santanaYogi Berra-isms are amusing and plentiful, but many of them contain nuggets of truth buried in juxtaposed words or bad math. One of his best musings on baseball goes like this: “Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”

It’s fraught with impossible numbers, but the point rings true: baseball is a game played on the field, but so much of it is played inside the head.

Back in the day — like, you know, 2000 or so — a player in a slump would hear occasional boos at a game and maybe needed to avoid reading the work of local columnists or listening to talk radio. Internet commenting on stories upped the ante on the vitriol some, but it was still avoidable.

And then Twitter came along — utterly avoidable but utterly inescapable all at the same time, particularly for a 20-something athlete who grew up in the smart phone era (calling them smart phones makes me feel old, by the way. I want a better word to universally refer to all devices in that class).

Suddenly fans had access to share their thoughts directly with athletes — many times to tell them what a great job they’re doing, but also many times to tell them they stink. Twitter is as wonderful as it is weird, but it can also get pretty swampy.

I get my share of Twitter hate, but it’s relatively minor compared to what a struggling high-profile athlete must go through. After all, I’m not barely above the Mendoza Line for the local baseball team. But the recently demoted Danny Santana is, and it sure sounds like the mental part of the game was eating away at him — and that Twitter was not helping one bit.

Per this item from the Star Tribune’s Phil Miller:

Santana wasn’t helping matters, Eduardo Escobar said, by paying attention to public criticism, some of it over-the-top, on social media.

“Especially Twitter. He sees people talking about him on Twitter, in Spanish, in English, telling him he’s playing bad,” Escobar said. “It’s hard to play in the majors, and he was reading things that were hurting him.”

That’s a problem that bothers Molitor, too, but “it's hard for a manager to monitor,” he said. “It’s a dangerous thing, in that we all know for the most part it’s an anonymous communication system where people can say what they want without fear of repercussion. You start going on there out of curiosity, trying to find something good — it’s just not going to happen.”

Again, we can say part of that (or even most of that) is on Santana. He doesn’t have to read the tweets, and he will (likely) develop a thicker skin as time goes on — learning to ignore the over-the-top hate by recognizing that it’s coming from a very small but vocal minority of trolls.

But in a sport where 90 percent of the game is mental and half is physical, you can have all the athletic gifts in the world. Until you get your head right, it doesn’t matter.

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