Playing the Right Way
As I try to get this month’s message written before my October 15th deadline, I have been enthralled watching Jose Altuve put on a heroic exhibition in the early stages of what may be a long playoff run for the Astros. Vertically challenged at five feet six inches tall, the smallest player in baseball, Jose is a giant on the field. By the time you read this, hopefully he will have led Houston to a World Series Championship.
I’ll admit it. I am a baseball nut. There are few things in life I’d rather do than watch a good baseball game. Whether it’s high school, college, or the major leagues, I am totally content spending three hours watching a game, regardless of whether or not my team is playing.
My love of baseball must be something I inherited. My dad was good enough to play at the JUCO level. To hear my folks tell it, the springs and summers of my infancy were spent being toted from ballpark to ballpark throughout East Texas and North Louisiana watching my dad play. I’m guessing that so much early exposure to heat and humidity as a babe might explain some of my cognitive shortcomings.
Since then, I cannot tell you how many hours of my life I have spent either playing, coaching, or watching the game. To me, it is the ultimate example of individual achievement (or failure) in a team setting.
My wife, bless her heart, has always done her best to indulge my love of the sport. She is certainly long suffering. I am reminded of the old joke that the end of October is a strange month for the baseball fanatic—it’s when you discover that your wife left you . . . in April.
Pamela, for some unimaginable reason, just doesn’t care for the game like I do. She always struggles, seeming to have a mental block for understanding and appreciating the nuances of our National Pastime. To paraphrase Dave Barry, if Pam had to choose between catching a fly ball or saving an infant’s life, she would choose to save the child every time . . . without even considering if there are men on base!
In the past, especially when Jacob’s team would suffer a tough-break loss, my better half inevitably would try to temper my angst and sorrow by reminding me that it is only a game. I would quickly retort, usually by quoting George Will: “Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona. Not all holes, or games, are created equal.”
Eventually, she learned she was better off simply mimicking former Rangers Manager Ron Washington in saying “That’s the way baseball go!!” How could I begin to argue with genius like that?
Baseball is chock full of colorful characters and memorable quotes. Even the most casual of fans can throw down a Yogi Berra jewel or two.
But, one of my favorites involves the Yankee Clipper, “Joltin’ Joe” DiMaggio. Many of DiMaggio’s contemporaries proclaimed him the best of their generation. Ted Williams and Bob Feller both said DiMaggio was the best all-around player they had even seen.
One year, DiMaggio was in the lineup in what was an insignificant road game in front of a small crowd. You see, the Yankees had already clinched the American League pennant, and, as this was in the pre-divisional playoff days, they had secured a berth in the World Series. Some would say they were just playing out the string, trying to stay healthy going into the Series. During the game, DiMaggio came to bat and lined an apparent single into the outfield. But, when most players in that setting would have been happy with just the hit, DiMaggio aggressively turned on the jets and, with a hard slide into second, stretched the hit into a double.
After the game, a reporter asked Joe, “Why did you play so hard?”
DiMaggio replied: “Because there might have been somebody in the stands today who’d never seen me play before and might never see me play again. I owe them my best.”
Wow! What an attitude! One of the greatest ballplayers ever, going all out on every pitch. Hustling on every play. Never taking a play off. Always, always, giving it his all. If Joe were in the lineup, the fans knew he was all in. From him, spectators would always get their money’s worth, and more. Opponents knew he would battle to the last out.
Just think what our profession would be like if we all employed that kind of attitude in our practices. Every time we walk into a courtroom, even on seemingly mundane matters, we should tell ourselves that there is someone here today that has never seen me before, and they are going to see me today give it my very best, give it my all.
If we all had DiMaggio’s work ethic, our clients, their families, people in the gallery, jurors, judges, and even prosecutors would know they are going to be getting our best, day in and day out, hearing after hearing. If we do that, people will notice, and we will develop a reputation for playing the right way.