Harvey Mackay

Play Ball! Lessons From the Diamond

With the baseball season in full swing (pun intended!), it’s time to salute America’s pastime. And in recognition of April being National Humor Month, I’m sharing some of my favorite classic stories from the big leagues, along with the important business lessons from these real-life events.

How time flies.

A rookie sat next to his manager and watched New York Yankee great Roger Maris gun down a runner trying to go from first to third.

“Kid, you won't see a throw like that again in a million years.”

Three innings later, Maris duplicated the feat.

The rookie turned to the manager and said, “Time sure flies up here in the majors.”

Sometimes managers know best.

Before a game, St. Louis Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch instructed his pitching staff to avoid throwing Brooklyn's Tony Cuccinello a fastball.

Dizzy Dean objected. “He can't hit my fastball.”

He begged Frisch to let him throw Cuccinello a fastball. Frisch refused. Finally, with the game in hand, he relented. Dean threw Cuccinello a fastball, and Cuccinello hit it out of the park.

Dean turned to Frisch: “By gosh, Frankie. You were right for once.”

The truth always hurts.

Johnny Blanchard sat in the Yankees' clubhouse crying after learning he had been traded to Kansas City. Concerned for his teammate, Mickey Mantle sat down and tried to console Blanchard.

“Don't take it so hard, John. Just think, in Kansas City you're going to get a chance to play.”

“Hell, I can't play, Mick. That's why I'm crying.”

Know thy competitor.

In an article in The Wall Street Journal, former Major League Baseball Commissioner Fay Vincent said the smartest player he ever knew was Warren Spahn. The left-handed pitcher won a record 363 games in his career. Vincent asked Spahn who taught him how to pitch. He replied, “Hitters.” Spahn often sat in the stands to watch the opposition take batting practice. He knew who was having trouble hitting and used that knowledge.

Show some respect for authority.

Another story Vincent shared was about Frank Robinson, whom Vincent called as tough a player as he ever knew. Vincent asked him about his mother during a Hall of Fame interview, and Robinson unexpectedly teared up. Robinson explained, “One time, early in my career, I got thrown out of a game for sassing an umpire, and she called me that night to give me hell. She told me she did not raise me to fight with umpires, and that she was embarrassed for me. She said she would come take me home if I did it again. She never had to worry.” And then he gave her credit for his success.

You have to have some fun.

On July 15, 1973, the California Angels' Nolan Ryan pitched his second career no-hitter (and his second of the season), a 6-0 shutout versus the Tigers in Detroit, with a major league record 17 strikeouts in a no-hitter.

The “Ryan Express” was so on that day that Norm Cash came to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning and resorted to using a piano leg to get a hit. Home plate umpire Ron Luciano, nearly falling down laughing at this ruse, made him use a real bat.

Cash flied out to left-field, ending the game.

Communication is crucial.

When Joe Pepitone first came to the Cubs, he told manager Leo Durocher that he was fast enough to steal a base. So, the first time Pepitone reached first base, Durocher decided to test him. First base coach Peanuts Lowrey flashed the sign to Pepitone -- a wink. Pepitone didn't budge. So Lowry winked again. Still, Pepitone stood pat. Again, Lowrey winked. This time, Pepitone responded. He blew Lowrey a kiss.

Legendary manager Casey Stengel had a unique usage of the English language that became known as “Stengelese.” He once said, “I’ve always heard that it couldn’t be done, but sometimes it don’t always work.” And he’s actually right.

Stengel once sat on the board of directors of a California bank. According to The Wall Street Journal, Casey described his responsibilities this way: “There ain’t nothing to it. You go into the fancy meeting room and you just sit there and never open your yap. As long as you don’t say nuthin’, they don’t know whether you’re smart or dumb.”

My version of this: You don’t have to take back words you don’t say.

Mackay’s Moral: Baseball can teach you lessons to survive the extra innings in business and life.

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