The Kid, Home Runs, and Memories

The great Joe Posnanski recently wrote a blog post one of the first great book he ever read, The Kid Who Only Hit Homers.  I often relate to a lot of what Mr. Posnanski writes about, but this was other worldly… that was also the first great book I ever read.

I remember the story exactly.  I went to the Midland Park (New Jersey) Public Library. The children’s section was downstairs.  The shelves were lines with books.  There were so many that I didn’t even know how to begin looking for a book or what I even wanted to read.  To be honest, I don’t even remember why I was at the library, maybe my mother brought me there, but the task of finding anything in this warehouse of books was too overwhelming.  I didn’t even know where to start.

I sort of remember asking the librarian for help.  She asked me what I liked.  Now, that was easy.  I had only one answer – “Baseball.”  The librarian then led me to the Matt Christopher section of books.  “You’ll like these,” she said.  I believe she even handed me The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, if not, that was the book I found and took home.

I loved that book.  I read it cover to cover.  It’s the first real book I ever remember reading.  (The first book I ever read was the classic Crash!, Bang!, Boom! but that was just pictures and sounds put together.  I do remember looking at some of the illustrations, making the sounds in my head and realizing that the letters corresponded to the sounds. That is how I first learned to read.)

After reading The Kid Who Only Hit Homers, Matt Christopher became my first favorite author.  I read many more of his books, but I don’t really remember any of the others.  It was the first one that left an impact.  I’ll forever love The Kid Who Only Hit Homers.

I loved that book so much that when my best friends and I created imaginary baseball teams that played in my back yard, I chose the main character from the book, Sylvester Codmyer, as my right fielder.  (Matt Christopher spelled his last name differently.  I attribute this to my poor abilities as a kid to make the effort to spell anything correctly.)

When we played, we’d assume different batting stances for each player.  Over time these guys developed characteristics.  We’d talk about them as if they were real baseball players.  We kept their stats.  I drew pictures of them and made baseball cards for them.  (This was one serious Wiffle Ball league.)

But Codmyer was the (imaginary) player I loved the most.  He batted fourth and I always gave just a little more effort when he was up.  I know that he led the “league” in home runs and that he became the All-Time Home Run King.

All because of a book…and a smart librarian who knew how to get a little boy excited about reading.

***

With this memory of a book that impacted me as a child, I started to think back and try to recall the imaginary players that were part of my youth; the stars on my Wiffle Ball team some forty years ago.  I wondered if I could still recall the heroes of a young boy’s over-active imagination…

And it proved to be all too simple.

It’s funny, I haven’t thought about these guys in ages, but I guess I’ll never forget them. in a way these guys were as much my baseball heroes as Nettles, Munson, Reggie, and Guidry.  I once had a Wiffle Ball signed by all of these legends.  (The pretend guys, not the real-life Yankees.)

The New York Red Birds

P – Righty Henderson

C – Lefty Johnson

1B- Jim Friendly

2B – Shawn Maloney

SS – Jim Duffy (He was a switch hitter, which was funny because the only kids I knew threw right-handed.)

3B – Sid Grayson (I am quite certain I got his name out of a children’s book as well, but I’d be darned if I remember which one.  I knew I also had book by John R. Tunis, The Kid Comes Back, but for whatever reason I could never get into it.  The story proved elusive to me.  I tried to read it countless times but never got past the first few pages.

LF – Sam Wings (He batted like Reggie Jackson)

CF – Joe Glass (He batted like Oscar Gamble)

RF – Sylvester Codmyer (He batted like me.)

When we played Wiffle Ball, I was, of course all the players, but I think I was mostly Sylvester Codmyer.

The fact that I remember all of this makes me think that maybe there is still a (big) part of me that never really wants to grow up.

A Sense of Wonder

I came across a passage that suggested that we should always “maintain a sense of wonder” in our lives.  I love the idea of seeking wonder, or magic, in the mundane.  

Life isn’t always about the things we have to do, and even when it is, that doesn’t preclude us from seeking the good and something special in every situation.  This is important to recognize and acknowledge because there can be good everywhere and at any time.  It’s simply about maintaining that sense of wonder.

 I think, often, that we rush through our lives.  We get so busy shuttling ourselves and our kids back and forth to so many activities and events that we often don’t stop to appreciate each of these experiences.  We get so caught up in rushing around that we really don’t even consider what it is that we are going to and from.  All we know is that we’re rushing and there is something more to do.

As I consider this, I’m not advocating doing less.  That’s not in my nature or character.  I can’t do less.  (In fact, I’m always trying to do more.)  But, I am suggesting that we add an element of attentiveness to the activities that we are participating in because when we do this, the activities become more meaningful. 

Maintaining a sense of wonder (or looking for good in the mundane) isn’t easy to do:

 – It isn’t easy to find the good as your kid is playing right field, and then striking out three times on a forty-two-degree day in early April. 

 – It isn’t easy to do when your child is struggling through word problems with a tutor. 

 – It isn’t easy to do when you are at one location and know you need to be somewhere else. 

 – And it isn’t easy to do when you have other obligations that are all screaming for your attention. 

But I am saying that we should try, because there is always another perspective:

 – That child playing right field is part of a team.  That’s something special.  She wears a uniform (or a t-shirt) that signifies that she’s on that team.  That’s also something special.  There is something good and valuable and wonderful about being on a team.  And, while it seems that teams and games will be part of your child’s life (and your lives) seemingly forever, it’s not.  It all ends, far too quickly. 

 – There’s also something special about struggling through any endeavor, even word problems.  In the example above, watching a child struggle can be frustrating for a parent.  But it is that very struggle that teaches the child such important life skills as perseverance and tenacity.  And, when the child finally succeeds; well there is magic in that.  That’s learning.  Throughout that child’s life there will always be struggles and things he has to work through in order to understand.  There is good there.  When we take the time to maintain a sense of wonder, we remember and recognize that.

 – As for the other obligations that are all screaming for our attention, the sad truth is, most often, they can wait.  The text, the phone call, the e-mail…most often, they can wait.  And there is a benefit to this because if we rid ourselves of unnecessary distractions, it allows us the space and time to maintain the sense of wonder in our lives and in our children’s lives.

 And, when it comes to our children especially, there is so much wonder there, that our focus should always be on capturing it, gathering it, and cherishing all of it in our hearts!

Always.

Where will you find the wonder today?

 

A Little Lesson in Latin

(This passage comes from my upcoming book of essays, “Impossible is an Illusion” which will be published by Ravenswood Publishers in May 2017.)

There is a Latin phrase that reads, “Crede quod habes, et habes.” 

This can be translated as, “Believe that you have it, and you have it.” 

As we look to find ways to (continually) improve student performance, the key might be in that little Latin phrase.

“Believe that you can do it.”

I have always found that by telling people they can do things, they have found that they can… do things.  It’s a pretty simple formula.  When you think you can, you can.  Confidence and belief are strong motivators.

I know when people have believed in me, I have often tried very hard to make their belief a reality.  Most often I have rewarded their belief by achieving what they thought was possible, which was not necessarily what I thought was possible.

As I think of many of my life’s “accomplishments,” each time there was a person, or people, that said, “Paul, you can do it.”  These encouragers made me believe in myself. 

Today, when I have self doubt about being able to accomplish a task, I think about the faith others have in me.  This often leads me to say to myself, “You can do it.”  And I usually do!

Next fall, I’ll be struggling on the streets of New York City as I run the New York City Marathon.  There is something glorious, magical, wonderful (and horrible, painful, upsetting, and ugly) about struggling through the New York City Marathon.  I will be ready for the race, but throughout the long training process I often have to tell myself, “You can do it.”  Along with this, I have family members and friends who encourage me in times of doubt.  And don’t be fooled, no matter how good my training, no matter how prepared I might be, there are always periods of doubt.

I have participated in many races and have been a spectator at many others.  You might be surprised but an encouraging word, even from a stranger, such as,  “YOU CAN DO IT!” or “YOU LOOK GREAT” or “I BELIEVE IN YOU” can have an amazing impact on a runner’s state of mind – even when he is in the depth of misery.  Words like that have helped me find something deep inside and push through the disbelief in myself.

BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE IT, AND YOU HAVE IT.

Could it be possible that these nine English words (or six Latin words) hold the ultimate key to success?

If strangers can impact on a runner’s performance (and I know that this helps many, not just me), imagine the impact of a child’s teacher?  We have said, often, that the teacher is one of the biggest influencers in a child’s life.  Our words are powerful.  Our actions speak volumes.

Imagine then, the power of these words spoken to individuals and groups:

BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT, AND YOU CAN DO IT.

In 1973, the New York Mets had a remarkable pennant run that was inspired, in part, from the words of pitcher Tug McGraw.  He said simply, “Ya Gotta Believe.”

The Mets did believe – and they took that belief all the way to the World Series against the longest of odds. 

As we create ignition for children, as we inspire them to learn, as we motivate them, we must remember to continually tell them:

“YOU CAN DO IT!”

Then, take it even one step further.  Tell them not just that they can do it, but, tell them

“I BELIEVE YOU CAN DO IT,” and “I BELIEVE IN YOU.”

Those just might be the most powerful words any person can tell another person. 

“I believe in you.”

When we tell our students that we believe in them, they will believe us and believe in themselves.  They will give that extra effort.  They will rise above their own fears or skepticism. 

The results will be spectacular!

Graig Nettles’ Greatest Day

I published my latest blog post on “It’s About The Money.”

This post highlights what might have been Graig Nettles’ greatest day as a Major League baseball player.

Please click the link to read about Nettles’ heroics on April 14, 1974.

Thanks!

http://itsaboutthemoney.net/its-about-the-money-2/2017/3/5/looking-back-april-14-1974

 

 

The True Wally Pipp

Wally Pipp was one of the most misunderstood baseball players in history.  Today he is remembered more for missing a game with a headache than for his heroics on the ball field – and there were many!

In truth, Wally Pipp was a star.  He was one of the most important players on the first great Yankees teams.  But rather then being remembered for his excellence, Pipp is thought of as a player who sat out a game with a headache and never played again.  It’s simply not true.

When Wally Pipp sat out, he was replaced by a rookie named Lou Gehrig who became an immediate star and one of baseball’s greats.  Gehrig, of course, would go on to play 2,130 consecutive games.  Nothing could get Gehrig out of the lineup; he was the Iron Horse.  Gehrig’s greateness and durability is held in direct contrast to the man he replaced, poor Wally Pipp – the man who couldn’t even handle a headache.

In this light, Wally Pipp is portrayed as a slacker.  The story of Wally Pipp is often told to warn people about taking it easy or missing a day of work.  This cautionary tale implies that by slacking off, a person could be replaced in his own position by the next Lou Gehrig.

We are warned to not be the next Wally Pipp.

The truth is, for toughness and resiliency, every player should have a bit of Wally Pipp in him.  Wally Pipp most assuredly sat down, but after that fateful day, Wally Pipp was certainly not out.

Wally Pipp’s Major League career began with the Detroit Tigers in 1913 after playing just over a year of minor league ball.  His first Big League game came on June 29, 1913 in Detroit.  Pipp’s Tigers that day bested the St. Louis Browns 5-2.  Wally went hitless in three at bats, although he did earn a walk.  Detroit’s Ty Cobb starred that day, going three for four with a double and raising his average to .402.

Pipp earned his first Major League hit two days later against the Chicago White Sox, but he didn’t hit often enough, and by the end of play on July 12, he was headed back to the minor leagues with an .095 batting average.

In 1914, Pipp displayed his future skills by dominating the International League batting .314 and leading the league in home runs (15) and triples (27).  After this remarkable season, Wally Pipp’s contract was sold to the New York Yankees.

In 1915, Wally Pipp was the Yankees’ starting first baseman on Opening Day…and almost every day thereafter.  In total, Wally Pipp played 136 games in his first season in New York. Only shortstop Roger Peckinpaugh played in more games that year for the Yankees.  And, while Pipp hit only .246, his four home runs were 9th in the American League.  Even more impressive were his 13 triples, which were also 9th in the league.

Once he took hold of the position, Wally Pipp remained the Yankees starting first baseman until 1925.  In the Dead Ball Era, Wally Pipp was a legitimate power hitter.  In 1916, his second season, Pipp led the American League in home runs with 12.  The next year, 1917, his nine homers also led the league.  Wally Pipp  was the first Yankee to ever lead the league in home runs.  Further, he is the one of only three Yankees, with Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, to ever lead the American League in home runs in back-to-back seasons.

As a Yankee, Wally Pipp also collected double figures in triples (a true power stat of the day) seven times.  In fact, in 1924, the year before his famous headache, Wally Pipp led the league in triples with 19.

A strong middle of the order batter, Wally Pipp also drove in 90 or more runs five times. Pipp also batted over .290 five times in his Yankee career, achieving a high mark of .329 in 1922.

Back when baseball seasons consisted of 154 game seasons, Wally Pipp played in 150 or more games a year for the Yankees six times.  He was a rock of consistency.  Wally Pipp was an iron horse.

In 1921, the year the Yankees won their first American League pennant, Wally Pipp led the team (along with second baseman Aron Ward) in games played with 153.  That season, Pipp hit .296 with 8 home runs, 9 triples, and 103 runs batted in.

The Yankees won the American League pennant again in 1922.  That year, Pipp hit .329 with 9 homers, 10 triples, and 94 rbi’s.  His exploits earned him consideration for the league’s Most Valuable Player Award.

Pipp starred for the Yankees again in 1923, batting .304 with 109 runs batted in for the first Yankees team to ever win a World Championship.

He then hit .295 with his league leading 19 triples in 1924 (with 110 more rbi’s) before the fateful, and misrepresented, 1925 season arrived.

The story of Wally Pipp’s benching in 1925 has been exaggerated a great deal over the years.  In fact, it does not seem that he even asked out of the line-up that fateful day in June due to a headache. Rather, he was sent to the bench because the team was slumping, not because of a headache.

In early June 1925, the Yankees were in seventh place in the eight team league.  Much of the team’s poor play was the result of Babe Ruth missing the first months of the season with his famous “belly-ache,” but no player on the team was doing particularly well.  Pipp himself was hitting only .244.  Yankees manager Miller Huggins felt he had to do something, so he shook-up his lineup.  Second baseman Aaron Ward and catcher Wally Schang were benched along with Wally Pipp on June 2, 1925.  The man who replaced Pipp was, of course, Lou Gehrig, and, while Gehrig’s consecutive games streak began that day, the story isn’t that simple.  It must also be noted that Gehrig wasn’t exactly setting the world on fire before he had this opportunity to start.  Through June 1, 1925, Gehrig’s batting average for the season stood at .167.

In his first game, Lou Gehrig had three hits in five at bats including a double.  But the next two games, Gehrig went hitless.  While it is true that Wally Pipp would never start another game as the Yankees’ first baseman, on five occasions during that month he replaced Lou Gehrig at first base during the game.  Gehrig didn’t so much as take his job away, at the start, they shared the position.

What was unfortunate for Wally Pipp, was that Lou Gehrig eventually began hitting…and hitting extremely well.  In his first month of regular play, Lou Gehrig hit .348 with six home runs and 14 runs batted in.  Gehrig then hit .305 in July, which was solid, but still there were reports of manager Miller Huggins being less than pleased with Gehrig’s overall performance, especially against left-handed pitching.  On July 5, 1925, against the Senators, and left-handed pitcher Tom Zachary, the Yankees started Fred Merkle (not Gehrig) at first base.  Lou Gehrig’s famous playing streak may have ended that day, in its infancy, if not for the fact that he had a pinch-hit appearance late in the game.  Later that month, on July 19, the Detroit Tigers started left-hander Dutch Leonard against the Yankees.  Gehrig also began that day on the bench in favor of Merkle.  Later in that game, Gehrig did appear, amassing three hits including a home run.

By August of 1925, Lou Gehrig was tearing the proverbial cover off the ball.  That month, Lou Gehrig hit .350 with five more home runs.   It became obvious, the torch had been passed, but not as simply and as easily as the legend has it.

Yet, Lou Gehrig may never had had the chance to amass the consecutive games streak if not for a terrible situation that happened to Wally Pipp that history has inaccurately recorded as the “headache” that took him out of the line-up.   There was no headache that took Wally Pipp out of the line-up in June.  The headache came a month later…and it wasn’t just a minor thing.

On July 2, 1925, while he was still ostensibly sharing, at least in some part, first base duties with Gehrig, Wally Pipp was severely beaned in the head during batting practice.  The shot to his head actually knocked Pipp unconscious.  The beaning was so severe that Wally Pipp was hospitalized for about two weeks.

Rather than having a headache, Wally Pipp may have actually suffered from a skull fracture.

It is a testament to Wally Pipp’s toughness that he returned to the team and was playing again by early August. This iron horse, got himself from the hospital bed to ballpark. Wally Pipp was made of stern stuff.  Over the season’s final two months, Wally Pipp appeared in twelve games, mostly as a pinch hitter or pinch runner, but he was back, rising from the brutal beaning.

With Lou Gehrig now firmly established at first base, the Yankees sold Wally Pipp to the Cincinnati Reds prior to the 1926 season.  In Cincinnati, Wally Pipp demonstrated his resiliency, and toughness.  He appeared in 155 games.  Only two players in the entire league appeared in more games batted .That season, Wally Pipp batted 291.  Pipp’s 15 triples were fourth in the league, as were his 99 runs batted in.  This performance earned Wally Pipp consideration for the National League’s Most Valuable Player Award.

And he still wasn’t done.  Wally Pipp played with Cincinnati through the 1928 season, but by then, his career was winding down.  In 1928, Pipp appeared in only 95 games, one of the lowest totals of his career.

Still, Wally Pipp had one last hurah.  Back in the minor leagues in 1929, Wally Pipp played first base for the Newark Bears of the International League where he hit .312 in 120 games. After the season, Wally Pipp retired as a player.

Rather than being “soft,” Wally Pipp was a hard-nosed high quality baseball player.  He was an important star on the first Yankees’ pennant winning teams including their first World Championship.  Even after being replaced by one of the baseball’s greatest players, and then suffering from a potentially career-ending injury, Wally Pipp was able to successfully play baseball at its highest levels.

The real Wally Pipp isn’t anything like the legend.  Wally Pipp was a Yankee great.