Category Archives: Health

Jackie Robinson, Bill Russell, and the Red Sox

jackie-robinson.jpgOn Friday night, February 1, the day after Jackie Robinson‘s would-be 89th birthday, I attended the Red Sox’s celebration of his life in the EMC Club at Fenway Park. The event featured a panel of speakers, the star of which was the legendary basketball hall of famer, Bill Russell (who, on February 12, celebrated his 74th birthday). Russell, one of the greatest Celtics of all time, shared some memorable stories and insights (transcribed below), but first, panelist and author Steve Jacobson reminded us about Jackie Robinson’s own connection to Boston – one that is painful for members of Red Sox Nation to hear.

pumpsie-green-1960-baseball-card.jpgIt is fitting and ironic that the Red Sox are the only team that formally celebrates Robinson’s birthday, for while the Red Sox were the last team to field a black player (Pumpsie Green in 1959, three years after Robinson’s baseball career ended), the Sox were the first team to give Jackie Robinson a major league “tryout” – in April 1945, two years before he was named Rookie of the Year as a member of the Brooklyn Dodgers.

Of course, the tryout was a sham, and it only happened because of public pressure that was thrust on the Red Sox by Boston city councilman, Isadore Muchnik, who threatened to revoke the Red Sox’s permit to play Sunday games at Fenway Park unless the Red Sox offered a tryout to three black players. Those players were Marvin Williams, Sam Jethroe, and Jackie Robinson.

tom-yawkey.jpg“The workout was supposed to be supervised by four Red Sox hall of famers,” writes Jacobson in his new book, Carrying Jackie’s Torch. “Joe Cronin, the manager; 78 year-old Hugh Duffy, a coach; owner Tom Yawkey, a South Carolina lumberman; and Eddie Collins, the general manager. Cronin refused to give an evaluation of the players he’d seen. Duffy said one workout wasn’t enough. Yawkey said any judgment had to come from his baseball people. And Collins said he couldn’t be there because of a previous engagement. Don’t call us, we’ll call you — and the Red Sox never did call.”

It’s mind boggling that the Red Sox had “first dibs” on Jackie Robinson. Can you imagine how different Red Sox history would be — indeed, Boston history — if Jackie Robinson had played second base at Fenway from 1945 to 1956? Writes Jacobson: “The Red Sox, who won the American League pennant in 1946, the last year of the all-white major leagues, did not win another pennant until 1967. The effect was clear.”

I didn’t know the whole story of Robinson’s bogus tryout with the Red Sox until Jacobson retold the tale. And when he was finished speaking, it was Bill Russell’s turn. I took notes of everything Russell said, and I’ve done my best to represent his words below.

bill-russell-2-2-1-08.jpg“I’m proud to be here tonight, and I’m so glad the Red Sox are honoring Jackie Robinson on his 79th birthday, and anytime the Red Sox want me to be part of something honoring him, I’d be glad to do so, even though I live in Seattle and you can’t get here from there.”

“I remember Jackie liked to bunt the ball down the first base line – that meant the pitcher would have to run over and field the ball as Jackie ran past, and Jackie was a football player….” Bill Russell smiled. “Slight collision!”

“The day after Jackie died, I got a call from Rachel Robinson, and she asked me to be one of the pallbearers in Jackie’s funeral. And I asked her, ‘Rachel, why would you ask me?’ And she said, “Bill, you were Jackie’s favorite athlete.” And when I hung up the phone, I remember thinking, “How does a man get to be a hero to Jackie Robinson?

“There were people along the way who tried to discourage me. But I lived a charmed life, because there were many people – black, white, Jewish, Christian – who pushed me forward, too. My high school basketball coach was one of those people. [Russell mentioned that Frank Robinson and Curt Flood attended his high school in Oakland at the same Russell was there.] He just looked at kids and saw baseball players or basketball players. And that’s what I encountered in Boston with Walter Brown and my coach – and my friend – Red Auerbach.”

bill-russell-and-red-auerbach.jpg“Now I came to Boston believing I was the best player in the land. But I didn’t get along with my college coach [at University of San Francisco] for one single day – yet we managed to win 55 straight games and two straight NCAA championships. And my Olympic coach was from Tulsa, and we didn’t get along at all, either – but we won the gold medal. So when I came to Boston, I expected not to get along with the coach. But the first time I met Red, he said, ‘You’re among friends.’

“I was with a friend of mine in an airport and a stranger came up to me and said, ‘You’re tall. Are you a basketball player?’ and I replied, ‘No.’ Then another person came up to me and asked, Are you a basketball player?’ And I said, ‘Nope.’ So my friend asked me, ‘Bill, why do you keep telling them no?’ And I told him, ‘Because basketball is what I do, but it’s not who I am.’

At one point, a woman stood and asked a question about what Bill Russell thought about urban kids all wanting to become athletes or entertainers, like the heroes they most admire. Bill’s response:

“I think it’s a myth that black kids today all just want to be athletes or entertainers. And my view is, we shouldn’t discourage kids from wanting to be special. I teach that we have to make changes inside-out rather than outside-in. I tell kids if you do work hard and use your intelligence, there are people who will give you a helping hand. But just giving help all the time [outside-in] can become a negative.”

“I don’t see any problem with a kid wanting to be an athlete or an entertainer, and I reject that the only thing all these athletes are teaching kids is to be athletes and entertainers. That’s just not true. You know, almost all of the best players in the NBA have foundations and are doing a lot of work with kids in the community – almost all of the best players – and we rarely hear about that, but it’s true. And these players are teaching kids a lot more than how to be a professional athlete or entertainer.”

russell-ali-brown-jabbar.jpg“In schools across the country, physical education programs are being cut as budgets are slashed. And this is a big problem. P.E. programs aren’t about creating pro athletes, they’re about creating healthy people. In my case, I have a mild case of diabetes, and my doctor tells me that the only reason it’s not severe is because of the active life I led in my youth and young adulthood. Mind and body are both important in a child’s education.”

“I remember the first time my mother said we could play in our front yard. Until that time, we had only been allowed to play in our back yard, but then one day my mother said we could play in the front. But she said to us, ‘Now people may walk by on the sidewalk, and some of them may say things to you. Some of the things they say may be good things, some of them may be bad. But whatever they say, don’t pay any attention to it. Remember, they don’t know you. And when they say bad things, that’s their problem, and they’re wrestling with their own demons.’ So, growing up, I was determined that no one would stop me. Particularly no one I didn’t know.”

“My daughter was one of Professor Ogletree’s students [at Harvard Law School – Ogletree moderated the evening], and her mom and I went our separate ways when she was 12 years old. So there I was, a single parent with a 12 year-old girl, and to this day, it’s been the single greatest adventure of my life. And back when she was 12, I made two promises to my daughter: 1. I will love you ’til I die. 2. When you leave this house, you’ll be able to take care of yourself better than any many you’ll ever meet. And I told her that because I wanted her to feel the same way my parents made me feel. And that’s what I’m trying to do today with kids – to teach them to have confidence in themselves and not to be afraid. Jackie Robinson was never motivated by fear. He didn’t see obstacles, he only saw opportunities, and he saw every challenge as a chance to show what he could do.”

“I’m looking forward to the next great baseball player, but I’ll tell you the truth, I don’t care what color he is.”

red-sox-retired-numbers.jpgThe Red Sox will never shed the facts of the team’s racist history; but the birthday party at Fenway for Jackie Robinson, featuring Bill Russell — not to mention our two World Championship teams featuring players from a variety cultural backgrounds – shows that those facts truly are history. History to be remembered, but never to be repeated.

Slammin’ Scott Hatteberg ushers in “My Life, Part 2”

Below is another article in a series of blog entries I’m writing as a candidate for president of Red Sox Nation.

I’ve written before on this blog about my open heart surgery in 2001 to repair a ruptured sinus valsalva aneurysm. What I haven’t written about is the role that baseball, the Red Sox, and former Sox catcher Scott Hatteberg (below) played in the whole surgery-recovery experience.

Scott Hatteberg grand slamEarly in the morning on August 6, 2001, lying on my back in a hospital and nervous about having my chest sawed open, I was wheeled into an operating room feet first. I recall looking up at the room number and suddenly feeling totally comforted about the outcome of the surgery. Why? It was room 37. That was my uniform number during the ten years I pitched for Avi Nelson Club in the Yawkey Amateur Baseball League of Boston. I just knew that was a sign. A good sign. (Hey, even us amateur baseball players never lose our superstitions….)

Fast-forward about 15 hours to 9:30pm. The successful surgery had been completed by noon and I had been unconscious in the intensive care unit all afternoon and night. My wife, pregnant with child #2, had gone home to put our two year-old son to bed and my parents were sitting by my side, watching the Red Sox-Rangers game on the TV, waiting for me to wake up from my drug-induced haze. The doctors had told them I would probably open my eyes by midnight. Exhausted themselves from a long day at the hospital, my parents finally decided to go home too – but before they left, they asked the nurses, “Please don’t turn off the TV. If Rob wakes up with the Red Sox game on, he’ll be happy.”

Now, shift to my perspective. This is what I remember as I regained consciousness: I began to open my eyes, the room was dark except for the glowing TV, and the commentator was yelling something: “… long drive, way back, GRAND SLAM SCOTT HATTEBERG, and THE RED SOX TAKE BACK THE LEAD!”

At the precise moment I woke up from my surgery and realized I was still alive, Scott Hatteberg hit a go-ahead grand slam, sending Fenway fans into a delerious frenzy. I was all alone in the room at that moment – just me, Scott Hatteberg, and the screams of the Fenway Faithful. Needless to say, I was pretty emotional as I lay there in my bed — out of gratitude for a “second birth” and also moved by the in-your-face-baseball-joy playing out on my TV. I remember that my whole body was pretty sore, and I remember being simply amazed that that euphoric Red Sox moment was chosen for me to return to consciousness. It will always be one of my life’s most incredible memories.

Hatteberg’s slam came in the bottom of the sixth inning, following the Rangers’ demoralizing five-run fifth inning, and neither the Red Sox nor the Rangers scored any more runs the rest of the game, resulting in a 10-7 victory for the Sox. (See box score here.) Interestingly, in Hatteberg’s previous at-bat in that game, he hit into a triple play, and his subsequent grand slam made him the first and only player in major league history to hit into a triple play then hit a grand slam in consecutive at bats. His bat from that game is on display at Cooperstown.Scott Hatteberg curtain call

Upon hearing this story of my dramatic “awakening,” one of my teaching colleagues, Matt Parke, now a basketball coach at Guilford College in North Carolina, doctored and then emailed me this photo of Hatteberg’s Fenway curtain call (right).

Someday, when Hatteberg (now a member of the Cincinnati Reds) is retired, I hope to meet him and tell him about how one of the best moments of his life was also one of the best moments of mine.

Swamped+Exhausted=Happy

climbing cliffI am swamped. Work. Family. Volunteer work. Creative projects. It’s a feeling of overwhelm that keeps me awake at night. There’s a fear that originates somewhere in my large intestine that whispers, “You can’t get it all done in a ‘good enough’ way – you can’t be everything to everyone you’ve committed to.” This is a level of busyness that can squeeze exercise, sleep, good eating, and thinking time right out of my life – for a period.

But I chose this. This is what I signed up for. Would I change my situation at work? No. We’re talking exciting, challenging projects with smart, interesting, talented people. Would I change my family situation? Are you kidding? I am blessed and my family is my greatest joy by far. Would I change my volunteer commitments? No way, I’m involved with great people at great organizations making a one-of-a-kind impact. Would I dump my creative projects? Well, these would be the easiest things to clear off my plate, but creative projects are the icing on the cake. Do I really want to scrape the icing off my cake? No.

The truth is, this feeling of overwhelm and exhaustion is a pure form of happiness. Winning the lottery wouldn’t hold a candle to this state of challenge, usefulness, connectivity, creativity, synergy, and struggle. This is what we live for. I’m in the middle of the soccer field with the ball rifling towards me and other players yelling my name. The game is on, baby.

In Pursuit Of The Zone

“When am I in the zone, and how will I double the time I spend in the zone in the next 12 months?”

Entrepreneur and author Raj Setty has been publishing “Quoughts of the Day” on his blog since late December, 2006. (A “quought” is a question that provokes thought.) Back on January 13, I wrote about Raj’s excellent “quoughts” series and suggested three quoughts of my own. Since then, Raj and I have become acquainted via email, and today he has published my quought at LifeBeyondCodeBlog.

I’m a big fan of “being in the zone.” I believe we all do our best work when we’re in the zone. Almost all really, really great work is produced by people in the zone. Entrepreneurs. Athletes. Teachers. Writers. Doctors. Salespeople. Musicians. Architects. Chefs. Gardeners. Artists. Preachers. Mothers. Fathers. Students. CEOs. Auto Mechanics. The elite ones get “locked-in” when they’re practicing their craft.

I believe we need to spend at least a few hours every day in the zone, or we’re depriving the world (and ourselves) of our most valuable stuff. I worry about people I love who don’t appear to spend any time in the zone during the day.

Christian LaettnerWhen in your lifetime, including when you were a kid, do you remember being in the zone? (If you’re Christian Laettner (left), you remember being in the zone on the night you took this shot, with 0.2 seconds left, after catching an 80-foot pass from Grant Hill, to win the 1992 East Regional NCAA Tournament game in overtime against Kentucky, 103-102. Laettner was 10 for 10 from the floor, and 10 for 10 on free throws in this game. That’s some serious zoneage. The story of this game is here.)

Can you pepper your schedule next week – and for the rest of your life – with more “zone-time?”

“Work is my obsession but it is also my devotion…. Absorbedness is the paradise of work.” — Donald Hall, poet and essayist

The Cost of Praising Intelligence

It’s common sense that a good parent should frequently seize opportunities to tell his/her children that they are “smart,” isn’t it?

Not so fast.

Po Bronsoncub scout has written a fascinating article in New York Magazine, entitled, How Not To Talk To Your Kids: The Inverse Power of Praise. The article describes a recent study of 400 New York City fifth graders that shows that children who are repeatedly told they are “smart” shy away from challenges where there’s even a slight risk they might not succeed. On the other hand, kids who are consistently praised for their hard work or effort are more self-confident, more inclined to seek out challenging projects despite the possibility of failure, and less inhibited by concerns about how their work will be “graded” in the end.

Carol Dweck, the psychologist who led the study, writes, “When we praise children for their intelligence, we tell them that this is the name of the game: look smart, don’t risk making mistakes.” She continues, “Emphasizing effort gives children a variable that they can control. They come to see themselves as in control of their success. Emphasizing natural intelligence takes it out of the child’s control, and it provides no good recipe for responding to a failure.”

It turns out that teaching kids that their innate intelligence is the key to their success actually sends a damaging message to them by diminishing the importance of effort – which is, in fact, the ONLY thing over which they have any control!

Clearly, this study is hugely important for all parents, teachers, and coaches. And it reminds me of two baseball t-shirts my oldest son owns. One says, “Just give me the ball and let me do the rest.” The other t-shirt says, “Champions are made in the off-season.” One motto emphasizes ability, the other practice and effort.

I never did like that “give me the ball” t-shirt, with its arrogant, anti-teamwork, talent-focused slogan. And now that I’ve read about the impact of highlighting effort,  I love that “champions” t-shirt all the more!

(By the way, the cub scout in that photo is not my son – I actually have no idea who that is.)

What if Muhammad Ali Believed He Would Fail?

Ali pounds ListonI recently posted an article over at Lifehack.org about the motivational potency of reminding myself, “Not exercising is like taking a brain damage pill.”

This got me thinking about the importance of how we talk to ourselves inside our own heads. Don’t think it’s that big a deal? Consider this question:

How would the history of sports be different if Martina Navratilova, Jack Nicklaus, Muhammad Ali, Joe Montana, Nadia Comaneci, David Ortiz, and Michael Jordan all had the habit of thinking to themselves, “You’re going to choke – you can’t do it – here comes disaster!” just prior to the most critical moments in their athletic careers?

An absurd notion, I know — which underscores the fundamental power of the words we use (and don’t use) in our heads, every moment of every day.

Work-Life Balance: The Window Looking West

window overlooking oceanThe best train ride I’ve ever taken was May 17, 2002, from Boston to Philadelphia. I know this because that’s the date I wrote on the inside cover of Magical Worlds of the Wizard of Ads: Tools and Techniques for Profitable Persuasion, by Roy H. Williams – the book that mesmerized me for the entire trip. Perusing the book again last night, I came across a note I wrote in the margin on page 136: “The best advice on work-life balance I’ve ever read.” I’d like to share with you a shortened version of this classic, two-page essay, entitled, Look Out The Other Window. The entirety of what follows is in Roy Williams’ words.

“How do you leave all the cares of the office at the office?” my good friend Akintunde asked. “I’ve never been able to do it.”

Pointing to the east, I said, “Look out that window and tell me what you see.” Akintunde looked intently out the window and described in detail what he saw there. “Now look out this window,” I said, pointing to the west, “and tell me what you see.” Akintunde spent the next several moments describing an entirely different scene. I said, “That’s how I do it.”

When he said he didn’t understand, I pointed to a bare wall and said, “Tell me what you see.”

Akintunde said, “I see nothing but a blank wall.”

“Keep looking,” I told him. After a minute of watching him stare silently at the wall, I asked, “Are you thinking about what you saw out the window?”

“Yes, I am,” he laughed. “How did you know?”

“Akintunde,” I said, “if you will pour yourself into something that will occupy your evenings and weekends as completely as your job occupies your nine to five, you’ll find that you will soon be feeling less tired, less frustrated, and less stressed out about what’s happening at the office. The reason you can’t quit thinking about the office is because you’re going home each night and staring at the wall.”

Like most people, our friend Akintunde had been confusing rest with idleness. Rest is not idleness. Rest is simply looking out a different window. If you have a job, or anything else that you struggle with and worry about, you have a window that looks to the east.

But do you have one that looks to the west?