Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Mind Plays Tricks on Knoblauch, Ankiel

Late last season, Yankees second baseman/left fielder Chuck Knoblauch’s throwing problems reached a new low, or so it seemed, when one of his errant throws hit a woman in the head. Twenty rows back. From second base.

The New York piranha-like media had an absolute field day with the scene, and the back page belonged to Knoblauch for a solid week or so. Soon Luis Sojo found himself in the starting lineup as Knoblauch came down with a convenient injury. Luckily for him, the Yankees went on to win their third straight World Series, and everyone assumed it would just go away during the off-season. It didn’t.

This spring, Knoblauch has been just as erratic, lofting five errors in limited action, prompting Joe Torre to move his former Gold Glover to left field, a decision that cannot possibly bolster Knoblauch’s confidence.

Late last season, Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel struggled just to find the catcher’s mitt, more or less the strike zone in the National League Championship Series. To put it succinctly, his pitching looked more like pre-glasses Rick Vaughan than Cy Young. For those of you scoring retroactively at home, Ankiel notched nine wild pitches in four innings. Unfortunately for him, his worst performance came on the biggest stage he had pitched on in his career and the Cardinals got bounced from the playoffs. The city of St. Louis held its collective breath and prayed that the problem would go away during the off-season. It didn’t.

This spring, Ankiel’s problems have resurfaced, and after an impressive initial performance, he walked eight in less than two innings and threw four of his first six warm-up throws well beyond the reach of catcher Mike Matheny. Now, this once-ace prospect is in danger of losing his spot in the rotation and being relegated to the bullpen.

The human mind is a funny thing, and when some of its wires get crossed, some absolutely crazy things can happen. These guys are professional baseball players, some of the best in their positions in the world, and they can no longer excel in them, nor can they even perform the basic tasks associated with them.

Neither of these guys is hurt in any way, as far as their doctors can tell, except psychologically, where they have some kind of mental block stopping them from playing well.

This isn’t supposed to happen to world-class athletes. This is not the pitcher in some beer league losing his ability to hit the strike zone; this is a St. Louis Cardinal. Its not like Knoblauch has lost has lost the ability to hit the curveball or turn a double play; most of his errors have come on simple 4-3 putouts on throws that, without exaggeration, you or I could probably do with slightly better regularity than Knoblauch has of late.

Yes, the mind sure is a nutty little bundle of neurons all right, and this is hardly the first time that it has had startling effects on professional baseball players.

Back in the early 90s, Mets catcher Mackey Sasser had surgery on his throwing shoulder during the off-season, and when he first came back, he had trouble throwing the ball back to the mound from the crouch position. When umpires began tiring of him standing up after every pitch, his mind forced him to double-clutch before every single throw back to the pitcher. He had no problem making snap throws to second base, but he just couldn’t trust himself to lob the ball to the mound.

It looked absolutely ridiculous, but Sasser didn’t let it beat him; he just took the ribbing from his teammates and kept on double clutching. And unlike the character in Major League II who I’m sure was based on him, Sasser did not resort to citing passages from a lingerie catalogue. But then again, Sasser didn’t have Tom Berenger at his disposal, so I guess you can call their methods even.

Former Braves’ closer Mark Wohlers had a similar problem to Ankiel’s a couple of years ago, but not nearly as bad a case. He simply couldn’t throw strikes; he was, however, able to hit the catcher’s glove from time to time. It got so bad for Wohlers that he was out of baseball for a while, though he is trying to make a comeback with the Reds.

There are a slew of other examples of the human mind’s kookiness, but lets just hope that the two most recent manifestations of it in baseball find a way to work themselves out on their own without having to consult professional help. Unfortunately for Ankiel and Knoblauch, Tom Berenger is out of the country on location filming “Major League IV: Back to the ajors After a Brief Stint in the Minors, a Month in Rehab and an Unfortunate Incident Involving a Moose.” Too bad for them.

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