January 20, 2014

Shouting this famous line, Tom Hanks’ character in the movie A League of Their Own (about the All-American Girls’ Baseball League in place during World War II) reminds us that baseball is a sport of tough love. Despite the sport’s lack of empathy, I do love baseball.

One of my favorite books is The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach, a novel about boys in college and baseball and really so much more.

Here’s the interesting thing about baseball (and it makes me wonder if this is why I’m so drawn to it)… the author writes:

 “But baseball was different. Schwartz thought of it as Homeric – not a scrum but a series of isolated contests. Batter versus pitcher, fielder versus ball. You couldn’t storm around, snorting and slapping people, the way Schwartz did while playing football. You stood and waited and tried to still your mind. When your moment came, you had to be ready, because if you [expletive] up, everyone would know whose fault it was. What other sport not only kept a stat as cruel as the error but posted it on the scoreboard for everyone to see?”

You see, athletes make mistakes all the time and their mishaps are splashed all over the media in replay after replay. But only in baseball is it so fundamental to how the sport is played and followed that error stats are as much a part of the game as catching a ball. In other sports, the stats tally the “positives” – the touchdowns, the goals, the fastest time. In baseball, it’s an official part of the game to quantify and record the mistakes a player makes and to hold them in history.  Now, that’s candor about your performance.

Imagine if your boss kept a tally of everyone’s successes and mishaps in the front lobby. To some, that feels embarrassing or cruel. But, if the culture – the collective environment – is perfectly open and honest, mistakes aren’t something to be covered up or forgotten. They’re something that happens as a part of learning and growth. If we are uncomfortable talking about the errors, we’ve closed the door on improvement and we’ve set a tone for perfection that becomes unattainable. Perhaps if every organization were as candid about errors as baseball, we’d find more opportunity for collaboration and development.

I wonder if the players mind the scorecard’s record of errors? My guess is that they’re OK with it. They’ve chosen this sport and pursued it with a passion knowing full-well they’d be identified with their errors just as they are with their hits, homers and perfect games.