Insomnia, baseball, fatigue, and performance

The current time is 1:43 a.m., and as I endure my inability to sleep, I decided to Google “baseball insomnia.”  One of the myriad items that came up in the search results was this 2013 article from the American Academy of Sleep Medicine: “Studies link fatigue and sleep to MLB performance and career longevity.”  The very first sentence of the article states, “Two new studies show that fatigue may impair strike-zone judgment during the 162 game Major League Baseball season, and a MLB player’s sleepiness can predict his longevity in the league.”

To which my initial reaction was, “Well, duh.”

But even as I continue to marvel at the seemingly obvious bits of common sense that prompt these kinds of studies, as I read, I had to admit that sometimes there is a benefit to it.  In this case, while it seems like it would make perfect sense that fatigue and sleep would be an indicator of success in baseball, the real question becomes: what are teams doing to combat fatigue?  For, as Scott Kutscher points out as a result of the study, “teams may be able to gain a competitive edge by focusing on fatigue management.”

It is, understandably, common for a team to want to play its best players day in and day out throughout the season.  I would be curious to see a study on a player like, say, Cal Ripken that analyzes his performance in April of each season versus in September.  I’m sure such a study exists (or something similar to it), I’d just have to make a point to look for it.  Granted, Ripken’s consecutive games streak record would not exist now had Orioles management focused more on fatigue management, which would be a deprivation to the game as we know it today.  Nevertheless, it is something to think about.


Snowball single

There is still no snow in sight from where I’m standing, but it is cold enough that I find myself wishing I could do this again.

calvin-hobbes

Bill Watterson


The Streak

My favorite baseball player of all time is Cal Ripken, Jr.

I’ve never been an Orioles fan. I’ve never been to Baltimore. And, I’m sorry to say, the one time I saw the Orioles in Kansas City while Ripken’s career was still active, Ripken himself did not play. I felt disappointed, of course, but one could hardly hold it against him for taking a day off, considering his distinguished career and his 2,632 consecutive games streak.

Ah yes… The Streak.

Herein lies the reason that I admire Ripken: his steady play, his work ethic, his consistency, and the fact that he showed up to play day in and day out. I have learned to really appreciate these qualities in the workplace, and in people in general, as they are true rarities.

Photo source: sportsthenandnow.com

The Streak began on 30 May 1982, and for sixteen years, Ripken did not miss a single game. He played hurt. He played sick. Yankees pitcher David Cone hit the nail on the head when he said, “A lot of people who go to work every day can identify with Cal. The streak supersedes baseball.”

On 6 September 1995, Ripken played in his 2,131st consecutive game, thus breaking Lou Gehrig’s 56-year-old record. Among the fans in attendance at the game were President Bill Clinton, Vice President Al Gore, Yankees legend Joe DiMaggio, and Ripken’s family. Then, in the bottom of the fourth inning with a 3-0 count, Ripken blasted a fastball into the stands for a home run, which brought the crowd roaring to its feet.

When the game became official in the fifth inning, a banner reading “2131” was dropped over right field, and Ripken emerged from the dugout in response to the curtain call from the crowd.  Even after Ripken returned to the dugout, however, the cheering continued, and Ripken emerged once again.  This time, he did more than just tip his hat in acknowledgement to the crowd.  He broke out into a slow jog around the perimeter of the field, giving high fives and shaking hands with Orioles fans as he went.

Even today, eighteen years later, seeing footage of that moment gives me the chills.  It was a moment of true greatness, unlikely to be matched anytime soon.

On 20 September 1998, the Orioles’ final home game of the season, Ripken voluntarily took himself out of the lineup.  He was not hurt, he just felt it was time.  He explained simply, “The emphasis should be on the team.  There have been times during the streak when the emphasis was on the streak. I was never comfortable with that. It was time to move the focus back to the team.”

Lineup card for the game on 20 September 1998 between the Orioles and the Yankees. Ripken’s name was originally listed, but he asked the Orioles manager to remove him from the lineup (Photo source: AP)

To top it all off, throughout all the hype and the scrutiny surrounding this record, Ripken remained as humble as a man could be.  “A lot of people think this is a great, great accomplishment,” he said. “But I really believe that somebody else will come along and play more games, because if I can do it, somebody else definitely will. I don’t consider myself superhuman and I’m not an iron man physically or mentally.”  You don’t encounter class like that every day.

By the time Cal Ripken retired in 2001, he had accomplished more than just breaking the record for consecutive games played.  He had been named Rookie of the Year in 1982,  the American League MVP twice, and appeared in nineteen All-Star games.  Additionally, he had won the Gold Glove twice, the Silver Slugger award eight times, and received the Roberto Clemente Award in 1992.  He was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2007.

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Canton, Rafael.  “Interview: Cal Ripken, Jr. Talks Unbreakable Records, Farewell Tours, and Being A Role Model.”  Complex Sports.  Complex Media  25 July 2013.  Web.  Accessed 13 November 2013.   http://www.complex.com/sports/2013/07/interview-cal-ripken-jr-talks-unbreakable-records-farewell-tours-and-being-a-role-model

“‘I think the time is right’: Ripken ends historic streak at 2,632 games.”  CNN/SI  20 September 1998.  Web.  Accessed 12 November 2013. http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/baseball/mlb/news/1998/09/20/ripken_streak/

“Sep 6, 1995: Ripken breaks record for consecutive games played.”  History: This Day in History.  A&E Television Networks 1996-2013.  Web.  Accessed 13 November 2013. http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/ripken-breaks-record-for-consecutive-games-played