Intangibles and the Mental Game of Baseball
I am not a voracious reader of baseball books. I do read them from time-to-time, but I tend to gravitate towards books on politics, current events or American history. One baseball book that I highly recommend is Intangibles: Big League Stories and Strategies for Winning the Mental Game—in Baseball and in Life. The author is my friend, Geoff Miller (thewinningmindinbaseball.com), a Mental Skills Coach with the Atlanta Braves (I also wrote the Foreword for the book, but that’s beside the point.) My point is every once in a while a “must read” baseball book comes along, and this is one of them. People who know me think that I love numbers. The reality is that I love understanding how things work and I love decision processes. Numbers, if selected thoughtfully, just happen to be an outstanding vehicle to explain how things work and to improve decision processes for big league clubs. Understanding and appreciating the mental aspects of baseball is the perfect complement to a player’s stats or a scout’s ratings of a player’s tools.
Anyone who is passionate about the game of baseball, or is connected to it in some way, wants to understand the mind of the ballplayer. What makes him tick? How does he marshal his talents during a high pressure moment to perform? How does he prepare for an upcoming encounter with his opponent? These are the types of questions discussed in Intangibles—from the vantage point of an expert teacher and the athletes and coaches he’s encountered. Many of Geoff’s stories stem from his experiences with the Pittsburgh Pirates, one of his former employers. He has a rare and unique ability to grasp the bigger picture from his various coaching experiences, and it comes through in his writing.
One of my favorite sections of the book is a discussion of a “Baseball IQ.” Miller discusses ways in which a pitcher can learn to read a hitter’s reactions to a first-pitch fastball. He discusses the six possible hitter reactions, their meaning and even some insights as to the optimal pitch sequence—all based on careful observation of the hitter’s reaction to one pitch. From the hitter’s perspective, it’s not good enough to know what a pitcher is expected to throw in a given situation. He also benefits by knowing the why. The why gives the hitter insight into the mind of the pitcher—his motivations, level of confidence, fears and insecurities, and the pitcher’s personal assessment of his own strengths and weaknesses. By knowing the why, a hitter acquires a certain intellectual intimacy with the pitcher, which may provide a competitive edge and raise his probability of success.
The Baseball IQ section also includes several multiple choice tests that can be used to assess a player’s depth of understanding of the game and also serve as a tool build his or her knowledge of various game situations. Beyond the relevance to baseball, the book is a personal training guide for the mind and can give each one of us—whether or not we are in the baseball world—tools and insights to be a better version of ourselves. Check it out. If you love baseball, you’ll really enjoy Intangibles.