Rick Wolff’s resume is as long as a Major League roster, their disparate professions linked by an adoration of sports and a fascination with sports psychology.
He was a professional baseball player, a college baseball coach, an author of books on sports psychology, and an editor and publisher of books by athletes like Tiger Woods (as well as business figures).
In the early 1990s, he became the psychological coach for the Cleveland baseball team, now known as the Guardians, helping them rise from American League basement to perennial pennant contenders. And for 25 years he hosted “The Sports Edge,” a program on New York sports station WFAN dedicated to helping families navigate the increasingly competitive world of youth sports.
His last episode, which dealt with whether kids were becoming less interested in youth sports, aired two weeks before his death, on April 10, at his home in Armonk, NY, in Westchester County. He was 71 years old. His son, John, said the cause was brain cancer.
Mr. Wolff began his quarter-century at WFAN after finishing his stint as Cleveland’s traveling psychological coach. Becoming a broadcaster was hereditary: His father, Bob Wolff, was a radio and television sportscaster for nearly eight decades, longer than anyone else, according to Guinness World Records.
Over hundreds of episodes on Sunday mornings, Rick Wolff tackled hot topics in youth sports like hazing, the impact of social media and the risk of concussions, as well as more lighthearted ones like Big League Chew gum.
The bad behavior of super-competitive parents and the mental health of young athletes were reasons. In an episode last year that served as a primer on sports psychology, Wolff said sending kids to compete without mentally preparing them was “like sending your kid to take an important test in school but they haven’t really studied or prepared.” ”. for this exam.”
His psychological insights were forged in the crucible of Major League Baseball.
He started with Cleveland in 1990, when the team was mired in one of the longest playoff droughts in Major League history – Cleveland hadn’t made the postseason since 1954.
Cleveland was so famous for losing that a fancifully pitiful version of the team was at the center of the 1989 movie comedy “Major League.”
Wolff worked with many young players in the Cleveland system, which in the early 1990s included such future stars as Albert Belle, Manny Ramirez and Jim Thome.
He often traveled with Cleveland and its minor league teams and had a dedicated home phone line that players could call him at any time. Whether they were dealing with a hitting slump, pre-game jitters, or anger issues, he was there to hear them out.
His coaching approach involved visualization techniques, muscle memory, and forcing players to face their flaws. He had some unorthodox views; for example, he stated that setting overly ambitious goals can be paralyzing rather than motivating, and that pre-game anxiety can often be embraced as a normal part of sports.
While sports psychology was rare in baseball, Wolff said on his show last year, Cleveland players “took the mental side of the game seriously” and within a few years were a “powerhouse in the American League.”
The idea stuck, he added, and “nowadays it’s the rare, rare sports team or professional or college organization that doesn’t have at least one sports psychologist on its staff.”
As an editor for several publishing houses, Wolff has acquired a number of New York Times bestsellers, including Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” (1997) and “Jack: Straight From the Gut”. of General Electric’s chief executive, Jack Welch (2001). He also acquired several sports books, including “A Pitcher’s Story: Innings With David Cone” by Roger Angell and “How I Play Golf” by Tiger Woods.
As an author, he has written, among other books, “Secrets of Sports Psychology Revealed: Proven Techniques to Elevate Your Performance” (2018) and “Harvard Boys: A Father and Son’s Adventure Playing Minor League Baseball” (2007), which he wrote with John Wolff .
From 1988, he also worked as an editor for The Baseball Encyclopedia when he worked for Macmillan Publishing.
Richard Hugh Wolff was born in Washington on July 14, 1951. His mother, Jane (Hoy) Wolff, was a Navy nurse turned homemaker. His father was the broadcast voice of 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 infielder, he began looking for a mental edge, but found little information on sports psychology. Over time, he adapted advanced visualization techniques by surgeon Maxwell Maltz in his book “Psycho-Cybernetics”.
The Detroit Tigers drafted Wolff late in the 1972 amateur draft, and he played in their minor league system in 1973 and 1974 while completing his BA in psychology at Harvard.
After playing in the minors, Mr. Wolff became editor-in-chief of the Alexander Hamilton Institute, a defunct organization that published educational materials on business and management. He continued to hold that position after becoming head baseball coach at 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 survived him. In addition to her and their son, he is survived by two daughters, Alyssa Wolff and Samantha O’Connor; a brother, Dr. Robert Wolff; a sister, Margy Clark; and three grandchildren.
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 attention of Harvey Dorfman, a psychological coach for the Oakland A’s and one of the first in the major leagues. He called Mr. Wolff and said other teams were looking for psychologists. After speaking with several teams, Wolff chose Cleveland.
He bonded with Cleveland players by wearing a team uniform and practicing with them.
At the time, his playing days were more recent than the young players he counseled might have thought – just a year earlier. 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 when he was 38 years old, an experience he wrote about for Sports Illustrated.
His South Bend teammates treated him cautiously until he hit a grounder and hit a short dribbler in their first game together. He wrote that after the game a pitcher asked him, “Tell us, Rick, you must have known him, what kind of player was Babe Ruth?”
With that mockery, Mr. Wolff knew he had done it. “I became the target of some old-fashioned jabs – baseball’s ultimate acceptance.”