A Bone Worth Picking, Why Baseball is Not A Game of Failure
By: Casey Fisk
Casey Fisk is the owner of Fisk Performance Training in Grand Rapids Michigan. His website and training facility should be visited by anybody who is serious about gaining baseball knowledge and elite physical preparedness. He is a tremendous follow on Twitter as well, and a great friend to Baseball Brains and our readers.
Baseball Is A Game of Failure
I’ve done it. I am ashamed that I did it, but I’m not going to lie about it to elevate myself in your eyes. Heck, you may like me less! I actually said, “Baseball is a game of failure” to a player as a means to help him get out of his head-funk. This was many years ago, but I’ve been hiding it, and it’s time to shine a spotlight on my misdeed. I feel shame, and I apologize to you personally for being a bad role model.
At least one of you is confused right now. After all, “game of failure” is one of the most famous baseball quotes of all time - uttered by none less honorable than the great Ted Williams! Except that he didn’t say that at all, and the entire notion is complete and utter Bruce Springsteen, Ben Stiller, Bruce Sutter, and at least one other BS that I’ll leave you to figure out.
I have heard GOOD baseball people, famous sports psychologists, and a few mental game gurus every one of you know by name toss the “game of failure” line around. I’ve bought and read their books. They’re smarter and more successful than I am. They’re also perpetuating a myth. How did we get to this place?
Look, look, look! This is important!! Ted williams NEVER said that baseball is a game of failure. What he said was:
"Baseball is the only field of endeavor where a man can succeed three times out of ten and be considered a good performer."
OK, so throw 3/10 strikes, and you’re a good performer? No? How about field 3/10 routine ground balls? Hmm … I know! Catch 3/10 fly balls? Block 3/10 balls in the dirt? Succeed on 3/10 stolen base attempts? May I stop now? Do you get the point? Williams was either talking about batting average or a catcher’s CS percentage. Williams wasn’t a catcher, so I’m going to eject that one in favor of the idea that the greatest hitter who ever lived was talking about hitting.
Clearly Not A Game of Failure
I could conclude this article right now, asking how a hitter’s quote about hitting got conflated to encompass the entire sport. Even with just my previous paragraph as evidence, it can’t reasonably be argued that baseball is a GAME of failure. No, no, no. I call Bull Shark on that.
I see you rolling your eyes and muttering, “GEEZ, Fisk! Nitpick much?” Yeah, I guess so, but I’m not done, yet. I’m not sorry, either. This is about how we talk about the greatest game ever invented to the young and trusting athletes who play it. Is it too much to ask that we speak the truth? I hope not.
OK, we can agree that Mr. Williams was talking about hitting, right? Even then, the word succeed in his quote can only mean getting a hit. Get a hit 3/10 times, and you bat .300, and you’re considered a good performer. I get it, and .300 is a good batting average in the big leagues, so we’re cool. Or not. Actually, this is not cool at all, because getting a hit is far from the only way to succeed as a hitter. I’m going to trust that everyone reading this article knows who Steve Springer is, and you’re familiar with the concept of Quality At Bats. If you’re not, you should be. Look him up, but his CD, and tell him I sent you. He’ll dig it. We’re buddies (full disclosure). Do you know who taught Spring about the Q? Clint Hurdle - his manager - his coach. Hey Coach. How you evaluate your players matters TO THEM. Inspire confidence.
Think about it. If you hit a rocket that gets stabbed by the SS or robbed over the fence by a leaping LF, did you fail? What if you hit a sac fly? Draw a BB or get hit by a pitch? Ground out hard to 2B, scoring the runner from 3B or moving a runner to 3B? Succeed in executing the sac bunt or hit-and-run called by your coach? Are any of those failures? I don’t think so. Even though many of the above scenarios result in outs or “not hits” (BB/HBP), the hitter succeeded in helping his team, if not himself. Stay with me now. I’m about to tie it together.
Don't Believe Baseball Is A Game of Failure, it's A Game of Process
If I could magically infuse just one quality in every one of my players that I thought would make the biggest positive difference, it would be confidence. I want confident hitters stepping into the box, confident pitchers scuffing the bump, confident baserunners being aggressive, and confident fielders making every play in their zip code. How in the world can calling baseball a “game of failure” help build confidence? What are you even saying? “It’s OK, Timmy, you’re supposed to stink at this game. Stay confident, though!” Shut off that Booger Snot. Stop perpetuating that myth - dare I say that LIE! Understand what success is, and communicate it openly and often with your players. Change their minds about how the game is supposed to be played.
ACTION STEP: This made a monstrous difference in our offensive approach and production. I introduce to you: The Laser Pole. In college, we were struggling offensively, until one of our hitters hit a hissing missile that got caught. A pitcher said, “He can’t beat the pitcher any more than he did right there. That deserves something.” The pitcher grabbed a roll of athletic tape from our trainer’s kit, wrote the hitter’s name on a piece of tape, and stuck it to the pole in our dugout. From that point forward, getting our name on the Laser Pole became a focus. We got hot down the stretch, squeaked into our conference tournament as a 6th seed, beat Wichita State for the first time in 4 years, and scored 22 runs in the championship game to win the MVC tournament (I mentioned we were the 6th seed, right?). The only stat that matters when you’re in the box is Laser %. That’s the here and now of hitting. Handle that, and don’t get caught up in the Bologna Sandwich.
BONUS MATERIAL: Besides the game of failure myth, there are two more famous quotes that I think are Bogus Situations.
“You’ll always miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” This is atributed to “The Great One,” Wayne Gretzky. He recorded more assists than any other NHL player has total points, AND he is the all-time leading goal scorer. There is NO argument whether he is the greatest hockey player who ever lived, but WHAT? How many shots have I missed, then? I haven’t taken an infinite number of shots, I guess. I’m beyond terrible. Maybe he meant, “You can’t make a shot you don’t take.” That would have been an all-time killer quote and as true as the day is long, but that’s not how “his” (I don’t know for sure he said it) quote goes The quote is Bug Snot.
“Get knocked down 7 times; get up 8.” Do simple math: After you got knocked down the 7th time and got up the 7th time, you would have to get up one more time without getting knocked down. Did you slip? Trip on your shoelace? Were you dizzy from getting knocked down 7 times, and you lost your balance and fell? I appreciate the call to resilience and grit, but think a little, and the quote is Bargain Shoes.
If you’ve read this far, I appreciate and respect you. I apologize for spewing, but if it gets one person to stop saying “game of failure” or other silly things, I’ll feel vindicated for boring the rest of you.
Baseball Brains thanks Casey for his awesome contribution, please look him up on Twitter and online and let him know you appreciate all he does to help people. A lot of the material on this blog and in our workout guides is influenced by Casey's great ideas and thoughts. We look forward to a continued positive relationship with this great baseball guy that lasts for a long time!
Casey Fisk on Twitter - Casey's Website