Blog

Mike Schmidt’s Levelheaded Approach to Emotion in Baseball

by Dan Ranbom
on 2016-04-01

With Opening Day of the 2016 Major League Baseball season just a few days away, conversation is already heating up about how players express emotion on the field and the right way to play the game. Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt recently dove into the subject in an op-ed for the Associated Press.

Schmidt, whose composure on the field led the Philadelphia press to dub him “Captain Cool,” criticized what he sees as a lack of respect in excessive displays of emotion on the field in today’s game, specifically calling out Toronto Blue Jays outfielder José Bautista’s epic postseason bat flip during the 2015 American League Division Series. While Schmidt’s opinion falls into the time-honored pattern of an elder generation bemoaning the lack of respect from the younger generation, it brings attention to a facet of personality that is important both on the field and in the office: levelheadedness.

Levelheadedness, or a person’s innate capacity to avoid emotional responses to stimuli, can correlate positively or negatively with success in a variety of jobs. In a sales role, a propensity to show emotion and get excited, (i.e., low levelheadedness), can be a positive trait in getting your audience to buy into what you’re selling them. In a service role that requires patience and composure when dealing with irate customers, on the other hand, Caliper has found high levelheadedness to be a driver of performance.

Likewise, when looking at job behavior from a competency-based perspective, levelheadedness is a significant driver of performance in competencies focused on decision making, conflict management, and composure and resiliency.

In assessing MLB players over the past 15 years, Caliper has found levelheadedness to be positively correlated with success based on metrics such as on-base plus slugging (OPS), wins above replacement (WAR), and plate discipline, which makes sense intuitively: being able to control your emotional response is extremely valuable in performing under pressure, which is a great part of what baseball (or any professional sport) is. Yet the emotion and intensity in high-pressure situations is oftentimes what makes the game exciting for the fans.

Washington Nationals All-Star and 2015 MVP Bryce Harper has advocated for displays of emotion and passion, saying, in an ESPN profile, “What are kids playing these days? Football, basketball. Look at those players — Steph Curry, LeBron James. It’s exciting to see those players in those sports. Cam Newton — I love the way Cam goes about it. He smiles, he laughs. It’s that flair. The dramatic.”

Both sides in the conversation make valid points; where Harper looks at making the game engrossing for fans, Schmidt makes a point about having respect for one’s opponent and not showing them up. The balance between these two perspectives, Schmidt’s emphasis on dignity and respect and Harper’s on fun and excitement, is perhaps indicative of a difference between generations and their respective approaches to the game. Ultimately, though, whether you’re a call-center rep listening to customers’ complaints day-in day-out or a cleanup hitter fighting off a 3-2 breaking ball with 2 outs in the 9th, maintaining composure and being professional under pressure are often essential, and essentially levelheadedness.