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Wednesday, January 25, 2006

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I would make the case that Jenks success wasnt about just sheer velocity, but the fact that the sheer velocity was such a change from what hitters were used to seeing. Time will tell there, the jury is still out on Jenks so it may not be a fair comparison....As to the nerdification piece since Jaws watches more tape than actual coaches I would put him in the nerdify column but for different (albeit good) reasons. All that said the cottage industry of columnists on TV is sickening see Mariotti, Bob Ryan, Woddy, Screamin A et al.

I know that you have to have a brain and a strong desire to win, but it comes down to physical ability. Not many guys can throw 100 mph accurately. They're good closers because they can throw harder and hit a target. If they can't do that, it doesn't matter how tough they are mentally. Take steroids into account. That doesn't affect your mental toughness (or, if it does, it's because you have more confidence because you know you're physically stronger) but it puts you on a whole different level than people not playing with the help of steroids. And to go along with the physical gifts, it takes hard work (which is partly mental, true) to take full advantage of your skill. But if you were to go to the crossroads and you wanted to be a ball player and the devil was going to give you either the physical or mental toughness it takes to play, you'd take physical. You'd have to. The Karate Kid could play the hell out of that guitar.

I know that you have to have a brain and a strong desire to win, but it comes down to physical ability. Not many guys can throw 100 mph accurately. They're good closers because they can throw harder and hit a target. If they can't do that, it doesn't matter how tough they are mentally. Take steroids into account. That doesn't affect your mental toughness (or, if it does, it's because you have more confidence because you know you're physically stronger) but it puts you on a whole different level than people not playing with the help of steroids. And to go along with the physical gifts, it takes hard work (which is partly mental, true) to take full advantage of your skill. But if you were to go to the crossroads and you wanted to be a ball player and the devil was going to give you either the physical or mental toughness it takes to play, you'd take physical. You'd have to. The Karate Kid could play the hell out of that guitar.

(sorry for the double post. i'm not sure how i did that)

Elite athletes, and in the sport of baseball that's what major league players are, occupy the far right end of the bell curve. In other words, the worst major leaguer is probably still in the top 1% of all baseball players in the world. And on that MLB scale, the range of physical skills between best and worst player is not that great. The difference then comes down to mental skills (which I define as intelligence, competitiveness, dedication, focus and discipline).

Baseball is a team game consisting of a series of one-on-one competitions. In that case, position players have their mental toughness tested 4-5 times a game. A pitcher is tested on every pitch.
So, position players can get by strictly on physical skills a lot longer than pitchers can. Pitchers must develop mental toughness right away or they will not last long in the major leagues. Even position players must eventually develop the mental toughness, or they will not ultimately be winners or have a long career. They just have a longer window of opportunity to develop them than pitchers do.

If you are talking about all athletes in general, phyical tools separate the best from the rest. If you talk about the top athletes, professional athletes, mental toughness separates the best from the rest.

You can also put all sports on a spectrum, with large team sports (NFL) at one end, and individual face-to-face sports (boxing, tennis) at the other. The balance between physical and mental demands shifts as you move along that spectrum. I'm referring to a successful career, not winning one game or match.

Tonight at the Reading Winter Tour banquet, Tom Gordon was asked this very same question by Mike Drago of the Reading Eagle. Gordon, who gave better detail on what it takes to be a closer better than any I've ever heard, said the position is 65-70 percent mental toughness.

good points, George S. and when taking dedication into account, mental toughness is very important. and i think competativeness is right there with dedication, you can't have one without the other really. but i just can't believe that mental toughness is that important, pitch to pitch. i mean, if you can throw the hell out of the ball, then you can throw the hell out of the ball. no matter how much Tom Gordon thinks he's gonna strike out Scott Rolen to win the game, if his curveball doesn't curve, Rolen is gonna crush it. i mean, if he's not on the DL.

Within the entire sphere of "mental toughness", dedication, etc.. is the whole matter of confidence, or the quality that enables a Michael Jordan to want the ball in his hands for the final shot. Whatever we call that quality and however it is measured (success??) it separates the best from the rest. Great relief pitchers want the game on the line when they come in. Great hitters want to face the other team's best starter rather than take a day off.

All true. My comments were more regarding successful careers rather than any individual matchup. A brain dead rookie with a 100 mph heater can strike out the league MVP on a given AB. Even the greatest hitters in the game, no matter how physically gifted or mentally tough they are, still are only successful about 1 out of 3 times. The 67% of the time that they 'fail' is not usually to better athletes. And there are very few pitchers around who can tell you what they are going to throw and good hitters still can't hit it. And even fewer who can do it for a career (maybe knuckleballers). You might say that the great fastball pitchers get you out even when you know what they're going to throw, but I would argue that even that is to a large degree mental. Roger Clemens is thinking he's going to strike the batter out. He KNOWS it. Most batters are thinking only about NOT striking out. Advantage (intimidation) Clemens. You can bet Albert Pujols is not thinking that way. He's thinking line drive. He KNOWS he can hit it. If Clemens thinks "just keep him in the ballpark", advantage Pujols. Clemens can throw the same fastball in both cases and you can guess in which case he will succeed.

I can't explain the 'confidence' that was mentioned, except to say that I believe a large part of it is simply not being afraid or even aware of failure. If you are able to block out the negatives, if you don't acknowledge failure as a possibility, you can deal with so-called clutch situations. Most people don't even want to be placed in those situations simply because they are afraid of failing, not because they are incapable of succeeding. With the game on the line, the great athletes are thinking only of success, not what will happen if they fail. The greatest upsets in sports often happen because the underdog 'has nothing to lose' and so there is no fear of failing.


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