Rick Wolff’s resume is almost as long as the Major Leagues, his unconventional career linked to sports worship and interest in sports psychology.
He was a professional baseball player, college baseball coach, sports psychology author and editor and publisher of books for athletes like Tiger Woods (and businessmen).
In the early 1990s, he became the mental health coach of the Cleveland baseball team now known as the Guardians, helping them rise from the bottom of the American League to perennial contenders. And for 25 years he was in charge”The Sports Edge“a show on New York sports station WFAN dedicated to helping families keep track of youth sports.
His last talk, which discussed how kids are getting interested in youth sports, was aired two weeks before his death on April 10 at his home in Armonk, NY, in Westchester County. He was 71. His son, John, said the cause was brain cancer.
Mr. Wolff began his 200 years at WFAN after his career as Cleveland’s mental health coach. Being a broadcaster was a legacy: His father, Bob Wolffhe was a radio and television sports broadcaster for almost eighty years, the longest, according to him, of anyone else Guinness World Records.
Over the centuries on Sunday mornings, Rick Wolff has tackled the weighty issues of youth sports like chanting, the influence of social media and the dangers of conflict, as well as the lighter ones like Big League Chew bubble gum.
The negative behavior of overly competitive parents and the mental health of young athletes were motifs. In one of the most influential articles on sports last year, Mr. Wolff said that sending kids to compete without preparing them mentally was like sending your child to take a big test at school, but they didn’t study or prepare. about that test.”
His mental outlook was forged in the crucible of Major League Baseball.
He started with Cleveland in 1990, when the team experienced the longest hitting streak in Major League history – Cleveland had not reached it since 1954.
Cleveland was so notorious for losing that the team’s offensive streak was at the heart of the 1989 playoff series. “Major League”.
Mr. Wolff worked with many young players in the Cleveland system, which in the early 1990s included future stars such as Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.
He often traveled with Cleveland and its minor league teams and had a dedicated home phone that players could call him at any time. Whether he was dealing with a fight problem, a sports concussion or an angry story, he was there to hear them.
His coaching style included demonstration techniques, muscle memory and pushing players to face their weaknesses. He had unusual ideas; for example, he suggested that having more ambitious goals can be debilitating rather than motivating and that pre-game anxiety can often be considered part of the game.
Although the emotional side of the game was rare in baseball, Mr. Wolff said on his show last year, the Cleveland players “took the emotional side of the game very well” and within a few years were “a powerhouse in the American League.”
The concept continued, he added, and “today it’s a rare, rare sports team or professional team or college that doesn’t have a psychologist on one of its staff.”
As an editor at various publishing houses, Mr. Wolff found many New York Times bestsellers, including Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad Poor Dad” (1997) and General Electric CEO Jack Welch’s “Jack: Straight From the Gut” (1997) 2001) . He also acquired several sports books, including Roger Angell’s “A Pitcher’s Story: Innings With David Cone” and “How I Play Golf” by Tiger Woods.
As an author, he wrote, among other books, “Secrets of Sports Psychology Revealed: Proven Methods to Improve Your Performance” (2018) and “Harvard Boys: A Father and Son’s Adventure Playing Minor League Baseball” (2007), which he authored. and John Wolff.
Beginning in 1988, he also served as editor of “The Baseball Encyclopedia,” with publisher Macmillan.
Richard Hugh Wolff was born in Washington on July 14, 1951. His mother, Jane (Hoy) Wolff, was a Navy nurse who became a housekeeper. His father was the broadcaster for the Washington Senators at the time.
In 1961, the Senators moved to Minnesota, where they became the Twins, and the Wolffs eventually moved to Edgemont, NY, in Westchester County, where Mr. Wolff grew up. He played baseball and football at Edgemont High School, graduating in 1969, and attended Harvard.
As a Harvard football player, he began to explore the fringes of psychology but found little knowledge about the psychology of sports. Over time, he changed the way he saw things under the guidance of the surgeon Maxwell Maltz in his book “Psycho-Cybernetics.”
The Detroit Tigers drafted Mr. Wolff late in 1972, and he played in their minor leagues in 1973 and 1974 while completing his Harvard degree in psychology.
After playing in the minors, Mr. Wolff became editor-in-chief at the Alexander Hamilton Institute, a nonprofit organization that published educational materials on business and management. He continued in that role after becoming the head baseball coach Mercy College in Dobbs Ferry, NY, in 1978. He coached there until 1985, leading the team to a 114-81-3 record.
In 1982, he married Patricia Varvaro, who survives him. In addition to her and her son, she has two daughters, Alyssa Wolff and Samantha O’Connor; Brother, Dr. Robert Wolff; a sister, Margy Clark; and three grandchildren.
Mr. Wolff received a master’s degree in psychology from Long Island University in 1985. His book “The Psychology of Winning Baseball: A Coach’s Handbook” (1986) caught the eye of Harvey Dorfman, the Oakland A’s psychology coach and one of his graduates. first in the big leagues. He called Mr. Wolff and told him that other groups were looking for psychologists. After talking to several teams, Mr. Wolff chose Cleveland.
He joined Cleveland’s players by wearing the team’s uniform and participating.
At the time, his playing days were much more recent than the young players he mentored would have imagined – last year. He played three games (and had four hits in seven at-bats) with the South Bend (Ind.) White Sox of the Midwest League in 1989, at age 38, a record. Sports Illustrated.
His South Bend teammates treated him well, even throwing down and hitting a dribbler to short in their first game together. He wrote that after the game a pitcher asked him, “Tell us Rick, you must know him, what kind of player was Babe Ruth?”
With a little ribbing, Mr. Wolff knew he had made it. “I became the target of a classic lack of recognition – the best recognition in baseball.”