Are clutch athletes just a figment of our imagination?

Oct 28, 2013

World Series - Boston Red Sox v St Louis Cardinals - Game Four

David Ortiz #34 of the Boston Red Sox slides safe into home plate on a sacrifice fly to left field hit by teammate Stephen Drew #7 against Lance Lynn #31 of the St. Louis Cardinals in the fifth inning during Game Four of the 2013 World Series at Busch Stadium on October 27, 2013 in St Louis, Missouri. ; Credit: Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The stats say they don’t exist, but do athletes who consistently deliver in clutch situations really belong in the same category as, say, unicorns? A 1977 study by Dick Cramer found that statistically there really is no such thing as a clutch player in baseball, and subsequent studies of the stats haven’t been able to prove otherwise.

But in this year’s playoffs, baseball fans have seen quite a few of what we might call clutch performances. From David Ortiz’s grand slam against Detroit in Game 2 of the ALCS to tie the game, to his 2-run homer against the Cardinals in Game 2 of the World Series to give his team the lead.

Might we consider David Ortiz to be a clutch player despite what the statistics say? Why do some athletes choke in crucial game moments while others excel? Are some people just wired to perform well in higher pressure situations? What are your favorite ‘clutch’ moments in sports history?


Mark Otten, Ph.D, assistant professor of psychology at Cal State Northridge

J.C. Bradbury, Ph.D, professor of sports economics at Kennesaw State University in Atlanta

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