Friday, April 4, 2008

Structure of behavior and attitude - Greinke and Hillman

The Royals are battling it out in Minnesota -- down 4-3 in the 7th -- and for some reason I think now's a good time to link to this op-ed from the New York Times.

In "Pitching with a Purpose," David Brooks summarizes a baseball book by H.A. Dorfman called The Mental ABC's of Pitching, barely bothering to relate it to politics or everyday life (the column ran the morning following Opening Day). I found this passage rather insightful:

In the book’s only lyrical passage, he writes: “Self-discipline is a form of freedom. Freedom from laziness and lethargy, freedom from expectations and demands of others, freedom from weakness and fear — and doubt.”

His assumption seems to be that you can’t just urge someone to be disciplined; you have to build a structure of behavior and attitude. Behavior shapes thought. If a player disciplines his behavior, then he will also discipline his mind.

Discipline, behavior and mind are interconnected. It's apparent how this relates to Zack Greinke, of course, who pitched a fine game yesterday, giving up just one run in seven innings. I find no need to belabor the point that he's struggled with depression and self-confidence, which seem to be key traits to success for a Major League pitcher. What I will say, however, is that Greinke's had two years now to reestablish himself after taking a season off, and maybe, with his recent success, it's okay to believe he'll consistently put the task at the center.

As Brooks writes:

By putting the task at the center, Dorfman illuminates the way the body and the mind communicate with each other. Once there were intellectuals who thought the mind existed above the body, but that’s been blown away by evidence. In fact, it’s easiest to change the mind by changing behavior, and that’s probably as true in the office as on the mound.

And by putting the task at the center, Dorfman helps the pitcher quiet the self. He pushes the pitcher’s thoughts away from his own qualities — his expectations, his nerve, his ego — and helps the pitcher lose himself in the job.

And of course, Trey Hillman seems to have built a "structure of behavior and attitude" (Rany and Joe Posnanski elaborate). Once that foundation has been established, we can expect the various parts -- the players -- to perfect a repeatable routine and keep focus on every pitch and every play. That's how baseball games are won.

POSTSCRIPT: I can't find any irony in this post praising Dusty Baker over at Wrigleyville23...

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