Oh No! Japan Record Broken By Another Foreigner
Nov 15, 2013Posted by james

Baseball is all about records. Sacred records. That is why so many hardcore American fans are angry that steroid users have shattered milestones held by baseball’s icons.

Our baseball records aren’t the only statistics that are tumbling. It has occurred in Japan, too. Performance enhancing drugs, though, are not involved, and some fans there just don’t mind that a sacred record or two is broken.

For decades, the Japanese have called Sadaharu Oh the world’s home run king. With 868 of them and many other records, he is worshiped in Japan as much as Babe Ruth is revered in America. Over the years, a few foreign players in Japan’s elite league threatened Oh’s hallowed single season home run mark of 55. Each time, opposing pitchers deliberately refused to throw balls near the strike zone, allowing Japan to protect Oh’s milestone.

But the culture of deference to Oh has ended. As this past season progressed, many Japanese fans rooted for the single season record to fall as its latest challenger, Wladimir Balentien, continued to hit balls out of the park. Balentien is not Japanese, but from Curaçao in the Netherlands Antilles, and he once played for the Seattle Mariners and the Cincinnati Reds.

During Balentien’s chase, Japan experienced a gradual change in its version of the game of baseball. Commentary about Oh’s record included discussion about the realization that the country cannot continue to remain isolated, in its baseball and other ways of life, from the rest of the world. Japan needed to embrace outsiders.

In one survey, 69 percent of 1,300 respondents said they were enthusiastic about Balentien’s bid to pass Oh. Many fans showered boos on pitchers who did not throw strikes to him during the record chase. Eventually, on September 15, Balentien shattered the record.

The times, even for Japanese baseball, sure are changing, as they do every day in our personal lives and in the business world. The successful person, and possibly even the happier one, is the individual who learns to adapt to these changes.

Postscript: The tumbling of the single season home run record created additional buzz as other components of the overall story were publically acknowledged.

While born in Japan, Oh is a Taiwanese national. Even though he is a foreigner, Oh’s career was protected for years by Japanese players and fans. Maybe today’s fan, who has cheered the success of Japanese players in American baseball, has accepted the possibility that anyone, even a player from Curaçao, can hold a baseball record in the Japanese elite league.

More important is the scandal revealed earlier this season that involved the ball used in Japan’s games. The Nippon Professional Baseball league admitted that it had quietly juiced the ball to create a greater bounce off the bat, and players used that ball for about 60 games. Home runs increased by more than 40 percent from the previous year. While the players weren’t juiced, the balls certainly were marked with performance enhancement issues. Is Balentien’s new record tainted? The debate will continue.

I guess nothing comes easy, nor is anything really what it seems. That goes for life, business and the great game of baseball.

Jim

The New Game Of Speed
Nov 01, 2013Posted by james

If you were in Newport, Rhode Island, about 30 years ago, you would have witnessed a wonderful tradition of the bygone years of sailing.

For every America’s Cup competition, teams departed the harbor, passed impressive Fort Adams and then sailed out to the open sea. They would be followed by hundreds of vessels, large and small from yachts to dinghies, traversing the surf to the designated area of challenge and defense.

The America’s Cup is one of the oldest major trophy competitions in sports, dating from 1851. This year, a new “wave” was added to the race, and, at first, it faced considerable resistance from traditionalists. Eventually, though, the change triumphed and the America’s Cup entered a post-modern era in which speed and thrills were added to conventional sailing tactics.

Despite an 8-1 lead and a wealth of talent, Team New Zealand could not win the 34th America’s Cup. The victor in an astonishing comeback was Oracle Team USA. With millions upon millions of people watching on television and the internet, including many who had never stepped onto a sail boat, the outstanding outcome delivered the competition to a point of no return. This year’s regatta forever changed sailing.

A new class of boat, a wing-sailed catamaran, had been introduced to showcase the sport more attractively to television audiences. Though the sailing elite were critical of catamarans, the new boat class successfully created a lasting buzz for the competition across all kinds of media.

Expected to sail faster than the wind, the boats actually were faster than anticipated, leading to many exciting moments on the water and for a worldwide audience. Soon after the unbelievable win by Oracle Team USA, Australia’s Hamilton Island Yacht Club became the “Challenger of Record” for the 35th America’s Cup. New thrills certainly await us on the horizon.

Similar to this year’s regatta, a radical new idea, concept, or technology often will alter a business game plan. Selling change is not easy, and overcoming skepticism definitely will become part of the challenge. However, with planning, commitment and the promise (and delivery) of significant results, even you might win over some of the traditionalists in your line of work.

The teams competing in this year’s America’s Cup did it. Now, it is time for you to challenge your competition and hoist the cup!

Jim

CYO Baseball Lasts A Lifetime
Oct 15, 2013Posted by james

Al Itallia pitched and played first base on Catholic Youth Organization teams that won league championship during the 1940s and 1950s. He said the wins and losses pale in comparison to the lifelong friendships among the ballplayers.

Itallia now is 80 years old. Once a month, he gets together with men from his old Nebraska neighborhood to talk about family, sports and current events. CYO stories always come up, and the players have fond memories of their baseball days.

John Stellar, who is 78, meets weekly with another group of former players. He’s grateful for the baseball friendships that eventually led him to the Nebraska Baseball Hall of Fame.

The friendships enjoyed by Itallia, Stellar and younger players who participated in CYO baseball through the 1970s were forged during a simpler time. Lacking today’s tech toys, generations of boys were drawn to neighborhood ball fields through their parish schools or summer camps.

CYO baseball was about competition, and bringing people together through friendship and mutual interests. Many of the ballplayers enjoyed their time in CYO so much that they became high school, college, or sandlot players. Stella even coached in the San Francisco Giants minor league system.

After all these years, friendships from CYO baseball continue to thrive. According to Stella: “If it wasn’t for baseball, I probably wouldn’t know anyone.”

We all start somewhere. Many of us can point to the sports field as the place where we began our journey that led to lifelong achievements at work and many wonderful memories with family and close friends.

Jim

A Life Of Evaluating Talent
Oct 01, 2013Posted by james

The typewritten newsletter dated March 22, 1966 contains scouting reports on high school basketball players. This issue thanks subscribers for their loyalty during the first year of publication during which demand doubled to 60 college coaches.

The issue is hidden inside a thick three-ring binder that is buried in the cluttered Manhattan apartment of Howie Garfinkel. Howie’s life is basketball—as a scout, a coach, a creator of a summer camp and a director of clinics.

About 70 years ago, this son of a garment worker, was a modest high school player. He could shoot a two-handed set shot but he didn’t have the moves. He admits that he didn’t work at his game. But his passion for basketball moved him in another direction. He became a compiler of information about players, and he sent this information to college coaches. He also was the originator of what has become a staple of basketball development and recruiting—the summer camp with guest coaches and showcase games.

During the mid-1960s, Howie published a magazine (High School Basketball Illustrated) that profiled players and teams in New York and northern New Jersey. An assistant coach at The Citadel obtained a copy and suggested to Howie that he open his own scouting service. He did, eventually, and he also opened the Five-Star Basketball Camp. For the second year of the camp, he hired a young Bobby Knight at $50 per day as his top instructor. The camp was pure basketball—teaching, coaching, playing and no nonsense—and it drew top schoolboy talent from around the country.

Eight years ago, Howie sold his stake in the camp. But he remains in the game he always has loved. Last year, he organized his sixth annual Clinic to End All Clinics where Division I coaches discussed strategy with coaches from other colleges and high schools. He is co-founder of the New York City Basketball Hall of Fame and he evaluates city players for the selection advisory committee of the McDonald’s All-American Game.

From an early age, Howie Garfinkel set a course for his life and happily followed it. He still types his player evaluations on an IBM typewriter. He uses his phone but will not go near the internet. He also still has his binders and the well-organized scouting reports that made him a household name in basketball long before e-mail and ESPN.

Sometimes, it is best to evaluate talent in sports (and business) the old fashioned way.

Jim

A Star In The Making
Sep 16, 2013Posted by james

Rye’s Connor Antico figured he would follow his brothers. Play football. Be a star. Beat rival Harrison. Three Anticos preceded him and some thought Connor, the fourth of five brothers, might be the best of them all. But, faulty knees and timing led Connor in a different direction.

Connor’s fallback is singing and acting. His new career already has included two book covers, print and TV ads, singing gigs, a role on a TV show and parts in two upcoming movies. In one of the films about the untimely death of Arkansas lineman Brandon Burlsworth, Connor portrays quarterback Clint Stoerner. He spent weeks researching the role and filming, missing his prom, his graduation and his girlfriend’s graduation. You see, Connor is just 18.

Connor’s appreciation for the stage and screen was sparked by a role in Bye, Bye Birdie in middle school. He took the role after he hurt his right knee playing hockey. The next year, playing football, he was dragged down from behind and tore his left MCL. Very disappointing, but it created a new opportunity.

Connor was cast as a jock in local theater, and he rehearsed the role with his leg immobilized from the injury. With a lot of free time, singing lessons, acting classes and auditions before talent scouts filled his days. Connor never played football again, and he participated only on his school’s medal-winning crew team that practiced in the early morning hours before the school day started.

At an early stage in his life, Connor already has transitioned from the sports field to a career in entertainment. He will enroll this fall in Pace University’s performing arts program. Unlike other college programs, Pace will allow him to work professionally.

An athlete never knows when a decision, a misstep, or an injury will lead him or her in a new direction. For Connor, the lesson learned is always to be mentally prepared to move on and to grab that new opportunity with the same passion that once was reserved for beating a school’s biggest rival.

Jim

Learning From The Great Mariano
Sep 01, 2013Posted by james

During my childhood, baseball relief pitchers didn’t dramatically thrust their uniform shirts from their pants after nailing down a save. They didn’t let out wild yells, or show-up the other team by symbolically shooting an arrow into the air.

One of the few acts of emotion that I recall involved the late Steve Hamilton. This Yankees reliever would come in around the seventh or eighth inning. When he succeeded, he just “pulled the chain.” As he walked from the mound, Hamilton extended his pitching arm in front of him, made a fist and yanked his arm back to his body as he turned over his forearm. Practically unnoticeable to fans, this gesture never caused embarrassment to his opponents.

For another Yankee relief pitcher, we now are seeing the last few days of a Hall of Fame career. For 19 years, Mariano Rivera has been a classy teammate, soft spoken and humble. He let his work ethic, and his cutter, do all the talking. Antics on the mound never have been part of his game.

With rare exceptions, Mo performed his job perfectly during exhibition games, the season, the playoffs and the World Series. With pressure high, he remained cool on the mound. He rarely showed emotion. If he failed, he accepted it and vowed to do better the next day. When a teammate failed, he was the first to provide encouragement.

This final year has been a celebration for Mo as he appears with the Yankees in ballparks around the country. He has been honored by the opposing teams, and he meets with their fans and long-time employees. He even is cheered and applauded by opposing fans as he enters games to shut down the home team.

All baseball fans appreciate a winner and this year they have celebrated the respect Mo has for his craft, for the game, for other players, for them, and for his God and his family. It is the rare athlete who can take a bow at center stage and receive good wishes from everyone.

We all can learn from the great Mariano!

Jim

A Career’s Worth Of Stories For Baseball Lifer
Aug 16, 2013Posted by james

Doc Edwards is a baseball lifer. He has spent 57 years in the game, and his bench is deep with stories.

Look at your baseball card collection, if mom didn’t toss it, to find a Doc Edwards card. He played with the Indians (managed them, too), Kansas City Athletics, the Yankees and the Phillies. Before and after that, he has played and managed (and traveled on the bus) with the Wichita Aeros, the Charleston Charlies, the Sioux Falls Canaries and teams in North Platte, Nebraska, and Burlington, North Carolina. He is famous in Rochester, New York, where he served as manager of the Red Wings when the team, during 1981, lost to the Pawtucket Red Sox in the longest professional baseball game (33 innings).

His stories feature just about everyone he has met in baseball from Mickey Mantle to the kid playing second base for him today—and whose name keeps slipping from memory. Doc once hit a home run in Fenway Park that barely scraped the top part of the fence while The Mick, as Doc tells it, “then…hit one to center field. One handed. More than 420 feet.”

Since his last day in the big leagues, Doc has become dedicated to teaching young players about the game, and he just loves when they are determined to pursue the nearly unachievable to become the next Mantle. Realistically, each player has a greater chance to become the next Doc Edwards. But, he prays for them and encourages them to never give up their dreams to play in the big leagues.

The rewards for all Doc’s years in baseball mostly come when one of his players successfully battles through a tough time on the field and then improves his game. But, once in a while, kudos have come his way. Doc remembered one game, in upstate New York, when hundreds of Orthodox Jews greeted him as he stepped on the field. This puzzled him, because he was never that good a ballplayer. He soon learned that when the rabbi was a kid, Doc talked to him from the Yankee Stadium bullpen, and now this was the rabbi’s way to show his gratitude.

Doc Edwards was good enough to play and manage in the major leagues. But for most of his baseball life, his role has included bumpy bus rides, cheap motels and little fanfare. Along for the ride has been the daily opportunity for Doc to guide many young players as each tries to find his position in the business of baseball.

Jim

Take Advantage Of The Opportunity
Aug 01, 2013Posted by james

After baseball’s spring training, David Adams, a second baseman, was released by the Yankees. Then came a roster of injuries, and Adams was resigned by the team as infield insurance. He played in the minor leagues until he was eligible for promotion to the big team during mid-May.

A chain of unusual events put Adams in the Yankee lineup at third base. Alex Rodriquez had off-season hip surgery. His replacement, Kevin Youkilis, was injured and eventually required back surgery that has disabled him for about four months. Other utility players were moved around the infield due to a disabling injury to the shortstop, Eduardo Nunez, who was keeping the position warm until the injured Derek Jeter could return from a twice broken bone.

Eventually the task at third was thrust upon Adams. His fielding was good, and his hitting started well—a .323 batting average with a couple of home runs and a handful of RBI in his first eight games. Then, things changed on the offensive side. His average plummeted to .191 and he still had two home runs and only a few more RBI after 26 games.

According to his manager, opposing teams studied him. Pitchers made adjustments on how they threw to him. Fielders were positioned to catch any ball he put in play. Adams never made the counter-adjustment, and he eventually realized the problem.

He put pressure on himself. He tried to accomplish too much and he shifted away from his strengths and what he could execute well. He realized he needed to simplify his approach to the game and again trust his plan.

The Yankees continued to juggle players as a few returned from their injuries. Adams was sent back to the minor leagues to work through his struggles.

Similar situations occur all the time in business. A company often must call upon an employee to fill a void. When that call comes, a worker must continue to make adjustments to a variety of unfamiliar conditions. A person who has confidence and can adapt well to new situations will, more often than not, remain with the top team.

Jim

A Baseball Ruling Creates A New Opportunity
Jul 16, 2013Posted by james

During a Little League playoff game last summer, a boy with the Brewster team of Putnam County had to leave the dugout. An opponent protested his presence since he was not a roster player, and because his wheelchair created a liability issue.

Evan Sussman has had cerebral palsy since infancy. While he and the team were disappointed by the ruling, matters have turned out just fine for him and other players.

Soon after, Evan was allowed back in the dugout. He threw out the first pitch for the team’s next game. He and his teammates, and their families, received 20 tickets to a Yankees game from the local Stop & Shop supermarket, and then they received a matching donation of tickets from the Yankees.

Before the game, Evan was on the field during batting practice. He met the players and he fired strategic questions at manager Joe Girardi. “Can you tell me why,” asked Evan about a previous game, “you decided to switch the pitcher?”

The surprises didn’t end there. Rawlings heard about the story and sent Evan a personalized glove. Some things, though, had to wait for this season.

Evan’s mom, Karen Kushnir, is a special education advisor. When this all began, she was saddened by the circumstances. Then she spoke with officials of the Brewster Little League. The conversations led to the creation of the Brewster Challenger League for special-needs players. Many parents and students who wanted to help Evan and others like him in the community contributed their time to create two Challenger League teams.

Evan, his mom and others did not become discouraged on that day when Evan had to leave the dugout. Instead, they turned a disappointing situation into a new opportunity. Now baseball is providing more children in Brewster with the opportunity to have fun.

Jim

A Pioneer Still On His Game
Jul 03, 2013Posted by james

Did you ever hear of Ossie Schectman? He’s 93 now, and he lives in a senior living community in Rockland County. He has a quick smile and is a favorite of the staff.

Ossie was a collegiate All-American basketball point guard on two NIT championship teams at Long Island University. He also is in the National Basketball Association record books, having scored, on November 1, 1946, the first basket in NBA history.

Okay, so he isn’t as familiar a name as Michael Jordon or LeBron James. But, he should be, or at least he should be remembered and highly regarded by those who have come to play after him.

Ossie was “a tireless worker who drove fiercely, passed smoothly and set up the plays,” wrote Arthur Daley of The New York Times when he described Schectman’s role in a victory over DePaul at Madison Square Garden before a crowd of 18,318. Daley continued: “With the hard driving Ossie Schectman blazing a trail the Blackbirds unleashed a sizzling rally that sent them ahead…LoBello was the high scorer with 12, but Dolly King with 11 and Schectman were the real stars.”

Ossie received similar kudos for leading LIU over Loyola during 1939 and Ohio University during 1941 in NIT championship games. He was a baseball player, too, and he had a tryout with the New York Giants. Since the NBA didn’t exist at the time, he first played for the Philadelphia Sphas (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) and for a semipro baseball team on Long Island. None of this, though, led to lasting fame and fortune. With a wife and child to support, his primary source of income came from working in New York’s Garment District.

But, after World War II, he did get to play for the Knicks when they were in the Basketball Association of America (pre-NBA) and he finished third one season in the league in assists. As already noted, he scored the NBA’s first points.

While none of his hard work led to a lot of money, he isn’t bitter. He still loves the game and recalls that he had a great life that just happened to include sports.

It’s great to be involved in sports during our youth and young adult days. The structure, discipline and competition teach us a lot about life. A chosen few are destined for fame and fortune. Many others do quite well in the professional, collegiate, or high school game as coaches, instructors, or in management. Even more like me find other ways to remain in the game while channeling our sports experiences into successful business careers.

When all is done, let’s hope that we all can be like Ossie and reflect on a great life that just happened to include sports.

Jim