‘Fools rush in where angels fear to tread,” written in 1940 by Johnny Mercer and Rube Bloom, has been sung by Frank Sinatra, Ricky Nelson, Bow Wow Wow and appears in the Bob Dylan song, “Jokerman.” It’s also a repeating theme that sometimes changes my life for the better, and other times, I pay a dear price for it. It’s part of taking risks in life.
In 1983, a friend of mine, Mike, brought his 4-year-old son, Jonathan, to my office in Burbank as Jonathan was having nightmares. At the beginning of our second session, Mike said, “There’s a ballplayer with the Dodgers who’s in a terrible nightmare just like my son. And since Jonathan is getting better, I bet you could help him too. He’s Steve Sax, and he suddenly lost his ability to make throws to first base on the easiest of plays.”
Mike told me it started at the beginning of the 1983 season, playing against the Montreal Expos while fielding a cut-off throw during an Andre Dawson triple. Dawson held on third, but then scored after Sax winged it home and it bounced away.
Sax said, “It was a pretty average error. But I started thinking about it. I started losing my confidence, my timing. Pretty soon they were gone.”
His lowest point came playing against the Padres upon his 23rd errant throw. Sax came off the field between innings cursing himself.
“I felt like I wanted to quit,” Sax said. “It was the most horrible, humiliating, embarrassing experience. You go through so many emotions out there. … It’s absolute torture.”
I dismissed Mike’s suggestion, saying that I’ve never worked with a ballplayer in my life. Furthermore, I had a full-time private practice, was writing a book, “Therapeutic Metaphors for Children,” with Joyce Mills, and I was also co-creating a Trivial Pursuit-like board game with my brother, called, “Is the Pope Catholic!?! The Catholic Nostalgia Game.” (Talk about taking a risk!)
During our third session, Mike reported that his son’s nightmares were things of the past. He told me Sax was so desperate that Sax said that he’d see a therapist, psychiatrist, anybody who could help him get over it. Mike went on to say that the Dodgers were on the road and they stay at the Marriott Hotel. He strongly suggested I call Sax.
I knew the work Joyce and I had developed was highly effective with our younger clients, but hadn’t tried it on adults. So without thinking (or else I most likely would have been talked out of it), I made the call to the Marriott Hotel asking for Steve Sax.
Tommy Lasorda answered the phone. When I told him the purpose of my call, he was quiet for a few seconds, and said ,“He’s in room 904.” Sax picked up the phone, and I told him my background and that I would like to help him get over his struggles. After answering a number of his questions and skepticisms of what I proposed, he invited me to meet with him at his penthouse in Los Angles when he returned. Since Sax mentioned that his brother Dave, a minor league player, would also be there. I suggested that Joyce come as well, and he agreed.
Until we worked with Sax, he had committed 30 errors. Joyce and I spent about an hour working with him. I also worked with Sax again a few days later. As a result, Sax never committed another errant throw the remainder of the season.
I reconnected with Sax 15 years later in 1998 to ask if I could use his name and the work we did as a calling card to meet the Atlantic Braves closer Mark Wohlers, who had completely lost the strike zone that eventually led to his being traded to the Cincinnati Reds. Sax was more than happy to do so.
The Sax story not only resulted in my getting Wohlers back to throwing again as the Reds flew me in to work with him, but indirectly led to my successfully working with Steve Blass, whose career ended 24 years before we met because of an inexplicable “disconnect” that is now called “the yips.” Disconnects can happen for myriad reasons such as following a player’s having an injury or Tommy John surgery. Blass wrote about our work in his book with Erik Sherman, “A Pirate for Life.” I’ve now helped more than 5,000 players get over their yips.