Mind Over Sports

WHEN SUPERSTARS UNDERPERFORM.

Posted on: April 26, 2013

There have been many professional athletes who were idolized by their fans for their achievements, but in many cases, those athletes, as successful as they were in their sport, did not perform anywhere near their ability.  Mickey Mantle and Ted Williams were two examples.

Because Mantle’s family had a history of the men dying at an early age, he did not believe he was going to live a long life and therefore did not take care of himself, physically or emotionally.  In fact, just before he died, he stated that he felt he had never reached his potential and that if he knew he was going to live as long as he did, he would have taken better care of himself. If he had trained as hard as some of today’s professional athletes train he would probably own almost every record in baseball.

Another example was the great Ted Williams, one of major league baseball’s all-time premier hitters and the last player to bat over .400.  But Ted Williams had a secret weapon, so to speak, that few knew about.  Her name was Lou Kaufman, who David Halberstam wrote about in his book “The Teammates.” After Ted’s three marriages were over, Halberstam wrote: “He was with a wonderful lady named Lou Kaufman, a kind and forgiving person who had moved in and out of his life over the years.  She was much admired by most of Ted’s old friends and was, by consensus among them, the woman in Ted’s life who seemed to understand him best and who could calm him down most readily when one of those instant moments of pure anger had been triggered.  She was kind and thoughtful and truly loving – and she seemed, I once thought, when we were all three together for a day back in 1988, as much parent to him as lady-friend.”  If he had not had Lou Kaufman in his life, I doubt he would have been as successful as he was in hi baseball career.

I once had a personal experience with Williams that demonstrated, very clearly, that he did not possess a great deal of self-esteem.  In 1969 and 1970 I was associated with a Kansas City marketing and advertising agency and one of the company’s clients was Sears.  In those days, Sears operated a store on the Country Club Plaza and one of the brand names they carried was Ted Williams’ Fishing Equipment.  Because of this relationship, when he wrote a book about himself, My Turn At Bat: The Story of my Life, which was published in 1969, he arranged to visit Sears stores across the country to promote his book and help sales by personally autographing copies.

When Sears scheduled Ted’s appearance at the Plaza Store it turned out to be on a Saturday morning.  Sears had requested that someone from our agency be present to help coordinate the event.  Being an avid sports fan, I volunteered my services.  On the Saturday morning of his appearance I arrived at the store around 8:30am since it was scheduled to open at 9am.  The front of the store was all glass and featured large glass doors clearly visible from the table we had set up with books for Ted’s signing.

At about 8:40am, one of baseball’s most famous super heroes arrived.  I introduced myself, we shook hands, and I explained why I was there.  He nodded appreciatively and asked in a soft voice: “Do you think anyone will come?” I assured him they would even though he had been retired for a number of years.  A few moments later, he approached me again, asking softly: “Uh, do you think anyone will show up?”  I again assured him they would and that he shouldn’t concern himself.  Between 8:40am and the time the store opened he must have asked me five times whether or not I thought people would show up for the signing.  Each time, I assured him they would.  He appeared sad and thought perhaps his fame had faded.  He appeared to me to be like a small puppy dog with its tail between its legs, sadly anticipating the worst.   He clearly demonstrated that he did not possess a great deal of self-esteem; otherwise, whether or not anyone would show up for the signing would not have been an issue for him.  But at approximately 8:58am, two minutes before the store was scheduled to open, a gentleman with a young boy in his arms appeared at the door.  Then behind him another lined up holding the hand of a youngster wearing a baseball cap. Then another. And another. All either holding the hand of a small child or carrying a child in their arms.  It was obvious they were there to meet the great Ted Williams.  By 9am there was a line of fans outside the store that stretched for two city blocks.  When Ted saw them he walked over to the table, took his seat and awaited the crowd.  When the doors opened, the throng made its way to the table.  Suddenly, his mood changed.  He became overtly more confident.  Appearing more self-assured.  And as the fathers and their children passed by the table to purchase their autographed books, Ted Williams would say in a loud, boisterous voice: “C’mon! C’mon! Let’s keep this line moving! I don’t have all day!!!”

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