Why I Love Irrational Confidence

While we are on this hiatus from the game we love, many Pitcher List writers have set down their calculators and are trying to put into words what they love...

While we are on this hiatus from the game we love, many Pitcher List writers have set down their calculators and are trying to put into words what they love most about baseball. This is difficult for many of us because sabermetrics don’t apply. There is no unit of measurement for happiness. Sunshine units—the thing that sounds most like it could be such a measurement—actually measures the radioactivity of nuclear bomb material…so yeah, there goes that one…

Where was I? Baseball and what I love about it. Most writers will write essays about their favorite players, moments, pitch types, or batting stances. Mine has nothing to do with any of that. It’s not traditional. It’s not even measurable. In fact, the thing I love most about watching baseball is the thing I absolutely will not abide by in fantasy baseball: headcases.

There are many different types of headcases and I want all of them to steer clear of my fantasy rosters. I like to think of myself as an expert in headcases. In fact, I’m thinking about writing a followup piece detailing the many different types there are and how they affect your fantasy team. That’s why you’ll never see me own Yasiel Puig or Bryce Harper (uber-talented but ultimately disinterested headcases), Trevor Bauer (delusions of grandeur), Noah Syndergaard (some people just want to see the world strikeout), or David Price (Yankee-itus). Some are more than one type of headcase. Some have the multiple-headcase disorder—just look at Albert Belle. But my all-time favorite headcase is the player who exhibits irrational confidence. It’s not a difficult disorder to explain. Simply put, it’s a player whose idea of his own ability far exceeds his real-life potential. The best part of this diagnosis is that players generally can’t help but tell the world how good they think they are right up until it ends in tragedy. And some will continue to tell you afterward.

But I guess that’s the thing about me: I admire those who reach for the stars and touch them…but that which brings me joy is watching them fall short in spectacular fashion.


Setting the Scene


It’s May 16, 1997. The Milwaukee Brewers were trailing the Los Angeles Angels 4-1 to begin the 8th inning. Brewers journeyman outfielder Chuck Carr had a 2-0 count vs. all-star Chuck Finley when Carr was given the sign to take the third pitch. What does he do? Swings and pops out, of course.

Here’s where it gets good: when then-Brewers Manager Phil Garner confronted him about it in the locker room after the game, Carr responded: “That ain’t Chuckie’s game. Chuckie doesn’t take 2-0. Chuckie hacks 2-0!”

Chuckie was sent down less than 24 hours later—his 8th and final season in the show. Can you imagine the kind of confidence it takes to brush off your managers and then when confronted, tell them that even though you screwed up, get used to it because that is just how you play? It’s an irrational amount for most players, but especially one who was on his fourth team in eight years and never even sniffed an all-star game. This is exactly what I’m talking about.

Stories like these raise so many questions: Why would a player who lives by getting on base to stealing hack a 2-0 count? If that really was the way he always played, why did he only hit 13 homers in eight years? Also, who talks in the third person? Does he realize calling himself Chuckie instead of Chuck makes him sound crazier? Does he talk that way when he’s not in front of cameras? Like when he goes to Subway, does he say: “Chuckie demands double meat!”? How come nobody talks that way anymore? I’m looking at you, Bauer.


The Greats


Irrational confidence doesn’t just come from athletes who fail. For many of the top performers, it is necessary to reach the level they do. Two of the more popular stories are Lenny Dykstra and Rickey Henderson.

If you’ve read Moneyball, you probably remember the story of Billy Beane and Dykstra when they were both starting out on the Mets. The two of them were watching the opposing pitcher, hall-of-famer Steve Carlton, warm up. While Beane is in awe, Dykstra doesn’t even know who the guy is. In fact, he asks Beane, “Who is that big dumb *** on the mound?” When Beane tells him that’s Carlton, a three-time Cy Young winner, he just watches him for a minute and says, “I’ll stick him.”

That’s the beauty of irrational confidence. It can make guys like Dykstra who were 5-10, 160 pounds and drafted in the 13th round into three-time all-stars and runners-up for the MVP.

It can also make them one of the best players ever: enter Henderson. I know what you’re thinking: How can one of the best baseball players ever have irrational confidence? He obviously should be as confident as he wants. I’ll explain by offering a few stories:

  1. Henderson spoke in the third person, which if you can’t tell from the Carr story earlier, is one of the red flags that you’re too confident.
  2. If you don’t believe that, how about this: before every (yes, every) game, Henderson would stand naked in front of a clubhouse mirror and say “Rickey’s the best.”
  3. Ken Caminiti, noted steroid user, once said 50 percent of players were using. When Henderson was asked if he thought that was correct, he responded by saying “Well, Rickey’s not one of them, so that’s 49% right there.” I personally don’t know if he’s saying he’s 49 percent of players or he’s one percent. Either way, it’s too damn confident.
  4. Henderson once tried to argue that stealing third was easier than stealing second. To be clear, while technically he was correct (successfully stealing 82% of third base attempts while stealing 81% of second base), he stole second base more than three times as often.
  5. Not to beat the whole third-person speaking aspect into the ground, but when Henderson was a free agent and tried to be reunited with the Padres, he called GM Kevin Towers and said, “This is Rickey, calling on behalf of Rickey. Rickey wants to play baseball.”

Rickey doesn’t have the confidence of a person. Rickey has the confidence of a god. Everything about Rickey was as extra as possible—including his insane stats.


Just a Moment


I want to stress that in order to do something irrationally confident doesn’t mean you have to actually be an irrationally confident person. This was proven in 1996 by John Cangelosi. A 13-year veteran who played on seven different teams, Cangelosi is mostly remembered (if at all) for his solid 1987 and 1995 seasons. His best season, in 1995, he slashed .318/.392/.850 with two homers and 21 stolen bases. The man did not have much power, probably because he was just 5-8 and 150 pounds. What I remember him for, however, is what he did with that diminutive frame on the field, but not in the way you think. Watch the 1:35 mark on the video below of a brawl between the Astros and the Expos.



You’ll notice that the third-grader who comes out of nowhere to bodyslam 6-7 Jeff Juden TWICE is the 5-8 Cangelosi. Juden, a former hockey player who was known to fight anybody willing and many who weren’t, proceeds to try to fight someone who looks like his son. The problem is Cangelosi is so small that Juden can’t actually control his swing long enough to accurately connect that far down (it’s that level of unfocused coordination that probably also limited his pitching career).

The point is, Cangelosi was not generally a man known to strut around. But for essentially 30 seconds, his confidence literally convinced his mind that he grew another 12 inches.  Cangelosi decided that he should be the one to pick a fight with the biggest guy on the field — while, might I add, two other people were already fighting Juden.

Just as a note, if you like brawls this is one to watch. *Spoiler Alert* There are three separate fracases. At some point David Segui gets involved, despite being on the DL at the time. Moises Alou throws his helmet and hits Astros Manager Terri Collins in the face, which prompts the announcer to say, “That’s a real cheap shot, throwing the helmet…everyone else is throwing fists.”


The Not-So-Greats


We’ve addressed maybe my favorite three or four bouts of irrational confidence. Some of my others include Bobby Valentine, who in 1999 was thrown out for arguing with an umpire, returned to the dugout an inning later wearing a fake mustache. Why is this irrationally confident? This man decided that he was smart enough to fool umpires, TV cameramen, opposing players and managerial staff, and fans simply by putting on a mustache that makes him look like Mario’s dad while still wearing Mets gear.



Then there’s the case of pitcher John Francis Smith, who in 1885 said that he was so good, he didn’t need a team. So the team gave him the nickname Phenomenal and committed 14 errors the next game to lose 18-5. I don’t know why anyone would say they are so good that they didn’t need teammates, especially a pitcher with a career 54-74 record.



Bryce Harper, who was just 19 in his rookie year, calling out a reporter after winning in Toronto for asking him if he’s going to celebrate by having a beer. “That’s a clown question, bro.” One of the more popular quotes of Harper’s career, this takes serious confidence to do when you’re a teenager with fewer than 40 MLB games under your belt.

Let’s do one more: Mat Latos. I could write a full article just on Latos—and I wouldn’t be the first. In high school, Latos once threw at the opponent’s 3rd base coach. He also threw a ball over the left-field wall and out of the stadium in San Francisco during batting practice, which slammed into Giants announcer Dave Flemming’s car. When asked a week later about it, he said he was “young and dumb.” He then said, instead of an apology, to “send him a bill and he’ll pay it.”

My favorite of all baseball movie quotes comes from Annie Savoy in Bull Durham:

“The world is made for people who aren’t cursed with self-awareness.”

That sentiment is at the heart of irrational confidence syndrome. It’s also what makes it so entertaining.


Rational Confidence


I want to end this post by giving props to one instance of rational confidence. When it was time for Tim Lincecum to lay out his case for a higher salary in arbitration, he did what all of us wish we could do. He did not say a word. Instead, he just walked into the room of the arbitration hearing and slammed his two Cy Young awards on the table. The Giants settled with him right there for a two-year, $23 million contract.

It’s the ultimate “I wish I could do that” moment I’m sure every young player dreams of. He knew exactly what he was worth and he didn’t even need to say a word.


Featured image by Justin Paradis (@freshmeatcomm on Twitter)

Travis Sherer

All Seattle Mariners fans have learned the future is all we have because the present is always too painful. I am Western Washington University alum, a local sportswriter, an official NCAA basketball statistician, a freelance radio and television production statistician, and a minor league standup comedian. Follow me @ShererTravis on Twitter.

One response to “Why I Love Irrational Confidence”

  1. Dave says:

    Regarding brawls and throwing the baseball at others, irrational confidence – maybe; uncontrollable temper – definitely.

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