The sudden loss of control has no bounds or respect. It usually takes a baseball player out of the game, whether an amateur or a professional player of the highest caliber. Longevity in the game makes no difference and the Gold Glove winner is not immune. Many have said it is a psychological affliction, an unspeakable plague, the creature, a demon or a disease of the mind. Others believe the player has poor work ethics, no desire to play, he has a strong arm, but a weak mind. For a long time the sudden and complete loss of the ability to throw a baseball through a strike zone had no name.
Over the past few years we have heard these names often: Blass disease, Sax disease and Sasser syndrome. Many players in the past have received this diagnosis from a doctor or coach and their life changes dramatically. When something that had become as natural as breathing changes in their life, like throwing a baseball, their world becomes a huge challenge. Fear becomes part of their life and hope is only a dream.
Many young high school, college prospects and major league players in the past suddenly lost their control and dropped out of baseball for good. Some players tried to change positions to regain the control they had enjoyed all their life. Chuck Knoblauch, a 2nd baseman with the Yankees, won the gold glove award one year and acquired Steve Sax Disease the next and could not throw to the first baseman. After several years of frustration and embarrassment he moved to the outfield to extend his career. Many players who did this began to lose their offensive ability.
Some players tried “Tommy John” surgery trying to regain their control, i.e., Mark Wohlers, Billy Wagner and Rick Ankiel. The surgery worked for Billy Wagner and he pitched during the 2005 season. Others were not so fortunate. Rick Ankiel signed for $2.5 million with St. Louis and later tied a 100-year-old major league record with five wild pitches in one inning. He moved to the minor leagues in the outfield to extend his career. The so-called disease was considered by many to be a mental disorder and some tried working with a sports psychologist or a psychiatrist. This dreaded malady shortened the careers of many baseball players and is considered to be a career-ending diagnosis.
Before the malady had a name, Sandy Koufax came along and had control problems his first six years. The Dodgers kept him on the roster his first two years only because he was a bonus baby. In his book he stated, “I felt like the designated bullpen pitcher, the great unwanted.” Sometimes he would go as long as 50 days before getting into a game. Only when the game was out of sight would he enter to pitch. On the way to a B game in Florida, Koufax’s roommate, Norm Sherry, who would be the catcher that day, told Koufax how to pitch the game. When Koufax was behind a hitter in the count, he was to throw a curve and he was to throw his fastball hard, but just take the grunt out of it. This coaching point worked. Koufax went on to become a Hall of Fame pitcher during the next six years while pitching in four World Series. (1959, 63, 65 and 66) (KOUFAX by Sandy Koufax, 1966, Viking Press)
Along came a control pitcher who surprised everyone with his sudden and inexplicable loss of control. At one time Steve Blass could hit a dime hanging on a string at home plate, but something happened. For eight years he was successful pitching in major league baseball with Pittsburgh. He could have been on the way to the Hall of Fame. During the 1971 World Series, he pitched two complete nine-inning games, including the Championship game. He won both games allowing only one run in each game with seven hits total. In 1972 he had a 19 and 8 won-lost record and was 2nd in the Cy Young Award voting. Suddenly in 1973, he lost his immaculate control. He went from doctor to doctor, including psychologists. Blass never regained his control. By 1974, he was out of the major leagues. His prominence named the malady the “Steve Blass Disease.” Afterwards, in 1983 he joined the Pirates TV and radio broadcast team and continues today under contract through the 2007 season. (Wikipedia Encyclopedia, The Baseball Page.com by Kirk Robinson, and Baseball-Almanac.com).
Hundreds of young men have fallen prey to this disease, which has become the “most feared diagnosis” in baseball. Formerly the worst diagnosis was the shoulder injury. With new techniques, it is not unreasonable now to repair the rotator cuff. After the shoulder injury it was the elbow injury. Dr. Frank Jobe took care of this with “Tommy John” surgery. Steve Blass disease is seldom cured.
Steve Sax was a 2nd baseman for the Dodgers. He too lost his control, but he left the Dodgers later and he fortunately regained control. Nevertheless, “Steve Sax Disease” is with us today and with the same symptoms as Steve Blass Disease. (Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Library.com and Basebal-Almanac.com)
Mackey Sasser came along to give us a third name to this disease. As a top draft pick as a catcher, this sudden loss of control also struck him. The easiest job a catcher has is throwing the ball back to the pitcher. He failed to do even that. For the next six years he alternated from behind the plate to first base, to third base and to the outfield. He caught the most games in his career during 1989 when the other two Mets catchers were on the disabled list. After six years, Sasser was out of baseball. Now we have the “Mackey Sasser Syndrome,” so named because of his prominence and similarity to the Steve Blass Disease. (Baseball-Reference.com, Baseball-Library.com and Baseball-Almanac.com)
In 2003, another catcher had this sudden and inexplicable loss of control. This time it was a senior in high school who could not throw the ball back to the pitcher. When Mike threw to second base, he skinned his knuckles on the back of his helmet, knocking mask and helmet to the ground. In desperation, he tried everything. Mike’s father hired local coaches to work with him all summer prior to college, to no avail. This condition was widely thought to be caused by a mental disorder. May 27, 2003, Mike began working with a Doctor of Clinical Psychology. This gave him temporary relief for a short period of time. Twelve coaches worked with Mike: five college coaches from two different colleges and one minor league pitching coach with thirty years experience. One coach was a major league scout that worked with Mike eight or nine times. The final diagnosis of all coaches was the same: “Mackey Sasser Syndrome or Steve Blass Disease.” Their final comment was, “Sorry, Mike, I just can’t help you, this is a career-ending condition.”
Mike did not give up despite the so-called neurotic symptoms and his erratic throwing. He fought it for three long years. He had been a catcher his entire time in baseball and did not want to change positions, he wanted to catch. He continued searching until he found a web page on the Internet that gave him some hope. That page introduced him to John Price, a Texas coach who said the condition was not a mental disease or a psychological problem. The cause of his erratic throwing was in his throwing biomechanics. Mike was desperate because his college coach had given him an ultimatum. If he did not throw better in the forthcoming school year, he would be removed from the team. Michael Santoro persuaded his father to summon the Texas coach to New Jersey to work with him on August 15, 2005.
On his first day of working with Coach Price, Mike made 400 throws to all bases, which is unheard of in baseball today! In only three and a half days and some 1200 throws later, Mike was filled with hope and on the way to pursue his dream. He was now operating from his natural throwing groove. Coach Price told Mike that it would take thousands of throws to overcome bad habits he established in the past. Today, during the 2005-06 season, Mike is playing college ball behind the plate.
Coach John Price produced improved throwing and pitching biomechanics for more than 200 sore and injured baseball players the last 30 years. Included were two players from Arizona and Wisconsin who broke their humerus on the first pitch in a game and were afraid to throw hard again. Both had received a career-ending prognosis from doctors. Many players with serious injuries to the arm, shoulder or elbow are reluctant to rehabilitate an injury without knowing the cause of the injury. Even after “Tommy John” surgery, the cause of the injury may still be uncertain. In many cases, the cause of injuries to the arm, shoulder or elbow may be poor biomechanics when throwing or pitching instead of overuse.
Coach Price believes he can get any player into his natural throwing groove, where muscles are used properly and rhythmically. Throwing errors in a game are caused by mechanical errors in one’s delivery. Coach Price believes that “When in his natural throwing groove, a player can throw all day with no stress, pain, soreness or threat of an injury and his control and velocity will be improved.” Clearly there are benefits to improved throwing and pitching biomechanics, which is the purpose of this article.
Listed on the Internet in different areas are 18 players that had broken their humerus while pitching. Elmer Foster had the first recorded break in 1894 while pitching for the St. Paul Unions, Minnesota’s first major league team. You will also find at least 30 players that had control problems and some had been diagnosed with Blass, Sax or Sasser disease. Coach Price believes there is a natural throwing groove for all players. When in your natural throwing groove, Coach Price believes a player can throw all day without stress, pain, soreness or threat of injury. The old timers did this, why not today? If you have arm soreness, an injury or control problems when throwing or pitching a baseball and want more information, contact: