“The brain” began three decades ago, when an up-and-coming junior college baseball coach from Southern California found himself with a Division I program for the first time.
For George Horton, being an assistant at Cal State Fullerton in 1990 was like “drinking water through a fire hose.”
So, to keep himself organized, Horton started writing everything down in a steno pad notebook.
“It started as a recruiting notebook,” he said.
But over the rest of his coaching career, which included 11 seasons as Fullerton’s head coach and another 11 running the Oregon Ducks program, he found a way to keep track of just about everything the job entailed.
Literally, from game plans to phone numbers to mundane everyday conversations, almost everything.
“That was my counterbalance to remembering things,” Horton said. “I suffer from CDO. That’s OCD, but the letters of the alphabet are as needed.”
Over the years, Horton’s system – known as “the brain” – became legendary with his players.
Dodgers third baseman Justin Turner, a Fullerton player from 2003 to 2005, laughed when he recently recalled Horton’s collection of notebooks, which were always handy to whip out at a moment’s notice.
Angels catcher Kurt Suzuki, Turner’s teammate at Fullerton, also laughed when reminded of his old coach’s routine.
“The brain?” Suzuki asked rhetorically. “He carried it everywhere.”
Tyler Anderson would also relate to Horton’s meticulous method, back when the Dodgers pitcher was on the coach’s first different teams at Oregon from 2009 to 2011.
“He would take notes of everything,” Anderson said. “It’s a whole different level.”
As soon as Anderson found the benefits, he began to develop his own note-taking process.
It’s not as complicated as Horton’s, but for the 32-year-old left-hander, it’s become an important daily routine.
An essential baseball journal kept in a black leather notebook with an orange elastic band.
An invaluable resource that helped the seven-year veteran tackle the journeyman’s Major League career – and become an All-Star for the first time this season.
“It helped me keep a little narrower focus,” Anderson said. “There’s a balance, but I think it’s good to keep an eye on things.”
Saturday was no ordinary day for Anderson.
He awoke this morning to a call from manager Dave Roberts, informing him that he had been added to the All-Star Game as a late injury replacement for the National League after starting the season with a 10-1 record and 2.96 ERA.
“Obviously you have hope, but I didn’t expect it by any means,” Anderson said. “It’s a huge honor.”
Soon he was serenaded with text messages from the Dodgers team chat group. When he showed up to the ballpark for the team’s final series against the Angels, the congratulations continued.
“We got a smile out of him today,” pitching coach Mark Prior joked about the famous southpaw. “That was nice.”
By Saturday afternoon, Anderson was even wondering how to rearrange his family’s All-Star break plans, trying to check if their tickets for a planned trip to Disneyland this week are refundable.
“That’s a whole process,” he said with a laugh.
There was one thing that didn’t change.
After completing some afternoon stretches, a pre-game wear session and other routine daily maintenance, he opened his Rhodia-branded leather notebook, jotted down each activity and added to a catalog of information he had been collecting over the past decade.
“Every day, I write down what I’m going to do,” Anderson said.
“I’ll go in there and add the 12 things I do for a warm-up, including stretching and shoulder stuff.”
“I’m going to play catch and I’ll write down how much I played catch.”
“Maybe if I was thinking of something when I was playing catch and it was a good tip, I might write down what that tip was.”
“My workout, I’ll write down what it is, the sets, the reps, the weights, all that stuff. Keep track of all that, and then do conditioning and treatment after the game or whatever.”
He stopped to make sure he hadn’t forgotten anything.
“I just write that,” he said.
Horton inspired the idea, but it didn’t take off until Anderson was drafted 20th overall by the Colorado Rockies in 2011.
In college, Oregon’s program was organized enough to keep the pitcher organized. But when he entered the minors, he realized he needed to figure out his own routine — and a way to keep track of it.
“I feel like that’s a big part of baseball, having a good routine,” Anderson said. “So, as I’m going through it, I want to keep track of what I would do. That way when I’m doing well or feeling good, I can go back to that.”
Anderson’s notebooks – he realizes he is now 30 or 40 – have been a help during his up and down career.
Anderson broke into the big leagues with three solid seasons in Colorado from 2016 to 2018, making up for his low 90s mph fastball velocity with a jerky delivery and complementary changeup.
After missing most of 2019 due to major left knee surgery, however, he posted below league average numbers the past two years, spending 2020 with the San Francisco Giants and 2021 with the Pittsburgh Pirates and Seattle Mariners.
When he signed with the Dodgers this spring on a one-year, $8 million deal — shunning longer and more lucrative offers he said he received from other teams — he didn’t even have a spot in the starting rotation, opening of the season instead. as a bulk reliever in the bullpen.
“I took the opportunity to come to this team and try to be a winning team this year,” he said.
With his notebook in tow, sitting in the cubicle of his home and away locker, he was the result of a few expectations in the first half.
Anderson has made 15 starts, helping to fill the ranks of injured members of the rotation. He leads the team in innings pitched (97.1), using a new grip on his changeup to unlock new efficiency. And his record low ERA and strikeout helped him earn a first career All-Star nod that he admitted felt “a little bit validated.”
“It really feels like I made a good decision to come here,” said Anderson, who entered the season with a career record of 29-38 and a 4.62 ERA.
Roberts added: “Looking at his journey as a major league pitcher, betting on himself and trying to sign with the Dodgers, he’s been very successful.”
Horton has watched Anderson’s career closely, from the pitcher’s days with the Rockies, whose general manager was a good friend of Horton’s; of his recent inconsistent seasons, to which Horton admitted, “I thought maybe his best shots had already been fired”; his renaissance with the Dodgers, including a recent pregame reunion at Dodger Stadium between the old coach and his now All-Star pupil.
“His journey, with the amount of speed bumps and obstacles he’s had, and his tenacity and ability to stick with it and come out the other side,” Horton said, “is so proud of that.”
It wasn’t until he saw it recent video with Anderson provided by the players’ union, however, Horton realized that his old team had adopted a form of his note-taking system.
“They say it’s the purest form of fake flattery,” Horton said. “I highly recommend what Tyler is using for him, a journal. I think the brain works differently when you write something.”
His real brain, that is, Horton is not a notebook nickname.
Anderson keeps his notebook going out of habit as much as anything.
“I probably don’t need the notebooks anymore,” he said. “I know what it is every day.”
Still, he calls himself a visual learner. He said he likes the routine. And yet part of him takes comfort in knowing that, if he starts to struggle, he’ll have a log of thoughts, feelings and techniques to refer back to – always just a few pages away.
“It’s a good mental reminder when you write things down,” Anderson said.
Prior said Anderson’s note-taking process is not too unusual for a major league pitcher. Prior noted that former Dodgers right-hander Ross Stripling had his own habit of taking notes, and joked that teammate Clayton Kershaw had “his notebook in his brain.”
“Everybody has their own ritualistic way of doing it,” Prior said. “And [Anderson] he’s someone who comes in and writes everything down.”
Instead, Prior sees it as part of Anderson’s broader approach to his methodical preparation, a trait the Dodgers’ staff hasn’t noticed since the pitcher joined the team this spring.
“Sure, it’s tough,” Prior said. “He comes in with a plan every day to improve himself, and he’s accountable. I think that’s the biggest thing. This is not by accident. He comes well prepared.”
Roberts even drew a parallel between Anderson and Kershaw, who is known for his own detailed daily routine and is a pitcher Roberts said Anderson looked up to in his career.
“They both do their homework,” Roberts said. “They are very well prepared.”
This week, they will also participate in the All-Star festivities together; Kershaw for the ninth time, Anderson for the first time.
“For him to eventually be named an All-Star,” Roberts said, “he’ll always remember it.”
A few days’ worth of notebook entries will ensure that.