Tuesday, July 01, 2008

An outlook that fits me to a tea?

True baseball fans will remember Jim Abbott. Even those just casually acquainted with the sports world will recall hearing something about "that one-armed pitcher" who became a Major League sensation for a time. In reality Abbott was one-handed, which is to say, his right arm ended just below the wrist. He pitched successfully for a decade, 1989-1999, after devising a brisk and efficient way of transferring his glove from his right stump to his (left) throwing hand after delivering each pitch.* He even tossed a no-hitter in 1993. Just as impressive, perhaps, Abbott collected two hits of his own during his swan-song year with the National League's Milwaukee Brewers. He'd spent the rest of his career in the American League, where pitchers generally don't bat.

This morning I was reading an article about Abbott and what he's up to these days, and I was at first dismayed to learn that what Abbott is up to is motivational speaking. That's not to say I was surprised. If you think about it, who better personifies the standard Sportsthink mantra—"It's all up to you! You can do anything if you really put your mind to it!"—than a one-armed ballplayer?** Well, I'm here to tell you that I was pleasantly surprised by what I actually heard from Abbott (or at least what was quoted in the newspaper. For all I know, his seminar audiences may be treated to an hour's worth of Lasorda-style magical (sports)thinking). Abbott points out that in the game just prior to his no-hitter, he'd had a terrible outing, so bad that he wondered how he was going to right the ship and become a successful pitcher again. And what does he conclude from this astonishing game-to-game turnabout? "You might be down now but you don't know what's going to happen tomorrow." Or—to paraphrase—if things went from good to bad, they can go from bad to good again.

Now that's a terrific motivational message—not just because it's uplifting, but because it's likely true in most settings. Also notice what Abbott doesn't say, at least in this passage. He doesn't try to blur the distinction between the possible and the probable. He doesn't lapse into Byrne-ese and start blabbering about how, if you believe it, it will happen. He just says, in essence, that you shouldn't give up too soon. Point is, we don't know what's going to happen next. Ergo—if I may be permitted to supply my own expansion on Abbott's thoughts—while there's no reason to expect life to suddenly shower us with abundance, there's no reason to expect life to keep kicking us in the ass, either. But if you don't at least strive for greatness, then you're probably going to get a lesser result than someone who tries really hard.** So just go out and keep striving and maybe, just maybe, you'll be rewarded.

File that under "What Steve's self-help book would sound like, if he wrote one, Chapter 5...."


And then, at the other pole of the vast attitudinal continuum (I would say "on the other hand," but I don't want to be accused of having some tasteless fun at Jim Abbott's expense), there's my youngest son. This morning he phones his mother from Vegas, where he lives these days, quite upset about the fact that Wendy's doesn't offer iced tea (at least not at 8:12 a.m. his time). I'm not overstating. He was indeed quite upset over this, my wife reports. I think the message here is this: If you're the kind of person who gets "quite upset" because there's no iced tea at your local fast-food joint—upset enough to phone home at 8:12 a.m. specifically to complain about it—you could probably use an attitude adjustment. Hell, maybe even a one-on-one with Tommy Lasorda.

* "Normal" two-handed pitchers, of course, wear the glove on the non-throwing hand, which Abbott was unable to do because he lacked any fingers with which to control the glove. It should be obvious that a pitcher requires a glove not just for defensive purposesto field the ball as part of his team's overall effort to retire the opposing battersbut also for self-defense, in the case of laser-shots that come back at him at speeds well in excess of 100mph.
** Even though the odds of any given one-armed ballplayer making it to the Major Leagues are probably 5 million to 1, no matter how much he "wants it."
*** though even then, the link between effort and outcome is far from conclusive, especially in a sport like baseball, where totally random events play a key role in separating winners from losers.


Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back Steve but, what is that "music", especially after the last one? I almost got whiplash.

I certainly remember Jim Abbott, I thought he was a great inspriational story without him even opening his mouth, just to be out there and compete at such a high level! I think some of these guys when they start talking actually ruin it, just let your achievements speak for themselves, am I right?

Jen said...

I like this comic, "In the Bleachers," in today's newspaper. There is a picture of a coach and his Little League team looking into the window of an ice cream parlor at the team they just played. The coach says, "That's baseball, kids. When you win, you eat ice cream. And when you lose, you watch the other team eat ice cream."

We all play a role, whether as loser or winner. And winning isn't always what it's cracked up to be, is it?

Mike Cane said...

>>>"What Steve's self-help book would sound like, if he wrote one, Chapter 5...."

So what the hell is STOPPING you from writing it?

Call it the REALISTIC Secret.

(BTW, if you don't think such a book exists, I have news for you. It's been done and it's part of the reason why I spit on The Secret and its ilk.)

Steve Salerno said...

Jen, funny you should mention this. When I coached Little League--something I did for a decade, running my son's team almost the whole way through (which, btw, I rank among my worst parenting blunders)--we had a kid, Danny, who was not the sharpest cleat on the shoe. (One day we faced a pitcher who was a very hard thrower. Danny stepped out of the box and said to the umpire, "Um, do you think you could ask him to not throw it so hard? Because I don't think I can hit it if he keeps doing that...." I'm not sure Danny ever quite got the point of the whole enterprise.) But anyway, the first week of Danny's first season on my team, he came up to me before the game and said, "Coach Steve, do we still get snacks if we lose?"

It was sort of a lame question, of course, but poignant in its own way.

(P.S. We lost, and I gave them their snacks. Except for Danny...just kidding.)

Mike Cane said...

And Steve ducks the question.

I'll even suggest a title for you: Success For Skeptics.


Steve Salerno said...

That's not bad, Mike.

Anonymous said...

Steve: I've been reading your blog on and off and I have to say I think you're a closet racist. You strike me as one of those people who tries to justify his racism on intellectual grounds. You talk about brotherhood and true harmony and a colorblind society but every time you get into specifics, your treatment of the black race and the examples you use are extremely judgmental and harsh. Sorry, it just doesn't wash for me.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon, I can see where maybe you'd come to that conclusion on the basis of just reading a post or two. On the whole, I think my blog speaks for itself.

Anonymous said...

Please share the wisdom of Five Easy Pieces with your son - I'm sure Wendy's sells HOT tea every morning. Maybe he can order hot tea and a Coke with lots of ice (and hold the Coke):
[Bobby wants plain toast, which isn't on the menu]
Bobby: I'd like an omelet, plain, and a chicken salad sandwich on wheat toast, no mayonnaise, no butter, no lettuce. And a cup of coffee.
Waitress: A #2, chicken salad sand. Hold the butter, the lettuce, the mayonnaise, and a cup of coffee. Anything else?
Bobby: Yeah, now all you have to do is hold the chicken, bring me the toast, give me a check for the chicken salad sandwich, and you haven't broken any rules.

Steve Salerno said...

Very good, Anon. I notice that you left out the ensuing lines (wink):


Mike Cane said...

Anon up there re: racism, is off his nut.

Anonymous said...

I'm not the same Anon from "up there," but I agree with him (or her): you do come across as racist, Steve. And I've read your blog for a long time. You hide it behind the color-blind society rhetoric, which in reality means, why don't you blacks just shut up already and appreciate how great you have it here.

Steve Salerno said...

Anon(s), look, I can see where someone might come to that conclusion. Let me just throw in a few thoughts in my defense.

1. I was equally hard on my dad when he tried to sell me on "Italian pride." So I've walked the walk in that area. I simply don't believe in ethnic pride. Or ethnicity, for that matter.

2. This blog is rooted in devil's advocacy. "Testing people's positions." So, much of the time, what I'm going to do is look at the arguments people make and see if those arguments hold water (to me. I don't claim that my feelings have any universal weight/validity). In other words--to fall back on a cliche--society's squeaky wheels are the ones that get my attention. Nowadays, much of that squeaking emanates from "black" subculture (and from women as well). So I feel that my "job" is to test what they're saying, to hold it up to scrutiny and see if the reasoning stands up. I don't think it does. And frankly, I think some of the logic used in defense of so-called minority causes is so patently absurd that it would be ripped to shreds in the media, were those media not so paralyzed by political correctness and "liberal guilt."

Anonymous said...

I would love to know whether Anon at 2:29pm is black or a liberal.


RevRon's Rants said...

Steve - I've gotta agree with the assertion that the media -- and much of the public -- suffers from the paralysis of political correctness and "liberal guilt." But perhaps that paralysis is rooted in the need to achieve some balance, to offset the glaring absence of what would certainly be a modern oxymoron, if it were ever uttered: "conservative guilt."

I say we throw Jesse, Al, and their ilk in a locked room with a few of the most loquacious neocons, prohibit media coverage, and see what happens. I've a feeling the resulting scenario would have all the excitement of a bridge game, minus the confrontations! Lacking the protection and encouragement of public attention, both sides would probably be meek as kittens.

Steve Salerno said...

I sort of agree, Ron...though my own feeling is that if ever there was a lack of "balance," it surely began with the excesses of liberal guilt, as expressed in the mainstream media's near-total disregard for the legitimate political interests of the American heartland (so blithely and perfectly captured in the phrase, "flyover country"). Large numbers of people began turning to Limbaugh, then FOX, etc., because they felt that The New York Times etc. had simply stopped talking to them (and/or, maybe more important, listening to them). So maybe now the pendulum has overcorrected. Maybe that's why people like Michael Savage so often sound so, well, savage.

I do agree with your bottom line, however: that if we removed the media glare and let these people talk to each other from the heart, without the sense that every single word needed to be packaged for popular consumption, it might be a different world.

Btw--speaking of cynicism and media and pandering to interest groups--are they running that new Obama spot down in Texas? The one in which every single person shown, other than Obama himself, is white? Gee, I wonder what that's about....

RevRon's Rants said...

Dunno about the Obama spot. I'd have to watch television to see it, and for the most part, it's too high a price to pay.

I have the sense that the origins of the PC/non-PC conflict are a chicken vs. egg scenario. Both "sides" wanted and needed an "issue" with which to form the public face of their ideological conflict. You know... a non-issue about which people with passion (but little common sense) could rally and make themselves feel involved in the process, whilst keeping them wholly ignorant of the actual machinations.

To my way of thinking, elevating an individual beyond the realm of his/her abilities and talents just because he/she falls within a certain ethnic group is no less demeaning than referring to that person by using a racial epithet. It might sound nicer on the surface, but the underlying condescension and disrespect are still there.