Batter blues sometimes require help of a specialist
Bill Veeck, the legendary White Sox owner, once said that the best cure for a slump was two pieces of cotton — one for each ear. But a ballplayer in...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Bill Veeck, the legendary White Sox owner, once said that the best cure for a slump was two pieces of cotton — one for each ear.
But a ballplayer in crisis mode often needs to hear a new voice.
"It could be some problem off the field that no one knows about — some deep-seated something," said Don Baylor, the Mariners' hitting coach and former American League most valuable player.
Or, a player could simply want a new set of eyes on his mechanics. That might mean an emergency call to a hitting guru like Charley Lau Jr., who has worked with Alex Rodriguez and Raul Ibanez, among other major-leaguers. Lau said he looks first at a hitter's timing and goes from there.
"The most important thing is communication and having a relationship with that player," said Lau, who is carrying on the hitting precepts of his late father, Charley Lau.
"You only have one chance with them. If you blow that chance, they're going to blow you off."
Clients of Scott Boras can turn to Harvey Dorfman, a psychologist who worked on the mental side of hitting for 30-plus years and was hired by Boras a few years ago.
Dorfman tries to attend to what he calls a slumping hitter's "screaming need" to get a hit. And he doesn't want to see players falling back on the time-honored technique of embracing superstitions.
"He's looking for some divine intervention, which is absurd," Dorfman said. "The reason it ticks me off is he's not taking responsibility for his behavior. Don't change your socks, change your behavior."
That's where Dorfman and other sports psychologists, like the Atlanta Braves' Jack Llewellyn, come in. Llewellyn, who gained renown in the early 1990s for his work with pitcher John Smoltz, feels his job is to turn the negativity of a slump into positive energy. One technique he uses is to have a player list his assets and then have them laminated on a card he can pull out for quick reinforcement.
"The most important part of the whole program is to give guys something to put in their mental bag to help them recover faster from adversity," Llewellyn said.
Players have been known to dabble in hypnotherapy, a technique that was popularized in baseball in the 1970s by a St. Paul, Minn., hypnotist named Harvey Misel.
Misel's first major client was Rod Carew, whose success led Misel to work with many other Twins players. Eventually, Misel was hired by the Chicago White Sox and at one point claimed 200 clients in major-league baseball, including outfielder Steve Braun, an original Mariner.
"It's nothing magical," said Braun. "It's a matter of putting yourself in a deep relaxed state so your mind can accept a positive state. You can do that to yourself. You shut out the world, relaxing each body part until you're in a state of relaxation."
Braun said he used to get extremely upset when he would hit the ball hard but make an out. He said during one session, Misel told him to feel just as good about hitting the ball hard as getting a hit.
"After the session, I remember hitting a line drive that got caught and giving guys high-fives like I had hit a home run," Braun said. "It's a matter of controlling your mind. Your mind doesn't know the difference between something that's imagined or that actually happened."
Controlling the mind to produce positive results is the methodology of hypnotherapist Pete Siegel of Marina Del Rey, Calif., who is credited by current Florida Marlin Damion Easley for his breakout 1998 season with Detroit.
Siegel also worked successfully with Tim Salmon and current Mariners infielder Scott Spiezio during Spiezio's productive seasons with the Angels.
"My Game 6 home run in the World Series [in 2002], I used part of his preparation techniques while I was in the on-deck circle," Spiezio said. "It's stuff that really works."
Spiezio said that Siegel would work with him either over the phone or in person.
"He would basically hypnotize you, but not in a way you were doing stuff you didn't know you were doing," he said. "It was just basically a deep relaxation state, a visualization state.
"You'd visualize doing well against the pitcher you were going to be facing in certain situations you weren't particularly successful in. He'd throw out all the negative and bring in all the positive."
Siegel said, "I put them in a trance, which enables you to deeply, inwardly focus and become totally absorbed with your own internal state."
Siegel gives the player a trigger mechanism to call up the positive imagery.
"Watch Easley," he said. "He'll clench his right fist and look at the pitcher. It's a process we've been using for a number of years. It stimulates certain feelings, a certain expectation mode and a sense of what his specific purpose is right there. It's not to drive in runs; it's to make solid contact that unfolds for a hit."
When it comes to slumps, Siegel said, "It may be a physical factor that's responsible for its occurrence, but it's mentally sustained. Mentality gets you into it and gets you out of it."