Hypnotist Harvey Misel Casts a Spell on the White Sox

updated 09/26/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/26/1983 AT 01:00 AM EDT

For baseball players, life's certainties include death, taxes and batting slumps. So it was that Chicago White Sox first baseman Tom Paciorek, a career .283 hitter, found himself battling back from a so-so .243 average this past June. "My mechanics were all goofed up," he recalls. "I had no concentration and confidence. I wasn't relaxed. I came to the ballpark tense, waiting to screw up." Fearing a summer on the Chicago bench, Paciorek eventually went looking for help—not in the batting cage but in a dimly lit room deep in Comiskey Park. There he called on Harvey Misel, 51, major league baseball's only team hypnotist.

Hired in late June, Misel has put the trance on Paciorek and a dozen of his White Sox teammates. If his contribution is hard to measure precisely, the Sox record is not. As of last week the team was running away with its division and heading for its first playoff series since 1959.

Misel's voluntary, 30-minute individual sessions are part pep talk, part lessons in concentration. While a tape might play the theme from Rocky or 2001, he sonorously coaxes players into a relaxed, "hypersuggestible" state, then injects their willing minds with large doses of uncut ego-food: "You can hit any pitcher that ever lived," he urges batters. "You're going to hit the ball harder. You can see that baseball. It will be large, brilliantly white, with flaming red seams. Drive that baseball back to the pitcher's head." Later, down on the field, Misel's players use a posthypnotic cue—like tapping the bat on home plate—as a reminder to relax and concentrate.

Since Misel joined the White Sox payroll, one client, pitcher Floyd Bannister, has won 11 out of 12 games, and Paciorek has regained respectability with a .286 average. "I always feel great after a session," says Paciorek. "Everybody needs to be pumped up once in a while." To be sure, hypnosis doesn't always help—outfielder Ron Kittle quit after two sessions—but management believes it can be a worthwhile tool. "It very well might be just a placebo effect," concedes Sox co-owner Jerry Reinsdorf of Misel's contribution. "But the mental side of baseball is so incredibly important. We are trying to get every edge we possibly can."

So too, in fact, have some 200 major league clients of Misel. When a scheme to market electric rodent repellers left him "pretty well broke" in 1960, the St. Paul, Minn. native made use of a 20-hour hypnosis course and opened his own office. "You don't have to have a turban with a jewel in it," he notes. "Hypnosis is a learned skill." In 1976 he was visited by Rod Carew, then the Minnesota Twins' star first baseman, trying to come back from a pulled hamstring. Though he had been hampered by the fear of rein-jury, after the first hypnotic session "I went out and ran, and I didn't concern myself with the pain in my leg," Carew recalls. "I was kind of skeptical at first. I had never experienced hypnosis before. But he just relaxes you mentally, and you start to do the things you're supposed to do."

Carew returned for several more visits in 1976 and again the following year—when he was named the American League's Most Valuable Player. Thanks to his Carew connection, Misel began attracting a growing baseball clientele that has included Minnesota Twins right fielder Tony Oliva and third baseman Eric Soderholm (who would later credit Misel for help in winning the Comeback Player of the Year award in 1977), Kansas City slugger George Brett and Baltimore's 1980 Cy Young Memorial Award winner, Steve Stone.

Misel's current contract with the White Sox prohibits him from recruiting new players in the American League, but he has many non-baseball clients who want to lose weight or stop smoking, neither of which interests Misel for himself. A portly, nicotine-addicted bachelor who visits the Sox several times a week from his home in St. Paul, Misel keeps seven TV sets and two video recorders at the ready lest he miss one of his subjects in action. Such dedication, plus the $125-per-session fee he charges most clients, has permitted him such indulgences as a new Cadillac with the license plate HYPNOS (Greek for "sleep") and flashy jewelry. Misel feels he is worth it. "The best body in the world is no good if the mind isn't good," he argues. "I help players do what they're capable of doing."

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