Mental fatigue tough in dog days

For me, the worst part of the dog days of August was the mental (not physical) fatigue.

Originally Published: August 4, 2004
By Joe Morgan | Special to ESPN.com

Editor's Note -- ESPN baseball analyst Joe Morgan is slated for an ESPN.com chat Friday at 10:30 a.m ET.

More from Joe Morgan: Low trade grade for LA

The dog days of August are not a myth. At some point in the season every major-league player hits a wall, though for some it may come in July or September instead. The timing depends on a player's makeup and personality.

In August, with 100 games already played, guys have to kick themselves in the rear more. For me, though, the toughest part wasn't the physical fatigue -- it was the mental fatigue.

As the season wore on, I always felt that I got more mentally tired than physically tired (and that's worse). When you're physically tired, sometimes you can push yourself mentally to overcome it. But when you're mentally tired, it's more challenging. It's hard for your body to compensate when you're not thinking properly.

Mental and physical fatigue are related, but the mental part hurts you more than the physical part. It's tough to keep the concentration level as high as you want it to be and need to to be.

Mental and physical fatigue are related, but the mental part hurts you more than the physical part.
For instance, you come back to the dugout after an at-bat and someone asks you, "What was the pitch you hit? Was it a slider or a fastball?" Normally, hitters know the answer to that question. But when mental fatigue sets in, sometimes you don't know -- you just know that you hit it.

Losing track of the count ... not knowing why you did what you just did ... swinging at bad pitches ... reacting rather than thinking ahead and having a game plan. Those are all signs of mental fatigue.

If you're physically tired, you might be late on a swing and hit the ball foul the other way. But when you're mentally tired and not thinking properly, you're missing 2-and-0 fastballs.

Good Advice
The strong players find a way to work through both physical and mental fatigue.

I used to talk with veteran players I respected, and I learned a lot about their their approach and their work habits and how they handled the dog days of August.

Hall of Famer Willie Mays -- the best player I've ever seen -- told me that later in the season, when he was on the road, he would spend most of his time relaxing in his room. He'd relax, and then he'd feel like he had lots of energy at the ballpark that evening.

Hall of Famer and home-run king Hank Aaron gave me the same advice. I took that under advisement, so when I was on late-season road trips I also spent lots of time relaxing in my room. I didn't go walking around the city we were visiting, preferring to give my body and mind as much rest as I could.

Earlier in the season, when I was full of energy, I would go out after the game to drink a beer and to hang out with the guys. Later in the season, I wouldn't go out after the game. If we were on the road, I just went back to the hotel and tried to relax as much as possible.

Of course, on the hotel TV we didn't have SportsCenter to watch, but that would have been great. Actually, ESPN launched in September 1979, and I retired after the 1984 season. But I don't recall ESPN being a standard offering on hotel cable in the early '80s.

Besides asking veterans about the dog days, I would ask about how they handled the pressure of a pennant race. Basically, their advice was to maintain your focus and not try to do too much. The knowledge of guys who've been through it before is invaluable.

Dry Spell
In my experience, one of my worst dog-day stretches was an 0-for-34 dry spell when I was with the Philadelphia Phillies in late July or August 1983.

I remember making big mistakes mentally. I'd get a pitch to hit and foul it back. Or I'd swing at too many pitcher's pitches. But then, suddenly, I felt mentally strong again and had a great month of September, hitting close to .400.

That's the worst time I had with the dog days of August. And it happened to be the year I turned 40 (in September 1983).

The physical and mental aspects of the game are both important. But when you lose your focus mentally, that's the worst. If you're an everyday player, you get about 600 at-bats per season. It's difficult to concentrate for 600 at-bats as it is, and with any mental fatigue it's even tougher.

I've always thought that if a hitter could get back the at-bats where he wasn't as focused as he could have been -- where he swung at bad pitches because he wasn't concentrating as much as he could -- he'd be surprised at how those at-bats added up.

That's the mental part of the game, not the physical part.

An analyst for ESPN's Sunday Night Baseball, Hall of Fame second baseman Joe Morgan won back-to-back MVP awards with the Reds in 1975 and '76 (the Reds won the World Series both years). He contributes a weekly column to ESPN.com.

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