There are limits, I think, about how much professional sports and professional athletes can teach us. Sports are ultimately best consumed as entertainment. When sports figures actually try to teach us life lessons, they’re usually in the form of really bad, gimmicky business management or motivational books that are better used as kindling for the fire rather than for the mind.
But they can, on occasion, teach by example. Reader DLF thinks Bobby Cox did so, anyway:
Beyond just missing him in the dugout, I’ve been thinking about what I’ve learned from him.
In my professional life, I am a director of a business unit with about 200 employees. They don’t pitch, hit or field, but they have a job to do and I manage that team. From Bobby, I’ve learned that downward loyalty creates upward loyalty. I’ve learned that I should praise my team in public, but not do so too much or it will create unrealistic expectations.
I’ve learned that I should criticize only in private where it may lead to constructive growth without public shaming of the miscreant. I’ve learned that sometimes you have to argue with the umpires — in my case the CEO and board of directors — because they don’t always see what really happened.
I’ve learned that personnel and policy decisions should be made slowly and not changed on a whim. I’ve learned that every member of the team has a role to play and that if they don’t want to play that role, they need to be on another team. I’ve learned that rookies can come in and contribute. I’ve learned that people who are purportedly bit players, if placed in the right role, can find ways to really shine and make all of us better.
I’ve learned humility in victory and unfortunately I’ve learned restraint in defeat. Unlike Bobby Cox, I’m not one of the best of all time at what I do, but I’m better at it from learning from him.
Terry Francona just won the American League pennant, the Manager of the Year Award and his Cleveland Indians will likely be among the favorites to win it all in 2017. Between that and his 17-year track record as one of the best managers in the business, he will have a job, somewhere, for as long as he wants one.
He said yesterday, however, that his body will likely limit how long he manages:
“It gets harder and harder physically. It really does. It takes me longer to recharge every year . . . I’ve had a lot of surgeries, a lot of health problems. It just takes a toll on you. I love [the game of baseball]. I really do, but I can’t see myself doing something else. But there is going to come a day when I feel like I’m shortchanging the team or the organization. That’s not fair.
“Even now, during batting practice, I’ll come in and get off my feet a little bit. I think everybody understands. But when there comes a day when it gets in the way, I’m going to have to pull back, and it’s not because I don’t love managing. You have to have a certain amount of energy to do this job right.”
Francona experienced some chest pains and had an elevated heart rate that caused him to leave a game early last season. In 2005 a similar episode caused him to miss three games while managing the Red Sox. He also has a history of embolisms and blood clots, some of which have hospitalized him.
With multiple World Series rings there isn’t much more in baseball that Francona can accomplish, but here’s hoping he sticks around and accomplishes a lot more before he trades in his baseball spikes for golf spikes and calls it a career.
A month or so ago it was reported that David Ortiz was going to meet with the Red Sox and NESN to discuss, maybe, spending some time in the broadcast booth in 2017. He’s retired now, of course. Gotta keep busy.
Today we read that, yes, Big Papi may take the mic. Red Sox president Sam Kennedy said that Ortiz may be in the booth on a limited basis, and that Ortiz has talked about wanting to “dip a toe in that water.”
I’m quickly becoming a fan of ex-players who want to, as Kennedy puts it, “dip a toe” in broadcasting as opposed to those who want to make it a full-time job. Former players who become full-time broadcasters tend to start out OK, but eventually burn all of their good anecdotes from their playing days and just become sort of reactionary “back in my day” dudes. There are some exceptions to that of course — guys like John Smoltz and Dennis Eckersley have kept it fresh and Tim McCarver never rested on his playing laurels as he forged a long career in the booth — but for any of those guys there are just as many Rick Mannings Bill Schroeders.
The part time guys who dip in and dip out — I’m thinking Pedro Martinez, Alex Rodriguez and even Pete Rose, who did a good job this past fall after a rocky 2015 postseason — tend to be more fresh and irreverent. They really don’t give a crap on some level because it’s not their full time job, and that not giving a crap allows them to say whatever they want. It makes for good TV.
If Papi can hold off on the F-bombs, I imagine he’d be a pretty good commentator. If he can’t, well, at least he’ll be a super entertaining one for the one or two games he gets before getting fired.