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Mind Games: What Makes a Great Baseball Player Great

New York Yankees' Babe Ruth clouts a towering home run in this undated photo.
Credit: AP Photo

It's no secret that Major League Baseball players can hit, catch and throw far better than the rest of us, but these abilities don't just come from their above-average physical prowess. As Yogi Berra once infamously said, "Baseball is 90 percent mental; the other half is physical."

In a book that came out earlier this year, "The Psychology of Baseball, " psychologist Mike Stadler of the University of Missouri took a look inside that "90 percent" to see what mental abilities and traits major leaguers have that allow them to succeed in the high-pressure, precise and highly psychological game of baseball.

"Baseball is impossible without psychology: impossible to play, and impossible to appreciate fully as a fan, " Stadler wrote. "Watch any game, and most of what you see is thinking."

While all sports involve a certain amount of psychology to strategize and plan in given situations, it is particularly apparent in baseball.

"Baseball is different … because it does give players a lot more time to think before each action, " Stadler said.

Having all that time to think means that baseball players need sharp cognitive skills to complement their physical abilities to succeed in the major leagues.

"You have to be one in 2 million to have the total package of physical and psychological abilities required to succeed in baseball at its highest levels of competition, " Stadler wrote.

Mental agility

Most baseball players have extraordinary capabilities to coordinate physical and mental processes, including fast reaction times, focus and high visual acuity.

Studies conducted by Columbia University on Babe Ruth while he was playing showed that he could react to visual and sound cues much faster than the average person and that he had better hand-eye coordination than 98.8 percent of the population.

"Most baseball players do have pretty good vision; a huge proportion of them test at better than 20/20, " Stadler said.

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