Sports psychologist Ken Ravizza helped keep Cubs at ease

ByJesse Rogers ESPN logo
Tuesday, July 10, 2018

SAN FRANCISCO -- The baseball world is mourning the loss of one of its pioneers in the mental-skills field after longtime sports psychologist Ken Ravizza died Sunday night after suffering a heart attack last week. Ravizza, 70, was a favorite of Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon, who knew and employed Ravizza for decades.

"He was the best at what he does," Maddon said Monday afternoon. "I hear his voice in my head. He's left an eternal impact on all of us."

Ravizza came of age at a time when even talking about things like mental skills and sports psychology was taboo, particularly in baseball, where managers had the final word on everything.

"Baseball wasn't ready for him," Maddon said. "Every manager thought he had all the answers. ... He's another coach. No different than your hitting coach or your pitching coach or infield coach. He's going to help you think more clearly in a difficult moment and that's a good thing."

Maddon ticked off the players Ravizza worked with, from Dante Bichette to Evan Longoria to current members of the Cubs. Ravizza visited with the team recently while the Cubs were in Los Angeles and was scheduled to do so again this week while they are back in California. Ravizza was a professor at Cal State Fullerton.

"I'm really sad," the Cubs' Ben Zobrist said. "I think everyone in here is. He was really great to have conversations with. I felt like he never stopped learning from us even though he was trying to help us learn at the same time."

Cubs infielder Tommy La Stella contemplated quitting the game several years ago, though it wasn't Ravizza who talked him out of it. That wasn't his style nor what made him special, according to La Stella.

"He was an expert listener," he said. "That's a lost art nowadays. Everyone is in a rush to share their opinions and share what they know. That wasn't Ken."

Ravizza's last book, "Heads-Up Baseball 2.0," is an updated version of the title first published in 1994. This one features a cover photo of Anthony Rizzo, who stressed how far mental skills have come over the years. Some players still are more accepting of the approach than others, and that was just fine for Ravizza.

"As players it can go one of two ways with sports psychologists," Rizzo said. "He was great. You could get whatever you want off your chest. Life, baseball, anything. He was always there, always smiling. ... Life happens fast."

Ravizza was well known in baseball, but Maddon stressed his work with football players and Olympians, among others. He also played a part in some of the manager's favorite sayings.

"'Attitude is a decision,' that was him," Maddon said. "'Do not permit the pressure to exceed the pleasure,' as well."

Ravizza was there for the players. Huddled with them at their lockers in good times and bad, he was an ear and a gentle voice -- one that will be missed.

"He was an unbelievable person and better friend," La Stella said.

"He's made an impact on all of them," Maddon said.