Bats & gloves galore — a day at the Baseball Hall of Fame

Last time I went to the Baseball Hall of Fame & Museum in Cooperstown, NY—nearly 30 years ago—I loved it so much I spent two straight days there. This time: about four hours. As I toured its three floors, I realized that the exhibits mostly consisted of about five things: bats, balls, gloves, caps, and jerseys. It’s like the Metropolitan Museum of Arts’s Costume Institute, minus the sequins.

Three greats greet you at the Hall of Fame entrance: Lou Gehrig, Jackie Robinson, Roberto Clemente

But even though so many of the artifacts on exhibit may belong to the same genus—baseballs, for instance—they tell remarkably nuanced stories if you care to look. There’s the baseball (could it really have been black? I think it was) that one young man hit for a home run in his very first at-bat as a major leaguer. Astonishing. What’s even more astonishing, he’s only the most recent player to achieve that feat; three others did it ahead of him.

And jerseys. Most come from players’ high points. There’s Daniel Murphy’s Mets jersey from the 2015 post-season, when he briefly lifted himself from mediocrity. Two jerseys side by side commemorate Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa’s race to break the single-season home run record. Sadly, those jerseys hang in an exhibit about performance-enhancing drugs, which both athletes were later found to have taken. A stain on the game.

Baseball brings people together

Then there’s the Hall itself, a light, airy space lined with bronze plaques featuring bas-relief likenesses of some of the heroes of the game. Upstairs, in the Museum wing, you’ll find a fairly thorough and honest exhibit about the old Negro Leagues and another one on the impact Latino players have had on the game. But down in the Hall of Fame, everyone is the same color: bronze.

Baseball team owner & civil rights activist, Effa Manley

I don’t wish for a color-blind society; we need to appreciate, not erase, our differences. But in the Hall of Fame, everyone is equal. You can’t see who speaks English and who doesn’t (something a few baseball fans I know care about, though I wish they didn’t). All you can see is greatness. Hundreds of men—and at least one woman!—who all love this game.

My Mets have been playing poorly this year. Many fans wonder if the owners care about winning anymore. But my day in Cooperstown reminded me why I love the game so much.

And it reminded me how many stories you can find, even if you’re only looking at hundreds of balls, bats, gloves, caps, and jerseys.


If I could find so many stories in a museum devoted to one thing, how many stories can we find in the marvelously diverse setting of the Getty Center? Architecture, gardens, art, people-watching. Join us for the Story Safari™ Field Trip.

WTF Philadelphia?

First stop on my vacation took me to Philadelphia. I think of Philly as a sort of mini-New York. You know, a city on the East Coast. So it must share the kinds of New York City values I’m used to. But apparently…not so much. I found myself bewildered more than once, thinking WTF Philadelphia?

[Yeah, I know there’s supposed to be a comma between WTF and Philadelphia. But I don’t want to anger the SEO Gods.]

My first clue came at the ballpark. Of course I was in Philadelphia for a Mets game. Don’t you know me by now?

RIP Darren Daulton

WTF Philadelphia
Daulton’s 1991 baseball card, image c/o mysticgames.com

The Phillies had just lost one of their great players the week I visited. Darren Daulton was the catcher on their 1997 World Series-winning team, and they paid tribute to him before the game. You know: moment of silence, reverent video—at least 7 of the whole 9 yards. I’m sure they’ll get to 9 later, when they can bring in his family and the men he played with for a more extensive tribute. But he’d only just passed away; the family is probably still making funeral arrangements.

We Mets fans know what it’s like to lose a beloved player too young—”the Kid,” Gary Carter. Carter was a catcher on our 1986 World Series-winning team. And, like Daulton, he was also felled by a brain tumor. I grabbed some extra napkins at the cheesesteak stand to sop up my inevitable tears.

And I did cry at the memorial (enough with the dying, already). But I also gasped in astonishment at the film tribute. After detailing the highlights of Daulton’s playing career—the little film was packed with clips of him in action—the voiceover announcer intoned,

“To the ladies, he was a matinée idol. But he was also a man’s man.”

Now I’ll grant you, the guy was handsome. Chiseled cheekbones, strong jaw, a full head of floppy late 1980s hair. But will someone please explain to me why we needed the caveat that men also liked him—or maybe that he also liked hanging with  dudes. Honestly, I’m not quite sure what that sentence was trying to say.

One thing it did say—loud and clear to me—is that someone thinks the only reason a woman could possibly admire a player is for his good looks. But is that really the story you want to tell your female fans, Phillies management? “Don’t worry your pretty little heads about strategy and skill; just look at the hot bodies. And buy lots of pink gear with the team logo. M’kay?”

WTF Philadelphia?

Still, I did enjoy the game. For once the Mets were in fine form, combining lights-out pitching by Jacob deGrom; stellar defense in the field; and—mirabile dictu!—actual hits, including singles and doubles, so that more than once when someone came along to hit it out of the park we scored not one run but three. Add in a handful of solo shots and you arrive at the very satisfying score of 10-0.

I hopped in a cab outside the ballpark—couldn’t have been easier—and hurtled back toward my hotel. The doorman opened the taxi door for me, gave a deferential half-bow and asked, “How was your evening, sir?”

Sir?

I mean, yes, I was wearing a baseball jersey and matching cap. But I was also wearing my—well, this is a business blog so I’ll just say “curves.” The moment I stepped one daintily shod foot out of the taxi, he started falling all over himself to apologize.

I looked him in the eyes and said,

“You know, girls can be baseball fans, too.”

The minute the word tumbled out of my mouth, I wanted to stuff it back in. I haven’t been a girl in—er, probably since before that doorman’s birth. But I was a little bit rattled, I gotta say.

So WTF Philadelphia? Seems like the “city of brotherly love” still hasn’t figured out that women love things other than men—or, in some cases, in addition to men.

Is this what it’s like in the rest of the country? No, I imagine in some spots it’s probably worse.

Well, I’ve checked the Phillies’s ballpark off my list. I don’t have to go back; in fact, I probably won’t.


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“People like us” — Seth Godin & baseball

Seth Godin was with me at the Mets game on Monday night. Not in person—in my head. When the beer vendor made his first appearance, Seth leaned over and whispered, “People like us do things like this.”

people like us drink cold beers on hot days at the ballparkNow, I don’t drink beer—or any alcohol, really—but this beer vendor caught my attention. Every other beer vendor I’ve encountered, in ballparks across this great land shouts, “Beer!” Or if they’re waxing poetic,

“Beer here!”

It’s a great phrase. The long E vowel sounds cut across the chatter of thousands of people. When the beer guy cometh, he doesn’t take you by surprise.

Monday was hot and sticky in the city. After weeks of early spring-like weather, summer came crashing down on us with two days of 90-plus temperatures. By game time, we were probably down to the high-80s. It was hot.

So the beer guy comes strolling down the stairs, shouting,

“Who needs a cold beer, besides me?”

Yes, that’s many more syllables than “Beer here!” but worth the investment of time and voice. In those few words he exhibited empathy for our plight—told us that he’s in the same position. He reminded us of the perfect solution to our shared problem. And that he, in fact, can provide it by selling us a cold beer.

People like us (hot, sticky people) do things like this (drink ice-cold beers).

I thought about getting out of my seat and talking to the vendor, asking if his spiel increased his sales. But the game was just too good. We beat the Cubs 6-1, with Jacob deGrom pitching a complete game. It’s been a while since people like him did things like that.

I’m heading back to the park this weekend. Hope I see some more great baseball, and more great marketing too.


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Play ball! Happy opening day, everyone

There’s one day a year my clients are guaranteed not to find me in the office: Opening Day of the baseball season. That’s today, for those of you who don’t keep track of such things.

How much do I love baseball? It’s right there in my email signature, which identifies me as “Award-winning speechwriter, writers’ guide, Mets Fan (unbeaten so far in 2017!)” That parenthetical phrase will no doubt disappear one day soon, but my Mets fandom is likely to stick.

I’ve written about baseball several times in this blog—mostly about the baseball writers who taught me to notice and love the nuances of the game. But I’ve never written about how I became a baseball fan. That has nothing to do with words at all.

It was early in the 1986 season and I turned on the TV one night to find a Mets game in progress. Before I could find the remote to change the channel, one of the Mets got hit by a pitch—deliberately—and a benches-clearing brawl ensued. Now, I’m not a violent person; I’m not a fan of fighting. But something about how the players had each others’ backs spoke to me and I found myself tuning in to the games to see if it would happen again. I also tried watching some Yankees games, but the Yanks were harder to follow—thanks to a stingy owner half a century earlier, their players did not have names on their jerseys. So back to the Mets I went.

The Mets in 1986 had heart. They had fun—like the World Series-winning Cubs did last season. They were a team, a family. And they drew me in quickly. I watched every broadcast game and when they played on cable, I tuned a rickety radio to the AM station and listened. I lived in Brooklyn back then and Brooklyn—believe it or not—had not yet been wired for cable.

Fortunately for me, the Mets’ lead announcer in the booth was the erudite former catcher Tim McCarver. Fans tend to either love or loathe him, but I appreciated the way he explained the fine points of the game. I also loved seeing him struggle to hide his impatience with the idiots they sometimes paired him with. Timmy was my kind of guy. He taught me the game of baseball. As did Roger Angell in The New Yorker. But Tim called his class to order almost nightly; I had to wait months for every new Angell piece.

I was devastated when the team let McCarver go, replacing him with Tom Seaver—who may have been a terrific pitcher back in the day, but who was not a gifted communicator. The broadcast team today includes two players from the ’86 team, Keith Hernandez and Ron Darling. Smart men—if a little backward sometimes about women—and smart players. I’m almost over losing McCarver, who retired completely a few years ago.

The Mets won it all in 1986—the most thrilling playoffs and World Series in my memory, until the Cubbies’ Series last year. Can the Mets do it again 31 years later? We’re coming into the season with the top-rated pitching rotation in all of baseball. Hope springs eternal on Opening Day. And I am smiling.

Time Out

The irony is not lost on me.

Last week, Freelancers Union published a piece I wrote about the need for balance, unplugging—the importance of using the other F-word, Fun.

Now, I’m cursing my calendar, trying to find a clearing for just one day off somewhere in the next two weeks. Actually, I think my root canal today should take care of that, but it might be nice to unplug when I’m not in pain.

Now I’m not complaining. (I can’t; I started a “no complaints for a week” challenge today.) I love my work and I’m grateful to have clients who understand flexible schedules and the need for balance. But sometimes deadlines don’t flex, and this is one of those times.

A “busy season” in the summer seems cruel, especially for a baseball fan. Then again, the Mets haven’t exactly been tearing it up lately.

So enjoy your cookouts and your fireworks; I’ll be hunched over my desk. At least I won’t have to worry about mosquitoes.

Baseball, writing, and business

Three pillars of my life: Baseball, Writing, and Business. The order changes depending on what time of year it is and how well my team has played. But give me those three things and I’m happy.

Sports seem to bring out the best in writers: the scribes who churn out copy at an unconscionable pace for the web and print media; writers like Roger Angell and George Will (yes, that George Will) who have the luxury of writing more leisurely, long-form accounts; and the play-by-play announcers, who have to generate eloquence in real-time as they describe the game in progress.

And for real eloquence, listen to a ballgame on the radio. Those announcers don’t just to tell us about the action, they have to paint the entire picture—the fans in the stands, the sun in the outfielder’s eye. They create context, which Chip and Dan Heath note in their book Made to Stick is “the way to get people to care.” With all due respect to Roger Angell, George Will, and the hundreds of beat reporters, for my money the radio guys (as far as I know in baseball they’re all still guys) are the best writers in the game.

Bob Costas, himself quite a fine writer (check back here on Sunday with a box of Kleenex for my thoughts on his eulogy for St. Louis Cardinals legend Stan Musial), notes that successful announcers need certain skills: “The command of the English language, the terrific sense of drama, the ability to tell a story.” The best have one or two of these, but the very best—and I’ll give it away now by noting that the Costas quote comes from a recent Sports Illustrated cover story, a Tom Verducci profile of Vin Scully—have all three: “[I]t’s as if you had a golfer who was the best off the tee, the best with the long irons, the best with the short irons, the best short game and the best putting game.” (I know nothing about golf, but I appreciate that some of you know nothing about baseball. Thanks for reading this far.)

Vin Scully, a first class baseball writer (radio division)

Scully has been the radio voice of the Dodgers since 1950; he later added some television duties for the team. He’s also been the broadcaster of record for many World Series and other signature baseball events. (Disclaimer: My affection for the man has nothing much to do with his narration of the pivotal play when my Mets won the Series in 1986.)

But this isn’t just about baseball. I’ve already hinted at what Scully has to teach us about writing: Set the context to get people’s attention. He also has a thing or two to teach us about business. Verducci describes the secret of Scully’s success:

“He reached such an exalted position not by talking about himself, not by selling himself, or, in the smarmy terminology of today, by ‘branding’ himself, but by subjugating his ego. The game, the story, the moment, the shared experience….They all matter more.”

Let’s agree that branding doesn’t need to be “smarmy.” But the point resonates with me. As a longtime ghostwriter I’m very clear that it’s not about me and what I want to say—it’s about my clients and what they want to say. The story they want to tell, the experience they will share with their audience.

That’s not to say I don’t offer my opinion. If I think a client is making a mistake, I’ll weigh in. But in the end, I’ve always been clear that it’s their work, not mine.

I’m proud to know that my instincts match Scully’s ethos. He’s one of the best at what he does. Not a bad professional to emulate.

Too good to lose, not good enough to win

Seven hits and more than a dozen walks. The Mets had 20 men on base in Wednesday afternoon’s game—and scored exactly one run. The White Sox tied it up in the eighth, and the frustration continued for five more innings as I thought about the air conditioning back in my office. The Mets were not bad enough to lose, but not quite good enough to win, either.

Business writing is often like that. And as a writer—and as an audience member—it drives me crazy. I’m not saying our clients need to swing for the fences every time. Not every utterance needs to be provocative or world-changing. But so often, they fear anything that strays from the mom-and-apple-pie norm.

Talk about your successes, yes—but be honest about your struggles, too. Because overcoming those struggles put you in the position to achieve those successes. When you have the opportunity to reach an audience, whether through a speech or in writing, use that opportunity to say something. Fill the empty space with something worth your audience’s while. Be good enough to win.

Sometimes that requires taking a risk. But that’s the only way to get the reward.

As for the game, well the White Sox play in the American League, where  designated hitters bat in place of the pitchers. But by the 13th inning yesterday, the Sox were out of options so they sent their relief pitcher to the plate. He’s only stood in the batter’s box three times in his entire career. Risk? You bet.

The guy hit a double—I can still hear the crack of the ball on his bat. A couple plays later, he scored the winning run. [Sigh.] Risk often leads to reward. I wish the Mets had thought of that.