One of my favorite features in The Chicago Sun-Times is “This Date in Baseball” Something very odd happened on August 22, 1886. Abner Powell, an outfielder for Cincinnati, was chasing a line drive that had been hit over his head. In those days, fans sat in open areas near the field. On this date, one fan brought a dog who began to chase Powell as he ran after the ball. The dog sunk its teeth into Powell’s legs and hung on, which let the batter circle the bases for a game winning inside the park home run. This story gives new meaning to the phrase: “Dog days of summer.”
I often cite Seth Godin, who’s one of my favorite writers and thinkers. In his book, The Dip¸ Godin explores how winners know how to quit the things that hold them back from moving forward. The New Yorker has published a short essay by Adrian Cardenas, who last played in the Chicago Cubs organization. He played in 45 games for the Cubs in 2012. Cardenas is eloquent in explaining why he left the big leagues to focus on being a student.
I was especially impressed by his confession that money took away from the joy of the game. That’s a hard confession to make. Most of us would kill to make the minimum big league salary. Baseball as a business was not what Cardenas, a student at New York University, wanted. Leaving the sport is his first step to a new life. May he find happiness.
[“Sabbath” is this blog’s Sunday feature on topics beyond the world of jobs and careers.]
Reality Hits Home
Today I’m going to my last baseball game of this season. The Cubs will host the Atlanta Braves at Wrigley Field. It’s been a great year for the Braves, who are one of the best teams in either league. The Cubs, however, are a different story. They’re rebuilding, which means they’ve traded off experienced players in the hope of developing through youth. We’ll see about that strategy.
I love baseball. It’s the spring and summer game. Baseball is the sport that has spawned the greatest mythologies and most memorable statistics. However, as the season comes to an end, we realize that cold and darkness are coming. The World Series is called the Fall Classic, but many of its games are often played on 40 degree days with rain and sleet, another sign of winter’s arrival.
The end of a season also brings reflection on the season that has been. After the Cubs traded several experienced players, the team’s fans started to focus on those players that should be future stars. Two of them, Starlin Castro and Anthony Rizzo, had miserable years, both after signing long term contracts. Castro has had two good years previous to this one. He even led the league in most hits. Rizzo had a great second half last year, showing both power and the ability to hit for average. This year both players underperformed. Similarly, the projected staff ace Jeff Samardzija was erratic. Some starts were very good, but in others he seemed to be throwing batting practice.
These are reasons for concern, maybe even despair. The great thing about baseball is that spring training starts in the dead of winter. While it’s cold and dark during February in Chicago, the Cubs will head to Arizona to start the 2014 season, a new slate. However this year ended, we fans will look for signs of a better future. And that’s the magic of baseball. Every season begins with hope.
[On Sundays this blog looks beyond the world of work and careers in Sabbath.]
The National Pastimes
I grew up a baseball fan and still love the game. Baseball is the summer game, and it has a fascinating history that goes back more than 100 years. A baseball game can turn in an instant on a pitch, hit, error, or base-running mistake. People who love baseball like the game’s pace, which is slow and deliberative.
America’s other pastime is much more fast and ferocious. Today is the first Sunday of the NFL season. No one seems to care about an off-season filled with stories about head injuries. Pro football rules the American sports scene. It’s not unusual for me to watch two or three games on Sunday. And, as hypocritical as it sounds, I still get excited when there’s a big hit. Every week there are offensive and defensive highlights that relayed from Monday through Saturday. Football invites viewers to get into the game in a way that baseball does not.
Part of the difference between the two sports is frequency of games. There are only 16 games in an NFL season; baseball plays 162 games. A win or loss in football is worth 10 times a loss in baseball. A great baseball team can have two 5 game losing streaks in a season. That would be disaster in the NFL.
Football’s also a better sport for TV. In reality, both sports take about 2 ½ - 3 hours to complete a game. Football seems faster because it is easier to follow as teams move up and down the field. While strategy in football is much more complex than baseball, the movement of players and the ball can be followed without the same attention that baseball requires. A squeeze bunt or passed ball happens so fast that only a sophisticated fan who is paying close attention understands the impact. Football has a clear stop before each play that gives fans a chance to know how many yards are needed for a first down, how close their team is to scoring. Nothing is so simple in baseball.
Baseball calls itself America’s pastime, and it holds that title as a legacy. Football rules. Fans want to sit in front of a large screen and party. They want to go to a bar and enjoy the game as a social activity with friends. Baseball asks for more from its fans. Maybe it asks for too much. I will continue to watch and love both games, but I’m not going to fool myself. In 2013, pro football is America’s pastime, if not its social religion.
I love baseball, and this weekend I attended minor league games in Indianapolis, Nashville, and Louisville. While in Louisville, I took a tour of the Louisville Slugger Museum, which features a working factory that makes bats for big leaguers and recreational players. During the tour, we learned that from the 1880s to the 1970s, bats were made by hand. They were the work of craftsmen who used their hands and eyes. A good bat maker could carve a bat in 20-30 minutes. By the late 1970s an automated process was devised with a new lathe that could carve a bat in 30 seconds. Great for the company, not so good for the men who worked the lathes.
This story underscores the impact of automation on work. One of the lathes at Louisville Slugger could cut more in an hour than a man could do in a day. No sane business would continue to work in an inefficient manner. Layoffs were necessary. Similar advances have led to millions of layoffs in manufacturing, assembly, and supply chain. Better technology means fewer jobs. No company can stick with people when machines can do as good or better a job at a much lower cost. We all love innovation, but we have to look realistically at its aftereffects. Faster, cheaper, and more efficient usually means people will lose their jobs. The challenge is to generate new jobs in a world where machines, software, and automation are improving all the time. What will we do if a time comes when we have more people than jobs?
This weekend I had the pleasure of seeing 42, the new film about Jackie Robinson. I love baseball and have read much about Robinson, the first African American to play in the major leagues. The film also had some interesting things to say about work and career.
1. Listen to the boss
To be successful, Robinson had to follow Branch Rickey’s strategy of not fighting back. In turn, Rickey had to understand Robinson’s situation and keep him motivated in standing against racist taunts and physical abuse. The films also shows two other great examples of bosses in control. Rickey tells Robinson’s first manager to treat his new player as he would white players. He then warns the manager that he will be fired if he doesn’t do so. Later in the film, Phillies manager Ben Chapman rained vulgar slurs at Robinson. His team’s executive orders the racist Chapman to pose for a picture with Robinson. Wanting to keep his job, the bigoted manager posed with Jackie Robinson. Moral of the story: want to keep the job? Listen to the boss – or find a new job with a better boss.
2. Be willing to take risks
Both Rickey and Robinson took great risks in going against the long established color code. Rickey bucked the system. Robinson literally put his life on the line. In the end, their risks changed the game and did much to open the eyes of a country. There is still racism in America, but men like Jackie Robinson and Branch Rickey changed the game because they were willing to challenge accept wisdom and customs. To achieve our professional goals, we need to be ready to take risks and face our inner fears.
3. Be willing to change
A few of Robinson’s teammates welcomed him. Most did not. However, the film shows them learning to accept him and, more importantly, respect him. From what I’ve read, the transition wasn’t as fast or smooth as the film depicts. But, as Robinson endured, his teammates accepted him. In many work experiences, accepting change is the first step to being successful.
4. Don’t quit
If I were only given one word to describe Jackie Robinson, it would be strength. He faced hate from all angles. His life was threatened. Still, he did not quit. Robinson knew what kind of treatment he would face, and his determination opened the door for other African American players. It made baseball a better game and America a more equal nation. In the end, Robinson’s fame is as much a matter of his mental strength as it is his great accomplishments on the field. Again, he is a role model for any worker who faces obstacles and still achieves a goal.
I don’t mean to make 42 into a simplistic story. It’s not. I strongly recommend the movie as a great biography and as source of inspiration.
[On Sundays, this blogs explores a diverse topics beyond the world in “Sabbath,” a title inspired by the similarly titled poems of Wendell Berry.]
Here Comes the Sun
Yesterday was a great day. For the first time in several months, I put aside my winter coat for a much lighter jacket. Yesterday and today, the sun has been out and so are people, who have clogged sidewalks in my neighborhood. Spring is here – finally!
Where last winter was unusually mild, this winter was average in its temperatures, cold but not too cold. This year’s winter, like an unwanted guest, would not go away. We had no warm, sunny March days. Tomorrow, April 1, which is opening day here in Chicago for our American League team, will go back to being cold, but that is just the way April tends to be: a few good days, a few bad days, and a few really cold, gray, rainy days that almost make one wish for the dry, sunny cold of February. The real good news is that Spring is here and the worst is over. It will be five or six weeks before we get to the next stage of the season: complaining about how hot it is.
Today is also Easter, a day of hope and change. I’m not religious, but I do enjoy seeing people going to and from church. This holiday invites bright colors and an equally light spirit. For those of us who follow a more secular bent, it’s the start of the summer game, a new baseball season. The teams I root for most, the Indians and the Cubs probably are not going to be contenders. However, the joy of spring brings hope for a miracle. Fans, like church goers, are people of faith, especially those who root for the Cubs, a team that hasn’t won a World Series in more than 100 years.
A few blocks from my office, two new businesses are opening, which follows a national trend for an improved economy. 2008 taught us that anything can happen in a large, complicated economy, but recent news has been more upbeat. Hopefully summer will bring more jobs, higher home prices, and businesses that are making money. I’m a little worried that we are seeing a new real estate bubble, but that worry is tempered by warm weather and bright sun. Tomorrow’s problems will come tomorrow. Today is a good time to smile.
Enjoy this fine day and those that will follow. I’ll close with a few words from Wendell Berry’s 1982 Sabbath poem III:
The flock, barn-weary, comes to it again,
New to the lambs, a place their mothers know,
Welcoming, bright, and savory in its green,
So fully does the time recover it.
Nibbles of pleasure go all over it.
Yesterday Delmon Young of the Detroit Tigers was arrested in New York for a hate crime. Young saw a group of men give money to a panhandler who was wearing a yarmulke and Star of David. He yelled an anti-Semitic slur, which led one of the men to engage him about his comments. Young, who was intoxicated, apparently assaulted this man and was later arrested.
How is this a worker issue? This is a case of a well-paid employee (Young makes $6.7 million a year) being really stupid. It’s almost certain that he will be suspended by his team or the league. It is also possible that the Tigers could move to cut him and void his contract. His market value will also be hurt if not ruined by this incident. I imagine he could even face civil action from the man he allegedly assaulted.
I am frequently critical of how employers treat workers. In this case, no one can be held responsible but Delmon Young. Earlier in his career, when he was in the minor leagues, he threw a bat at an umpire and was suspended for 50 games. I’m sure there was some attempt to have him go to counseling or anger management at that time. He still has a major problem and no one to blame but himself for his actions. There is only one word to sum up this incident: Stupid.
[On Sundays, this blog explores life and work in “Sabbath.”]
Coming Back – Again and Again
After moving to Chicago in 1986, I became a Cubs fan. The team’s long time rival, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series this week. Many of my friends who are Cub fans can’t root for St. Louis. Generally speaking, I wouldn’t either. This year’s Cardinal team, however, deserves respect and admiration.
During spring training, the Cardinals lost their top starting pitcher, Adam Wainwright, to injury. Chris Carpenter, the #2 starter, got off to a very slow start and only finished the year with 11 wins to 9 losses. Over the course of the year, they used several pitchers as their closer. In the middle of the year, they traded Colby Rasmus, a top prospect, and went to a platoon in center field. They ended the year with a second base platoon of cast offs Ryan Theriot and Nick Punto. For most teams, such a year would not lead to a World Series championship.
The team’s first great achievement was making the playoffs. They were almost unbeatable from the middle August through September. Even so, the Atlanta Braves seemed to have the Wild Card locked up. Then everything changed. The Braves couldn’t win while the Cardinals could not lose. The reward for making the playoffs? A first round match up with the team experts called the best in baseball, the Philadelphia Phillies.
The Phillies have the best pitching in the game, maybe one of the greatest staffs in history. Somehow, the Cardinals got over that high hurdle and went on to beat the Milwaukee Brewers, which set up their championship match up with the Texas Rangers. The Rangers were in last year’s World Series and had improved an already strong roster.
Texas went up in the Series 3-2, and had a 2 run lead going into the 9th inning of game six. Things seemed dark for the Cardinals. The Rangers’ reliable closer Naftali Feliz was on the mound. Somehow, the Cardinals tied the game and took it into the tenth inning. In the top of the inning, Rangers’ star Josh Hamilton hit a 2 run home run. Again, the Cardinals needed a miracle and got it, scoring two runs for another tie. In the bottom of the 11th, David Freese, the Series MVP, hit a home run to seal one of the greatest comebacks in the history of the game.
The seventh game couldn’t have started worse for the Cardinals. Chris Carpenter gave up two runs in the first and had a rocky second. After that, he settled down, and his team won the final game by a score of 6-2 in a final come from behind effort.
The best sports stories end with the underdog winning, David beating Goliath This year the Cardinals played that role. They never quit or lost faith in themselves. This team embodied what it really means to be a winner.
Sunday Extra Helpings
Jonah Keri in Grantland on the Cardinals’ unlikely championship
World Series Video Highlights at MLB.com
I’ve always been a Jack McKeon fan. When I was kid in the 1970s, I had his baseball card when he was managing the San Diego Padres. Later, he became known as Trader Jack, when he was a general manager who liked to trade players. In 2003, he returned to the dugout and led the Florida Marlins to a World Series championship. Now, 8 years later, the 80 year old McKeon has taken on the challenge of managing a last place Florida team.
I want to root for McKeon, but it’s hard. At what point should we step aside and say, it’s someone else’s turn? Everyone says we have an employment crisis in this country. If people in their 40s and 50s are going to be competing with 80 year olds, won’t the problem be worse?
Then I turn the coin around: If an 80 year old is healthy and capable why shouldn’t he or she be able to work? Some people like to work and don’t want to retire. I don’t believe we should have a law that condemns older people to lives of rocking chairs and shuffleboard.
Looking at all angles, I think McKeon’s example just shows how the work world is getting more complicated and will get even more complicated in years to come. 80 year olds won’t replace 40 year olds. But more and more jobs will be lost to technology and automation, which means there will be fewer jobs for all workers. I wish McKeon all the best, and I hope to be as vital if I live to be 80 years old.