Printed out this article from the Wall Street Journal the other day about Giants pitcher Barry Zito, who is trying to get back on the winning track.
If you remember, he went 23-5 with the A's back in '02 on the way to winning the Cy Young. This season, he's 6-13. [As a side note, I had a chance to watch Zito pitch eight great innings the other night as the Giants beat the Padres at San Diego.]
Three key takeaways from this relatively short story:
First, it reminded me of the importance of an athlete's mental state and confidence level when it comes to performing in his sport. In the words of his pitching coach: "Whenever you try to search for more, you try to do too much." Put a different way, you start pressing.
Second, it's also a good example of how risky signing a free agent to a big contract can be for a team.
Finally, it shows that you never know a player until he plays for your organization. You might hear about him or read about him or do your homework on him, but you never really know him. I'm sure the Giants knew Zito was a little eccentric, but know they know just how eccentric he can be.
This is why re-signing your (best) current players is a lot less risky than signing a free agent from another team. You know your guys already, so you understand what you're getting.
Beyond that, it's a good reminder of how, when a player hits a slump or goes into a funk, a coach and his teammates can support him, but ultimately the player has to work out the mental part of it himself.
As Zito puts it: "The answer is inside myself."