The Persistence of Visceral Memory in Baseball

The Persistence of Memory Salvador Dali, 1931

The Persistence of Memory
Salvador Dali, 1931

 

One Day at a Time, One Game at a Time, One Pitch at a Time

There’s a very good reason why we all need to take baseball, like life, one game at a time, one day at a time.

In baseball, as in life, it’s a long season. You first have to do what you need to do to even get in the game, whether you find your game and your position in the game by relentless search – or just stumble into it by plain old dumb luck because of some kind of skill you own that simply jumps to the surface and refuses to be ignored.  If you get that far, then you will have to understand where the chalk line is that either puts you in the game or leaves you out – and go do it. – Just do it! – Nobody can keep you out of the game of trying your passion or career thing, if you are willing to give it your all – and if you understand that failure at anything new is like learning how to catch ground balls in your glove in baseball – rather than allowing them to roll through your legs every time. In this instance, failure is nothing more than a learning opportunity – even if you still cannot stop a ground ball from going through your legs in a hundred tries – even with coaching help. The lesson of that extreme example would most probably be that you need to find another game. – But maybe not. – Maybe nobody told you to get your body and glove down to the ground and block the ball. If you can block the thing – even if you don’t catch it in the outfield – chances go way up that the ball is going to bounce back toward the infield and do much less damage – then if it rolls through you at great speed toward a distant outfield wall.

Back in 1947, when Yogi Berra was becoming the starting catcher for the New York Yankees, Manager Bucky Harris had some concern about his young receiver’s tendency to swing at a lot of pitches out of the strike zone, even though he often got hits in so doing as the result.

“Think when you get up there,” he supposedly told Berra. “Make the pitcher come in with the ball. Don’t be too eager. Make him get it over. Think. Think.”

After hearing his manager’s plea, Berra also supposedly went to the plate and took three called strikes. Then he dejectedly walked to the dugout and sat down.

“How can anybody think and hit at the same time,” Berra mumbled, as another early Yogi-ism was recorded for posterity.

Regardless of what Yogi said, or whether he said it exactly as quoted here – or even whether he said anything at all, what he said was true.

When you are batting, it’s all about “see the ball/hit the ball”.  One’s awareness of the strike zone, and the speed, movement, and impending direction of the pitched baseball in the nanosecond in which this action/reaction. In this split-second reaction time period, all the batter’s information comes to him  in a visceral memory flash moment that travels from the brain to all the neuromuscular reflexes in the body that the hitter needs to have working for him to hit the ball and react accordingly. When it works really well, this is the best example we know of how the persistence of clear visceral memory works at the plate among great “natural hitters.”

For models of these great visceral memory types, think of players like Stan Musial, Ted Williams, or Jose Altuve.

Without good visceral memory capacity, the batter has less chance of hitting the ball with a lucky swing of the bat than the blind pig does of finding an oak tree – let alone also finding an edible acorn on the ground beneath its branches.

Only between pitches is there time for conscious, ordinary analytical thought – and not all batters even engage in that form of thought during a time at bat. My guess is that the most “natural” hitters leave everything in what happens in the nanosecond of the ball’s flight to the plate. Less natural, or less confident hitters may be more inclined to use the time between pitches to “think ahead”. These are the guys who get killed by the pitchers who pick up over repeated exposure to these kind of hitters that they may do certain things physically between pitches when they are next expecting a breaking ball – and do other things when they are next expecting a fast ball – or the pitcher  may simply get that info from the pitch count that a batter is now thinking “curve” or “fast ball” –  based on previous experience.

Predictable negative vulnerability will get you killed in baseball. – The same is true in life.

Visceral Memory, Here’s A What If Pitch With a Big Old Nail in It

Speaking of the analytical section of the brain, here’s a nightmarish thought that ran through my noggin last night after I read a wary comment on today’s other column about the club pitching stats for all thirty 2016 MLB teams through June 29:

https://bill37mccurdy.com/2016/07/01/mlb-team-pitching-stats-thru-6292016/

Looking at the No. 1 ranked Cubs, the only club with an ERA under 3.00, among other things, Mark Wernick wrote the following: “Cubs are scary good!”

As an Astros fan, here’s the Nightmare on Crawford Street “what if” thought that struck me:

In 2005, our Houston Astros immortalized their first trip to the World Series to become the NL team that made it possible for the Chicago White Sox to break their jinx of having not won a World Series since 1917!

In 2016, what if our gallant Astros season rally results in Houston again winning the AL pennant – only to lose to the Chicago Cubs, helping them to break the jinx of having not won a World Series since the almost indelibly fabled date of 1908???

Would that outcome forever suck? I cannot imagine a more sickening baseball destiny because – no matter what the Astros did from 2016 forward, they would always be remembered as the only team that helped both Chicago clubs – in two different leagues – to end World Series jinxes that had kept the Sox away from a championship for 88 years – and the Cubs out for an incredible 108 years!!!!

Somebody come pour water on my head. I need to get back to nanosecond brain reactivity – one game at a time – one day at a time – moment to moment – nanosecond to nanosecond.

Have a nice day. – And don’t even think about Chicago.

____________________

eagle-0range
Bill McCurdy

Publisher, Editor, Writer

The Pecan Park Eagle

Houston, Texas

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2 Responses to “The Persistence of Visceral Memory in Baseball”

  1. Doug S. Says:

    Let’s hope some NL team takes the Cubs out in the playoffs. I love seeing those long faces in Wrigley.

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    Even more ominous for the Astros facing another Chicago team that hasn’t won the Fall Classic since 1908, is the presence of the Zelig-like character, who was General Manager of the Boston Red Sox in 2004, when they ended their 86-year World Series drought, Theo Epstein. He was GM in 2007 when the Red Sox won another World Series.

    Epstein is now President of Baseball Operations for the Cubs. A World Series win for the Cubs would all but guarantee him a spot in Cooperstown.

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