The Use of Psychology in Professional Baseball: The Pioneering Work of David F. Tracy. (Articles)

By Kornspan, Alan S.; MacCracken, Mary J. | Nine, Spring 2003 | Go to article overview
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The Use of Psychology in Professional Baseball: The Pioneering Work of David F. Tracy. (Articles)

Kornspan, Alan S., MacCracken, Mary J., Nine

Recently the psychological aspects of baseball have begun to receive much attention from those involved in preparing professional baseball players. One reason for the increased interest in psychology is that the game's mental aspects are often considered an important element in determining whether professional ballplayers perform to their potential. (1) According to George Gmelch one way most baseball organizations assess a player's mental abilities is through psychological testing. (2)

One of the first examples in which a baseball player's mental abilities were assessed occurred at Columbia University in 1920. Babe Ruth was brought to a Columbia University psychology laboratory so that researchers could try to determine what physical and psychological abilities made him one of the greatest home run hitters in baseball. The researchers assessed various measures, including Ruth's reaction time, attention span, memory, learning and coordination. The results of Ruth's psychological tests gained media attention and were printed on the front page of the New York Times. (3)

A second example of psychology applied to baseball is Coleman Griffith's work with the Chicago Cubs in 1938, when he was hired as a consultant to conduct a psychological analysis of the Cubs team. Griffith was given filming and laboratory equipment to observe the players. During his research he analyzed each player psychologically and produced a report. After completing his work he was offered a full-time consulting position with the Cubs but did not accept the position. (4)

Although these historical examples of psychology applied to baseball are documented in the literature, they did not seem to make the psychologist or the mental skills specialist an integral part of baseball culture. Thus little is known about when and how psychologists began to educate professional baseball players, coaches, and management about the mental aspects of baseball. To aid this understanding, this article will describe David F. Tracy's work during the 1950 baseball season. (5) Specifically it will provide a description of how Tracy was hired and the impact his hiring had on local and national media as well as a discussion of his work with the St. Louis Browns. We will consider the impact of Tracy's work on the medical and athletic community and will discuss the role of sport psychology in the culture of professional baseball today.


According to Tracy he began to receive attention from the media about his use of psychology with professional athletes while speaking at a New York City psychology meeting during the summer of 1949. At this meeting Tracy presented information on his psychological work with semipro baseball players. (6) He explained the performance improvement made by these athletes as they implemented psychological skills into training and competition. Tracy also suggested that he could help other professional baseball players and teams enhance their performance through the use of psychological skills. Subsequently a media report was released stating that Tracy offered his services to the St. Louis Browns. (7)

Tracy met with Browns president Bill Dewitt at the December 1949 winter baseball meetings. (8) Subsequently the club owner hired Tracy to be the Browns psychologist. (9) According to Borst Dewitt hired Tracy because the team's athletic trainer convinced them that the psychological elements of athletics were important. The St. Louis Browns management believed that if psychologists were used by other industries they might also be of help to professional baseball teams. (10)

After the Browns hired Tracy, the media began to publish stories on the work that Tracy would be doing with the team.(11) Although Tracy used various psychological interventions, hypnosis was the one most often discussed by the local and national media. Most articles viewed his hiring as the first time a psychologist had been hired to work with a Major League baseball team.

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