Entering the 2014 Major League Baseball post-season, two of baseball’s longest streaks were going strong: the Baltimore Orioles had not made it to the playoffs in 28 years, and the Chicago Cubs had not won a World Series championship since 1908. For one of these teams, the start of the post-season marked a change in history. The 2014 Baltimore Orioles won the American League East Division and entered the American League playoffs as the #2 seed. The 2014 Chicago Cubs finished with a 73-89, earning them last place in the National League Central Division and ensuring their streak would continue.
So what ties the two together? In 2014, the Baltimore Orioles utilized a sport psychologist as a part of their professional staff. In 2014, the Chicago Cubs fired their sport psychologist. There are a lot of factors that go into whether or not a baseball team is going to be successful. It depends on things like the schedule they play, the players they have, the weather they face during the season…and countless other aspects. There is no one recipe for having a successful baseball program. However, if you asked the Orioles themselves, they’d tell you first hand that a sport psychologist is an important ingredient.
“We never had anybody we could really go to or talk to before,” said Zach Britton, part of the Orioles pitching rotation. “You know, we always talk among each other, but if we are all having a tough stretch, you are all thinking negatively, you don’t really have someone outside the situation you can go to and talk to because he has a different perception.”
It’s not just the players–the coaches are all in too. After considering off-season changes that could happen, the coaching staff decided that having a sport psychologist on staff that could address the concept of “mental toughness” was a piece that the Baltimore players could benefit from.
Said Rick Peterson, pitching director for the team, “It’s huge…It was really educational for the players to talk about [motivation, anxiety, goal-setting].”
They had no idea just how right they would be. The Baltimore Orioles took the 2014 season by storm, winning a competitive division with the likes of the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and then entering the post-season itself with a decisive sweep in the ALDS. Look for the Orioles to continue to make a strong post-season push, confident and mentally strong all the while.
Meanwhile, the Chicago Cubs are right where they seem to have been stuck the last number of years. With management changes (and with them, personnel changes), the clubhouse that has seen so much adversity in their long history seems to be looking at even more. The Cubs shouldn’t be entirely discredited just yet, though. President Theo Epstein has made it clear that he intends to bring another sport psychologist back onto the staff as soon as possible. Hopefully, all has not been lost. Maybe they’ll even end up being the team that makes the big push.
In any event, we can be certain of two things: 1) what the 2014 Baltimore Orioles are doing is special, thanks at least in part to their sport psychologist, and 2) the Chicago Cubs are in the process of rebuilding, and with talks of bringing a sport psychologist on again, the future seems to be bright.