PSYCHOLOGIST AT BAT with the 1950 Browns
Posted by athomeatfenway on May 15, 2011
One Google search of the words “Baseball Psychologist” yields 2.9 million results. The download includes contact info for practicing baseball psychologists as well as authors that have written how ball players need sharp cognitive skills to complement their physical abilities to succeed in the major leagues.
Boy how things have changed.
In late 1949 for the first time in recorded history, a MLB team in St. Louis contacted a practicing shrink in Manhattan and invited him to bring his skills in hypnotization and auto suggestion with him to Spring training in 1950. Unfortunately, that team was the Browns and that Psychologist was over matched by an abundant lack of natural talent. The Browns, with his help, improved their annual win total from 53 to 58, finishing 7th in both 1949 and 1950.
But, at least Dr. David Tracy had introduced the concepts of relaxation and positive expectations into the world of professional baseball.
He wrote a book about the experience.
THE PSYCHOLOGIST AT BAT. Dr. David F. Tracy. Sterling. 1951. NY. Forward by J.G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News.
David F. Tracy, Psychologist to the St. Louis Browns, New York Rangers and the St. Francis College Basketball team.
Tracy was a Psychologist with a practice in Manhattan. He was a devout Baseball fan. The book is peppered with references to the Giants, Yankees and Dodgers of the 40’s.
In June of ’49, the UP’s Claire Cox authored a syndicated story in which Tracy was quoted, “I can help a baseball team with auto suggestion and hypnosis, preferably the Phillies or St. Louis Browns, young and down.”
In early September, St. Louis Browns Owner Charles DeWitt phoned and Tracy accepted an invitation to spring training in Burbank, CA. .
The subsequent header in Colliers read, “Tinkers to Evers to Freud”. Other publications referred to Tracy as a “Whammy Man”.
The Browns management wasn’t completely united about the invitation. Browns manager Zack Taylor was skeptical. Tracy made progress at camp by sitting in on a poker game with the players. He lost $35 and gained acceptance as one of the boys. He also established his legitimacy by hypnotizing Owen Friend at the poker table right in front of everybody.
Soon, he trained the players to be more relaxed and self confident by teaching them to hypnotize themselves, each other, and their wives.
Owner De Witt concluded that the rookies played better in spring training as a result of the Tracy’s work. He invited the Doctor to stay with the team after they left California for the first month of the 1950 season.
On the road from Burbank to St. Louis, They stopped in Pine Bluffs, Arkansas, giving Tracy a chance to check out the Browns’ Rookie Academy. There were four diamonds and a battalion of Coaches in Pine Bluff. A busher could pay $50 to receive 6 weeks of training. The kids that demonstrated sufficient talent were shipped to a Browns minor league affiliate.
ELIMINATE FEAR – IMPROVE PERFORMANCE
The good Doctor ended up working a lot with the rookies. (The veterans didn’t trust him right away. ) Tracy felt he came to quickly understand the newbies.
In Tracy’s mind, rookies most feared the Reporters and for good reason. A story that creates high expectations on a young fellow can be stressful. This was the case when Dodger management over-touted young infielder Eddie Miksis and Branch Rickey was quoted, “Miksis will Fix Us.”. Miksis became a wandering utility player with a .236 BA.
Clint Hartung was another example, according to Tracy, who wrote, “A potential great was thus ruined by overenthusiastic writers.”. Hartung, a mounds man, would finish his career with a 29- 29 W-L record and a 5.02 ERA.
Tracy also cites Dick Wakefield, a $50,000 bonus baby of the Tigers in 1941, as another example of someone whose crushed confidence sidetracked a long and prosperous career. “If he had worked his way up gradually, Dick would probably be a leading player…he might have made good.” Wakefield batted .316 & .355 during the spartan WWII years of 1943-44, but was pretty much washed up by age 28 in 1949.
Rookies also fear Managers, writes Tracy. They yell and criticize, they don’t encourage. They insert rookies into pressure situations before they have succeeded in normal ones. They do all this when in fact “the man who needs to be hypnotized most frequently is the Manager.”.
Pressure is a killer. It stimulates muscle-paralyzing blood chemistry, it cuts thinking capacity by 50%.
He suggests that even Ted Williams was victimized by pressure as evidenced by Ted’s 5 for 25 in the ’46 Series, his 1 for 4 in the 1948 Cleveland tie breaker, and 1 for 5 in the pennant-deciding final games vs. The Yankees in 1949. A .344 career hitter, and a.206 hitter with a title on the line.
Sometimes Sophomores can’t stand up to the pressure created by fabulous rookie seasons. Boo Ferris is an example.
Tracy cites Jackie Robinson as an example of a sensational rookie who kept his confidence and fought through a sophomore slump. He calls Jackie “A great player and a leader of his race.”
Roy Sievers was a failed Sophomore. He hit .306 with 16 homers while winning the 1949 ROY with the Browns. He pushed David Tracy away in Burbank the summer of ’50 and again as he failed at bat when the season began. Sievers fell from .306 & 16 to .238 & 10. He would later struggle through 1951 and ’52 before realizing his very substantial potential.
Tracy blames Sievers for hurting himself, but he also blames the Browns for contributing to the demise of their young players by habitually selling/trading their veterans to pay the rent. They “psychologically bankrupted the team.” The 1950 infield of Arft, Friend, DeMars, Somers, Upton & Thomas had no veterans to advise and stabilize, to relieve the pressure and fear.
Fear of Crowds is another challenge. “The crowds very presence…its raucous voice…creates a pressure that inexperienced and even veteran players feel much more than they or their manager or the sports writers realize.” Roy Stockton and Ted Wiliiams were two who could not block it out.
“The lower leagues are full of men with this fear complex as the root of their troubles.”
“When fear strikes it reduces natural ability by 50%.”
Fear of Crowds can even strike MVP’s. Tracy was an eye witness to the knee knocking and body shaking that Phil Rizzuto endured when he rose to the dais and made his acceptance speech for the 1950 American League MVP Award in New York.
Tracy’s methodology was simple to counter all this. He taught all Brownie players to self-hypnotize and to hypnotize their teammates. (Sherm Lollar and Less Moss “both were fine hypnotists”.) He taught Brownie pitchers that when under stress step off the mound and take 3 deep breaths to clear their minds.
“I hypnotized the Browns out of their fear of crowds…Late in the 1950 season, I was pleased to see the Browns knock both the Tigers and the Indians out of the exciting pennant race by beating them unmercifully when the chips were down in the final series…”
Tracy couldn’t have foreseen how easy it would be to check the record in the age of Baseball-Reference.com.
The Browns did sweep 4 from the Indians late in the season but Cleveland went 12 – 4 thereafter and finished 6 games behind the Yankees. His claim about the Tigers is even less on target. Detroit took 3 of 4 from St. Louis in their last September series and finished 3 behind the Bombers. Maybe Tracy should just have been proud of how much more confident he made the players feel.
A few of his other other claims don’t stand up to historical scrutiny. He wrote that he “fixed” Brownie pitcher Eddie Albrecht. “I’m certain you’ll hear more from Eddie.”
We did. Albrecht returned to the Browns and appeared in 2 games in 1950, with an 0 – 1 W-L record and a 5.49 ERA. He spent the next 3 years in the minors before returning to civilian life.
Tracy makes many claims about his ability to fix players though hypnosis & auto suggestion. He said he fixed the curve baller whose ball would not curve, and the rookie pitcher who tipped his pitches, and the lefthander with a fear of lefty batters, plus the strike out master who cannot relax on the mound.
He claims he took the New York Rangers NHL team from an 0 -13-0 start to a 18-23-20 conclusion.
Tracy felt he had the answers and recommended that a cluster of three people actually manage a baseball team: A Manager, a bench coach, and a team psychologist.
He asks and answers the question why there were no Pyschologists working in baseball before he did in 1950. He suggests the reason is the same as to why it took baseball so long to understand that electricity had popularized the game, and how night games might grow their audience, or why it might be beneficial to fly the team to games years after the general public had taken to the airlines.
Tracy says it is essential that the Manager have a team of managers with a Psychologist working alongside him. He makes the point clear. “A practicing Psychologist always limits himself to a small number of cases at a time, but a baseball manager assumes that he and his coaches (with no psychological training at all) can handle the problems of 25 nervous athletes, each bent on earning a living and reaching fame in a difficult competitive battle.”.
Never strident or critical, Tracy’s style is strictly observational. He’s offering his opinions and recalling what he saw and experienced.
Baseball history points to an obsessive clinging to the past. Keep out the blacks. Don’t play on Sunday. Block a Union. Stick with train travel. It is no surprise that it took decades to bring Pyschology into the game.
Baseball was bound to let Psychology in sooner or later, just as Psychology leaked into Pop Culture in the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s.
Today there is an industry. Bob Tewksbury is the Sports Psychologist of the Boston Red Sox. The NY Times reported that 10 MLB teams have a mental skills coach. The late Dr. Harvey Dorfman elicited many testimonials including ones from Peter Gammons, Al Leiter, Kevin Brown and Roy Halladay.
Dave F. Tracy represents the starting point of Baseball’s involvement with Psychology. Baseball didn’t welcome him with open arms. It was a short trial. But one that left a mark, and started the game on a path that would grow and bring improvement.