Baseball. To some it is just a game. To others it is a passion. But no matter where one falls on this spectrum, there is a very valuable lesson to be learned from our nation’s greatest pastime. The old game has given us a century-plus worth of heroes: from Cobb to Ruth, Robinson to Mantle, Aaron to Jackson, and Jeter to Trout. These men have laced up their spikes and played a game that has brought heartache to some and joy to all.
The game of baseball creates for the fan an escape. Fathers bring their sons to a ballpark, and for that brief couple of hours they witness a game; inside a luxurious sanctuary of bleachers, hot dog vendors, souvenirs and baseball. Climbing the tunnel to their seats, you can see the son’s eyes light up as he witnesses the spectacle that is the vast outfield of perfectly groomed grass and baselines that look as if Degas himself painted them. It is the same reaction his dad had at his first game, and yet on this day the father and son share the same reaction. Nothing else matters on this day but the father and his son and the teams about to take the field. This is our great American Pastime.
Though much could be said about the pageantry with which the game is played or the escaped that is created during that nine-inning stretch; there is an aspect of this great game that transcends balls and strikes, home runs and strikeouts. It is a subtle lesson that can be easily overlooked, but when noticed pushes one beyond the foul lines and leaves them with possibly the greatest of all life’s lessons: failure learned from leads one to success.
Failure may be the greatest teacher of all time. The old adage says, “One learns more through defeat than they do in victory”. Why is this true? And if this is true, why have we shifted our thinking in society so that we shelter people, especially children, from failure? We give trophies for last place, participation ribbons and “atta boys” to everyone. We have shifted our thinking away from lessons to be learned in failure and focused our attention toward not letting anyone feel bad.
Just as in baseball, life is all about adjustments. When you make a mistake, you make corrections. As it has been said, “a mistake is only a mistake if it is not learned from”. By looking at two of the greater players to have ever played the game, one can see that failure is not the end all, but rather, something that can be learned from, adjusted to and moved passed. The two examples we will draw from are the all-time career batting average leader: Ty Cobb; and the all-time leader in wins for a pitcher: Cy Young. From these two men it is clear that failure is an aspect of the game—and life—that is constantly evident. The difference between these men and the average Joe was that they refused to be defined by their failures and made necessary adjustments to ultimately succeed.
As we look at these two examples one thing is certain, they were great players of the game. Cobb was a nose to the ground, spikes in the air kind of player, who got a reputation for his hard play. But at the end of his career in 1928, according to Baseball Reference, he held a lifetime batting average of .366. That number is a huge number when thinking in terms of a long-tenured career. As one thinks about that number, doing simple math, it is clear that for every ten at-bats, Cobb made an out on just under six and a half of them. In no other sport—or profession—can one be 3.6 for 10 and be considered one of the greatest to play the game. But not in baseball. That is the mark that has stood and will continue to stand for a years to come. The highest total for a current player is Miguel Cabrera of the Detroit Tigers who hits at a career mark of .321. It is a simple lesson, yet one that rings true, though you may fail you can adjust and have success. Ty Cobb understood this, the great ball players do; you adjust, make corrections and give it your best effort every at bat and every play.
The same rings true in life. If we all quit the moment we fail, we would never get anywhere. What if Edison had quit? What if Steve Jobs had quit when he was fired from the company he started? You may not be a Steve Jobs or a Thomas Edison, but you are you. And you are in the situations you are in for a specific purpose; do not quit at the first moment of failure; press on, move forward, make corrections and succeed. By making corrections Ty Cobb at the end of his career had collected 4,189 hits, a record that stood until 1985, 57 years after he last laced up the spikes and played the game.
The other example of the great lesson Baseball teaches us on life comes from Cy Young. Yes, that Cy Young. Not the trophy that is handed out at the end of the year for the premier pitcher in both leagues, but the guy that the trophy is named for. That Cy Young. Mr. Young totaled a win-loss record over his career of 511-316 in 815 starts. Now the math does not add up because he made appearances out of the bullpen to a tune of 906 games pitched in. Cy Young’s mark for wins is a record that has stood since 1911. The closest active player is Tim Hudson with 220, who is retiring at the end of the 2015 season. It is safe to say that this record will stand for another century at least. But even more than all the wins that he totaled, there is another category that Cy Young holds a record in: his 316 losses. Of the 906 games that Cy Young made an appearance in, he lost 35 percent of them. Yet, in a game that is triumphant with failure, he stands as the benchmark by which all other pitchers are judged. The lesson once again: when you fail—and you will fail—adjust, learn and move on.
As you make your way to a game, you will step up the tunnel to your seats and breathe the fresh air; you’ll see the vast outfield of perfect grass and as you watch a game you may be reminded of these two great players. For a couple of hours, this great game is affording you the opportunity of escaping. You are escaping from whatever curveball life may be throwing your way at that particular moment. But one thing is sure if you pay attention closely; no matter how many curveballs life throws your way, and no matter how many times you swing and miss, make adjustments, do not rest on failure and keep swinging. In doing so, you’ll eventually watch the ball fly out of the park as you circle the bases of life.
 Both of the above references are from: http://www.baseball-reference.com/leaders/W_career.shtml
Editors Note: This post was written September 26, 2014 one day after Jeter's last game in Yankee Stadium.
Thursday, September 25, 2014 was a rare day in New York. It was a day fans, players, and management of the Yankees had not felt in a long time, actually in over a decade. The previous night the Yanks had been eliminated from the playoffs for the second consecutive season. But on this night, there was more another kind of strangeness: this night would be Derek Jeter—the Captain’s—last game in the home pinstripes at Yankee Stadium.
In weeks prior to this game there were negative almost laughable reports on Jeter’s career. Controversial newscasters boasting of how Jeter crippled the Yanks this year with his “goodbye tour”, his unimaginable remainder at the top of the Yankees batting order, and almost statuesque place up the middle even amid declining production. These reports even went so far as to label Jeter as not one of the best Yankees of all time.
For twenty years Jeter has donned the coveted pinstripes. His career has been nothing short of extraordinary. His model of leadership, consistency and work ethic are second to none. Coming into the game on this particular Thursday, the day after the Bronx Bombers were eliminated from the 2014 Playoffs, Jeter had only played 1 game (2008) out of 2,745 career games that did not matter. Now, at the conclusion of Sunday’s game, that number is a whopping 5 games out of 2,748.
Jeter will inevitably be measured against his statistics. Statistics that if researched would have given these reporters pause at making asinine claims of him not being a great Yankee. A look at Jeter’s all-time numbers will prove that he is in the top ten Yankees of all time. It was a stretch to say that he was not that high to begin with, as stats are only a part of the whole representation of a player’s career (i.e. Barry Bonds, Mark McGwire, etc.); yet, according to the Yankees All-Time Statistics Jeter ranks 8th all-time in average (.309), 1st in at bats (11,191), 1st in games played (2,745), 2nd in runs scored (1,923), 1st in hits (3,463), 1st in doubles (544), 13th in triples (66), 9th in home runs (260), 6th in RBIs (1,310), 4th in walks (1,082), 1st in stolen bases (358), 1st in strikeouts (1,839), 20th in on base percentage (.377), 37th in slugging percentage (.440), and 35th in on base plus slugging (.817). If one were to average these positions statistically together the average would be 9.33, leaving Jeter statistically as the ninth best Yankee of all time. He makes the starting line-up card of all-time Yankees.
On a bigger scale, Jeter comes in 6th on the all-time MLB hit list, 10th in runs scored and 5th in singles. For a number two hitter, what more could one ask for? But Jeter’s career should be remembered for much more than the statistics show. It was his ability to be consistent on and off the field that set the Captain apart.
What seems to be lost in the entire process of Derek’s goodbye season is not so much the statistics he has accumulated but the example that Derek Jeter has set. For twenty years he has played the game the correct way, he has been a true gentleman of the game and in an age of over-hyped, flashy players, Jeter has encapsulated what it means to be a big leaguer. An example that a father could show his own son and say, “Son, there’s a man to model yourself after.”
In a town that is notorious for their brutal handling of athletes, even on their own teams, Jeter’s reputation is still intact. He went about his business, did his job, and did it at an outstanding level. During his twenty-year career Jeter has averaged a full 162-game season played. He has missed 292 games out of 3,240. That is consistent, and his consistency has defined his leadership on and off the field.
Jeter has been a class act all the way through. He has never sought the spotlight, not intentionally grown his celebrity. He has played the game the right way, and never believed he was bigger than the game he loved. Before each at bat, Jeter would tip his cap to opposing pitchers, his hat was never crooked, and he hustled. When kids look for a hero they should be looking no farther than #2.
The strangeness of Thursday’s home finale quickly wore off as the Yankees took the field and gave up, back-to back home runs to Nick Markakis and Alejandro De Aza in the opening inning. The Yanks responded with a single by Gardner, and a double by the Captain, scoring Gardner. Jeter eventually came around to score the tying run on consecutive errors. The next five and half innings were scoreless until the bottom of the seventh when the Yankees scored three unearned runs to take a 5-2 lead. The top of the ninth saw David Robertson come in and give up 2 home runs, scoring three runs, which inevitably blew the lead and his save. All setting the stage for the Captain and the bottom of the ninth, when he was due up third.
The bottom of the ninth started with a Jose Pirela single and subsequent pinch runner in the form of Antoan Richardson. After a sacrifice bunt by Brett Gardner, the New York faithful heard a familiar comforting sound. It is an introduction they have heard throughout the Captain’s career at Yankee stadium, made by the late Bob Sheppard (1910-2010), “Now batting for the New York Yankees, number 2, Derek Jeter, number 2.”
Before Sheppard’s passing, Jeter requested a recording be made because in the words of Jeter, “That’s the only voice I’d heard growing up, and that’s the only voice I wanted to hear when I was announced at home…and fortunately he agreed to do it.” This would be the last time the Yankee faithful would see number two dig into the right-handed batters box, tip his hat to the opposing pitcher, and take his at bat. It would also be the last time they heard Bob Sheppard’s voice over their public address system.
Jeter took his time stepping to the plate, undoubtedly aware of the script that had been placed before him. He dug in, adjusted his elbow pad, fiddled with his batting gloves and then took his stance. Amid the deafening chant of “Der-ek Jet-er” from the 48,613 fans that could not have asked for a better ending to a story, Evan Meek delivered one pitch. A cut fastball, that started on the inside portion of the plate and slid ever so slightly back across the middle. In typical Derek Jeter fashion, he took the pitch given to him, and slapped the ball in-between the fielders on the right side of the infield, into right field, and when Richardson slid head first across home plate, Derek Jeter had delivered one last time. Yankees win 6-5.
After rounding first base, having delivered the game for the Yankees, Derek Jeter leapt with joy, and was mobbed by his teammates. The final steps of the night would be a victory lap around Yankee Stadium, for a game well played and a career well produced.
The greatest sign of Jeter’s legacy could be seen Thursday night as he was saying goodbye to the Yankee faithful. As Jeter walked around the infield for the last time, and then came to the batter warm up area for his well-deserved post-game interview, the camera panned to his young nephew in a Re2pect hat—Jeter’s “slogan” given to him by Nike. As the camera focused on the young boy, he tipped his cap, much like his uncle did in the batters box, as to say, “well done Uncle, well done.”
There will never be another Derek Jeter. There will never be another pinstriped number 2 hustling down the first base line after he has lined the pitch given him sharply into right field. There may never be another ball player that you could show your son and say, “that guy right there, that’s the Captain, he knows how to play the game, watch him, emulate him, he’s a hero.” And for that, Captain, we tip our hats to you.
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