Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Baseball's Fifth Commandment by J. D. Thorne

I came across the “10 Commandments of Baseball” on an advertising card that had been a keepsake of my Dad’s from Bill Zuber’s Restaurant and Dugout Lounge in the Amana Colonies of Iowa. The “Commandments” were composed by Joe McCarthy who managed the three most storied franchises in the golden age of baseball: the Chicago Cubs, the New York Yankees, and the Boston Red Sox. He still holds the highest winning percentage for any Major League baseball manager even though he retired over a half a century ago. McCarthy's principles are at the center of my classic book called The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) published by Sporting Chance Press. This post touches on McCarthy's Fifth Commandment.

Commandment Number Five: “When you start to slide, S-L-I-D-E. He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one.”


Players need to be decisive when making a play. Think of a runner who just drove the ball over an infielder’s head and is sprinting to second base to beat a throw from the outfield for a double. Should he stand up or slide going into the base? Sliding takes more effort, so going into the bag standing up is the natural first instinct when it looks like he can make it. Either way, the base runner must decide and follow through on his decision otherwise he is flirting with disaster.

Indecision hurts even the greatest of baseball players. While playing for Joe McCarthy’s 1930 Chicago Cubs, Hall of Fame second baseman Rogers Hornsby was nursing a sore heel. On a slide into third base, he hesitated before sliding, caught a spike in the dirt, and broke his ankle. He was lost to the team for two months. With Hornsby out of the lineup, the Cubs did not repeat that year as pennant winners and ultimately Joe McCarthy was released from his job with the Cubs at the end of the season.

McCarthy’s Decisive Ways


Joe McCarthy took a “never satisfied” approach to leadership. One reporter described his style, “He isn’t the kind of manager who tears at his players’ nerves with a rasping voice, but it is almost impossible to satisfy him. That is why in every managerial job he has had ever held he has been a builder of winning teams. … He demands the most that any given situation possibly can yield. He makes no excuses and accepts none from anyone else. Surface appearances do not satisfy him. He wants to know what’s underneath or behind everything that goes on.”

When asked by reporters what his general formula would be in 1931 when he took over the helm of the Yankees, he tersely replied, “All work and no play.” As stern as that sounds, what he meant by that quip was expressed by another McCarthy quote: “A ballplayer has only a few hours of concentrated work every day, and if he cannot attend to business with the high pay and working conditions so pleasant, something is wrong with him, and he ought go somewhere else.”
McCarthy paid meticulous attention to detail according to those around him. Birdie Tebbetts was McCarthy’s catcher when he managed the Boston Red Sox. Tebbets, who later became a manager himself, once asked, “How many managers do you know who ever cut anything so fine?” He always showed “that infinite capacity for taking pains that is said to be the mark of genius and his ability to impart his own enthusiasm to his ballplayers.”

This Commandment challenges us to live (and play) decisively and give each day 100%. Being decisive makes life easier. Go with your hunches as sometime your earliest inklings are the right ones. Do not discount them – go with them with confidence.

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Image is J.D. Thorne, courtesy of David Bernacchi
Copyright 2012 Sporting Chance Press, Inc.

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Sporting Chance Press is the publisher of J.D. Thorne's The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy's Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) and other fine sports books. The 10 Commandments of Baseball is an enjoyable mix of professional baseball stories and the author's affectionate retelling of his own amateur baseball experiences. Whether male or female, young or old, the reader is pulled into great baseball moments that make the baseball commandments come to life with compassion and humor. The focal point of the book is the classic, but little-known, 10 Commandments of Baseball, the baseball principles created by Major League baseball's most successful manager, Joe McCarthy.