Your Brain on Cubs

Inside the Heads of Players and Fans

A group of today’s leading science writers and neuroscientists explore here the ways that our brain functions when we participate in sports as fans, athletes, and coaches, taking baseball as the quintessential sport for all three perspectives.

The contributors tackle such questions as: How does a player hit a ninety-mile-per-hour fastball when he barely has time to visually register it? Why do fans remain devotedly loyal year after year? And what allows them to believe in superstitions, such as a curse?

Other topics investigated in the book include how a ballplayer’s brain changes as he gains experience and expertise, why there are a higher percentage of left-handers in the major leagues compared to the general population, and the ethical implications of neurological performance enhancement.

Edited by Dan Gordon, managing editor of Dana Press in Washington, D.C., who edits and oversees periodicals and books for general readers about the brain. A native of Normal, Ill.—the border region between Cubs and Cardinals territory—he has been a Cubs fan since age 6. Having experienced the cycles of hope and disappointment that true fans know all too well, he realized one sunny Saturday afternoon at Wrigley Field that in the context of sports fandom, examining the brain is a natural.

Your Brain on Cubs Table of Contents


1. The Depths of Loyalty: Exploring the Brain of a Die-hard Fan by Jordan Grafman

2. Developing Talent: Expertise and the Brain by Scott Grafton

3. Why Did Casey Strike Out? The Neuroscience of Hitting by John Milton, Ana Solodkin, and Steven L. Small

4. Curses! by Tom Valeo and Lindsay Beyerstein

5. Risks and Asterisks: Neurological Enhancements in Baseball by Bennett Foddy

6. Baseball and Handedness by Kenneth M. Heilman

7. It Isn't Whether You Win or Lose, It's Whether You Win: Agony and Ecstasy in the Brain by Kelli Whitlock Burton and Hillary R. Rodman



“You don't have to be a Cubs fan to enjoy this fascinating look at the role of the ol' melon in both playing and enjoying the Grand Old Game. On the other hand it does help to have a brain.”

—King Kaufman, Sports Columnist,

“Dan Gordon and the many contributors to Your Brain on Cubs have truly accomplished something rare in our society today. That is, combining solid science and intellectual pursuits with fun and games. The two certainly do not have to be mutually exclusive, and in our sports-crazed society, it is desirable, commendable, and entertaining to link intellectual achievement and fun together. Readers of this book will learn much and be entertained.”

—Ben Carson, Sr., M.D., Director of Pediatric Neurosurgery and Professor of Neurological Surgery, Oncology, Plastic Surgery, and Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions

“Your Brain on Cubs is a home run to deep center field! It illuminates the game from the perspectives of both fans and players.”

—Bruce C. Ladd Jr., Founder, Emil Verban Memorial Society (Chicago Cubs Fan Club of Washington, D.C.)

“It’s about time the Cubs and their fans had their heads examined. This volume explores how baseball looks through the lens of brain science and vice versa. It makes for fun and provocative reading for fans of brains and baseball alike.”

—Carl F. Craver, Philosophy-Neuroscience-Psychology Program, Washington University in St. Louis

“This book inspires me to imagine some kind of boutique neurosurgery to heal my brain, fatigued as it is by my team’s struggles. Who knows what other ideas it might spawn? Your Brain on Cubs is a great read.”

—Aryeh Routtenberg, Ph.D., Departments of Psychology and Neurobiology, Northwestern University, and Department of Physiology, Feinberg School of Medicine

“You do not need to be a Cubs fan to like this book. It has a delightful mix of baseball lore and information about the brain. … These insights are interesting for all of us who try to acquire new skills, and many apply to experts in other skill domains, such as musical performance.”

—Ann M. Graybiel, Ph.D., Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Neuroscience and Investigator, McGovern Institute for Brain Research, Massachusetts Institute of Technology