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Between the Ears: Q & A w/Sports Psych Chris Myers

Since this is my first Q & A here at SoxNet.net, the questions listed below are varied sample questions and are not coming from viewers. I will begin answering questions in my next issue, which will be availabe on Wednesday, March 26. Please send all your questions to <a href="mailto:sportspsych@soxnet.net"><font color=red>sportspsych@soxnet.net</a></font>

Q: Why do batters and pitchers go through so many idiosynchratic routines before each pitch? Is it just supertition?
A: Some would use superstition as an explanation for this phenomena, others might call it habituation or pre-competition routine. Although the difference between effective pre-competition routines and simple superstition is tentative at best, both tend to serve the same purpose - comfort. Whether the comfort is drawn from reducing anxiety (similar to the compulsions exhibited by someone who suffers from Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), increasing physiological arousal, or simply providing an outlet for routinized sequential thought, that comfort allows for athletes to re-focus and minimize cognitive interference (i.e., thinking too much) with their performance.

Q: How do the off-season additions of Colon, Koch, and White influence the attitudes of the White Sox?
A: Colon, Koch, and White are all fine pitchers, and will definitely help the Sox in terms of on-field talent. Individually, I think that Koch's intensity will keep the whole bullpen more sharp - that sort of competitive fire tends to add to the accountability of others in the same position (i.e., other bullpen members). Colon seems to be a calming presence, in that the offensive players will have two consecutive days (include Buehrle for the other day) in which they do not feel that they must score 10+ runs in order to win. Most importantly, the addition of such high-profile talent sends a message to the rest of the team that the management believes in the current core, that they are really trying to win a championship (unlike Northside ownership who relies on the ability to profit from one superstar and a nostalgic stadium) and that they are modeling a strong work ethic and belief in the system.

Q: What do you make of this springs comments by Frank Thomas? How will it affect team chemistry?
A: I happen to be a big fan of Frank Thomas, so it is difficult for me to answer this one objectively. First of all, let's establish that Frank Thomas is certainly a victim of expectations influencing opinion. Traditionally, people's (especially White Sox fans, seemingly) expectations based on the previous year's performance tends to be set as the minimum criteria for the following year. This does not, however, account for the statistical phenomena of regression toward the mean, which loosely translates into the idea that a player is not likely to improve every season of his career.

When comparing Thomas' numbers with fellow teammates, it is obvious that his stats are comparable with all but Ordonez, but we don't hear a whole lot about how Lee or Valentin had disappointing years, or about Konerko's power swoon in the second half. Our expectations that Frank will have an annual .335, 40, 120 are somewhat unrealistic by baseball standards. If you don't agree with this, here are the seemingly pedestrian career averages of BARRY BONDS - .296, 36, 97 (that compares to Thomas' .314, 28, 98; or .315, 31, 106 if you don't count the 20 games of 2001 as a full year). The powerful role of expectation has even led some sports reporters to question Thomas' future as a Hall-of-Famer!

I'm fairly certain that Thomas feels slighted by the way things have gone the last couple of years, and I think that the grumblings are much more about feeling as if he is not getting the respect that he deserves than it is about money. I also feel that Thomas is stirring an explosive mixture by bringing up the previous comments of teammates about his behavior last year, but he is no more of a culprit of bad chemistry than those who made the remarks. Also note that for all of their complaints, Valentin was less productive than Thomas offensively, and Konerko only ended with a handful more RBIs and one less homerun. If a consistent performer like Magglio Ordonez starts to levy complaints, then we may be more inclined to listen. Finally, team issues need to be handled in-house. If the White Sox hope to succeed this season, they certainly need to start dealing with clubhouse issues in the clubhouse instead of using the reporters as pawns in a verbal chessmatch that the White Sox will ultimately lose.


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