The book: “Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals the Hidden Game of Baseball”
The author: Bob Tewksbury, with Scott Miller
How to find it: Da Capo Press, 256 pages, $27, released March 20
The links: At Amazon.com, at the publishers website.
A review in 90-feet or less: In an April 3 piece for USA Today under the headline “Why Major League Baseball is ‘90% mental’ more than ever,” Bob Nightengale has a piece based on the ramifications that MLB teams now employ a total of 40 mental skills coach ontheir staffs. Only San Diego, Atlanta and Kansas City lack one.
Writes Nightengale about Tewksbury, who won 110 games in his 13-year career and then became a mental skills coach for the Boston Red Sox and San Francisco Giants:
“(He) is baseball’s lone mental skills coach with a master’s degree in psychology who also played in the big leagues. He was an All-Star who finished third in 1992 Cy Young Award balloting, and was released twice. He was a 17-game winner, and a two-time 13-game loser.
“He grew up in an era when players were afraid to be seen talking to a sports psychologist, and now has written a book detailing his work: ‘Ninety Percent Mental: An All-Star Player Turned Mental Skills Coach Reveals the Hidden Game of Baseball.’
“With clubhouse camaraderie not as vibrant as it once was – and players likelier to retreat to the relative solitude of electronics – human connection remains important.
“ ‘There’s so much down times and this game is so result-based,’ Tewksbury says, ‘and the combination of the two causes a lot of anxiety. Just to be able to have someone talk about it with can relieve some of that pressure.
“ ‘The demands of the player have become different. They’re at the clubhouse earlier, the games are longer, and when the game is over, they just shut down.’”
Can you get your head around that? Makes sense, doesn’t it. Isolation based on current lack of human interaction will equal a messed up situation in the brain when it comes to assessing success and failure. And baseball, as we’re taught, is all about failure with small bursts of successes.
Starting as a 25-year-old rookie with the Yankees in New York, then moving onto the Cubs, Cardinals, Rangers, Padres and Twins before retiring at age 37, Tewks’ experience as a player ends in 1998.
The question we have is whether he can connect with today’s players, some of whom were not born yet when he left the playing field, and we’re guessing that not many players age 25 and under even read books, especially this one.
Those who want any kind of edge must at least have someone read this to them, or find the audio version.
The title, of course, plays off a Yogi Berra quote that claims the game to be 90 percent mental, “and the other half physical.” It really does make sense, as much sense as a team investing in this kind of “life coach” that has become popular in all sorts of lines of work today.
Already a No. 1 best seller in Amazon’s “Baseball Coaching” category, (although we are intrigued by “Catapult Loading System: How To Teach 100-Pound Hitters To Consistently Drive The Ball 300-Feet,” by someone named Joey Myers), Tewksbury tries to explain without a fortune-cookie philosophy about his thinking through sitautions during key points in his career, page by page.
Meanwhile, co-author Miller, the Carlsbad resident and baseball columnist at Bleacher Report, fills in the gaps with interviews he has done with people like Dodgers pitcher Rich Hills, plus Jon Lester, Anthony Rizzo, Andrew Miller, Tim Salmon, Greg Maddox, Joe Torre and Mark McGwire, to give Tewksbury’s words more baseball context.
“Tweks is going to have a lot of street cred,” says Maddox at one point. “All the other mental skills coaches, their last sport, I think, was fourth-grade tetherball.”
The initial thinking here is simple mindful breathing, slowing things down, creating mental images of success, and then validating them when it’s done.
Grab a yoga mat and you can practice, too.
“As a player, you need to develop a strong mental garbage disposal that can simply grind up words (like off-handed comments made even by clubhouse attendants) and make them disappear,” Tewksbury writes on page 69. “Your mental health should neither be subject to, nor dependent upon, the uninformed or cruel opinions of others.”
So, stay away from social media, guys.
“Conversely, those who are obsessed with perfection focus too much on the results and, consequently, have a distorted view of success and consider anything short of it as a failure,” Tewksbury continues on page 107. “Perfectionism takes away from enjoyment, not only in a particular performance but in life in general. … They are guaranteed to never be good enough and it sets them up for one frustration after another.”
Tewsbury is wise enough to bring in previous mental coaches’ successes from the past, such as in the mid-‘80s when the Angels recruited Ken Ravizza (right), a professor at Cal State Fullerton who had just worked with the Titans on their 1984 College World Series title run. Pitching coach Marcel Lachemann, friends with the late Augie Garrido, endorsed Ravizza’s appearance at spring training, even though manager Gene Mauch wanted no part of it.
“When I look around today versus then, some teams have three or four mental health skills people now,” says Ravizza now. “They’re really providing as part of the everyday process … You’re able to integrate the mental game stuff into task-relevant performance keys. It’s not just about relaxing, visualizing and imagery … I ask ballplayers, ‘When does the last pitch end and the next pitch begin?’”
In other words, inhale, exhale, stay in the moment, don’t think too much and throw to the target.
How it goes down in the scorebook: Bullseye, between the ears.