"Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can't get you off. --Bill Veeck
It is said that baseball is the American game. It is more than that. It is a course in how to be a member of American culture.
Anyone can be an American by walking (or swimming) across our borders and registering to vote. But to be a real American, one has to understand our culture. And the only way to do that is to watch a lot of baseball, and better still, play ball.
Generations of Americans have been indoctrinated into our culture by playing Little League or softball. These are the only "true" Americans.
What does Little League or softball teach us?
HOW TO FAIL GRACEFULLY
It is the bottom of the last inning. Your team is behind by one run. The tying run is on third, and the winning run is on second. And you strike out. Or you drop the catch in right field and the winning run scores against your team. You are the "goat" for the rest of the night. You have to learn to take a lot of razzing when you fail, smile, and wait for your chance to raz someone else back another day.
TRYING AGAIN AFTER YOU FAIL
Now it is the next day after you've been the "goat." What do you do? Stay home and call in sick. Or show up for practice and work on your hitting or catching. The kid who picks themselves up after failing is always going to have a better chance at succeeding in life. The kid who walks is a loser.
LEARNING INDIVIDUAL EFFORT IN A TEAM
There's a runner on first and the ball is hit to the short stop. A double play is possible if the short stop throws to the second baseman, who then throws to the first baseman. Three individuals must act to make the play, meaning the short stop doesn't have time to look for where the second baseman is, the second baseman better be at the right spot to catch the ball (with foot on the base), and then throw to first assuming the first baseman is also properly positioned (with foot on the base). You think this is easy? Try it sometime with three of your friends.
BEING BOSSED AROUND
Generally speaking everyone on a team wants to play the same position. Unfortunately, there's 9 positions and each has to be covered. Those familiar with Little League should be familiar with the pouty kid with crossed arms standing on second base while the ball rolls by him because he wanted to pitch. A winning team consists of a bunch of people doing things they initially didn't want to do, but someone else made them. Learning to take orders from someone you think is an idiot is a key to success in American business.
MANAGING A BUNCH OF MISFITS
In addition to learning how to function as a team, baseball also teaches management. The Little League coach, who is generally unqualified for the job, must somehow coerce a bunch of players who know more about baseball than he or she does into taking orders. If the team wins, the next game is usually easier to play. In some programs (not Little League) any kid who shows up gets to play. Try and win a game with a bunch of kids who can't hit or catch. It can be done. Amazing things can be accomplished with the misfits if they can be convinced they can kick butt.
DEALING WITH AGGRESSIVE SPECIAL
Parents of children in Little League or softball are among the most aggressive and pain-in-the-ass special interests on the planet. "My son should play second base, and if you don't put him in that position I'll sue you." The problem for the coach is the kid has never handled a ball in his life, and will play one inning in right field. Many youth ball teams have legal defense funds. This is great practice for the real world.
SAYING SOMETHING POSITIVE WORKS
The kid strikes out. Do you yell "you stupid jerk" or "nice swing". The kid who strikes out knows he screwed up, so reminding him or her of this fact only nurtures resentment. A positive statement always gets results. Honey attracts more flies than vinegar.
IT IS REALLY MATH
Baseball is nothing more than a math lesson. A kid who can't add or subtract generally can figure out his or her batting average. See if you can. More kids would pass math if it was taught on ball fields.
AND IT IS PROBABILITIES
What is the chance that you get to be the batter at the bottom of the last inning with your team behind and the bases are loaded? 100%. Playing baseball teaches you' Murphy's Third Law that if something can happen it will. To you.
IT IS NOT WHETHER YOU WIN OR LOSE, IT
IS THAT YOU KICK THEIR BUTTS
The saying that it only matters how you play is bunk. What really matters is being able to win the game through the 10 run rule. The US didn't understand this when they stopped the Gulf War before our troops totally destroyed Saddam Hussein and his army.
CREATING A LEGEND ABOUT YOURSELF
Really successful ball players get "legends" about them. "The kid is a hitter." So the kid ends up with a .500 batting average. Baseball teaches us that if we believe in ourselves, others will believe it too, even if it isn't true, thus giving us a psychological advantage. Pitchers will walk kids with legends as hitters. Hey, a base runner is a base runner, especially if the kid can steal second. Successful Americans play roles, create legends about themselves, and accomplish things because others believe their legend. Think about Bill Clinton or Newt Gingrich in that context.
WINNERS MAKE THE FEWEST MISTAKES
Ultimately, most baseball games are won because the other team made more mistakes. Exploiting someone else's mistakes is a very useful thing to learn. You hit a short hopper and are certain to be thrown out at first. But you run like hell down the baseline hoping the first baseman will drop the ball. Americans trained in Little League become very good at this.
LIFE ISN'T FAIR
Baseball is a game of rules with umpires. Umpires make a lot of mistakes. Generally, over time, both sides get an equal number of bad calls. Playing baseball teaches Americans that while there are rules, there is no real justice. Especially when the umpire is from the other team's hometown. Thus, Americans trained in Little League will learn to bitch and whine about bad calls, and if it happens too often, either fire the ump or change the rules.
NOTHING HAPPENS WITHOUT MONEY
Playing in Little League or having a kid in the program teaches you that everything costs money, thus someone has to man the snack bar or sell a lot of candy. True Americans therefore are always paying attention to the bottom line. Just try and do anything without a fund-raising committee.
Copyright 1999-2008 by Hugh Holub
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