Monday, March 22, 2010

Increasing Positive Influences

What we are trying to do at Sporting Chance Press is bring out the good in sports and somehow help people improve their game in life. Sports can be a great way for us to learn and practice healthy principles--teamwork, self-discipline, preparation, practice, etc. The violence in our young people's world shows that life without principles can get awfully ugly. Promoting those principles in an engaging and interesting way can help.

We all need to have that little voice in our heads that tells us to stay on course. People live their own lives although they are influenced by those around them. A good book on sports is long way removed from the key influences on young people like their fathers, mothers teachers, brothers, sisters and others. Good books are a very small part of the process, but we are doing what we can. Our authors do more than write to help.

Author J. D. Thorne speaks to many different groups about the 10 Commandments of Baseball - principles for baseball and life. If there are young people present they love to participate in the discussion. It's encouraging to see how young people want to do the right thing with a little encouragement.

J. D.'s first presentation was to a very appreciative Prison Camp audience in Duluth so we know his message on principles can be very powerful. Even men who have seen a lot of bad things in life can still muster up some enthusiasm for the good.

But perhaps our greatest influence on people is with average Moms, Dads and grandparents who are reminded of the benefits that good sports programs, coaches, and players had on them. They are reminded that encouraging other people to have those postive experiences can be a great benefit.

After a presentation, a few people will offer encouragement to those in their families. Some will take a young person to their first baseball game or show up at a granddaughter's next game to offer encouragement. Some will write a check to the Little League or make an extra contribution to a charity that helps troubled kids.

Others might be inspired to look in the mirror and take a more active role in helping those around them -- they might "take the bat off their shoulder" after they have kept it there for years. If we can help to increase the positive influences in life, perhaps it will help drown out the negative ones.

Sporting Chance Press Books.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Merkle Game is Still a Big Deal Over 100 Years Later

Public Bonehead, Private Hero is about one of the most interesting years and events in baseball and American history. The year is 1908 in the midst of the Progressive Era. Teddy Roosevelt is in office. There is no radio or television. The Wright brothers are working hard to show that flight might just work for more than a few minutes. Ford is offering the first affordable car in history, his Model T. Newspapers are essentially the media and there are so many of them steeped in competition, reports are working desperately for readers. There is a lot going on, but what is getting the most attention is baseball.

Thousands line the streets in mid-afternoon in places like Detroit to watch electronic scoreboards follow the big games. Rickety old wooden ballparks are being cheaply expanded with more rickety old stands to increase capacity, but crowd control is primitive and ineffective.

In several parks, spectators stand a few feet away from players and umpires. Often live balls roll into the bystanders and players have to fight to get them back to make a play. Poor play or an unpopular call by an umpire often gets an immediate verbal response from fans who are only a few feet away. Occasionally, a player or umpire is attacked with fists or hit with a thrown bottle. A broken jaw here, a concussion there, it's all part of the game.

1908 Was Special

A normal run of the mill baseball season would have American fans buzzing about their team, their heroes and their games. But 1908 turns out to be something special. In both the American and the National Leagues, several teams are neck and neck in the standings as the season winds down.

In one of the most heated rivalries, a young 19-year old New York Giant is put in for an injured veteran in a key game against the mighty Chicago Cubs. The young man, Fred Merkle, plays well and in the bottom of the ninth inning, he finds himself safe at first base with another man on third in a tie game. When the batter drives the ball into the outfield for a hit, scoring the winning run from third, Merkle does something everyone else was doing at the time. Instead of touching second to avoid a force out, he runs off the base path towards the club house to beat the crowd that is about to push through the field on their way out. But this day, the rule that required Merkle to touch second base is enforced at the urging of one, Johnny Evers of the Cubs, and young Merkle is belatedly called out long after the play.

The game is called a tie. The ruling is appealed, but eventually the game is “replayed” as the last game of the season to determine the National League champion when the Cubs and Giants are tied in the standings. The Cubs win the tiebreaker and go on to the World Series championship – their last in over 100 years.

Public Bonehead, Private Hero is about American history and culture, baseball, society, and the tragic media and fan attack on Fred Merkle. After the “Merkle” game, the newspapers hung poor Fred Merkle out to dry and christened him bonehead for life.

Still a Big Deal 100 Years Later

Sounds like old new? Not really. The Merkle game continues to be one of the most sensationalized games in baseball history. Author Mike Cameron got to know Merkle’s last living daughter and he brings the human side of the Merkle affair to light in Public Bonehead, Private Hero.

And How about the Ball?

And what about that famous ball used to force Merkle out at second? No one knows exactly how the second baseman, Johnny Evers (of Tinker, Evers and Chance fame) got the ball to force Merkle out—some witnesses said the ball was tossed by one of the players into the outfield when the game appeared to have been over. Some say the Cubs chased the ball into the stands and slugged a spectator to get it back and into the hands of Evers. Evers achieved some notoriety over and above his fame as a player for orchestrating the famous force play. He thought enough of the play to hold onto the ball for posterity.

Interesting enough, the Merkle ball as certified by the Evers family is up again for sale this spring through Robert Evans Auctions. Some believe it may fetch as much as $25,000.

And Merkle

Merkle dusted himself off as much as he could from the ridicule that followed him through life, and despite difficulties went on and raised and supported his family in the American way throughout both the Depression and World War II. The book is a good fit with my company, Sporting Chance Press, because our objective is not only entertain, but also inspire and Merkle’s story does that.

Merkle was born in Watertown, Wisconsin and although he grew up in Toledo, Watertown has a special place in its heart for him. Collector and baseball fan, David Stalker helped erect a special monument to Merkle in Watertown for its native son.

Friday, March 5, 2010

There Should Be a Law Against Dull Management Seminars When Baseball is Here

A fair amount of change that takes place in most corporations is really just meant to keep everyone awake and engaged. But if a company makes too many changes, employees start to feel like they are being manipulated. In time, employees can become jaded and they start posting Dilbert cartoons around the copying machines and break rooms.

One way to keep everyone on their toes without manipulating people, is to just "keep it real." Get employees engaged in the goals of the corporation without trickery. A great way to do that is with analogies. You present something that is very positive to employees that they are deeply interested in or entertained by, and then you simply ask them to draw from that topic to their work efforts. It's perhaps as old as the hills, but it work.

At Sporting Chance Press, we want people to draw positive things from sports and apply those to their lives. It can be their personal lives, but they can also draw from sports for their work lives as well.


People affectionately refer to new topics of training at big corporations as "du jours" -- the mission du jour, the model du jour, the initiative du jour. Many care more about the soup du jour than the mission du jour because they know the soup is real.

Season vets understand that much of the du jour business is simply hype. I have often wondered if the management gurus who often start these movements aren't laughing all the way to the bank over just how silly they are and how much companies are willing to pay to acquire them.

If you are really interested in getting your people fired up and enthusiastic about their jobs, why not offer them programs on more interesting topics that transfer over to business. When you think of it, a lot of what is being done with a new initiative is simply setting up a new analogy. You are asking employees to look at one subject and then transferring their understanding from it to what you have always wanted them to do from the start.

Advance the Ball

A super successful international CEO, who happens to be a women, said recently, "when I talk to my team, I use a football metaphor — every day, we have to come in and advance the ball."

A simple thought, but really a profound one that works.

Even more than football, baseball offers a never-ending source of sports analogies that provide life lessons. The 10 Commandments of Baseball offers up ten simple principles that are part and parcel of every good baseball training program and certainly a treasure trove of analogies that can help people at work become champions. At Sporting Chance Press, we saw this clearly when we began working with author, J. D. Thorne, on the "commandments." But frankly it sounds too good to be true to many people. If it isn't high tech or some new management theory, it is easily overlooked. The result: more deadly dull meetings with people straining to stay awake. I'd like to shout, "hey, there is no reason to put people to sleep at work!"

How Champions Become Champions

If you want to inspire workers to perform like champions, show them how champions become champions, get them The 10 Commandments of Baseball - or better yet, book J. D. Thorne to make his 10 Commandments presentation where he can pass out signed copies of his terrific work. Work life doesn't have to be dull!

Above is the famous Take Me Out to the Ball-Game sheet music that has been a popular part of our culture since 1908. The first part of the song tells of how Katie Casey was base ball mad and each Saturday she would tell her boyfriend that she'd rather see a ball game than go to a show. Why not capture the enthusiasm Katie Casey and millions of others have for sports and bring it into the workplace?

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Scapegoating Continues

As announced, we published Public Bonehead, Private Hero, this week. It's an amazing story of sports' number one scapegoat of all time. If you think Bill Buckner had it bad, you are right, but read Public Bonehead, Private Hero and you'll see Fred Merkle had it much worse.

If you are wondering why a book on Merkle is relevant today, just listen to a few sports casters on most any team sport. Or "read the papers" as they say. Or better yet, listen to a sports radio talk show. We all know that the media has to appeal to our emotions and often it is done while seemingly stating opinion as if it was fact. In most papers, radio shows and TV broadcasts, you don't hear or read something like, "in my opinion, Lovie Smith is a bad coach." You will hear, "Lovie Smith should be fired because he is a bad coach."

I suppose it is common practice to scapegoat the coach, but it is scapegoating none the less. In Smith's case, anyone who watched the Bears this year, knows that Smith's coaching had little to do with some very poor fourth quarter passing. And while it seemed like everyone in Chicago wanted the Bears to finally acquire a first rate quarterback, Smith is getting a lot of blame because it didn't result in immediate gratification and a steep price in draft picks was paid for it.

What is even more ironic is that Ron Turner was sacrificed over the failed season. Based on the players performance on the field, it's hard to imagine how Turner could have made a difference. If the group of players, the team, does not executive the plays called, it seems wrong to blame the coaches. Many in the media have been upset with Turner's firing and Smith's retention, but you have to wonder if Smith had been fired and Turner retained, would the call for heads have stopped. In my opinion, the worst part of the scapegoating of the Bears coaches is that both Smith and Turner proved themselves by getting so much out of talent-challenged Bears teams. Patience seems required when you are building around such a key acquisition as a "franchise" quarterback.

The whole point here is that when a team does not play well, certainly the poor play of certain individuals and the poor decisions of coaches have in impact, but maybe we shouldn't be so anxious to look for one person to scapegoat as we often do. When you look back at the Bears season, a few more accurate passes could have made a huge difference in the won and loss column. A few less injuries on defense would have made a huge difference as well. These 2009 changes would have made a big difference in 2009. That's not to say that the same team personnel would render good results in 2010. Aggressive player acquisitions seems to be a must in all professional sports today based on a long history of successful teams that just don't stand still.

Can't we just say that the 2009 Bears were essentially a team building around a new quarterback--rather than requiring a pound of flesh from individuals who were obviously working very hard to make it work? One thing I do believe in team sports, is that when individuals are severely criticized unfairly, quite often their performance does not improve. Merkle had a very poor year after he was lambasted, but he was able to come back with great courage. I hope Smith can come back after his 2009 roasting.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Public Bonehead, Private Hero -- Publishes

Public Bonehead, Private Hero has published! Available from tells the great American story of Fred Merkle who was at the confluence of Progressive Era history and baseball legend. Just as automobiles, airplanes and modern communications were taking shape, baseball became the cultural centerpiece of our fast-growing nation—a popular metaphor for America’s competitive drives and struggles. The book sets the stage historically and then recounts the most famous play in baseball history. A young New York Giant, Fred Merkle, walks off the base path after the apparent end of a hotly contested game only to be ruled out later on a rarely enforced technicality. The book recounts that while the Giants cried foul; the press focused all of its muckraking venom on the unfortunate Fred Merkle and christened him “bonehead” for the remainder of his life.

Public Bonehead, Private Hero reveals how baseball fans and the press never tired of recounting the “bonehead episode” and seeing Merkle relive the ignominy. The book discloses that the cartoon character that was Fred Merkle in the public eye was the opposite of the sensitive intelligent man who went on with his life and career with courage and determination. Who was Fred Merkle and how his story resonates with our own struggles is the heart and soul of this new work by journalist and Merkle fan Mike Cameron.