As Kuo fights yips, Blass recalls own struggles

As Kuo fights yips, Blass recalls own struggles

PITTSBURGH -- He was an All-Star pitcher stricken by the yips.

So if anybody has some idea what Dodgers reliever Hong-Chih Kuo is going through, it's longtime Pirates broadcaster Steve Blass.

Kuo was put on the disabled list Wednesday with anxiety disorder, what golfers call the "yips," and what four decades ago became known as "Steve Blass disease." In simple terms, it is a disconnect between the mind and body that leaves athletes incapable of performing the most ordinary motor-skill tasks.

"I wasn't aware of his history [four elbow operations and a three-month case of the yips in 2009], but he still seemed to be pitching somewhat effectively," Blass said. "Mine was total. I tried everything -- psychiatrists, visualization, transcendental meditation. I tried it all. I did it all, because I didn't want to be 85 and wonder if that might have worked."

Unfortunately for Blass, a National League Cy Young runner-up in 1972 and World Series hero, nothing worked. He said his wildness started in the middle of the 1973 season, continued through 1974 and he retired when it was no better in Spring Training of 1975 at the age of 32.

"When I started to slide, it never came back," he said. "That lends me to believe there is some degree of management on Kuo's part, because it seems to come and go."

There is a theory that the syndrome can be brought on by an injury, in Kuo's case his four elbow operations. Blass said he was never hurt.

"I always try thinking about what it's like coming back from surgery," he said. "Would I trust it? Does my mind believe it won't blow out? There can be anxiety right there just thinking about turning it loose."

Blass said he worked with California sports psychologist Richard Crowley, who also worked with former Dodgers second baseman Steve Sax. Blass said he now is able to pitch at baseball fantasy camps.

"I was anxious about it, but it's fun," he said. "I'm aware of it [the wildness]. But it's been OK."

Then Blass captured the essence of what Kuo apparently was dealing with in recent weeks, based on what Kuo told trainer Stan Conte and manager Don Mattingly before leaving the club.

"The saddest part for me when it happened was thinking that I shouldn't be out there," Blass said. "That's the worst thing for an athlete, to be embarrassed. It got awful bad toward the end. It is a fine line, being out there naked, in front of 40,000 people and not being able to do your job."