Roger Bannister had the benefit of peer pressure when he became the first human to run a mile in less than 4 minutes. Two other runners, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, chopped up the track as pacesetters for him, running laps to push Bannister, fueling that part of the human condition that feeds on competition.
Larry Bird and Magic Johnson brought out the best in each other; the same was true for Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, for teammates Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling. Athletes need this kind of physiological fuel, a reality that should be at the forefront of thought for baseball’s unsigned free agents and baseball executives.
Spring training opens in a month and something in the range of 150 free agents are unsigned, and it’s inevitable some will be without contracts on the first day of camp. For a few players, it doesn’t seem to matter as much to be in that structured work environment, surrounded by other players. J.D. Martinez agreed to terms with the Red Sox shortly after the start of spring training and went on to be arguably the best hitter in baseball. But Martinez’s peers will tell you he is a preparation outlier, in the way he goes about his work and the way he thinks.