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Milwaukee's Daily Magazine for Tuesday, Sept. 2, 2014

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In Sports Commentary

Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Rickie Weeks is mired in a massive slump. (PHOTO: David Bernacchi )

Rickie Weeks' slump is not his own doing


Don't you feel sorry for Rickie Weeks?

Here's a really good guy making $10 million this year and he is playing the game he loves like an absolute bum. There is no way to sugarcoat this. When they say, "throw the bum out" they might be talking about Weeks.

The problem with the "bum" tag, of course, is that none of this is Weeks' own doing. The gremlins of baseball have burrowed deep into his soul and he can't buy a base hit for love or money.

Slumps don't hit most other sports.

Baseball and golf are the two most obvious examples of sports where you can have slumps. In baseball a slump is when you can't hit the ball. In golf it's when you can hit it but you have no idea where it's going. That applies to all clubs in the bag, including the putter.

Baseball is unique, though, in that a slump doesn't just affect the player, but it also affects your teammates.

Once upon a time I had a conversation with Paul Molitor about hitting. He said that when things were going good a hitter "saw every spin of the pitch and felt like he was carrying the whole team."

Conversely, Molitor said, when you're slumping you can barely see the ball and you feel like an "anchor" on the team.

"It's almost like you feel guilty," he said.

My brother, Dr. Daniel Begel, is the founder of the International Institute for Sports Psychiatry as well as the founder of the sports psychiatry section of the American Medical Association.

He's treated many world class athletes, as well as athletes at all levels of competition.

"There are two things to understand about a slump," he said. "The first is that it is unconscious. It is something that is out of your control. The second thing is that the closest thing to a slump outside of athletics, is depression. A slump, like depression, changes your perception. The world becomes condensed, flat. If you are in a bad slump you may not even see the ball because of this flatness."

Last weekend the Brewers posted a quote from Weeks about the slump.

"You have to work your way through it. You can't just sit and pout about it," Weeks said. "It's frustrating but it's something you have to deal with it. You've got to stay tough mentally and go out there and stick with your plan."

That stay tough part may be more of the problem than a solution.

"Everyone knows that a slump is in the mind of the player," my brother said. "It is something that is out of their control and they don't know how to deal with it. That's why people engage is such odd rituals, trying to end the slump. Changing underwear or their grip on the bat. None of that is going to end a slump.

"You never see a slump where something else is not going on inside the player. Never. It's rarely obvious, but it is always something in your mind. The player may not even know what it is, but there is always something. Slumps have a life of their own and there is almost nothing to do but wait until it ends. Athletes don't get professional help. It's like an admission of weakness. Without that, the only thing you can really do is wait."

Weeks says he's just got to "stick with his plan."

The question is "why?" His plan doesn't seem to be working at all. Most professionals would tell you that's a good sign that it's time for another plan.

Manager Ron Roenicke talks about "getting Weeks going" again. Moving him around in the order is one of those things that Roenicke is trying, but he might as well ask Weeks to wear flip flops, wash his uniform in root beer and sing the national anthem in Mandarin.

But if you get past all that stuff, fans should realize, and hopefully Weeks will realize, that what everyone has to do is just ... wait.


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