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In Baseball, as in Life, Confidence is a not a Cure-All

Not to bash Todd Rosiak of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, because his post on Mike Fiers from Wednesday is merely the gazillionth story about the “confidence” of baseball players. This dead horse, “confidence,” is a clichéd, bad metaphor for something intangible and apparently inexplicable that determines the difference between a player’s performance from one day to the next. Sometimes it’s (apparently) hard to find the words to describe or define the mental acuity, the physical execution, the summary of variables that wavers from one day to another, one inning to another, and one breath to another.

Still, we’ve got to junk this lame excuse for imaginative language. “Confidence” is not the all-encompassing word that articulates something unknowable. The word doesn’t denote some fundamental part of the baseball experience. “Confidence” is just a lazy term that has been beaten to death in the media to the point of meaninglessness.

It’s not like each player is having a daily existential crisis out on the field. They don’t suddenly tremble in fear worrying about their self-worth from one game to the next. It’s not a lack of hubris.  They know it’s a game and they’ll still be very wealthy athletes at the game’s conclusion. 

Ok, maybe some rookies do tremble when they get their first cup of coffee in the bigs, but the term “confidence” gets tossed after everything as a cover-all. Of course, “confidence” is normally applied to pitchers, those strange animals who have a very specialized baseball skill and whose psyches can only be treated with kid gloves and ten-foot poles. Rosiak probably didn’t write the headline, but seriously: “Mike Fiers burns with confidence.”

That one made me roll my eyes more than most references to this mystical feeling that boosts pitchers to effective outings when they have located it and dooms them to shellings when they lose their all-important self-esteem out on the mound. It’s not as if Mike Fiers is Luke Skywalker out there trying to lift his X-Wing out of a swamp. He’s doing what he does as a professional. Sure, one’s execution and overall self-satisfaction will ebb and flow, but are we to believe that a sliver of doubt into one’s consciousness would be equivalent of the destruction of self-reliance and the imminent downfall of one’s natural talent and ability? Heck no. If “confidence” were the reason for everything, as all of this bland commentary would have us believe, teams would employ battalions of psychologists and psychiatrists to follow the players around. There would be mandated daily visits to check in on how players are dealing with all the pressures of being a big-time ball player and whether their almighty precious confidence was cracking.  

Often it’s said that players do better when they’re cocky as hell and believe they’re the best, so that they don’t face the opposing talent in “the Show” meekly or with fear. I get that. It’s important to feel good about what you can bring to the table, not only on the baseball field but in life as well. Nevertheless, the fallacy that pitchers must be absolutely certain with a bulletproof belief of the power of their stuff to overcome the opposition or else they are doomed to fail is simply beyond my comprehension.

Take Yovani Gallardo’s start against the Giants last week in which he gave up four runs on nine hits and walked four in four innings, his shortest outing in about 10 weeks. Gallardo’s 16-plus-inning streak without surrendering a run was broken up in the first inning of that start. Was it because Yo woke up on the confidence-less side of the bed that morning? No! Did he lose his confidence after he lost to Marco Estrada in MLB: The Show on PlayStation before the contest? No! “No matter if it’s a ball or a strike, I have to keep the ball down,” Gallardo said. “I wasn’t able to do that tonight.” In other words, Gallardo failed to get the job done. His start had nothing to do with The Force, manifest destiny or confidently believing in the purity of his stuff. He missed his spots, he was the bad Gallardo. He just didn’t have it that day. Period.       

Another frustrating example of this over-used filler term “confidence” was June 15 of this season. It was the Vintage Brewer bobblehead day and I attended the game with my dad and brother. First off, the lines to get in were like ever-growing octopus tentacles spitting out from Miller Park in all directions. To say there was a backup in the timely admission of ticketed guests would be an understatement. It turned out to be a folly to worry about getting in on time anyway, as Marco Estrada allowed two home runs before we were even in the ballpark. Ah, it brought back memories of Doug Davis starts, during which we’d have another beer in the parking lot because Davis had already given up four runs by the second inning. As for Estrada on June 15, he would later allow another home run as well in what became an ugly 13-4 Reds blowout of the Brew Crew.

After the game I saw manager Ron Roenicke’s comments about Estrada’s most-recent bad outing and nearly started gagging on their utter futility and uselessness. I also started getting irrationally angry at the way Marco’s latest meltdown was being characterized as one chalked up to ethereal components that operate beyond human impact. “It’s location,” said Roenicke. “…It’s confidence. When you’re confident, the ball gets to spots better; it’s got more lift on it.”

Really, Ron? Confidence guides the ball and allows pitchers to better hit their spots, improves command? My goodness, these players should seek mental-health professionals as soon as possible and find a way to, even artificially if necessary, bloat their confidence so we can get as many wins as we can. Hell, let’s use some kind of Ludovico mind-control if we must. Just win, baby!

I know these comments are probably just stream of thought, off the cuff, bullshit. I don’t blame Roenicke for backing Estrada….for the most part. What I can’t tolerate in a reasonable fashion, however, is a line like: “It’s command, which is confidence, usually.” Command isn’t confidence, nor is confidence command. They are not mutually inclusive things. By the same token, confidence is not a curve ball; confidence is not a blister on a finger. Confidence is not good fundamentals or bad base-running. Confidence is not taking a pitch or shaking off the catcher or avoiding giving the opponents meatballs down the middle in fastball counts.

Confidence is all in their heads, the players’, yours and mine. Roenicke’s too. The writers’. Everything between the lines is baseball, not psychotherapy.

Nick Michalski

About Nick Michalski

Nick Michalski is the managing editor and a writer at TheBrewersBar.com; he has also written for WISports.com, IrishAmericanPost.com and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @MichalskiNick.

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