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 Head Game. Story by Steve Weinberg.


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Though many of the nation's scientists and scholars fantasize about it, not many can boast of publishing books that jostle for space among the pulp thrillers, political screeds and celebrity memoirs dominating the display tables of America's bookselling superstores.

Yet as of April, Mike Stadler, an associate professor of psychology at MU, can officially count himself as one of these favored few. This is thanks in part to the buzz surrounding his latest work, a scholarly tome that, according to one pre-publication reviewer, "could become one of the hot baseball books of the year."


Yes, baseball. Not the normal realm of faculty research, true. But make no mistake: Stadler's book, if you'll excuse the inevitable pun, is heady stuff indeed.

"Baseball is impossible without psychology -- impossible to play, and impossible to appreciate fully as a fan," Stadler says. "The physical demands of the game are intense, and the physical abilities of the players, extraordinary as they are, cannot by themselves meet those demands. Working alone, even the fastest reflexes would be insufficient. The reflexes must be supported by the player's intellect. The player's intellect, in turn, is shaped by those cognitive and emotional forces that are the province of psychology."

Stadler's book, The Psychology of Baseball: Inside the Mental Game of the Major League Player, is published by Gotham Books of New York, a firm with a current front list that also features a journalistic account of a high school chess team and a self-help guide by baseball Hall of Famer Cal Ripken, Jr. Even a cursory glance between the covers of Stadler's new hardback on hardball shows that it shares little with this type of sports fare.

Take, for example, the citations in the endnotes, where entries refer to publications such as the Journal of Experimental Psychology, Perception & Psychophysics, Behavior Genetics, and Behavioral and Brain Sciences. "Psychology professor Stadler splits his book evenly between the neurology of performance and the more workaday issues of pressure," says another appreciative review, this time from book industry heavyweight Publishers Weekly. The reviewer adds that, while the chapter on pitching might be somewhat mechanistic, the book is invaluable in its discussion of baseball's "storied streaks and slumps, its dismaying chokes, that ineffable X factor that makes this draft pick an All-Star and that one a dud."

As with most fans of the game, Stadler, a fit 44-year-old who still plays outfield on a Columbia softball team, fell in love with baseball long before falling in love with his profession. (Full disclosure: the author of this story has both played for and managed the team referenced above. Stadler is our star left fielder.) Unlike most fans, it occurred to Stadler early on that, even though he would never play for a professional ball club, baseball might one day serve as an avenue for professional advancement. The revelation came while he was a graduate student at Purdue.

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Published by the Office of Research.

©2007 Curators of the University of Missouri. Click here to contact the editor.