Baseball fields are, in fact, diamond-shaped pressure cookers. Says Stanton, "You play 162 games. There are quick tips and really hard downs. And the next day, everybody in the country knows what you did or didn't do. There are only 640 of us, and there's always someone bigger and faster coming up behind you. After the season, it takes me a good month to relax."
How soon the designated shrink comes to the rescue depends on player and management acceptance. "Baseball has been remiss in not utilizing sports psychologists," says Smith. "But it'll have to be done on a voluntary basis. You can't force athletes to open up their lives for examination by someone unless they're completely comfortable with him." Adds Gillick, "If a player is willing to accept help, our organization will recommend someone for him to see. We sent one of our best young prospects to McGinnis just before the season started. If I were sure players would accept the service, we'd probably move faster."
Woods and LeMaster have no such doubts, 'it's true that players who are doing well to begin with probably wouldn't want anything to do with a psychologist," says LeMaster. "But the player who's struggling would probably jump at the opportunity. You'd have to have a capable man who knows athletes and how they think, maybe who's been one himself—not some witch doctor who puts guys under a spell."
Stanton thinks acceptance would be about what it is for baseball's Sunday Bible studies. "Half would go and half wouldn't," he says. "The player who's going one for 24, who's tried everything from switching shoes and batting gloves to having a guy on a hitting streak kiss his bat, will be the first one on line to see the designated shrink. In baseball, survival is definitely of the fittest. Anybody who works at it can have a great body. Getting your head in shape is the tough part."
Bristol is optimistic about the future of the DS. "Somebody has to jump out in front," he says. "The other clubs will follow." For the team that dares to be first, McGinnis has worked with son Tom Jr., also a psychologist, to design a complete psychological-services plan—from counseling players and providing orientations for coaches and managers during winter ball and spring training to on-call sessions during the season. "Baseball would be more exciting if more players lived up to their potential, played with the cockiness of a Pete Rose or the unflappable calm of a Tom Seaver," says the elder McGinnis. "And there'd be a lot less human waste. Players would be better adjusted, extend their careers, play better ball for the fans and make more money for management. Everybody would benefit."
Along the way, baseball could get a whole new set of heroes—guys who never swing a bat or throw a ball. Says Dave Bristol, "What the sports psychologist does is turn up a light that's been dim so it comes on bright again. And the team that's got the players with the brightest lights is going to win."