Sunday, April 17, 2011

Clutch Exists

One of my biggest pet peeves concerns all of the idiots out there that blindly follow the “nerd” version of baseball, and question whether or not “clutch” exists.  Their point is that over time, many hitters’ “clutch” statistics closely mirror their average stat lines—any change from season-to-season is an aberration attributable to “small sample size.”

The only problem with this view is that it’s total bullshit.  Anyone who’s ever taken an at-bat above Little League knows this.  So does the guy that makes a big-time presentation to potential investors.  These guys aren’t robots…yet.  Though it would be pretty awesome if a couple of guys started going at it with lasers.

Some people rise to the occasion.  Others are paralyzed by it.

In high school, our cleanup hitter set a school record for homeruns in a season.  In the state playoffs, we had a man on third with two outs and he watched three fastballs go right past him, right down the middle.  I had a great view—I was on-deck at the time.  It was the biggest display of anti-clutchness I’ve ever seen.

To understate clutch is to understate the nature of pressure.  Pressure reveals character.  More importantly, it reveals preparation.  Pressure makes you understand whether you want something badly enough or not.  Maybe that’s why over the course of a season, a lot of hitters regress toward the mean in terms of their clutch numbers—a lot of baseball players just don’t give a shit on a day-to-day basis.  But when the pressure and the bright lights are on in the postseason or championship, you better fucking believe everyone gives a shit.  Clutch guys are winners.  No one wants to be labeled as a loser choke artist.

“How do I become more clutch?” you may ask.  A lot of times, preparation.  Preparation takes care of a lot of nerves when giving a presentation or speaking to a big group.  It also can help you crank something out (so to speak) in a short amount of time, as you’re better able to use the resources at your disposal.

If you’re just one of those people that gets nervous when crunch time comes around and can’t ever get shit done in the clutch, you have to learn how to relax.  One of my “strengths” in this regard is my laid back, calm personality.  But there are plenty of things that still make me nervous as hell.  The best way I’ve found to cope with this (aside from a shot of tequila) is to take a deep breath and allow the fear to get to you for a minute or two.  Then, tell your fear to “fuck off.”  On some level, it’s about manning up and conquering your nerves.  No one else is going to help you in this regard unless you’re really, really lucky (i.e. the merciful guy that throws the obviously nervous guy a bone during a presentation). 

Another helpful tactic is to think what is the absolute worst thing that can happen if I fuck this up?  And I mean worst.  A lot of times, it’s not that bad.  Even if it is literally life-and-death, appreciate the gravity of that fact. It should give you all the more urgency to make sure that you succeed.

If it’s a longer-term anxiety issue, try meditation or keeping a daily journal.  I’m man enough to admit that I’ve tried both of these at various times, and it helps to work through some of these feelings in your mind or on paper. 

If that doesn’t work, maybe you need meds.  Or a few more drinks. 

The bottom line is that there are ways to become more clutch over time.  Dan Jansen finally broke through and won a speed skating gold medal in the final event of his final Olympics in 1994 after being a heavy favorite and coming up empty-handed in 1988 and 1992.  The Red Sox, aided by powerful performance-enhancing dr…err…”teamwork,” finally broke the “Curse of the Bambino” in 2004.  The Cubs…well…maybe that’s a bad example.  But if you have a mindset that you’ll never become more clutch, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  Stop feeling sorry for yourself and do something to fix it.  Nobody else will.

Ever had a “clutch” moment?  Or a spectacular failure?  Leave it in the comments.

Questions?  Comments?  Wondering why I’m yelling at people more lately?  E-mail me at  Follow me on twitter @djgelner. Friend me on facebook here.

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