“Baseball is 90 per cent mental. The other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra, 18 time Major League Baseball All-Star
Hank Aaron the home run king died on January 22, 2021 at age 86. He broke Babe Ruth’s record of 714 home runs and held that record for 30 years. Aaron’s mental skills were one of the keys to his success.
Aaron grew up in segregated Alabama and baseball fans abused Blacks from the stands while playing in the minor leagues in the South.
He signed with the Milwaukee Braves on 1954 to play right field. In 1955 he emerged as a star, hitting .314, and he won his first batting title the following season, batting .328. He was voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player in 1957 when he hit 44 home runs.
The Braves won their first pennant in Milwaukee in 1957, clinching it with Aaron’s 11th-inning home run against the Cardinals on Sept. 23. The Braves moved to Atlanta in 1966.
Every year from 1955 through 1973 he hit 24 or more home runs. His one of only two players to hit 30 or more home runs in a season at 15 fifteen times.
On July 21, 1973 at age 39 he hit his 700th homer.
As he closed in on Ruth’s record he became a national figure. He received mail from some 930,000 fans. The fan mail included numerous racist letters and some death threats. The Braves hired two Atlanta police officers to sit in the stands overlooking Aaron in the outfield in case of trouble. He hit 40 home runs in 1973 and at the end of the season he had 713, just one shy of Ruth’s record.
The next season he hit his 715th home run to break Babe Ruth’s record of 714 homers on April 8, 1974 against the LA Dodgers and the fans gave him an 11-minute standing ovation. The Dodgers veteran broadcaster Vin Scully said, “What a marvelous moment for baseball. What a marvelous moment for Atlanta and the state of Georgia. What a marvelous moment for the country and the world. A Black man is getting a standing ovation in the Deep South for breaking a record of an all-time baseball idol.”
The Mental Side of Baseball
Aaron was six feet tall and 180 pounds, not built like a slugger. But he had thick, powerful wrists and could whip the bat around with uncommon speed.
Aaron was an example of Berra’s quip about the importance of the mental side of baseball.
“I concentrated on the pitchers. I didn’t stay up nights worrying about my weight distribution, or the location of my hands, or the turn of my hips: I stayed up thinking about the pitcher I was going to face the next day. I used to play every pitcher in my mind before I went to the ballpark,” he said in his memoir, I Had a Hammer.
Playing for the Milwaukee Brewers he hit his 755th and final home run on July 20, 1976, against the California Angels.
“Nobody had concentration like he did, sitting there in the dugout, looking at the pitcher through the little hole in his cap to focus on the release point,” said Dusty Baker. Aaron mentored the young Baker who played outfield for 19 years and now manages the Houston Astros.
Baker said Aaron was afflicted with sciatic nerve problems but had the ability to “think away the pain and to condition himself like no other baseball player of his time.”
Aaron remains No. 1 in the major leagues in total bases (6,856) and runs batted in (2,297); No. 2 in at-bats (12,364), behind Pete Rose; and No. 3 in hits (3,771), behind Rose and Ty Cobb.
The information is from his obituary in the New York Times. You can read it here.
The Mental Side of Cycling
I coach regular roadies not elite cyclists. I help each develop the mental skills to reach their goals. I teach each how to stay motivated, focus during training and events, build confidence, manage anxiety and ride through pain. I help each prepare for his or her key event.
My eBook Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling can teach you the same skills. Most cyclists can get greater improvement from investing some time each week in practicing mental skills than they could investing the same amount of time in training! This is especially true after age 40. I demonstrate how sports psychology can be another tool in your toolbox to help you improve your cycling, just like effective training, good equipment and healthy nutrition. Gaining a Mental Edge is set up as a workbook with a progressive set of skills to practice and master. Just you can practice specific cycling skills you can also practice and learn specific mental skills. Winter when you are riding less is an opportunity to gain a mental edge. The 17-page Gaining a Mental Edge: Using Sports Psychology to Improve Your Cycling is just $4.99.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John's full bio.