MLB Players who had the “Yips”

Yips: The yips is the loss of fine motor skills in athletes. The condition occurs suddenly and without apparent explanation, usually in mature athletes with years of experience. … The condition is also experienced by snooker players, bowlers in cricket and pitchers in baseball.

The Yips can come at anytime. When Atlanta’s then manager Bobby Cox was watching his team play the Mets. The Mets catcher Mackey Sasser had problems just throwing the ball back to the pitcher. Cox turned and told his second baseman Mark Lemke that anyone on the field is just one bad throw away from having what Mackey has…Cox had seen the yips before.

It’s so hard to watch as the player totally losses his confidence. Many times players cannot pinpoint when it starts and for some they never find the cure.

I just finished a book about the 1981 Dodgers and it reminded me of Steve Sax who had a problem throwing a ball from second base to first. I thought I would find some more players who had problems. Some lasted just a little while while others it took their career.

It has affected pitchers significantly. They lose the ability to throw a strike and their career along with it.

Steve Blass – He may be the most famous case of the yips. He was a pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1964 to 1974. He went from a 2.49 ERA in 1972 to a 9.85 ERA to 1973…1974 was his last year. For every 1 strikeout he had 3 walks. Balls flying to the backstop at times… Steve Blass: “I had no control over it, nor did I understand it. I would sit in my backyard 2…3…4 o’clock in the morning thinking, ‘My God, what’s happened to me? What is this? Has someone put a curse on me or something?”

He was only 31 when this happened. His stats were 100-67 with a 3.24 ERA from 1964-1972. He was 3-1 in post season with a 3.10 ERA and a World Series winner in 1971. He ended up with a 103-76 record with a 3.63 ERA.

The Yips have been called by some “Steve Blass Disease.”

Rick Ankiel – Ankiel looked like the real deal. A powerful left handed pitcher that USA Today called “the most promising young left-handed pitcher in a generation.” Tony LaRussa put it to the test and inserted the 21 year old into the 2000 NLDS against the Braves. It was painful to watch. Ankiel walked 6 men in 2.2 innings. He eventually went to the minor leagues and it didn’t get any better…in fact it got worse…but he did do something else about it. He became an outfielder and hit as many as 25 homeruns in one season. He was never as good of an outfielder as he was a pitcher though. He played until 2013…I’ve always wondered what his pitching career would have been like.

Chuck Knoblauch – After being traded to the Yankees in 1998 this second baseman’s trouble started. His errors doubled but hardly any throwing errors in 1999. In 2000 it started and his throws to first base would be wild. In fact… an errant throw sailed into the stands and hit sportscaster Keith Olbermann’s mother in the head.

He returned to second base briefly, but never regained his throwing accuracy. He was moved to the outfield and designated hitter for the remaining two years of his career, including New York’s World Series run in 2000.

Steve Sax – Steve joined the Dodgers in 1981 in the last half of the season. Steve was on the playoff roster for the World Series. His troubles started in 1983 after an error involving Andre Dawson. After that he could not throw accurately to first base. This went on for 2 months and he had over twenty errors before the All Star break. Something his dad said broke the spell.

His father told him, “One day you are going to wake up and this problem is going to be gone,” confessing that he had suffered the exact same problem in high school, but his confidence had eventually returned and he overcame it.

Six hours later John Sax died. It was the last conversation his son had with him. But buoyed by his father’s words, Sax persevered, slowly regaining his confidence over time. Baseball became fun again. Sax didn’t make a single error in the last 36 games of the season.

Years later Sax’s mom, who had known his dad since the fifth grade, told him the truth: His father never had a throwing problem. 

“He lied. He didn’t want to see me fail, so he lied,” “He bailed me out on his death bed. And it changed my life.”

Some people also call the yips from a fielder “Steve Sax Syndrome” Steve went on the play with the Dodgers, Yankees, White Sox and A’s after this and the problem never resurfaced.

There have been other players in the MLB and many other sports to suffer from this.

Author: badfinger20

Power Pop fan, Baseball fan, old movie and tv show fan... and a songwriter, bass and guitar player.

16 thoughts on “MLB Players who had the “Yips””

  1. Interesting! I didn’t know Sax had that problem. I remember Ankiel, never knew what it was that went wrong in his pitching. Just shows that all the scouting reports in the world don’t always amount to much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s mostly about losing confidence and sometimes they never get it back. Blass had a great career going when that came out of nowhere.

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  2. There was a million theories on what was wrong with Blass back then. They said he looked great in the bullpen throwing without a hitter. Looking at his stats in 1973 he led the league in hit batsman- and only pitched 88 innings. 88 innings and 84 bases on balls. Blass retired at the end of last seasons as a Pirates announcer- by all accounts a great and fun guy. He handled his hardships on the mound with class. I think he was employed by the Pirates in one form or another from 1960- until the end of 2019 season.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. It’s heartbreaking to see players go through this. I’m glad he took it well and thrived afterwards. I heard the phrase before I knew who he was… He was quite a pitcher. I didn’t know about the bullpen…that makes it more interesting.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I remember he was sent to the AAA at one point to work things out in 1974- looking at those stats-61 innings pitched 103 bases on balls 16 hit batters and an 11.51 ERA.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It got worse geez…you wouldn’t think that… without the pressure of the MLB. Ankiel is the closest thing I’ve seen to it. He was young enough to start again as an outfielder.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. Things really fell apart for the Pirates in 1973- I don’t know if they recovered from Roberto’s death.. the pitching went bad–as bad as they were they were in it until the last days of the season–of course the NL East was bad. An average year and they would have won the division with ease.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. They had a good window where they could have won more than they did. The talent they had was great…
        His death had to effect them pretty bad… You are so right…I just looked up the East that year…the Mets with 82-79 yikes!

        The Mets actually gave the A’s a fight in the Series.

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Unbelievable…Hard to believe they got in with that record in the division…There was a Cardinal team in the 2006 that was close…83-78 but with a Wild Card. I was really against the Wild Card after that for a while.

        Liked by 1 person

      6. I guess it is one of those things with any sport- get into the playoffs – and you have a chance- get hot. Hockey seems to be the prime example of that- rarely does the best team in the regular season win. I’d say the NBA is where the best teams usually end up in the finals- rarely does Cinderella show up.

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  3. Another pitcher with a less celebrated case of Steve Blass disease- remember Joe Cowley? He pitched a no-hitter… never won a game after that..the only pitcher to ever pitch a no-no and never win another game after he did. He had problems finding the plate.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I don’t know if he’d be a case or not- maybe he just had control problems from the get go- but I think the control problems grew worse.

        Liked by 1 person

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