Ten athletes who got the yips – and how their careers turned out
After Blair Walsh's missed 27-yard field goal sent the Seattle Seahawks to the divisional round of the 2016 playoffs, who knows how the Minnesota Vikings kicker is going to recover mentally. He could get over it, or, like some on this list, he may never be the same.
In his first complete season in the big leagues, Ankiel had a solid regular season, posting an 11-7 record and a 3.50 ERA in 2000. He started Game 1 of the NLDS and had a shutout through two innings. But in the third he allowed four runs on two hits, four walks and five wild pitches before being taken out of the game. He went on to start Game 2 of the NLCS against the Mets, but was removed in the first inning, after five pitches made it behind the catcher. The following season he was sent down to the minors.
What happened next: Ankiel made a brief reappearance in the majors in September 2004. In March 2005 he abandoned pitching altogether and switched to the outfield. He hurt his knee in 2006, forcing him to sit out the entire season, but returned in 2007, when he was promoted from Triple A to the Cardinals in August. He played for the Cardinals, Royals, Braves, Nationals, Astros and Mets until 2013, finishing with a career .240 batting average and 76 home runs.
Former Indianapolis Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt was one of the most accurate in NFL history until the end of the 2005 regular season. He made 87.5 percent of his field goals during his eight seasons in Indianapolis, and in the 2005 playoffs, against the Pittsburgh Steelers, he had the chance to tie the game with 18 seconds left. It was a long, but makeable field goal (46 yards), but that he completely shanked it really derailed his career. (Start the video at 3:11).
What happened next: He was cut by the Colts after that season and signed with the Dallas Cowboys. He was never the same kicker, missing five out of 18 attempts that year. After 10 games, the Cowboys cut him in favor of Martín Gramática. In 2008 he returned to the Canadian Football League, where he began his career, and signed with the Toronto Argonauts. He was released the following year.
One of the most famous examples of an athlete with the yips, Steve Sax burst onto the baseball scene in 1982, winning National League Rookie of the Year. But during the 1983 season, the second baseman, for some reason, was unable to throw the ball to first base on seemingly routine plays.
What happened next: Sax went on to overcome his defensive issues, and, in 1989, had the highest fielding percentage (.987) among second basemen in the majors. He had a long, 13-year career in which he won two World Series titles with the Dodgers in 1981 and 1988.
The Houston Rockets swept the Orlando Magic in the 1995 NBA Finals. But in the waning moments of Game 1, Nick Anderson had the chance to ice the game for the Magic, who were ahead by three points. Instead, he bricked four consecutive free throws (he was a career 70 percent free throw shooter), the Rockets hit a three-pointer and went on to win in overtime. (Start the video at 2:50)
What happened next: After that, his career never fully recovered. His free throw percentage fell to around 40 percent in 1996-97. He played through the 2002-03 season with the Magic, Kings and Grizzlies, but never came back from his 1995 meltdown.
After being traded from the Atlanta Braves to the Texas Rangers in 2007, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was one of the most prized catching prospects in the league. He was steady behind the plate, hit for a decent average and for some power as well. But in 2010 he simply could not throw the ball back to the pitcher. He was sent down to Triple A, where he demolished minor-league pitching, batting .339 in the first 19 games of the season. But the Rangers would not call him back up to the majors because he still could not complete the throw back to the mound.
What happened next: Saltalamacchia sought help from a sports psychologist, who eventually helped him get over his ailment. He returned to the big leagues after he was traded to the Boston Red Sox in 2010. Since 2014 he has played for the Miami Marlins and the Arizona Diamondbacks. He was signed by the Detroit Tigers in December 2015.
In his first two years with the Dallas Cowboys, Nick Folk was extremely accurate, missing just seven field goals. But in 2009, his third year, he missed 10 kicks in just 14 games before getting cut by Dallas. The final straw was this 24-yard kick against the New Orleans Saints. With the Cowboys up by seven points and a little more than two minutes to go, a conversion might have put the game out of reach. Instead, he doinked it.
What happened next: Folk was signed by the New York Jets and has been better each year since missing nine kicks in 2010. It turns out that Folk didn't necessarily have a case of the yips, he had a misdiagnosed torn labrum in his right hip. This season Folk made 13 of 16 before being put on injured reserve.
Steve Blass was a consistent pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates from 1966 to '72, and he was even an All-Star in 1972. In the 1971 World Series against the Baltimore Orioles, he pitched a complete-game four-hitter in Game 7, helping the Pirates to a 2-1 victory. After the 1972 season, however, his ERA rose to above nine as he lost his ability to control his pitches, and he walked 84 batters in 88.2 innings.
Chuck Knoblauch began his career in Minnesota and quickly established himself as one of the best fielding second basemen in the game. In 1991 he was named the American League Rookie of the Year, and he eventually became a four-time All-Star with the Twins. In 1998 he went to the Yankees, and that's where the fielding issues began. They peaked in June 2000, when he made three throwing errors in six innings before taking himself out of a game against the White Sox.
What happened next: He returned to second base briefly, but never regained his throwing accuracy. He was moved to the outfield and designated hitter for the remaining two years of his career, including New York's World Series run in 2000.
On April 12, 1999, David Duval appeared on the cover of SI with the headline "David Duval is on Fire." At one point he was the No. 1 player in the world, battling against a young Tiger Woods. In 2001 he won his first major—the British Open. But the following year his game started to fall apart, so he decided to take a break from professional golf.
What happened next: Duval attempted to make a comeback in 2004, but he never built any momentum. He played in the 2004 U.S. Open, but missed the cut after shooting 25 over par. He has not won a PGA tournament since that 2001 British Open win.
It's definitely too early to tell if Walsh has the yips, but that kick against the Seahawks certainly is the type of play that could haunt a career.