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The Cubs hired Adam Beard for mental skills this week. What does that mean?

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The Cubs are paying more attention to mental skills. It’s worth learning about.

Al Yellon

On Tuesday, I had the idea to write a full-length on Mental Skills. As often happens, the article never really got started, and I be-bopped to another browser screen. Shortly thereafter, the Cubs hired Adam Beard from the NFL’s Cleveland Browns and an Australian rugby background to serve as Director of High Performance. My idea from Tuesday hadn’t been scrapped, but re-directed.

Depending how much time one spends on social media, you can run into a rather wide swath of people in whatever angle of life you’re looking to explain things. Some will be far more adept in the topic-at-hand. Others will consider the concept with such contempt that no level of mockery is too slight. Such are the basics of holistics in baseball.

Doubtless, some of you have master’s degrees in educating the entire body to be a fully functioning unit in a contemporary society. Some of you, likely think that all that fwooffy stuff is hocum that should be immediately eliminated with lawn fertilizer or bleach. I’ve seen both mindsets, in regards to the Cubs’ recent hiring of both Beard and Bob Tewksbury. Much as the Hall of Fame voters that will under no circumstances change their “no” votes on certain Hall of Fame eligibles, if your mind is solidly enough made up, I certainly can’t change it.

Sometimes, fans have no concern for the why. They only want the what. The clutch base hit, the third out with the tying run in scoring position. The other stuff is above their pay-grade, and they’ll limit themselves to joy or anger, depending on the final score. The hiccup is, the player or executive can’t “turn the channel” if the score is 8-1. The entity of the baseball organization is to best find a way to improve, however that happens.

On occasion, I’ve noted how the Cubs center field position tended to be a bit of a black hole from the 1950s until the mid-1970s. After Rick Monday was acquired, the large pasture was better controlled. However, in 1967, Adolfo Phillips was rather fantastic for the Cubs. Acquired from the Phillies with Fergie Jenkins in an absolute heist of a trade the year before, he had a 3 WAR season in 1966 with the Cubs, and backed that up with a 4.7 in 1967, and a 2.4 in 1968, per BBRef.

However, somewhere between there and nailing down center field for the Cubs for eight years, he ran into some difficulties. Leo Durocher was not the ideal manager for Phillips. The Cubs, despite being “in their competitive window” had no way to maximize his results. Had Durocher and the team been better about dealing with the entire person regarding Phillips, perhaps the 1969 season, and Phillips’ career, would have played out differently.

Most of us are familiar with the background we are familiar with. Often, we will align ourselves with people from similar backgrounds, as that makes our lives more comfortable, and less disagreeable. However, when dealing with an MLB organization, the goal is to scour the world for talent. Not all of the players will be growing up from the same socio-economic background.

Not all will have the same strengths, on of off the field. Some will be large and muscular. Others, more slight and wispy. The body, mind, and soul, all play a part of the athlete being able to perform. Hollering at your television set won’t get a player to get a hit off of a pitcher, believe it or not. An entire department of really dedicated professionals are responsible for the players’ running, lifting, dietary, and mental programs. Others are trying to keep in touch with new ways to assess old theories, and minding the sports science and health maintenance angles of the game. The best I can put it together, Adam Beard is to keep tabs on each of the specialties to make sure that each of the 25 guys on the MLB squad is ready to go, every day. And not playing if not ready.

If the team is correct in their assessment, and it seems plausible to me, the squad also has nine affiliates. Perhaps the players in the pipeline at the full- and short-season levels would also be benefited by the same holistic approach. Regardless how much that concern for the individual triggers some people.

While it’s true the Phillips situation broke well before comprehensive systems were in place, the team currently employs Brian Duensing, Tyler Chatwood, Addison Russell, and Brandon Kintzler. All had concerns down the stretch in 2018 that were solely their own. The Cubs would be greatly benefited by getting positive production from each or any. To get that production, regardless the thoughts of the rest of the population, could help the team in 2019. Putting a system in place for the future could give the team an advantage into said future.

Or, it could be absolute bunk. Until a real-time experiment with actual players in a competitive environment is performed, nobody is certain. New ideas are often unpopular. Ask Galileo about that. Whether this endeavor is worth the time will be known in a few decades, and I’m glad the Cubs are valuing the players in the system. That other option isn’t desirable.

Not all people have the same preferences. What is “top five” on what you want out of life might be “second fifty” on someone else’s list. What’s essential to one, might be abhorrent to another. Such is life, whether we want it that way, or not.

Among my periodic questions is, if payroll space is to be limited: “Where can teams with money spend theirs without repercussions?” This is among my more rebellious thoughts. I wish players were getting paid more, in many situations. However, since penalties have clipped away at spending on the roster (Which infuriates some, and is nowhere nearly restrictive enough for others. Because we are that different), teams like the Yankees, Red Sox, Dodgers, and Cubs are going to spend their money somewhere.

I doubt (though I clearly have no proof) MLB corporate wants the money to be given to minor league players. (That would give “a few teams” an unfair advantage.) Instead, look for forward-thinking teams (Especially moneyed or not.) to continue to experiment with health, sports science, nutrition, psychology, and a merging of all of them. Sitting on your couch, it may be bunk, or not quantifiable. Which is what made the “out the door” tweet that I ran into less than ten minutes ago so ideal today.