My 89 year-old Dad said he was in third or fourth grade when he got to meet the famed Babe Ruth. My Dad has lived through all 11 of the World Series Cardinals’ wins and remembers seeing the St. Louis Browns play at the old Sportsman’s Park. Until recently, he could tell you every manager, most players and many other team facts as well. In High School and College he was quite the athlete himself, until WWII called him away.
Like wars, competition is always about winning. Isn’t it? It certainly was this past weekend here in St. Louis. Of course it’s about winning. Then why does the old adage remain, “It’s not whether you win or lose, it’s how you play the game.” In the end, both are true. There are rules, there are umpires, you need to be a team player as well as outstanding in your own field (pun intended.)
Certainly it is great to be on top, the leader, the one in the winner’s circle. But when odds are down and you have little or no chance of winning or succeeding, how do the real winners stay motivated, inspired and challenged? How did the St. Louis Cardinals come back against all odds to win the World Series this year? We have all known friends and family members who see the glass as half full or half empty. We, as well as others we know, tend to be more of an optimist or a pessimist. Many say that how we react during a crisis is the true measure of our character. The Chinese word for crisis explains: “The top part of the Chinese Ideogram for ‘Crisis’ is the symbol for ‘Danger’: The bottom symbol represents ‘Opportunity’.” When you come up against a roadblock or find yourself in a crisis, which do you see – a danger or an opportunity?
When legendary Dallas Cowboys Roger Staubach was a boy, his first love was baseball. He said that nothing pleased him more than coming to bat with two players out and runners on second and third base: “I looked at it as an opportunity.”
Many of us also love personal challenges, accomplishments, and of course winning. But when you are flying solo, you have no one but yourself to congratulate or to blame when you succeed or fail. But what about when you are depending on so many other people who have also been part of your teams’ “losing record?”
For the Cardinals, winning the 2011 World Series was too implausible,
so improbable, and very unthinkable. With massive losses, injuries, and problems back in August and September, four elimination games in the postseason, and twice being down to their last strike the night before, the St. Louis Cardinals are the World Series champions. Was it luck, circumstances or just a fluke? Did they really see this crisis as an opportunity?
The journey began in the spring with a needed star pitcher’s elbow out of play, an unsuccessful contract negotiation, arguments among the fans, and dwindling attendance as the season progressed. But last
Friday night, with a downtown St. Louis celebration lasting into the wee hours, no one even remembered that there had been such crises at every turn of the game. Instead, over 47,000 fans jammed into the stadium, with what seemed like thousands and thousands more outside the park — in Ballpark Village, in the streets, and even atop the nearby parking garage. St. Louis was united in brotherhood: for in winning, we were all Number One! More than eight months of ups and downs certainly paid off, spilling out all over the city and the whole state in a constant sea of red camaraderie. Were we really part of “The Team – the winning factor?” General manager John Mozeliak said, “When you play in a city like this, where we have the greatest fans in the world, they come out every day and they allowed us to do what we did this year, so I thank all of them and all our employees, because without them, we wouldn’t be standing here.”
What would it have been like though if we had not won? It
certainly wasn’t expected. We fans found it all as incredulous as the players did. Did we really support “our guys” when they were many games out? Why wasn’t the stadium overflowing back then?
It all comes back to winning. But this time, it wasn’t just about being far above the others – we weren’t. It wasn’t just about the supportive fans or the magnificent plays by Freese, Pujols and Berkman. They all had “bad nights”, mistakes, errors, wrong calls, strike-outs. I believe what has kept my dad coming back and watching every Cardinal game for over eighty years, is NOT whether they win or lose but it IS how they play the game. We use words such as character, integrity, teamwork. We get to know the players and their families. We know who was a “hometown boy” and who has a charity and ministry. We also watch how all of them react after a loss – when they are not winning.
I believe that this is where we really excelled this year, beginning with the man at the top, Tony La Russa. This future Hall of Fame Manager, as well as “his men” gave credit to the team, to the fans, to one another, to their families, to St. Louis, and many of them to God. None of these great players took credit for themselves, even the MVP of the Series, David Freese said, “I’m not much into personal awards. It’s all about the team.” If we took that approach to our families, our schools, our workplace, our government, our churches, our nation, our world – maybe a World Series could be won by all.