Yankees: In baseball, confidence easily trumps everything

(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images)
(Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images) /

Yankees fans like myself and others might sometimes wonder why a player seems to “lose it,” and no matter how many trips he makes to the Lost and Found Department, it’s seemingly gone. The answer might lie in the uniqueness of the game.

Yankees manager, Joe Girardi, never hesitates when asked about a player who is struggling, pointing out with an unbridled conviction that people don’t understand how hard this game is. It helps, of course, that he played the game himself.

And there are arguments all day long about which professional sport is the most difficult. And there is no point in going there, except to say Girardi speaks the truth about baseball.

And from our seats, we view the game with awe when Aaron Judge, not only gets around on a 100 mph fastball, but he manages to crush it with a ferocity that sees the ball disappear into the night. And conversely, we see the same player who is not the same player flail hopelessly at a ball a foot outside the plate, and we wonder about that too with a sense of frustration begging the question, What happened?”

The Yankees will take a .275, 35 home runs and 105 RBI season from Judge for each of the next ten years. And Aaron Judge should be willing to take that for himself.

And coaches, scouts, and even trainers are consulted as the Yankees seek to find answers to what happened. Only to find out nothing concretely “happened.” To earn their keep though, they’ll all offer up their version of a reason, suggesting for instance that his shoulder is an inch lower in his stance than it was back in May when he was pounding the ball. Good to know, but not much help.

At the same time, though, everyone does know what’s happening, they just don’t want to say it because it hints at the problem being a headcase and no one wants to go there, particularly as it gets a little too close to a player’s ego.

A Game Based On Failure

The best hitters in baseball and the ones with a spot secured in the Hall of Fame are failures seventy percent of the time. In no other sport can a player be considered successful by getting a hit, a field goal, a foul shot, or a putt three out of every ten tries. Only baseball.

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Which means as Yogi Berra tried to explain for us, that baseball is “ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” Because in baseball, learning to cope with failure is everything.

When Aaron Judge was hitting .330, he was still failing in 67% of his at-bats. Now, when his average has slipped to around .290, the increase of only a four percent failure rate looks magnified and distorted. That’s how close the margin of error is for a major league ballplayer, and they have to live with it 162 times a season.

Continuing using Judge as an example did he suddenly forget how to hit. Doubtful. But indeed, from the body language, he is exhibiting of late, there is only a blank stare on his face as he walks back to the dugout glancing up at the scoreboard to see the replay, as he asks himself, “What did I do wrong this time?”

Confidence can be built, but not taught

Joe Girardi is attempting to build the level of trust of Aaron Judge by putting him in the Yankees lineup every day, even though he knows by doing so, he could be hurting the team. But Girardi can’t teach confidence to Judge. He either has it, or he doesn’t.

And right now, it would be fair to say Judge is desperate to find his confidence again. Not everyone makes it, and we know the adage in baseball that says, “It’s easy to make it to the big leagues, but the hard thing to do is to stay there.”

No one should think Judge will not “make it” back. But in all probability, he’s going to need to get over the fact his first half was an aberration, something extraordinary, and a plateau he may never reach again.

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And if he insists on denying that, keeping on with all intents of reliving his recent past, Judge and others like him, will only compound the problems he is experiencing.

The Yankees will take a .275, 35 home runs and 105 RBI season from Judge for each of the next ten years. And Aaron Judge should be willing to take that for himself.