Mental Health in Baseball

Everybody faces mental illness risks and baseball players are no exception. There are no official records of mental illness in baseball but baseball players who had emotional problems such as anxiety have been known throughout baseball history. The problem is people recognize and accept it or not.

Over the past twenty years, more and more baseball players went to disabled list with emotional issues. Although it is late but the facts have rung the bell in the society toward mental health in baseball. As a result, it is now recommended that baseball teams should have psychology programs and consultants.

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From 1972 to 1991, none major league players landed on disabled list because of mental illness. Due to public perception of mental illness as problems which cannot appear in baseball, there have been just a few names of professional baseball players who officially announced to struggle with mental illness throughout baseball history.

If the cases had been known, it would have been serious or the players have overcame their illness and talked about their hard time. For instance, Marty Bergen who played catcher for Boston Bean eaters experienced anxiety and depression which lead to his suicide after murdering his family himself in 1900. Or, outfielder Jimmy Piersall who lived with bipolar disorder had electro shock therapy in 1952 but returned after that.

In 2009, it was officially announced that five professional Major League Baseball players were on disabled list due to emotional issues which include famous Dontrelle Willis. More and more baseball players publicly revealed that they have been struggling with mental problems such as anxiety or depression but in just recent 20 years.

Public Attitude

The public, media, managers and baseball players themselves have ignored their psychology states for a time too long. People like to think that baseball players are impervious with stress and pressure since their careers are mostly about challenging and do physical motions which most normal people cannot. Challenging is a player thing, if they can’t deal with that, what do they play for? Moreover, professional baseball players have a job and high income which many people dream of, so they cannot complain about what they have. Finally, an old thinking which indicate that sport is for the strong, weak minds are not permitted to exist.

Baseball is a team sport but players actually play mostly separate roles. There are cooperation of each roles, this act leads to another act but in facts, their duties are invidually different and separate. After one act is done, the next will mostly depend on another player. It’s a game with high tension. And people tend to forget baseball players are human.

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The causes of mental illness in baseball are various and not necessary directly from the game itself. The game is just a pushing factor.

Some players already have their own mental problems. For instance, Zack Greinke who was diagnosed with anxiety disorder in 2006 when he played for Kansas City Royals said that he had problems since high school and got worse when he got better with baseball. Infamous Marty Bergen already had his mental illness history before playing baseball.

The cause can be painful incidents of the players. With Duchscherer, it was divorcing, “It was a combination of baseball and the divorce,” he said“I can’t stay healthy enough to perform, so I’m not doing my job, and I failed at my marriage”. Scott Schoeneweis was put on disabled list due to depression after his wife death in 2008. Or Joey Votto who was left in tough mental state after his father death in 2008.

It can also be the injuries the players have during playing which cause mental problems.

Signs of mental problems in baseball

The signs of mental problems vary. The first thing is to notice the abnormal behaviors as well as decrease in performance of the players. If we wait for them to talk their problems, it might be late already. Players with anxiety and depression signs tend to say they can’t focus, they can’t do the work. With pitchers, they might say they can’t feel the ball in their hands. Some players might show violent behaviors toward opponents.

Tommy John shared his experience: “In 1997, it felt like I never even played baseball before. I was more concerned about how in the world I was going to be able to throw strikes, much less face the hitters,”Khalil Greene who now is out of baseball and fighting with anxiety disorder, “It was difficult to concentrate, difficult to sustain my energy level,” Greene said, “It’s just a battle to be relaxed. I’m trying to battle that and find a way to come to terms with that, trying to find those coping mechanisms”.

Can baseball players go back to their career after experiencing mental problems?

There are just a few players can go back to their career after experiencing mental disorder. For instance, Dontrelle Willis was believed to come back to his career as professional Major League Baseball in 2010. It seemed that his best consult is not from doctors but from his grandma, she told him to keep remember the joy of playing the game. Joey Votto also did manage to fight off his anxiety in the end of 2009 and is now still a part of baseball world.

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There’s no way to tell if a player can go back to baseball after experiencing mental disorder. It depends on himself and the help he gets

 Mental health in baseball cannot be ignored anymore. Cases which have been known are just tip of the ice. Many players have to deal with mental problems by themselves and managers keep ignoring or think of something else other than mental illness. Attitude toward mental health in baseball needs to be change from many sides, managers, coaches, public and the players themselves for better care of players as well as better performance and make baseball a wonderful sport. In 2015, the Cubs, the Boston Red Sox and the Washington Nationals took action for their players, announced changes in their approach of this issue.


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