OK, I will do my best to not be political here, but, well, this week's topic sort was handed to me on a silver home plate.
A few years back, while I was ferrying back and forth between Chicago and Berkeley I read David Halberstam's wonderful book, "Summer of '49," which documents the amazing pennant race between the Yankees and the Red Sox, punctuated by great seasons by each team's offensive star. That would be Joe DiMaggio--who was injured the first chunk of the season as the Yanks struggled--and Ted Williams for the Red Sox as the great right fielder was producing at his peak.
Though Joltin' Joe managed to play in just 76 games that season, he put up a line of .346-14-67, good for a 1.055 OPS, while Teddy Ballgame led the league in just about every offensive category, hitting .343-43-159, leading in homers, RBI, runs (150), doubles (39), OBP (.490), Slugging (.556), games (155), at-bats (730) and total bases (368). By the way, that also mean and OPS of 1.141.
Within that great narrative we are introduced to the Yankees back-up catcher of those days, Charlie Silvera.
And, as it turns out, Charlie is a Bay Area resident, and a gentleman who likes to attend Giants games on Sundays. Charlie backed up Yogi Berra back then, functioning as the bench support between 1948-1957, and to give an idea how durable Yogi was, Silvera managed a career line of .282-1-52 over 227 games and 541 at-bats during that ten-year span.
Since I frequently work Sunday games at ATT, I have gotten to know Charlie, who indeed is a character, and at age 87 is still a pretty sharp tack. In fact, one of Charlie's best tales deals with his squatting in the on-deck circle, taking a foul ball off the cup, and being carried off the field on a stretcher post contact. "That," Charlie says with a twinkle, "was the only standing ovation I ever got in baseball, when they carried me off from that."
Of course it is so much fun talking with--and mining the experience of--Charlie, hearing what it was like to play with Whitey Ford and Mickey Mantle, not to mention Yogi, and playing under Casey Stengel. Along with being on so many Championship teams, for during his tenure, the Yankees made the World Series eight times, and won six, including a ridiculous five in a row between 1949-53. In fact, Charlie refers to his home in the city as "The house that Berra built," for Silvera's World Series checks essentially made the purchase possible.
Well, David Halberstam, who sadly died in a freak auto accident in Menlo Park--also in the Bay Area--in 2007 also wrote another baseball book, "October 1964," which covers the final Series appearance of that mighty Yankee juggernaut before an eleven year post-season drought that lasted from 1965 to 1976.
Halberstam's book actually focuses on that last year, and the writing on the wall, and as I began reading the book, I was seriously struck by the opening quote, before the Prologue.
"There is nothing more vulnerable than entrenched success"--George Romney
That would be George Romney, father to current Republican Presidential nominee-in-waiting Willard Mitt Romney, and the quote was made to Halberstam when speaking about the fate of General Motors in the 1980's.
Now Romney the Elder, was not only Governor of Michigan, but also CEO of American Motors, the car company that outlasted the bulk of Detroit wannabes, but never made it to the "Big Three." American Motors, if you are old enough, gave us the Rambler and the Pacer and the Gremlin, and my favorite, the Metropolitan Nash (if you ever saw the film "The Big Picture," that is the tiny little car Kevin Bacon drives after he loses his Porsche and Hollywood prestige).
And, if you look at what Romney Senior said, he is right. Think of companies like Sony, or IBM, or Xerox, not to mention Ford, GM and Chrysler, all of which over-confidently sat at the top of the corporate heap, and all of which fell from grace and had to either seriously reinvent themselves or become extinct. And, actually Sony is in the process of trying to do that, having lost their edge to the likes of LG, Lenovo, and Apple.
But, aside from the irony of Romney the Younger claiming credit for the resurgence of the American automotive industry, which is beyond specious, Romney the Elder's advice is pretty good when applying to business, or god forbid, even fantasy baseball.
The quote is apropos the book for that 1964 year, the signs were clear that the aging Yankees--brittle Mantle, moody Maris, aging Ford and Berra et al--and with a diminished minor league footprint had run out their championship string.
In the fantasy world, this always seems tantamount to having that team that is out of the blocks strong, building maybe even a 20-point lead this early in the year: a distance that seems insurmountable to the other teams.
In fact, I had this "problem" last year as my American League LABR team was rocking and rolling like no other. The problem is that made it hard to make moves, for the proverbial notion of "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" prevailed.
However, the problem is once a free fall begins, it is very difficult to put on the stops. That is largely because the free agent pool has been long picked clean, and the slumps and injuries that may have evaded a leading team, and haunted the lower squads in the same ranks, tend to reverse themselves over the course of the year.
So, I think, as we move towards Memorial Day, and that first real benchmark of the quality of our seasons--be your league keeper or throw back--heed the advice of Romney the Elder.
Don't sit on your laurels, but rather stay active and vibrant for success--and related championships--don't just happen.
They are made.