Many people say that there’s magic in the air during October baseball, but what really makes that “fall magic” happen? And what does it look like?

To first answer the question of what this fall magic looks like, consider Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, which from an outsider’s perspective went down in history as one of the greatest baseball games of all time. As Skip Schumacher (a Cardinals outfielder who was on the winning side of the game) put it, “This is the best game I’ve ever been a part of, ever seen.” The Texas Rangers may have been the only ones who did not see the game through the same “best game” lens that late October night. Up two runs and one strike-out away from winning their first ever championship – twice – the Rangers could not seal the deal. They had chances in the 9th and 10th innings to close the game, but the St. Louis Cardinals erased those multiple two-run leads and walked off in home run fashion in the bottom of the 11th. That’s fall magic.

The World Series – a.k.a. “The Fall Classic” – which involves the champion representatives from the American and National Leagues in Major League Baseball has long been titled America’s pastime. Although slow to the plate in comparison to the three other major league sports in the US, (pun intended) the MLB has instituted instant replay these days. Managers (or the umpire crew chief) may now issue a challenge during a game to review a variety of game time calls and situations. However, one of the things managers are not allowed to review is the home plate umpire’s call of balls and strikes, which undoubtedly has the greatest impact on how each game is played. The call of balls and strikes is just one of the things outside the control of this year’s Fall Classic participants, the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. Additional factors and distractions are endless (home field advantage, crowd noise, weather, the opposing pitcher, the manager’s decisions, etc.) and can all influence the final score. Moreover, all of these factors fall outside the control of the players. With both the Cubs and Indians waiting so many years for the opportunity to win the Fall Classic, tensions are high as is the susceptibility of the players to focus on factors outside of their control. We know that focusing on what is within their control (“controllable factors”) instead of what is not (“uncontrollable factors”), will likely have a positive influence on the ability of the players to regulate their emotions, and ultimately, their performance during the World Series.

To answer the original question of what makes “fall magic” happen, we should consider the importance of these controllable and uncontrollable factors. Looking back to Game 6 of the 2011 World Series, was the Rangers’ closing pitcher (who was one strike away from helping his team win its first ever championship) thinking about the ultimate outcome of the game (uncontrollable)? Was his focus perhaps shifted from what he was doing (controllable) to how fans or teammates would react to his potential game winning pitch (uncontrollable)? It’s very likely. When the Rangers were up again by 2 runs and 1 strike away from winning the World Series in the bottom of the 10th inning, the whole team had likely shifted their focus from what was within their control to those things outside of their control.

Although there are many factors that likely went into the Cardinals being able to come back and win Game 6 (and ultimately the World Series in Game 7), accounting for controllables and uncontrollables within the game was likely crucial to both teams’ performances. Replay or not, bad umpiring or not, freezing temperatures or not, one strike away from winning the championship or not, the Indians and Cubs will want to focus on what they can control in this year’s Fall Classic (such as their Attitude, Preparation, and Effort) to give themselves a better chance of performing at their best and creating that fall magic.

Play ball.