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Sporting anecdotes: Baseball

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Anecdote 1: The Perfect Game that wasn't - For when you want to talk about carrying on after a setback

A 'perfect game' in baseball is defined as a game where a pitcher pitches a minimum of nine innings and not a single batter reaches base. This feat has only ever been achieved 20 times in baseball history, and prior to 2010 there had never been two in the same season.

The vast majority of pitchers will never achieve one. No pitcher has ever achieved two. So when the chance to achieve one does come along, it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And in 2010 Detroit pitcher Armando Galarraga had his opportunity against the Cleveland Indians to achieve the Tigers' first ever. Not only that, it would be the third in the season and - incredibly - the second in four nights!

26 batters have stepped up to the plate and 26 have been sent back to the dugout with their tails between their legs. Galarraga is on fire. He's in the zone. Nothing but the supernatural is going to stop him now. He's facing the 27th - and possibly last - batter, Indians' shortstop Jason Donald. He's only had to throw 83 pitches all game, which will make this the fewest pitches thrown in a perfect game since 1908 ............

  Armando Galarraga

He pitches. Donald hits a grounder between first and second that is fielded by Detroit’s first baseman, who throws it back to Galarraga, who's raced from the mound to cover first. He squeezes the ball in his mitt, steps on first base with his right foot and is ready to celebrate. He's done it - the first complete game in the Tigers' 110-year history!

The 18,000 crowd roars its appreciation, Brandon Inge is jumping for joy. Don Kelly and Austin Jackson are rushing in from the outfield to join in the celebration. Gerald Laird and the rest of the Detroit dugout are about to storm the field and mob Galarraga.

And first base umpire Jim Joyce ...... calls the runner safe. With the benefit of slow motion replays, everyone watching on TV knows Donald is out and Joyce's mistake has cost Galarraga his once-in-a-lifetime, probably never-to-be-repeated chance to be in the history books.

Immediately after the game, Joyce checked the video and realized he'd made the wrong call. But there was nothing he could do. His call couldn't be changed despite the evidence. He knew he'd robbed Galarraga and deprived him of his prize. What did he do? He didn't make excuses, but quickly admitted his mistake and personally apologized face-to-face to Galarraga.

The grace with which the Detroit pitcher accepted the aoplogy stunned everyone. He later said, "(Joyce) really feels bad. He probably feels more bad than me. Nobody’s perfect, everybody’s human. I understand. I give a lot of credit to the guy saying, 'Hey, I need to talk to you because I really wat to say I’m sorry.'"

Joyce was scheduled to call the following day’s game in Detroit, but officials feared the reaction of the Detroit fans and he was told he could take the day off. His Wikipedia page was vandalized within minutes, and sackjimjoyce.com was up and running within hours. Most people would have gone into hiding for a few days, and probably avoided Detroit fans for the rest of their umpiring career. But not Jim Joyce.

He chose to face what would probably be an extremely hostile crowd and call the game anyway. So he squared his shoulders, gritted his teeth and walked out tensing for boos and even missiles, ...... only to hear applause ...... as the Detroit fans cheered his good sportsmanship.

Joyce, Galarraga and the Detroit fans all came out of this episode with their reputations enhanced because of the way they behaved.

Because sport is about losing as well as winning. About setbacks and decisions that don't go your way as well as those that do. And how a sportsman or woman handles those decisions can be the difference between going on to ultimate victory or ultimate defeat.

It's the same in business. Sometimes when things don't go your way, or when someone else makes a mistake and it stops you ahieving your objectives, it's tempting - indeed, only human - to bitch and moan. To say it 'wasn't fair.' That 'someone' should do something. That it shouldn't be allowed.

How you handle those situations - whether you fold or stand tall, whether you sit in silent depression and want to give up, or smile and move on undaunted to the next challenge - shapes your character, and ultimately your ability to succeed. We can all learn from Jim Joyce, who could easily have refused to call the game the next day, and Armando Galarraga, who could have bitched about how life wasn't fair.

To mix sports and quote the great NFL coach Vince Lombardi: "The greatest accomplishment is not in never falling, but in rising again after you fall."

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Anecdote 2: Scott McClain - For when you want to talk about dealing with disappointment and setbacks

All his life, Scott McClain had one dream, and one dream only: to score a home run in a major league baseball game. As a kid, baseball wasn't even his best sport, but he turned down a football scholarship to play as quarterback for USC in search of that dream and instead went to the Baltimore Orioles, who picked him in the 22nd round of the draft.

But he didn't make the grade. After seven seasons he was still in the minor leagues, heading nowhere. He worked hard. Trained like a lunatic, took batting practice till his hands blistered. But all to no avail. The Orioles traded him to the Mets, but they gave up on him after a season.

  Scott McClain

He moved to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, and after hitting 38 home runs in the minors in a single season for them, was given his chance. He played one game in the majors, and flopped. After 2 more years in the minors, he played for the Seibu Lions for four seasons in Japan, where he hit 71 home runs. But his dream was to hit one in the US majors, not in Japan.

He returned to the States in 2005 at the age of 33, too old for any of the majors to be interested in him as a regular starter. But still that dream haunted him. Still it dangled, temptingly, just out of his reach.

A season each in the minors with the Chicago Cubs and the Oakland A's went nowhere, and he was just about ready to give up, but something told him to give it one last try, and he signed another minor-league contract with the San Francisco Giants. He hit 29 home runs in a season, and after hitting four in four successive games, finally got the call.

The Giants were playing the Colorado Rockies, and the first two times he stepped up to the plate he scored two runs. The next time he's on it's the sixth innings, and the Giants are 4 runs ahead. He's faced the pitcher before, in the minors, and when he throws a couple of fastballs, he just knows the next one will be a slider. He throws, the ball dips, as he knew it would, and his bat connects solidly.

Boom! The ball soars far and high towards left field, and he starts to run to first base, then slows to a trot as he watches it sail far over the wall. He slows his jog almost to a walk so he can make the moment last as long, and all he can think is, 'I did it! I achieved my dream!'

Scott McClain was 36 when he achieved his childhood dream and scored a home run in a major league game. After suffering setback after setback for all those years, nobody would have blamed him if he'd given up on playing in the majors. But he didn't.

His persistence and single-mindedness were quite extraordinary, but all of us are required to demonstrate these qualities from time to time. It's how someone reacts to disappointments and setbacks that separates winners from losers.

President Calvin Coolidge once said, “Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not, nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan 'Press on' has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race."

Anecdote 3: Sara Tucholsky - For when you want to talk about 'doing the right thing' / acting ethically

Western Oregon and Central Washington Universities were fierce rivals for their Great Northwest Athletic softball conference and were neck and neck in April, 2008. So the game being played between the two was a big one for all concerned.

Sara Tucholsky had never hit a home run in her life and as a senior, this season was her last chance to win a championship. The 5'2" Tucholsky stepped up to the plate in the second inning of the second game of a double header with two runners on base and the game still scoreless after her school's 8-1 win earlier in the day.

  Tucholsky

The pitcher throws, and boom! The ball flies far and high, and she's hit the first home run of her life. The two runners on base head for home and the less than 100-strong crowd applaud, but in her excitement Tucholsky forgets to touch first base on her run, and as she turns back to do so, she twists her knee and falls in agony to the floor.

Nobody knows what to do. The umpire tells her coach (wrongly as it happens) that if any of her team mates help her, she'll be called out and the play will be treated as a 2 run single. She's in agony. She can't stand, never mind walk. It looks like she'll won't be able to keep her first and only home run.

And that's when a player from the opposing team, Mallory Holtman, a player with more home runs to her credit than any other in the conference history, steps up. Bear in mind that these two teams are fierce rivals and only one game separates them in the Conference table. But she and another teammate, Liz Wallace, pick the injured Tucholsky up and carry her round the dime, stopping to touch each base with her left foot.

Why? Because, in Holtman's words, "She hit the ball over the fence. She deserved it."

"She deserved it."

Holtman's team lost the game that day, but the real winner was the sport. Because sometimes, doing the right thing is more important than winning.

And the same is true in business ......

More sports anecdotes articles you might enjoy:

NFL stories 1

NFL stories 2

NFL stories 3

NFL stories 4

Basketball stories

Boxing stories

Hockey stories

 

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