TEMPE, Ariz. – Imagine, asks Cody Buckel, if you woke up one morning and forgot how to walk. Something that had been simple was suddenly a complex series of movements requiring full concentration. And imagine that every time you tried, you feared embarrassment. The shaking heads of sympathetic onlookers.
Only then can you begin to understand the yips, which is the sports shorthand for a mysterious mental block that prevents athletes from performing their sport’s simplest tasks.
Buckel, a former star right-hander at Royal High in Simi Valley, was a 20-year-old phenom, ticketed for the Texas Rangers rotation.
Then he couldn’t throw a strike.
Now, after four years, two releases, one trip to Australia, numerous trips to psychologists and other promises of cures from Eastern medicine, he is wearing an Angels uniform.
Buckel (pronounced BUE-kel) is 24, but he says he feels like he’s 40 because of what he’s been through. He is in minor league camp, just trying to enjoy the game again and make something of all that talent.
“I couldn’t explain it to you unless you go through it,” Buckel said. “I’ve seen guys with the yips. I’ve seen guys who couldn’t throw the ball and I just didn’t get it. I saw numerous guys go through it in my first years in pro ball. You don’t understand it until it happens to you.”
Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star Steve Blass saw his career end in the 1970s when he suddenly couldn’t throw a strike. Steve Blass Disease is now the term sometimes used to describe the yips for a pitcher. Catcher Mackey Sasser became infamous for his inability to throw the ball back to the pitcher. Former rookie of the year second baseman Steve Sax had well-chronicled issues simply making the short throw to first.
Keith Comstock, the Angels’ fifth-round pick in 1976, struggled with the yips early in his minor league career. His description of the affliction is even more disturbing than Buckel’s: “It’s like being a pilot…