Don’t widen home plate to shirk duty

I rejoice in receiving what friends send me that they think I will appreciate and enjoy. Sometimes they are Jewish, but sometimes, like this, they are life lessons applicable to everyone, well worth passing on. So now, as the baseball season continues to unfold, I am introducing you to John Scolinos, a well-remembered baseball coach at Cal Poly in Pomona, California.
In January 1996, at age 78, he had finally retired from a career of almost 50 years, and Opryland Hotel in Nashville was abuzz with comments from some 4,000 people there for the annual American Baseball Coaches convention. One variation of a most-heard remark: “John Scolinos is here? Oh, man — worth every penny of my airfare.”
When he was called to the stage, Scolinos ascended to a standing ovation — with a full-sized, stark-white home plate hanging around his neck. He talked for 25 minutes, never mentioning his “necklace,” until he finally said: “You’re probably wondering about this. Well, I may be old, but I’m not crazy. Can you tell me how wide home plate is in Little League?” The answer came tentatively: “17 inches?” “Right,” said Scolinos. “And in high school baseball? And in the Minor Leagues? And in the Major Leagues?” The correct answer was always the same.
Then the coach asked: “What happens to a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over 17 inches?” A pause before he answered his own question: “What they don’t do is say, ‘Oh, that’s OK, Jimmy. If you can’t hit that target, we’ll make it 18, or 19, or 20, or 25 inches, so you have a better chance…’”
And now comes the lesson: “What do we do when our best player gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? In other words: Do we widen home plate?”
Then Scolinos continued, “This is the problem with our homes today. With our marriages. With the way we parent our kids. We don’t practice and teach accountability. There are no consequences for failing to meet standards. In other words: We widen the plate…” A pause before he added: “This is also the problem in our schools today. The quality of education is going downhill fast; teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful in disciplining our young people. We are allowing others to widen home plate. Where is that getting us?”
Silence filled the air until he continued: “And this is a problem in churches, where powerful people in positions of authority have taken advantage of young children, their atrocity swept under the rug for years. Their leaders are widening home plate.”
One convention attendee later remarked, “I expected to learn something about curve balls and bunting, but from this old man with home plate strung around his neck, I learned about life — and myself — and my responsibilities as a leader.”
Now, here’s how Scolinos ended his talk: “If I’m lucky, you’ll remember this from an old coach today: If we fail to hold ourselves to a standard of what we know to be right…if we fail to hold our spouses and children to the same standards…if our schools and churches and government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, unable to provide consequences when they do not meet standards…” at which point he turned home plate over to reveal its dirty underside: “there are dark days ahead.”
Coach John Scolinos was 91 when he died in 2009, but his final words of 13 years before are still being remembered today, and acted upon by thousands of coaches: “Keep your players, no matter how good they are…keep your own children…and, most of all, keep yourself…at 17 inches!” As Jews, we can heed them today, adding one more “inch” to arrive at chai, a life of realistic, righteous, enforceable standards. I’m sure the outspoken “old coach,” of very blessed memory, wouldn’t mind at all.

Leave a Reply