The Cubs now have a Director of High Performance, and the news in that is not who it is or what it is. It’s that it is.
Director of High Performance might be the greatest title ever invented. It evokes extracurricular college activities or a Monty Python skit or both.
When the next Cubs player tests positive for marijuana, no one in the media will seek comment from the Director of High Performance. We’re more mature than that. We’ll report that he’s in an altered state of consciousness and unavailable.
OK, the Cubs have a Director of High Performance, a first. He is Adam Beard, who, according to the team, will “be responsible for overseeing the integration and management of a collaborative approach to all aspects of training, conditioning, mental skills, nutrition, sport science and beyond.’’
He had the same title with the Cleveland Browns, where he introduced cryotherapy and altitude chambers to help with injury recovery. Anything that might affect a player’s performance, including sleep, stress and diet, will be under Beard’s purview. Something tells me that chewing tobacco will be a no-no.
Sports teams are constantly pushing limits, physical and mental. They strive to address the whole athlete, not just the part that swings a bat or throws a football. The idea is that if you’re going to invest millions of dollars in a player, you should do everything you can to get the most out of him.
One of the things I love about sports is the way that, no matter how people and teams try to quantify performance, to shape it, to take human frailty out of it, they can’t. A football team can employ a psychologist, a nutritionist, a performance expert and a soothsayer, but when a running back reaches out with the ball to touch the pylon, even though his coach has explicitly told him not to, you realize science has its limits.
The story that received the most attention during the recent Cubs Convention was not Bryce Harper, Yu Darvish or the possibility of a team-run TV network. It was Kris Bryant saying that St. Louis was a “boring’’ city.
I don’t know if the Cubs cared that Bryant’s comments enraged Cardinals fans and Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, who called Bryant a “loser.’’ I wouldn’t be surprised if Cubs president Theo Epstein and manager Joe Maddon shrugged. Major League Baseball teams don’t seem to worry about bulletin-board material as much as NFL teams do.
But it’s a reminder of how much is out of their control, try as they might to have everything buttoned up and nailed down. Will Bryant’s comments somehow improve the Cardinals’ performance against the Cubs this season? Will the boos that are certain to pour down on Bryant at Busch Stadium negatively affect him? There’s no formula in the world, no advanced metric that can give us an answer.
The NFL tries to control everything. It’s the most over-coached, over-legislated league in the world. But what happened Sunday? An official missed an obvious pass-interference call in the NFC Championship Game, likely denying the Saints a trip to the Super Bowl. It has led to outrage, a silly lawsuit in New Orleans and demands that, from now on, possible pass-interference penalties be subject to review.
But if there’s one thing we know about us humans, it’s that, even if the NFL changes the rule, we’ll lurch into the next indignity, one we had never even considered. Life is pretty much “Jurassic Park.’’ No way those slobbering dinosaurs will get through the electric fences!
If you’ve followed the careers of Mike Tyson, Lenny Dykstra, Lance Armstrong, etc., you know all about chaos theory.
Addressing every aspect of an athlete’s life to improve his on-field performance makes sense, but the obvious response to that is the saying, “Man makes plans, and God laughs.’’ Or, in the vernacular, bleep happens. It doesn’t mean that teams should stop pursuing ways to get better. It means there’s only so much they can control.
A slumping player goes home and has an argument with his wife. Where might that lead? Or he decides to use performance-enhancing drugs to advance his career. Or he smokes a joint and starts to see the catcher’s signs as metaphors. The next thing you know, he doesn’t want to pitch anymore. He wants to study Sanskrit.
There are some things sports organizations can govern and manipulate, and a lot they can’t. But they’ll keep trying.
It’s why the Cubs hired Beard, why other teams surely will go the copycat route and why I’m a happy man today. There’s a lot all of us can learn about getting better results in our lives. Perhaps the new Director of High Performance, given his background, can tell us the nutritional and metaphysical value of Doritos. Did you really think I was above a Doritos joke?