In Message #1372, I wrote about the importance of not being cavalier about two basic rules when it comes to making money: Staying alive and staying healthy. Yet, while these two rules are of crucial importance, there are many other bases that we have to be sure to touch as we make our way through the game of life. “Touching all the bases” is an appropriate metaphor that may well have its roots in the tragic tale of Fred Merkle’s “bonehead” play nearly a century ago.
At the time, Merkle was only 19 years old and in his second major league season with the New York Giants. Merkle’s infamous mental lapse took place on September 23, 1908, in the last half of the ninth inning against the Chicago Cubs. With the score tied and two outs, the Giants had runners on first (Merkle) and third (Moose McCormick), when Al Bridwell singled to centerfield.
On the hit, Merkle was still on his way to second base when McCormick crossed home plate with what appeared to be the winning run. But when Merkle saw McCormick score, he thought the game was over and didn’t bother to go all the way to second base. Instead, he headed straight for the clubhouse. Unlike Fred Merkle, however, the Cubs’ Johnny Evers was alert to what was going on. He immediately realized that even though the runner had already crossed home plate, the run wouldn’t count if a forced runner (Merkle) was thrown out at second. He yelled to the Cubs’ centerfielder “Solly” Hofman to throw him the ball.
Unfortunately — at least by one account of the chaotic scenario — the ball went over Evers’ head, and Cubs third-base coach Joe McGinnity scooped it up. Realizing what was about to happen, McGinnity threw the ball into the stands. Relentlessly, Evers climbed into the stands and retrieved the ball (or, according to some accounts, “a” ball), called to one of the umpires that there was a force play at second base, and touched the bag.
The umpire, who also had been alert enough to note that Merkle had not bothered to touch second base, called him out. Because of the ensuing chaos, and with darkness setting in, the game was ruled a tie. The Giants disputed the tie ruling, but the National League office upheld the umpire’s decision. After that historic game, the Giants, who had been in first place prior to the game, fell apart in the last two weeks of the season.
Further, to rub insult into injury, the Cubs won the pennant. Little did Cub fans realize, of course, that it would be their last pennant of the century. Today, 97 years after the fact, this historic moment is still referred to in baseball lore as “Merkle’s Bonehead Play.” And Fred Merkle became forever labeled “Bonehead Merkle” for his infamous mental lapse. Poor Fred Merkle. He got labeled a dunce for making the same kind of mistake that most of us make many times throughout our lives. Everyone forgets to “touch all the bases” at one time or another.
In sports, while Merkle’s blunder is the one best remembered by sports aficionados, the fact is that mental lapses occur much more frequently than most fans would like to remember. I can recall watching Leon Lett, standout defensive end for the Dallas Cowboys, recover a fumble in Super Bowl XXVII against Buffalo and lumber 64 yards to within inches of Buffalo’s goal line.
About 10 yards from the end zone, however, Lett started to slow down. Holding the ball in one hand, he went into a subtle showboat mode. That allowed Buffalo’s Don Beebe to catch him from behind and knock the ball out of his hand … just before he crossed the goal line. Buffalo recovered the fumble and, like Merkle, the unmerciful sports world has never allowed Leon Lett to forget his blunder. It’s not just individual athletes who fail to follow through and finish the job. Every year in every sport, there are many teams that start off with a bang, only to run short of breath near the end of the season.
Most recently, in the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Yankees crushed the Red Sox 19-8 in game three to go up three games to none on Boston. On top of that, the Yankees were ahead going into the ninth inning of game four. What a great situation for Yankee fans — except for one thing: The Yankees forgot to finish the job. The Red Sox tied the game in the bottom of the ninth inning, then won it in the twelfth on David Ortiz’s home run.
Just like that, the Curse of the Bambino and 86 years of frustration was on its way to being over. The Red Sox went on to become the first team in baseball history to come back from a 3-0 deficit in postseason play and win four straight games. In politics, we see this same lack of follow-through occur all the time. Most of us are not old enough to remember Harry Truman’s upset of New York Governor Thomas Dewey in the presidential election of 1948, but we’ve read about it and seen it on television many times.
While Truman traveled the country and “gave ’em hell” from the back of his campaign train, Dewey coasted. He was focused on prematurely celebrating rather than on touching all the bases and making certain that Truman wouldn’t rise from the dead. Not only was Dewey an odds-on favorite to beat Truman, the failed haberdasher from Missouri, but some headlines the morning after the election actually declared Dewey the winner.
More recently, we all witnessed the total collapse of Howard Dean in the Democratic primaries. Until he inexplicably went insane, he was all but anointed as his party’s presidential nominee. Instead, America’s greatest living war hero, John Heinz (er, Kerry), seized the moment and won the nomination. Of course, nowhere is a lack of follow-through seen more frequently than in the business world. I remember an acquaintance of mine who, in the mid-eighties, won the FCC lottery for the cellular license to Puerto Rico.
However, the FCC refused to award him the license when it was discovered that he had forgotten to sign his application. What a price to pay for not following through! Another acquaintance of mine, a builder, bought a large farm some years back. His plan was to subdivide it and build eight houses. About a month after the closing, the seller called him and asked if he would also like to buy the road that ran through the farm.
The builder told him that he was out of his mind, because he had already bought the whole farm – and it seemed obvious to him that this included the road. Wrong! There was a clause buried in the contract that specifically stated that ownership of the road would remain with the seller. My acquaintance called him every name in the book, but it fell on deaf ears. The seller reminded him that he was a big boy, that he and his attorney had had plenty of time to review the contract, and that it clearly stated that the road would remain the property of the seller.
In my most recent book, I sum up this common business mistake as follows: “You’re not through until you’ve crossed all the t’s, dotted all the i’s, and the check has cleared the bank!” Speaking of books, I can assure you from firsthand experience that writing a book is all about follow-through and touching every base.
For each book I write, I have a checklist of over 100 items that I painstakingly address after I work my way through 20-25 drafts. If an author’s aim is quality, he has to be willing to invest an enormous amount of time and effort into making certain that no important steps are missed.
Finally, and most important of all, there’s life itself. You shortchange yourself if you fail to touch all the bases on your short stay on this planet as a conscious being. Reading, for example, is an activity you would do well to embrace. The last thing in the world you want to do is miss the one book that might have a major impact on how you live the remainder of your life.
Likewise, make the effort to get up out of your chair, walk over and pick up the camera, and take a picture of that special moment in time that will otherwise be lost forever. Take the time to listen to your kids. Play sports with them. Laugh with them. Communicate with your spouse. Exercise. Listen to good music. Be active. Make a conscious effort to touch all the bases while you’re here, because you have no way of knowing if you’re ever going to pass this way again.