Sports Commentary: The definition of clutch
Published: Monday, October 21, 2013
Updated: Monday, October 21, 2013 21:10
What is it that makes an athlete clutch? In a quick google search of the word “clutch,” the term was best defined by urbandictionary.com as simply “to perform under pressure.”
ESPN talking head Skip Bayless has begun using this word to form the phrase “clutch gene,” as in an inherent trait that a player either is born with or will always lack.
While black and white definitions usually make for great TV, sports is a microcosm for life, and like everything else in life, it’s filled with shades of gray.
Derek Jeter is often given as an example of a player who embodies this “clutch gene” while players like Alex Rodriguez are believed to be forever doomed to fail when the game is on the line.
While this is a theory that has seemed to prove itself year after year, can the pressure on two different players at the end of a close game ever really be compared?
Jeter’s career began in 1996 with a game-tying home run against Baltimore in the playoffs that had a little help getting over the fence by a fan. When the Yankees went on to win the World Series that year, Jeter’s reputation as a “clutch” player was sealed.
From that point on, Jeter came through for the Yankees year in and year out as he eventually led them to five World Championships. While Jeter probably does have the ability to stay calm under pressure, pressure at the end of games is no doubt lessened when you know that your reputation isn’t at stake due to past successes.
Rodriguez, as a player who caught no such breaks early on in his career, was never afforded such luxury, and while he has brought much public scrutiny on himself, when the game’s on the line, he knows he’s viewed through more of a critical lens than Jeter.
Football offers a remarkably similar situation in the form of Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Brady’s career began with a Super Bowl winning run that included a win over the Oakland Raiders in the playoffs known as the infamous tuck rule game.
In that game, Brady avoided a fumble that would have cost the Patriots the game, thanks to the then little-known and now abolished tuck rule that made the play an incomplete pass. This led to a game-winning field goal and Brady’s long and illustrious career that includes three Super Bowl victories.
Peyton Manning has won only one Super Bowl and threw a crucial interception to the Saints’ Tracy Porter in his only other appearance in the “big game.”
What I would like to know is how that fan perception and inevitable increase in pressure would affect that player’s career. Would Tom Brady have been able to lead his team to three Super Bowl victories if he had the added pressure of losing his first two? Maybe, or maybe not.
Carlos Beltran, the left fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, is the flip-side of Brady and Jeter. His playoff career with the New York Mets began and ended when he had his knees buckled by an absolutely vicious curveball from Adam Wainwright in the 2006 National League Championship Series.
While Mets fans will probably always remember him for that one moment, Beltran’s last two years in St. Louis have proved, without a shadow of doubt, that he is as clutch a baseball player that’s ever existed.
In this year’s playoffs, he led the Cardinals to his first World Series appearance, clutch has been his pièce de résistance as he was 6 for 21 with 6 RBIs in the NLCS and almost singlehandedly won Game 1 of the series.
Beltran will enter his first World Series with a .337 average, 16 home runs and 37 RBIs and one long-forgotten (outside of Queens at least) strikeout in 45 postseason games and may just prove that, regardless of circumstance, some players are born with the ability to come through in the clutch.
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