Wednesday, October 23, 2019

The Why: Learning from the World Series Champion 2016 Chicago Cubs

Game one of the 2019 World Series resulted in the Washington Nationals taking one from the Houston Astros on their home turf in an exciting and close game. Nats 5, 'Stros 4. Even with the Astros heavily favored, I don't know a baseball fan who isn't wondering if these Washington Miracles won't do it all. If they prevail, I hope sports fans will ask the question I have been considering all season: Why.
Why is this team so good? Why did they perform this way without their star, Bryce Harper? Why do teams get hot at the right time? Or, why have them come together NOW?And if you have no connection to either team, I think it's fair to ask "Why should I care?"

I love to ask "Why?!" I think it's a great question. Why? (pun intended) Answering "The Why" requires complex thinking. It demands us to challenge our assumptions. "The Why" invites critical thinking, historical knowledge and I dare say biased and unbiased opinions. Once you know "the why" wisdom checks in and stays.

The 2016 Chicago Cubs beat the Cleveland Indians in a dramatic seven-game series—one that reigns as one of the most exciting and dramatic championships to date. With 103 wins on the season, the Cubs were nothing to underestimate; however superstition and a 108 year drought between trophies had their fans feeling otherwise. In the tenth inning the Cubs beat the Indians 8-6; Chicagoland is still celebrating. 
In his 2017 Commencement address to Yale College, Cubbies GM, Theo Epstein, explains WHY the Cubs won. He speaks to a choice they made when it mattered most. The significance of the rain delay in the eighth inning of that final game at Progressive Field in Cleveland is no secret. Sports reporters have written about the Cubs gathering on their own to regroup, to rally, to share what they believed could and should be true: let's do this.

Epstein addresses the literal and metaphorical significance of the rain delay—something each one of us will encounter in our lives. He challenges coaches and athletes to consider what they will choose during those moments and what factors enable a person to make what we now know as the "right choice."

I honestly believe every coach should watch his talk and share it with others. I'll let Epstein's words and the Cubs' action speak for themselves. I have attached part of his transcript below. And, at the conclusion of the 2019 World Series, I'd like to evaluate choices the winning team made starting in the pre-season, during the dog days of summer, the significance of September and the distinction of October baseball: good for helping us understand "The Why." In the meantime, Play Ball!
After all the champagne had dried and we finally got a good night’s sleep, I found myself returning to a simple question: what should I tell Jack and his younger brother, Drew, about this historic achievement; what is it, exactly, that I want them to hold on to?

I thought immediately of the players’ meeting during the rain delay, and how connected they were with each other, how invested they were in each other’s fates, how they turned each other’s tears into determination. During rain delays players typically come in off the field and head to their own lockers, sit there by themselves, change their wet jerseys, check their phones, think about what has gone right and wrong during the game, and become engrossed in their own worlds. That would have been disastrous for our team during Game Seven — 25 players sitting alone at their lockers, lamenting the bad breaks, assigning blame, wallowing, wondering. Instead, they had the instinct to come together.

Actually, it was not an instinct; it was a choice.

One day I will tell Jack and Drew that some players — and some of us — go through our careers with our heads down, focused on our craft and our tasks, keeping to ourselves, worrying about our numbers or our grades, pursuing the next objective goal, building our resumes, protecting our individual interests. Other players — and others amongst us — go through our careers with our heads up, as real parts of a team, alert and aware of others, embracing difference, employing empathy, genuinely connecting, putting collective interests ahead of our own. It is a choice.

The former approach, keeping our heads down, seems safer and more efficient, and I guess sometimes it may be. The latter, connecting, keeping our heads up, allows us to lead, and, every now and then, to be part of something bigger than ourselves, and, therefore, to truly triumph. I know, I will tell them, because I have tried it both ways.
And I will tell Jack and Drew that we all have our rain delay moments. There will be times when everything you have been wanting, everything you have worked for, everything you have earned, everything you feel you deserve is snatched away in what seems like a personal and unfair blow. This, I will tell them, is called life. But when these moments happen, and they will, will you be alone at your locker with your head down, lamenting, divvying up blame; or will you be shoulder to shoulder with your teammates, connected, with your heads up, giving and receiving support?

And I will tell them not to wait until the rain comes to make this choice, because that can be too late. We weren’t winners that night in Cleveland because we ended up with one more run than the Indians. If Zobrist’s ball were four inches farther off the line, it would have been a double play and we would have lost the game. That was randomness; like much of life, it was arbitrary. We were winners that night in Cleveland because when things went really, really wrong — and then the rains came — our players already knew each other so well that they could come together; they already trusted each other so much that they could open up and be vulnerable, and they were already so connected that they could lift one another up. We had already won. That’s why I had that smile on my face as I walked away from the weight room door.

Thank you Eileen for sharing this talk with me!!
Photo Credits

1 comment:

  1. Glad I could share. I think his description of the locker room is a great metaphor for the Christian life as well...