Directed by Alex Gibney
I am not old enough to know or remember who Mackey Sasser is. I am however old enough to know who Chuck Knoblauch is, and remember quite vividly the throwing problems he had as a second baseman on the baseball field. He was certainly a headcase, and likely the poster child for this type of phenomenon on the baseball field that rears its ugly head every now and again. Think Rink Ankiel on the pitchers mound before he became a laser-armed outfielder. Come to think of it, I never really put much thought into how or why these things happened to these good ballplayers. I guess I never had to the right perspective to register that it may be something deeper than nerves or a simple inability. It was always mental, that much I knew, but my investigation to care sadly stopped there. Sadly, too, did baseball management when teams grew frustrated with these players “lack of ability”.
How ironic, then, that I never put much thought into it, since the exact opposite is one of the underlying causes and perpetrators of Yips, a mental issue that causes the apparent loss of motor skills, such as throwing a ball back to the pitcher in the case of Sasser. It’s not that he forgot how to do this basic function, it’s simply that when given the time to think about it, his head swirled with thoughts that inhibited his abilities. Alex Gibney’s short film gives Sasser’s culprit a name and an explanation. It humanizes the situation and makes it sympathetic, something many sports fans have little patience to examine. So often in sports, results are the only thing that matter. And when a player begins to decline, their output on the field diminish, fans call for their heads (or at least for them to be benched or released from the team).
One of the special aspects of this series thus far is how it investigates the human stories of sports. It has done that exceedingly well on many occasions. What this particular installment does for me personally is make me think, take a step back and evaluate the whole scenario. As I said earlier, I knew Knoblauch and Ankiel lost it, but never did I care to know why. They lost it, that’s all that matter to me, a sports fan. They were no longer as talented as their counterparts, and my mind and fanaticism found its way elsewhere. I think now I will try harder to look at pro athletes as fellow humans, rather than entertainment commodities (even if the industry itself still evaluates them as such). I may be disappointed Joey Votto, for instance, has been decimated by injuries over the last few years, and may never be the same player he once was on my favorite ball team, but the least I can do is sympathize with his struggle. What must he be going through, knowing what tremendous talent he has, what great amounts of hard work he has put in over the years, but with the inability to fully realize that talent now due to the restrictions of his body?
I think mostly Fields of Fear reminds me to stop and think before passing judgment, in any situation.