MLB’s Non-Negotiable Ritual


Jeter Played at Every Game Speed and Thrived. Photo by Robert Deutsch – USA TODAY Sports.

Even revealing a so-called open secret outside the stadium only appears to be an unwritten rule, but this unspoken nugget is not explainable in two sentences or one paragraph, unless the receiver of them is familiar with this MLB necessity.

The Illusion:

On the surface, what you see is what you get only seems to encompass everything, but it also includes what your eyeballs miss.

On the way to the majors, a prospect moves from rookie ball to Double-A, and each promotion leads to stronger competition. Additionally, success at Double-A means the athlete has the ability to play in the big leagues, but does he have the mental toughness required for the Show?


“I remember going from rookie ball to A, to double A, then to triple A. At every level it seemed like the game was faster. The bigger the situation, the more the game speeds up. That’s all mental. It messes people up.” – Derek Jeter

Before a fan takes a seat in the ballpark, meetings have occurred prior to each series, which includes film and scouting reports: Hitters and pitchers have powwows with their respective coaches. And all players, coaches and managers invest considerable thought into each game: both on an individual basis and in groups. For example, the starter and the catcher go through the signs and the opposition’s lineup, while a regular forms a plan for the other team’s hurler.

While every sport has its own personality, you have to go back to its beginning to understand it. Baseball is spending leisure time with friends and strangers alike, discussing earlier highlights during the contest, and not caring if you ever get back. If – on the other hand – you had nonstop action, you wouldn’t be able to savor an acrobatic defensive play, a majestic home run or the building tension in a hard-fought battle putting you on the edge of your seat. In other words, unless the situation is completely obvious, you don’t know when one swing will change things because baseball is a game of moments.

Herrera Demonstrates from 2nd Base the Reason to Think Before Each Pitch. Photo by John Geliebter - USA TODAY Sports.

Herrera Demonstrates from 2nd Base the Reason to Think Before Each Pitch. Photo by John Geliebter – USA TODAY Sports.

In many discussions, one easy scapegoat for the length of the game is the hitter’s ritual between each pitch. Is that even necessary? Yes, but no broadcaster has enough time to explain this complex dynamic, which many fans aren’t even aware of. Ergo, this article.


“Sportswriters are what make sports great and fun to watch.” – Derek Jeter

If you picture a chess match, you see a board, pieces and two participants staring endlessly at the contest in progress. You don’t need anyone to explain the mental gymnastics before you. Now, imagine a baseball diamond with uniformed personnel, and you are the chess master overseeing the action between each move or pitch. Yes, they’re neither stationary nor playing.


“Chess is war over the board. The object is to crush the opponent’s mind.” – Bobby Fischer

For argument’s sake, the batter is center fielder Odubel Herrera of the Philadelphia Phillies because he is the recipient of many complaints for long at-bats. But why do stars adjust their batting gloves, tap the dirt off their spikes, secure their helmet and get their swing just right between every single offering? They’re thinking,


“You can’t think and hit the ball at the same time.” – Yogi Berra

Ruiz, aka Chooch, Has Called No-Hitters for Aces. Photo by Brett Davis - USA TODAY Sports.

Ruiz, aka Chooch, Has Called No-Hitters for Aces. Photo by Brett Davis – USA TODAY Sports.

If you could hear Herrera’s thoughts, he’d be updating you on this hurler. He’s missing with his slider, his curve has a lot of bite, but he’s throwing a slightly elevated fastball. And I’ll swing if it looks good coming out of his hand.

While Herrera is making adjustments to his equipment, the receiver is deciding what pitch to call, and he doesn’t have Clayton Kershaw on the mound either. No, and neither is he Yogi Berra behind the plate. In other words, this catcher – looking into the dugout – is probably relying on the manager and the pitcher’s stuff that day. And if the starter is lucky enough to have a Carlos Ruiz calling the shots, that hurler just executes the strategy of his battery mate.

In one corner of the bench, while the batter and catcher are quickly strategizing, the skipper and his coaches are making decisions according to the scoreboard: the inning, the score and the situation.

Sometimes, English-speaking stars need a translator too. For instance, 50 percent of the game is God-given ability and the other half is mental. During the game, however, 90 percent of each contest is between the player’s ears.


Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.” – Yogi Berra

To sum up, every batter, hurler, catcher, pitching coach, hitting coach and manager are thinking; but what would you have without the batter’s ritual at the plate? Chaos!

This article originally appeared on