Posts Tagged ‘sports in general’

What does “clutch” really mean in sports?

May 8, 2011

one type of clutch

According to Wikepedia, “a clutch is a mechanical device which provides for the transmission of power (and therefore usually motion) from one component (the driving member) to another (the driven member). The opposite component of the clutch is the brake. So, if we take that literally, does that mean that the Houston Rockets of 1994 went from “Choke City,” putting the brakes on winning by their mistakes on the court, to “Clutch City” by simply coming through at crucial moments to win a series of big games on their merry team way to becoming champions of the NBA?

Is it really that simple? Win and you’re a clutch player or team; lose and you’re just another choke artist.

Baseball has done more than any sport to try to quantify the differences between clutch and choke. Hitters are now judged by their RISP records. That is, how they perform as batters with runners in scoring position. And pitchers, especially relief pitchers, are also judged by how many base runners they allow or keep from scoring.

Is “clutch” really as simple as coming through when it’s the difference between winning and losing? If a golfer sinks a 50-fott putt on the 18th hole of the last day in a tournament to win it all, does that make him or her clutch? Or does it depend on whether the golfer is Tiger Woods or John Doe – and the tournament is The Masters and not the Bear Creek Park Open?

When is a great play the result of the payoff on a player or team’s average positive productivity, when is it simply blind luck, or when is due to some transcendent, hard or impossible to measure quality we like to call “clutch” ability?

After all these years, I am no longer sure that I can even pretend to know or exactly describe what “clutch” really is. I just know that I know it when I see it. And I remember it forever.

Vann Harrington

The 1950-1953 Houston Buffs had a popular outfield-infield utility man named Vann Harrington. Vann batted left, but threw right. He batted .296 for the awful 1950 Buffs club, but only hit .357, .236, and .244 from 1950 through 1953. The thing Vann did best, the thing that made him so popular, however, was his ability to get the key hit in late innings that made the difference between winning and losing. When I think of Vann Harrington to this day, I think of him as a clutch hitter, the go-to guy you wanted to have at the plate when scoring runners late in the game was going to make the difference between winning and losing for the Buffs. He did it so well, in fact, that now I’ve even forgotten every single time he struck out or failed to move the runners under those circumstances. SUch probably is the good fortune of all those who imbed themselves in our minds as clutch performers. We simply “forget” all the times that they actually failed in that same situation.

So, is clutch even real? Or it just another of those comfort stations that the human mind uses on the way to generalizing how favorite players and teams succeed in sports?

What do you think? Is “clutch” real or just another mental convenience? If it is real, what is it based upon? Coming through when the game’s on the line? The probable result of a player’s performance at a fairly predictable percentage of time? Or is just plain luck in disguise?

Let us hear from you as a comment on this column.