles help the old, can they also help the young? Especially a major league pitcher who has to use his mind as much as his arm during a game?

Remember, Yogi Berra said 90 percent of baseball is half mental. But then Yogi read comic books before games, and Superman and Flash Gordon didn’t seem to hold him back.

“No,” Piniella said. “(Crosswords) don’t help like that. It’s just to take your mind off the game.”

That alone, Murray said, means they work.

“What can it hurt? It keeps you relaxed. It keeps your mind off the task,” Murray said. “And there’s nothing wrong with taking your mind off the task.”

Especially when that task includes pitching to a lineup that features Miguel Tejada, Sammy Sosa and Javy Lopez or hitting against the likes of Jon Garland and Johan Santana.

Or managing the Devil Rays.

It can’t be all baseball all the time.

Otherwise, one can become, uh, testy.

Murray, who works with athletes from different sports, knows of tennis players who turn to video games during a match that’s delayed by weather.

“Same thing,” Murray said. “They’re just trying to stay sharp.”

Miller, the unofficial crossword champion among the players (assistant trainer Ron Porterfield is champs among all Rays) sees the mental benefits from the puzzles.

“Like anything else in life, if you don’t use your mind, you lose it,” Miller said. “With crosswords, you have to go back and find things in your memory, unlock doors from high school.”

But, Miller said, he doesn’t think doing a crossword puzzle in the afternoon will help him retire David Ortiz with the bases loaded that night.

“I don’t think this area of your mental ability will translate to how you play on the field,” Miller said. “I would say chess. The ability to play a few moves ahead, to develop strategy.”

Miller played chess before games during a few of his minor league stops.

Chessboards are not found in the Rays’ clubhouse, just TVs and crossword puzzles.

Miller’s choice is the crosswords, confident they will help him long-term, but not so sure they will help him in a few hours, even if Murray said thinking through a puzzle, much like Carter’s mid-afternoon long-toss with Harper, “is warming up the brain.”

Miller pointed to a clue, mentioned the answer and watched as Carter filled in the boxes.

“I’d rather be doing something like this,” he said, “than sitting in front of a TV set watching SportsCenter for the 15th time today.”

Loren Nelson, Sports Editor

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.

CHICAGO WONDERS: CAN CURSE-BUSTING CATCH ON?

Sun Sentinel – Apr 3, 2005 – Mike Berardino – Watching the Boston Red Sox end the Curse of the Bambino last October, Ryne Sandberg couldn’t help but smile.

You know Sandberg as the former Chicago Cubs second baseman, maybe the greatest ever to play the position. You probably remember his disappointments in the National League playoffs of 1984 and 1989, how even the great Sandberg was unable to return the Cubs to the World Series for the first time since 1945.

But you probably didn’t know Sandberg has been a closet Red Sox fan all these years.

“I had great feelings [watching Boston win],” Sandberg says during a break at Cubs spring training in Mesa, Ariz. “In a lot of ways, I’ve been a Red Sox fan for a number of years, just pulling for the underdog. I just wanted to see them win finally, which I can relate to here with the Cubs.”

Although the Red Sox hadn’t won the World Series since 1918, Cubs fans have been suffering even longer. Their last championship came in 1908, when it was Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance around the infield and Teddy Roosevelt in the White House.

Their most recent tease came two years ago, when they were five outs from besting the Marlins for the National League pennant with Mark Prior on the mound. Before you could say “Steve Bartman,” the whole crazy notion of a Cubs championship collapsed beneath the weight of history and a stirring Marlins comeback.

Wasn’t a part of Sandberg saddened the Red Sox got to the mountaintop before his beloved Cubbies? That the Curse of the Bambino was toppled before Chicagoans could lay waste to the Curse of the Billy Goat once and for all?

Apparently not.

“I thought it was great to watch,” Sandberg says. “I had a good feeling about it. To me it kind of brings hope to the Cubs getting to the World Series and winning the World Series. It can happen. If you’ve got the right guys, and you’ve got them all playing like a bunch of wild guys like the Red Sox were doing, it works. That brings optimism for me.”

Extending the thought, perhaps the entire city of Chicago should be more hopeful than ever in light of Boston’s Band of Idiots’ unlikely success. Baseball’s second-longest championship drought belongs to the pride of the South Side, where the White Sox haven’t won since 1917.

There have been five postseason appearances since Pants Rowland managed those Sox to the title, but each — most recently a three-game sweep by Seattle in 2000 — has ended in disappointment. Most painfully, 1919 brought the Black Sox Scandal in which eight players were exiled from the sport for their role in fixing a World Series loss to the Cincinnati Reds.

One city. One sport. Two franchises. Two excruciating waits for a modern-day championship.

Maybe that’s why White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen admits he, too, was uplifted by Boston’s comeback from a 3-0 American League Championship Series hole against the hated New York Yankees and subsequent four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

“My reaction was that it was a great thing for baseball, and the way they did it was great, too,” says Guillen, a White Sox shortstop on their 1993 playoff team. “The Red Sox were down and out. All of a sudden they wake up and win.”

To hear Guillen talk, Boston’s victory stirred him into heightened consciousness as well. You can almost picture him sitting bolt upright on his couch in Miami and realizing his destiny was at hand.

“It made me feel like, `Wow, it’s time for us to turn around and do it,’” Guillen says. “It’s just something that you look up and say, `Wow, now it’s the White Sox’s and Cubs’ opportunity.’ We should look at that as an inspiration.”

Breeding confidence

The theory is calling “modeling,” and it has nothing to do with a handful of Red Sox players showing up this season on Queer Eye For the Straight Guy.

According to the concept, which originated in the 1960s with psychologist Albert Bandura’s theory of self-efficacy, the success of one team or individual can improve the confidence and, in turn, the results of another.

Dr. John F. Murray, a South Florida-based sports psychologist, says he “absolutely” would use the theory if he were hired to assist either Chicago baseball team.

“With modeling we can see somebody else like the Red Sox who have finally broken down that door,” Murray says. “We then say, `Hey, I’m a White Sox person. If the Red Sox can do it, now I can do it.’ Confidence can come from others if you do it right.”

Murray has helped expedite psychological breakthroughs before. He helped tennis pro Vince Spadea overcome a 21-match losing streak and rise to his highest career ranking.

In 1997, Murray and Dr. James Bowman, now working with the U.S. Olympic program, conducted regular sessions at Washington State University. The Cougars tennis team spent three months doing mental imagery in an effort to end a long losing streak against its archrival Washington Huskies.

When the breakthrough finally came, the Cougars won by the exact score the team had envisioned.

That same year, the Washington State football team, which also worked with Bowman and Murray, reached the Rose Bowl for the first time in 67 years.

“When you talk about losing streaks or breaking down barriers, you’re talking about the whole concept,” Murray says. “It can almost be like a slump, but a historical slump. How do you break that wall?”

The answer comes from within, although Murray cautions every player on a given team could have a unique set of mental challenges.

“You have to believe in yourself,” Murray says. “It’s critically important. It’s not the only thing that’s important. You also need talent. But confidence is a component that’s relevant.”

`It wasn’t us’

Not everyone buys into this psychological connection between the two cities, or at least not into the notion that the Red Sox’s breakthrough somehow makes the quest more attainable for the Cubs or White Sox.

Cubs pitcher Greg Maddux, who returned to the club in 2004 after 11 years in Atlanta, says watching the Red Sox win was “no different than being in Atlanta when the Yankees won. It wasn’t us.”

Says White Sox first baseman Paul Konerko: “I don’t draw anything from it other than the Red Sox are off the hook. They don’t have to worry about people getting on them anymore or calling them whatever. I guess it just moves to the next couple teams that are in line that haven’t won in a long time, which would be us and the Cubs.”

Former Cubs television analyst and White Sox pitcher Steve Stone downplays the connection as well.

“I think the Red Sox winning has absolutely no bearing on what the Cubs will do,” Stone says. “I just don’t really believe in curses and I don’t believe when curses are broken, it helps other people. It certainly helped the Red Sox, but so did having Pedro [Martinez] and [Derek] Lowe come on and adding [Curt] Schilling to that group. They had a very good team who got hot at the right time and refused to quit, but there’s no bearing on the Cubs.”

He smiles and points down the hall toward the Cubs’ clubhouse.

“If Kerry Wood and Mark Prior go down the first week, how do you think it will affect the Cubs?” he says. “A lot more than the Red Sox winning will.”

Personnel key

Indeed, the fragile co-aces of the Cubs pitching staff have spent much of the spring battling arm problems. No amount of Beantown idiocy would likely lift the Cubs past that sort of hardship.

Along those same lines, trading Sammy Sosa and losing Moises Alou via free agency this offseason wouldn’t seem to bring the Lovable Losers any closer to ending their nearly centurylong drought. At best, the Cubs are expected to have a ferocious battle with the St. Louis Cardinals and Houston Astros for the top spot in the National League Central.

Moreover, the White Sox must open the season without their best hitter, Frank Thomas, still recovering from offseason ankle surgery. Most preseason forecasts picked the Minnesota Twins to win their fourth straight American League Central title, with some placing the White Sox below the Cleveland Indians and even the improving Detroit Tigers in a relatively weak division.

But that doesn’t mean people in Chicago can’t dream. The Red Sox breakthrough was that significant.

“I guess this is one of those things over the years: Boston and the Cubs haven’t won in so long, people just tie the two together,” says Cubs Hall of Fame outfielder Billy Williams. “They got rid of the Curse of the Bambino, so we should get rid of the Curse of the Goat and all that kind of stuff. I know this: When you’ve got good ballplayers, no curse could stop you.”

But does Boston winning make things any easier for those in the Second City?

“It depends how you look at it,” Sandberg says. “It can bring hope or now maybe it can bring more of a spotlight and more pressure. It all depends how it’s perceived and how it’s taken. But I look at it as a positive, as there is hope. Now it’s the Cubs and the White Sox, both in the same city, that haven’t been to the World Series in a long time.”

Count Cubs superscout Gary Hughes, one of the early Marlins architects, as a proponent of the “modeling” theory. He sees no negatives whatsoever in the Boston victory.

“If there was doubt before, there can be no doubt now,” Hughes says with his trademark chuckle. “The Red Sox have done it. We still haven’t. So it’s our turn. All those people saying, `It’s never going to happen.’ Well, it just happened. Why not again?”

Then there’s Guillen, who admittedly has daydreamed about a championship parade in the Windy City and what it would mean to his life.

“Having played there for so many years, being one of the biggest White Sox fans in the history of baseball, that’s one of my dreams,” Guillen says. “I told my wife and my family, if we win the World Series in Chicago, I’ll quit managing baseball.”

Wouldn’t that be pretty drastic?

“I’ll be running for mayor in Chicago,” Guillen says. “Whoever wins first is going to own the city.”

Dr. John F. Murray is a sports psychologist and clinical psychologist providing sports psychology and counseling services based in Palm Beach, Florida.