Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall,
Humpty Dumpty had a great fall;
All the king’s horses and all the king’s men
Couldn’t put Humpty together again.
A baseball hitter might relate to this little poem. A baseball hitter, that is, in a slump. Speaking of which, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards wrote the song Satisfaction as in “I can’t get no…”
So I looked it up: A slump is “a period in which a player or team performs below par.”
In turn, you say: We all have ups and downs. We go on winning streaks. We have an uptick in our life. On the other hand, sometimes we go through rough patches, including times when things are not good, we cannot close a deal, so to speak, and the news is disquieting, at best.
Life is not a constant hitting streak, to be sure. As it is, in baseball, if you even get a hit every three times at bat, you are considered outstanding. Batting .333 is a major feat! As such, a period of time during which you strike out, or don’t connect, or make weak contact, or the other pitchers have your number, well, come on, it’s just part of the deal!
Players slump in front of the public. In front of their fans. In front of the family. At the conclusion of the 1984 season, after being hitless 3 times at the plate, and each time striking out — and even though the Angels’ pitcher Mike Witt had a perfect game going — Rangers outfielder George Wright (mired in a terrible season-ending slump that dropped his average to 243), was asked what he was going to do next. George answered: “I’m going to change my name and move to Africa…”
Players stand in front of the mirror trying to figure out what is going wrong. They lie in bed analyzing and re-analyzing. Is it the bat size? Maybe it’s the socks! No, no, think pitch selection -think out what the next pitch will be… Drop the shoulder. Stand further from the plate!
Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, who also became quite a manager, had a truly superb rookie season. In his second year, he was hitless in 20 consecutive at-bats.
One problem, one problem for sure: You start trying too hard. Yet, there are all those tools available to you — coaches, batting cages, videotapes, data on the pitcher you are going to face. And…you know you have a lot of talent! Imagine a good pitcher suddenly can’t throw one over the plate, at all. Throws it in the dirt, over the catcher’s head, or throws it so wide the ball goes to the backstop.
Sorry, Joe, but it is so: Hitting slumps, unfortunately, are a reality.
In fact, hitting is really difficult. The ball is not very big; it’s coming at 90 miles per hour; sometimes it is high, sometimes it is low, sometimes it is curving away; sometimes it is sinking; sometimes it looks fat and juicy but is very slow and you swing way ahead of it, and sometimes… sometimes… it is just not possible to see really well. So how can you get down on yourself?
Because you want to succeed! You want to earn your keep. You want to keep playing. You may only get a few chances per game. It isn’t like basketball where you can shoot quite often. Even in football, there are a bunch of plays. Golf too… go hit the next ball! Baseball you gotta wait your turn, and you gotta be in there playing.
What though, really, is a slump? O for 3? O for 15? 3 for 30? 7 for 50? I am going to give this a try: A slump is a process during which a baseball player loses the ability to connect with the pitched ball in such manner, or of a sufficient amount of time, that he (or she), as well as those observing, will utter “What’s wrong with this player? Why can’t he hit the ball?”
The questions themselves hurt. The questions are not nice. “You need contacts?” The batting average dwindles. Folks in the stands groan when you are at the plate with a runner in scoring position because the team needs you to come through. Well sorry bub, they have lost confidence in you…
That’s a slump.
Some of it is bad luck. In fact, bad luck compounds things. You hit it a ton, just foul! The third baseman robs you of a smash down the line. You foul off a bunch of pitches, battle all the way to 3 and 2, it’s the ninth pitch of the at-bat, and it’s clearly outside. But you hear: “Streeeee-rike!” You slump, because of your slump. You look at the Ump — you’re thinking — the letters “u m and p” make up a part of the word sl-ump…. If you had a tail it would be dragging. Even so, you have to go back onto the field and focus. You have to be stellar on defense. You can’t go around moping and not play good ball defensively. Further, if the press questions you, make sure you keep a stiff upper lip. Make sure to talk in a courteous manner. Don’t go weeping on television or radio, whining about “Why can’t I just get some hits for God’s sake? Why? Why?!”
I am reading that most slumps are mental. Well, today guys can take a pill if they have erectile dysfunction. How about a pill to snap you out of a hitting slump? No? Illegal? Oh…. well… never mind!
Maybe you have an injury. Maybe you are overcompensating. Whatever it is, do not say “Hell, I stink!” Physical problems can be dealt with. That space between your ears; that’s a bit trickier. You can practice visualization. You need a support team, some compliments. Encouragement is helpful! Practice just making contact. And… here comes the cliché, sorry: Trust in yourself. Have faith!
Willie Mays, the say-hey kid. He was MVP in 1965, during which he had a 0 for 24 slump. Reggie Jackson, “Mister October,” went 0 for 35 in 1983. Luis Aparicio is known for a lot of cool things, but not his 0 for 44 streaks…
So, here’s the scoop, pure and simple: Life ain’t easy. Baseball imitates life. We are going to have highs and lows. How you get through the tough times, the losses, the slings, and arrows will say a lot about your character.
At the end of your days what really counts? Is it your batting average, or how you treated others, and what you did while you were here?
Against that backdrop, a slump is just a blip on the endless canvass of being here at all. That remark may not help when you are going through a slump, but if I had a chance to make sure you did not get down but instead got up and never gave up, that’s what I’d do.
To be very clear: I am going to make damn sure you NEVER give up. And… I just want you to do that for me, in turn, because a slump is something we experience, even if we never bat at all.
I want you to be there for me when I tumble.
Thanks in advance, then, for your hand. You can count on mine.