FALMOUTH – The first time Barry Beder was brought in to work as a sports psychology consultant with the Boston Red Sox, “I was told, ‘You can’t tell anybody,’ And I was told, ‘Dress like a fan,’ whatever that means,” said Beder.
It was so hush-hush that Beder – now 70 years old, retired and living in Falmouth – had to go in a side door and use a secret knock to be admitted into Fenway Park. He is only now telling these stories.
This was 1989, more than a decade before the Boston Red Sox won a championship in 2004 and broke an 86-year “curse”.
When Beder was with the Red Sox for four years, the team was an interesting mix of players left over from the 1986 heartbreaking World Series loss as well as some young stars and imports from other teams.
They made the playoffs only once, in 1990, losing in four straight games to the Oakland As.
The team had stars. One of them, a star outfielder, was in a bad slump when Beder was called in to help.
Beder went in a side door at Fenway Park and down a hall that led directly into Dr. Arthur Pappas’ office. Pappas was the longtime Red Sox physician. According to Beder, Pappas, who died in 2016, hired him after hearing he had worked with a couple of Detroit Tigers.
“We have this need,” Dr. Pappas told Beder, according to Beder.
And Beder was brought in, initially, to meet with that one star outfielder.
Beder was sent into a room and he waited. The player, dressed in his home white uniform, came in just before batting practice and looked at Beder. It was intimidating, said Beder.
“He kind of looked at me and said, ‘What are you going to do for me?’” recalled Beder.
“I said, ‘Well, what’s the problem?”
“He was having a hitting issue,” said Beder. “He was too stressed at the plate. He was wound up and stressed and wasn’t seeing the ball.”
“We had a conversation about what does seeing the ball mean to him. He said he didn’t see the ball at all from the time it left the pitcher’s hand until it hit the catcher’s mitt. That’s how stressed he was,” said Beder.
When Beder asked what seeing the ball was like when he was playing well, the player “described being able to slow it down and see the stitches on the ball. One game he hit three home runs. He hit the same spot on the ball.”
So Beder went to work. “I hypnotized him and suggested he hit three home runs,” he said.
As he was leaving, Beder said, the team trainer, who did not approve of Beder’s presence, “gave me the vampire cross with his fingers, like I was a vampire.”
“They sent me out the back door. I had to listen to the game on the radio. That night, the player I worked with hit two home runs and another ball hit the top of the wall,” said Beder.
“They hired me the next day, it was so dramatic,” he said.
“They brought me in with a contract to provide sports psychology consulting to the players as they requested it. I was there before batting pratice. I was available to anybody who wanted to talk,” said Beder.
Although he is not a doctor, the players, manager and coaches “called me ‘Doc’,” he said.
Doc, in fact, is a nickname of endearment in baseball, as several major leaguers carried that nickname through the years.
For a few years in the Boston Red Sox clubhouse, “Doc” was Barry Beder.
It was an interesting and stressful time for Beder. It felt like, “every pitch, every at bat was a client,” he said.
Beder was raised in Malden as the son of a grocery store owner. As a child, he said, “I spent most of my life in ‘slavery’, working in that store.”
He had a learning disability as a child “when it came to test taking,” he said. He struggled so much that when a career-planning form came home from the high school suggesting a career, his proposed path was dairy farmer.
His father, upon seeing the recommendation, “kind of slapped me on the side of the head and said, ‘Do you see any cows in Malden? How the hell do you expect to be a dairy farmer. Go back to school and tell them you want to go to college,” recalled Beder
That’s how he went to college. He picked psychology as a major at Northeastern University because he had “just learned how to spell the word.” Such a big word, psychology. He “thought it would impress the school,” he said.
When he got in, he discovered he liked it. Beder has a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Northeastern University and a master’s degree in psychiatric social work from the University of Michigan.
In Northeastern as an undergrad and then after graduation, Beder had trained in several hospitals, and was well versed in “a lot of the Freudian stuff.”
He was working in a psychiatric practice and counseling service outside of Detroit when he found himself on the same staff as a hypnotist.
“I was really upset to be working in a clinic that had a hypnotist on staff. I thought it was a bunch of baloney,” he said. “Like a stage show without a lot of teeth to it.”
But when Beder went to work at the clinic, using his traditional methods of treatment, he kept noticing that the hypnotist’s patients “were getting better a lot faster than mine were.”
At one point, Beder said, he had a patient who was struggling with Beder’s traditional methods, so he sent the patient to his colleague, the hypnotist. “I sent my patient over to this guy, and the patient came back cured,” he said.
Beder’s reaction was, “Holy mackerel, this is an effective treatment.”
And so he asked the hypnotist to train him. It took about a year, and a lot of practice, said Beder.
Yes, he practiced hypnotizing people.
“If you want to get good at stuff, you’ve got to practice,” said Beder, talking like he has spent some time around professional athletes.
“If the mailman came by, I’d ask, Is there anything you want to be hypnotized for,” he said. Some folks cooperated, others “looked at me and laughed,” he said.
The first person he tried to hypnotize, he said, “cooperated and it worked pretty well. I helped her improve her attitude. Friends started asking for help with all kinds of things. Fear of flying, Quitting smoking.”
Soon, he was understanding that hypnosis was a powerful tool that makes people “more receptive to suggestions.”
By the time Beder began working with the Red Sox, he had years of experience in various roles helping people. It was “performance consulting,” he said.
He had run large smoking cessation groups sponsored by radio stations. He also worked with folks in high stress jobs such as train conductors, air traffic controllers, and national grid workers.
He would “help workers stay focused when handling safety sensitive issues,” he said.
And in Detroit, he had worked with some equestrian athletes and a couple of Detroit Tigers – a starting pitcher and a second baseman.
“It’s really an integration of skills that helped me succeed,” he said. He had “a skill in creating the hypnotic state,” he said. “The conversation then becomes how do you get new ideas in their head.”
“To get somebody to make a meaningful change,” he said, “you have to make sure the suggestions are integrated.”
And it’s an interesting therapy, he said, because “even after you hypnotize somebody, they don’t feel hypnotized. They feel like nothing happened, it didn’t work.“
But over time, he said, it can and often does.
“I can’t make you do things you don’t want to do,” he said. “But I can help you do things you might want to do.”
So what is it? How does it work? Does it involve a swing stop watch and the words, “Look into my eyes.. you are beginning to feel sleepy”?
“If you can get someone to pay attention to what you are saying, the sound of your voice, the content of what you are saying, and get them get them brought into the experience where they are paying attention and focused, then they are in an altered state,” he said.
“It’s common sense that sinks in,” said Beder. “There’s common sense but we don’t follow it because we are too struck by our impulses.”
Hypnosis, in simple terms, is an altered state of consciousness where one is more receptive to suggestions emanating from themselves or from an outside source, said Beder.
“More receptive to suggestion infers that thoughts, feelings, images, ideas, and/or beliefs can be made to feel more real and are therefore more actionable or likely to be followed through by the subject, he said.
It sounds like politicians might use this, and, in fact, Beder said, “I thought Ronald Reagan was great at it. His writers were unbelievable. It’s a way of including your will and your unconscious that makes you think in a certain way” These feelings, when tapped into, said Beder, emanated “from the deepest part of human emotions.”
When Beder, a native of the area, was brought in to work with the Red Sox, he said, “I always liked going to Fenway Park. But I never really followed them.”
That changed quickly.
“One of my first clients was a catcher who couldn’t throw the ball back to the pitcher,” said Beder, who declined to mention players he worked with by name.
But the symptoms were “a pure anxiety reaction. It’s pure stress, pure brain chemicals. You lose fluidity,” which is crucial to an athlete, he said.
Beder worked with that catcher. “It took one meeting and he reverted back to his old self of making natural throws back to the pitcher without having to think much about it,” said Beder.
“Removing anxiety from a past behavior that had previously been successful is pretty easy if you regress the individual to pre-anxiety feelings and thoughts. It’s a good use of hypnosis,” he said.
For four years, he was at the Fenway Park helping players. He also spent time down in Florida at spring training helping players “to work out the pre-season jitters,” he said.
And while much of what he did was specific performance consulting, he found the job became something more complex. “I did as much marriage counseling as I did sports on the field with those guys,” he said.
He cited an example of a pitcher throwing a slider that is hit for a home run. “Your wife yells at you ‘Why did you throw that slider? Don’t you know he hits sliders? My parents were at that game. You embarrassed me.’”
“They would call me at 2 in the morning,” said Beder. “Somebody’s wife was sleeping with somebody.” And somehow, Beder was supposed to help that desperate player at 2 am be a better baseball player.
After four years, he parted ways with the team. There was new management. He was fine with that. He was ready to move on.
But, during his years that he was at Fenway Park, there were some magical moments and some true baseball lessons of zen.
Beder said he did not work with Roger Clemens but he had a good relationship with him, and that Clemens once told him how he used a sort of self-hypnosis to get himself locked in.
“He was known for his ability to focus and lock in,” said Beder. “He would only see the catcher’s mitt.”
But sometimes, when things were off, “his visual field would expand from the catcher’s mitt. He’d see over at first base, the lady in the yellow hat. Then he started to hear the voice, the loudmouth drunk in the stands,” said Beder.
At that point, Clemens told Beder, he realized he was losing focus. “Well, he liked guns. He was from Texas. He would step off the mound and use the words, ‘lock and load,’ and he would refocus himself and only see the glove again. He was perfectly focused, and he had trained himself to do that.”
Don Zimmer, when he came to the Red Sox as a coach for one year under manager Butch Hobson, also had a way of calming things down for a player, recalled Beder.
“Before the game, he would sit in the dugout by himself. He would own the dugout,” said Beder. “If a player wanted to work on something, he could go sit a few feet away from Zimmer.”
“They’d sit and they’d wait, and they weren’t allowed to talk until Zimmer talked,”said Beder. “It was sort of like meditating. Putting your mind in neutral. He would create this setting before he would say what he had to say.”
“Sometimes, he made people wait ten minutes,” said Beder.
The whole time Zimmer is “sitting there staring at the field, modeling medition. Modeling quieting the mind,” he said.
Quieting the mind was important, and during the Hobson years, Beder recalled, “everything seemed intense during that period. A lot of people seemed wired.”
In fact, he said, a clubhouse is naturally energetic, “kind of like everybody’s on speed. It’s noisy and loud. It’s like a free-for-all fraternity house in there.”
And that was the atmosphere one day when “Out of nowhere, Ted Williams walked into the clubhouse. None of the players had ever seen him in person before. That’s how rare a Ted Williams sighting was,” said Beder.
Williams sat down and as players noticed him, “it just got quieter and quieter,” he said.
And then, “everybody dropped to their knees. It was like a god had appeared,” said Beder.
“Ted Williams just sat there,” he said. “He didn’t say a word at first. And when he spoke, he asked, “What’s going on in your head when you go to the plate?”
Williams spoke of the importance of focus and clearing your mind and “anticipating the next pitch,” he said.
“It was just a magic moment,” said Beder.
Beder could not mention specific players by name that he helped, but he made clear some of the players he casually interacted with who he liked.
“Some of those guys I loved. John Marzano, Tony Fossas, John Flaherty. I liked Roger Clemens. Frank Viola, when he came to the team, was a nice guy. Wade Boggs was a nice guy.”
But, he said, “Some people were standoffish. They thought they were better than god.”
As for the curse, Beder said, “It was discussed. It would come up once in a while. I don’t think it had a big impact on these guys,” he said.
“They are too individually narcissistic. It’s more about them than anything else,” he said.
When he described the life of professional baseball players, it sounded pretty intense and quite binary.
“You’re either somebody or you’re nobody in that sport,” he said.
“I’m at a card show one night. In spring training, sometimes school gymnasiums are opened up for card shows. Well at this show, each player would have a table and sign cards,” said Beder.
“Well Wade Boggs might have ten people, other players might have two or three, Jack Clark might have one and then suddenly somebody like Roger Clemens would come in and get to their booth and the player with fans in line just got deserted,” he said.
“They just went from being a baseball star to a nobody,” said Beder.
It happened to Beder once as he was walking out of Fenway. There was a father and kid waiting outside. As Beder came out the door, the kid was going to come up to him but the father said, “Don’t bother, he’s a nobody.”
Beder moved to Falmouth eight years ago. He quit work five years ago. Until then, he had continued his consulting work, especially working with large groups.
Now, he spends his time playing tennis, photographing artful shots of boat hulls, and “enjoying retirement. There’s nothing better,” he said.
His other great joy is playing in the Cape Cod Codgers Softball League. He is a left fielder.
His first year in the league, three years ago, he found himself at bat in every kid’s dream situation.
His team was down two runs. There were two outs. It was the championship game. And the bases were loaded.
“I try to, whenever possible, incorporate the major things I’ve learned. Taking the time to meditate and be grateful and be aware and present. To be focused and in the moment,” he said.
He had learned that, “Only at those times can you make an impression on future goals.”
So with that as his background, he came to the plate with bases loaded and the season on the line.
“Envisioning what you want to do is important,” he said. “I was playing in the championship game.”
And in his mind, “I said, this is scary, so I have to be here,” he recalled. He cleared his mind and focused.
He remembered “watching the ball, seeing the ball get as big as a grapefruit.”
He hit it to right center and “it just kept going.”
It was a walk-off home run. All his mental training had paid off. Well, that and the long-ago reverential clubhouse Ted Williams’ advice, “Try to anticipate the next pitch,” said Beder.
The pitch, by the way was high and outside. “My favorite spot,” he said.
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