and Mind Control
One of the most famous home runs in history was the one the Yankees’ Bucky Dent hit in the 1978 AL East playoff to beat the Red Sox. Dent (.243) had hit only four homers all year when he stepped to bat with two men on and the Yankees losing 2-0 and lifted a fly just fair and just over the Green Monster at Fenway. The Yankees, once 14½ games behind, won the pennant in one of the greatest comebacks in baseball history.
Dent told me the home run may actually have been born several weeks earlier on the sands of a Florida beach. The Yankees had suffered a disastrous series of injuries early that year. Dent himself spent a month on the disabled list, lying on the beach and “visualizing” with chin on his fists.
You program. You think of what you want to do, visualize yourself hitting or fielding. You can do it in basketball – practice shooting foul shots in your mind.
He told of experiments in which one group practiced on the court while another didn’t touch the ball but mentally visualized it going through the hoop. When the two groups were re-tested, he says, the second improved more than the first.
Bucky’s programming was not so specific as a game-winning home run in the playoffs. He couldn’t foresee the details. But he knew what he wanted to happen, and he began seeing the thought become real.
The story goes back three years earlier. To a classroom in Florida. That’s where Dent, pitcher “Goose” Gossage, plus 23 other nervous White Sox rookies, filed into classes in Sylva Mind Control as part of an experiment by Sox general manager Roland Hemond.
Mind control can help an athlete handle pressure, said Rich Herro, the Chicago businessman who taught the class:
I had never realized the tremendous pressure these kids are under – 18-19 year-olds, in a highly competitive arena, for big money and glory. One out of ten makes it. No wonder they have so many injuries. They’re not taught to deal with pressure. The athlete who is easy-going, nothing bothers him, has a better chance of making it. The serious, intent guy, who always tries to excel, can buckle under pressure. Learning to relax mentally but be alert physically is hard.
Back then there were many “mind sciences” – mind control, hypnosis, Scientology, Transcendental Meditation. Yankee outfielder Roy White and catcher Thurman Munson were among many big leaguers into TM.
All deal with altering the state of consciousness. You can hook people up to an encephalograph and see the brain frequencies go down. TM is passive, an attempt to contact the inner self. Sylva is more active. It utilizes physical actions as well as meditation.
Football’s Joe Namath was a big advocate of TM. Many baseball stars also practiced it: Steve Carlton, Willie McCovey, Jerry Grote, and Larry Dierker.
Before, I had nothing but a tired body to carry me through a strenuous day. TM helps me relax and do things I’ve never done before. After TM I’m refreshed. It makes your day more rounded in terms of enjoying everything – your work, your family, and a good night’s sleep.
It’s brought me inner peace. If you decrease your heart and pulse rate, you get a very fundamental rest.
Larry Bowa had a hot temper.
The most important thing in baseball is being able to concentrate every single at bat. Now I don’t have any other worries. Before, I’d be thinking, “I have this bill to pay at home.” When the situation gets tight, a lot of infielders don’t want the ball to be hit to them. but I want the ball to be hit to me. I’m relaxed, I know I’m going to make the play. If I go 0-for-4, I can go home and TM for a few minutes and completely forget about it and start all over the next day.
Jim Lonborg was just the opposite:
I’m kind of mellow. I have to get charged up. It cleared my mind as to what I wanted to do when I went out on the field. It made me more positive, more aggressive. I think that made me a better pitcher.
It enabled me to focus better on the ball and pick up on the spin sooner.
Dent and Gossage learned that failure communicates failure. Herro:
If a pitcher is afraid someone will let him down, that fear appears to be picked up by the other players. They subconsciously respond and do, in fact, fail and become part of the failure pattern.
The White Sox course covered 48 hours, but only eight were devoted to athletic skills.
A ballplayer only plays ball for three hours a day, but off the field he has problems: a business, a fight with his wife. That’s why wives were encouraged to take the course, too.
Herro felt his program could also cut down on injuries, many of which are subconsciously invited by the athlete himself:
They’re good excuses: Take a businessman whose business failed because he had a heart attack – he allowed the attack to take place.
Former ‘49er quarterback John Brodie, who was a devotee of Scientology, said good teams don’t have injuries, bad teams do. The bad playing causes the injuries, not the other way around. An auto accident almost ended his own career, but he was convinced he subconsciously brought the accident on himself, because he feared advancing age and the competition of a hot rookie. Once he understood that, the pain in his shoulder disappeared.
Herro kept files on the players who attended his course, and on a control group who didn’t. The Sylva students improved more than the non-students. Most moved up a step in ‘75, yet their ERA’s remained about the same, 3.33. The other rookies went to 4.13.
One graduate, Ken Kravec, took one full run off his ERA, dropping from 3.41 at Knoxville to 2.41. In ‘79 with the White Sox he had his best season: 15-13 and 2.74.
Another, David Frost, was 16-10 in ’79 to help the Angels win the division.
Herro introduced his teen-aged daughter to Bucky, whose poster soon became a favorite among nubile girls all over America. “It was the thrill of her life.” Dent’s batting average dropped 10 points, but he developed into a top shortstop.
Gossage had had two previous trials with the White Sox. In 1973 he was 0-4 7.34. After Sylva, in ’75, Goose cut his ERA to 1.84, best in the league.
The following year Hemond planned to do a course for the regulars, but the players’ strike ended those plans. In ‘76 new owner Bill Veeck dropped the program.
Dent was traded to the Yankees in 1977, and Gossage was dealt to Pittsburgh, where he had 26 saves and 1.62. That winter Goose signed a multi-million-dollar contract with the Yankees.
The Fateful Game
Early in 1978 the Yankees were hit with injuries and a bitter personality clash between manager Billy Martin and several of his stars. The Red Sox shot out to a 14½-game lead.
In mid-season Bob Lemon replaced Martin, and the injured returned to duty. Meanwhile, the Red Sox were hit with injuries and lost their lead in one of the biggest folds in baseball history.
The Sox’s Carl Yastrzemski homered to give Boston a 2-0 lead.
In the seventh Torrez gave up singles to Chris Chambliss and Roy White. That brought up Dent, the weakest hitter in the lineup, with two outs.
(Bucky may have brought something besides Mind Control to the plate. He hit himself on the foot with a foul and while he hopped around in pain, Mickey Rivers, in the on-deck circle, shoved a new bat into his hands and told him to “go hit a home run.” Years later Rivers told Torrez that the bat was corked, making it lighter and with more bat speed. Mickey denied that he was serious. We’ll never know.)
Meanwhile, Torrez stood on the mound, watching, without taking a few tosses to keep his arm warm.
Dent had swung at a slider. Bucky told third base coach Dick Howser, “If that son of a bitch comes in there again with that pitch, I’m going to take him into the net.”
Torrez did, and Bucky did.
The Yankees led 3-2.
Then it was Reggie Jackson’s turn. Reggie also practiced visualizing and told me:
When I want to turn it on, I get away from the plate. I stretch, control my breathing, and slow up my heart rate. I remind myself to see the pitcher’s release and the spin on the ball. I imagine myself putting the ‘sweet spot’ of the bat in the hitting area just as the ball is getting there. I see a line drive going to center field. I don’t want to try too hard or tense up. I mumble, “All right, Reggie, just let it happen, let it flow. Let it happen. . . . NOW!”
Jackson lifted his 27th homer into the bleachers to make it 5-2. Munson doubled in another run, and Gossage was waved in to protect the lead. “I’m a fastball pitcher, they’re a fastball-hitting club. It was them against me in the biggest game of my life.”
In the eighth, Goose gave up a double to Jerry Remy (.278). He got Jim Rice (.315), but Yastrzemski (.277), Carlton Fisk (.284), and Fred Lynn (.298) all singled to make the score 5-4 with the tying run 90 feet away and the Boston crowd howling. Butch Hobson (.250) stepped into the box, and Goose stepped off the rubber. He exhaled and let his mind visualize the Rocky Mountain peaks back home in Colorado.
If you keep a level head instead of getting excited, you’re going to be better off. The mind functions best at low frequency. If you’re upset, you might do something dumb. Now if I give up a hit in a crucial situation, I don’t feel it’s the end of the world. I feel I’ll “come down to my level.” That’s where mind control really helped me.
He stepped back on the mound and got Hobson on a high fastball for the second out. George Scott (.233) also went out on the same pitch.
In the bottom of the ninth, with one out, Gossage walked Rick Burleson. Remy hit a line drive to right that Lou Piniella lost in the sun, but Lou decoyed Burleson into stopping at second, and a lucky bounce landed the ball right in Pinella’s glove – he caught a ball he never saw!
That brought up the best hitter in baseball, Rice, with 444 total bases, followed by Yaz, with the flag in center blowing away from the plate. “Lord,” thought Graig Nettles at third, “all I could think of was Bobby Thomson and that ‘51 playoff home run!”
Rice hit a fly ball deep enough to score Remy – if he had been on third. The Red Sox had one out remaining, the left-handed Yaz, the best clutch-hitter on the club.
He’s the greatest player I ever played against. I just told myself I wasn’t going to throw him a lousy breaking ball. My fastball got me this far, and I was going with it.
Goose let his mind turn to the mountains at home. In a tight spot, “I just step off the mound and tell myself, no matter what happens – even if it’s the worst that happens – I’ll be going home and enjoying myself pretty soon.”
Gossage wound up and pitched.
All of a sudden the ball jumped in on me. Goose has that kind of fastball – a lot of movement. I tried to hold up, and if I had, we might still be playing. But Gossage made a hell of a pitch, and I popped it up.
The greatest pennant race in a quarter century was over.
You never hear about meditation any more. I wonder why.
The Crazy October Crapshoot Begins
If this game had been played this year, no one would remember it. That’s because it wouldn’t have mattered. Both teams would have gone on to the tournament playoffs anyway.
But under today’s Crazy October Crapshoot rules, the last six months – 2,430 games – hardly mattered at all. We merely selected the two fifth-best teams in baseball, and they will compete in the actual season, the one-month Crapshoot.
The two best teams in the summer exhibition season were the Cubs and Rangers. They should be fighting it out now to see which is the best team. But the odds that they will face each other in the tournament finals – laughingly called “the World Series” – are about 1 out of 8. It’s happened only three times since the Tournament system began. The two fifth-place teams end up in the finals about as often as the two champions do.
The year it could be the Orioles vs the Mets or Giants, while the Cubs and Rangers watch on TV at home.
So, what was the purpose of all those games since April 1? To choose the two MVPs? But how can there be a Most Valuable Player when the games themselves have almost no value?
The solution is to add two more teams – I suggest Monterey and Vancouver – making four eight-team leagues and a playoff among the four champions.
If the Crazy Crapshoot had been in effect since 1901, no one would even remember Bucky Dent, Bobby Thomson, Fred Merkle, and Gabby Hartnett. You can add Carlton Fisk, Pete Alexander, the Miracle Braves, Bill Mazeroski, Bill Wambsganss, and Don Larsen.
So pardon me while I work on some books this winter. But wake me if the Cubs and Rangers make it into a real World Series. That would be worth watching!
Ask Questions. Question Answers
Letters may be edited for length.
You’re right on the mark about the nicknames. But what supports your claim that the Braves lost twice to “inferior” Yankee teams? Perhaps the Braves just weren’t that good.
(I should have said “underdog.” My criterion was which team had the best regular season won-lost record.)
You failed to convince me that the name of a team affects the win-loss record. The Yankees’ name should be offensive to southerners, but their win-loss record is quite good. That said, there is a case for being more sensitive to others. I’m glad to see neutral names like Nationals, Rockies, Rays, Diamondbacks, etc. Everyone should be more tolerant. Some people are offended at anything religious. Does this mean we need to also eliminate the names Padres, Cardinals, and Angels? (Tom Cipolla)
(How else do you explain Atlanta’s long lugubrious record of great teams and even greater failures? It’s not the name, it’s the powerful psychic vibes that it awakens. Southerners aren’t sending any bad mojo; maybe they should try it. Nor have any churches complained, but none of names is exactly a fighting one.)
I’m all for dumping Chief Wahoo and, while I think most team’s names are inoffensive (polls of Indians seem to agree, though ‘Redskins’ is clearly beyond the pale), I see no objection to the change. But renaming Atlanta after the notorious racist Cobb? Maybe you ought to think about that a little longer. (Steve Sherman)
(Good point. But Georgia does grow a lot of peaches.)
All college and professional teams should abandon names offensive to racial groups. Today all peoples – maybe especially Caucasians –are aware that names have histories and connotations, and many of those resonate with pain and indignity. I like the sound of “Atlanta Peaches” and “Cleveland Comets” (or equally positive, upbeat names). They invite competitive enthusiasm, not distracting discord and nightmarish recollection. (Bob Reising)
Chief Wahoo is the most racist-looking logo in the game. Whether that has any effect on the team is beyond my realm of knowledge. (Jay Berman)
The Hall of Fame
Very interesting. Many of us think [the present Hall] is a travesty. But the real travesty is having baseball writers select who is enshrined. They are a very arrogant group. Incidentally, I think they are ones concerned about the length of games. A three-plus hour game cuts in to their time at the hotel or other watering holes. (Leland Hall)
Your thoughts comparing old mile records with current ones are probably misleading. The older records are for amateur athletes and do not include professionals. Now our “amateurs” are professionals. Here’s a story on “professional” runners of the 18th Century (http://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-27298505). (Steve Savage)
(You can still see the improvement every decade, even every four years.)
Really enjoyed the story about Oakland’s Heavenly Body.
I understand the questions about Hank Aaron. However, from 1966 to 1974 (when he broke Ruth’s record), Hank played in the Atlanta bandbox. Not only was it hitter friendly, but the heat and humidity was much nicer to homerun hitters than Milwaukee in April, May and September. (Kenneth Keller)
(Hank got a big jump in home runs in 1969, when he first played in Atlanta. But that does not explain his second, and much bigger, jump five years later to the best home run pace of his life at ages 37 and 39.)