From Publishers Weekly
Psychology promises access to the deepest recesses of the human mind, but once we get there, they strongly resemble neural synapses. Baseball at least lends itself to discussions of psychology, as it is the national sport that depends least on sheer strength or speed and most on hand-eye coordination, and its leisurely pace elevates nerve over adrenaline. The yawning chasm separating Tony Gwynn and Mario Mendoza (the latter famous for not hitting well) seems to reside more than usually inside the cranium. University of Missouri psychology professor Stadler splits his book evenly between the neurology of performance and the more workaday issues of pressure that fans ponder. The sections on hitting a pitch and tracking a fly ball, with their emphasis on optics and motor reflexes, are more successful than the chapter on pitching, as it may be more difficult to reduce the act of "painting the black" (i.e., putting a hard pitch exactly in the right place) to a mechanistic feedback loop. The book picks up interest when Stadler turns to the true mysteries of baseball: the storied streaks and slumps, its dismaying chokes, that ineffable X factor that makes this draft pick an All-Star and that one a dud. Showing a pleasing tendency to avoid cant and received conclusions, Stadler deftly marshals a wide variety of evidence to arrive at some canny conclusions. (Apr.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Baseball fans have all heard hitters on a hot streak say--self-effacingly, of course-- "Well, the ball just looks bigger to me." Stadler, a college professor specializing in cognitive psychology, analyzes recent research suggesting that maybe they actually do
see it better. Stadler's basic premise is that baseball is at least as much a mental exercise as a physical one. He examines the visual acuity needed to see a ball hurtling toward home plate at 95 miles an hour, determines that batters lose sight of the ball at some point, and then presents the mental gyrations--calculated in hundredths of a second--that end with bat meeting ball. Or not. Interestingly, he also cites studies suggesting that steroids improve not only strength but also vision. Along the way, he debunks a couple of myths, such as the "rising fastball." He also asks crucial questions for which research offers no definitive answers: Why do some players perform better than others in pressure situations? Particularly interesting is a chapter on the nature of fandom. Why are we fans? What do we gain? Are there negative aspects? Fans of any sport--not just baseball--will be galvanized by the information presented, the questions asked, and the theories posed. Despite its eggheady title, this could become one of the hot baseball books of the year. Wes LukowskyCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved