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A Trip to Cooperstown with Cal Ripken, Jr. – July 2014

This year marks the 75th year of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the weekend of July 25th, 2014 most certainly memorable for the inductees: Frank “Big Hurt” Thomas, Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine, Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa, and Joe Torre. Very memorable for me too as Cal Ripken, Jr. invited me to join him knowing that the only way this could work was if he “carried my bags”. I had recently come off colon surgery and was under serious orders from the surgeon and my wife Elaine to lift nothing. Cal did this with good humor and grace.


As one can imagine, this weekend at Cooperstown was a great experience at every level- whether simply walking through town while Cal rode his bike 25 miles around the lake, having lunch on Saturday at the Blue Mingo or listening to Billy Crystal, Tom Brokaw, Reggie Jackson, and former teammate Harold Reynolds. I wanted herein to share some of my own “takeaways” and attempt to incorporate a few photos via my IPAD. Being technically challenged, the latter did not come easily but I am glad I gave it a shot, no pun intended.

The picture above with Cal was taken from the porch of the grand Otesaga Resort Hotel which opened in 1999. The picture below was also taken from this porch and overlooks the south end of Otsego Lake, aka “Glimmerglass” in James Fenimore Cooper’s novels. A beautiful spot to have a meal or a drink.


Even if you are not a baseball fan, spending time in Cooperstown and the Otesaga takes you back in time and seems to slow it down in the best ways. The hotel is now owned by the Clark Family. Their contributions to the village of Cooperstown and environs- $7,000,000+ annually has helped make the village of Cooperstown a national treasure. Jane Forbes Clark is the Chair of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the host of the Hall’s annual induction ceremony. Welcoming an estimated crowd of 48,000 on Sunday she reminded us of why this day was so important to the day’s Hall of Fame Inductees and their fans: In the history of professional baseball, of the 18,000 who have played the game at that level, only 211 ( 0017%) have ever been inducted into the Hall of Fame. 50 of the 66 living members were there in 2014.

Cal riding in the Parade of Hall of Famers on Saturday.

Nolan Ryan, a thin Reggie Jackson, Cal and a pointing Johnny Bench on Friday night.

 

On Saturday night – purely by chance – we had dinner with Starbucks Founder Howard Schultz and his son Jordan. Exiting the late afternoon reception at the Hall of Museum, Cal saw a lot of fans behind Main Street barricades calling him over asking for his autograph. While he signed I shared a bench with two other semi-dapper guys- Howard Schultz and his son Jordan. My brother Ron knows Howard and I had met him previously in Seattle. The Schultz’s were in Cooperstown to celebrate the Hall of Fame induction of their friend Tony La Russa. (I thought the story LaRussa told at the induction ceremony about his first managerial job under Paul Richards was among the funniest stories told that day. It’s recounted at the end of this download.)

Howard and Jordan were free for dinner and when Cal finished signing we returned to the Otesaga and had dinner on their porch.

Jordan, who I had never met, now lives in NYC. Like his dad (Howard received an athletic scholarship to Northern Michigan) he is athletic and played basketball in college. Professionally he is an NBC sports radio co-host with a Sunday morning talk show, “Kup and Schultz.” I asked him: “So, are you still a good shot?” I got a kick out of the fact that with a little encouragement on my part he was able to share his fifty for fifty sequence from the foul line via his IPhone. Cal pointed out a few rim rattles and I had to note that Nick Staukas from the U of Michigan hit 72 of 76 three point attempts outside in the rain. Jordan was good company, was passionate about his job, and seemed well grounded.

During dinner Cal talked about his new interest in biking and Howard his long standing- both are detail people and lost me after the sixth gear.

As I listened to Cal and Howard Schultz during dinner at an idyllic Cooperstown setting during a Hall of Fame induction weekend I had several thoughts: The first was how fortunate am I to be sitting here; the second, that’s a terrific Pinot Noir from Oregon; and what an extraordinary impact Howard Schultz and Cal Ripken, Jr. have had in their lifetimes.

In Cal’s case I believe that everyone who has ever played the game at the highest level is simply awed by The Streak. 2,632 consecutive games beginning May 30, 1982 and ending September 19, 1998. They appreciate the grit required to be put in the line-up and post daily for 16 plus years coupled with the values and approach to everything that make Cal Cal.

In Howard’s case, virtually any person who has started a business and was able to grow it successfully pays homage to Starbucks and hence to Howard. Just think about it. A Brooklyn kid from modest circumstance is able by 2014 to parley a passion for coffee and a unique understanding of what customers and employees really wanted into 23,000 Starbucks with 200,000 employees operating in 65 countries, and an enterprise value of $50 billion. I told Howard that while I enjoyed his first book, “Pour Your Heart Into It”, it was his second that

truly struck a chord with me, “Onward” is Howard’s candid story of why he retired from Starbucks and eight years later made the decision to return and replace his hand picked successor, Orin Smith, as CEO. While the “How Starbucks Fought for Its Life without Losing Its Soul” tag may be a bit dramatic for some, as a small business entrepreneur I found “Onward” authentic. It captures the fervor and depth of what Howard believes Starbucks stood for and needed to be, whether one store, one thousand, or one hundred thousand. For me, and I suspect countless others who want to grow something good, it is a must read. Schultz’s experience in rebirthing Starbucks certainly confirms that it is ok for business leaders to purposely use words commonly associated with annual high school graduation speeches in guiding and leading a company. His definition of leadership is as concise as it is real: “At its core, I believe leadership is about instilling confidence in others.”

He and Cal do this naturally both because of what they have accomplished over the course of their professional careers (Howard turned 61 in July and Cal 54 in August) and the fact that they are aligned leaders. By this I simply mean their deeds match their words. As people they are humble and interested in others- a quality not normally associated with celebrities. Howard’s leadership of Starbucks and the leadership of Starbucks’ Board of Directors in 2014 sets an important example for present and future public companies. Starbucks is at the forefront of public companies financially successful long term that strategically use it’s resources and talent to help the country and local communities address complex social issues in broader and deeper ways.* In Cooperstown I asked Howard why he thought more public companies were not more like Starbucks in this arena. He said this is very tough for public companies and especially so in difficult economic times. True, and I would add it also tough for small private companies as well. If there at all, it is usually a sidebar to their core business strategy. Starbucks’ examples include progressive employee health care policies, introduction of full tuition reimbursement for employees via on-line courses in a partnership with Arizona State University, and a plan to hire 10,000 veterans or their spouses over the next five years.

This is a shot Cal took of the “Big Hurt” from the stage just before he was officially inducted into the Hall of Fame. This is not a small man. Des Bieler, Washington Post, wrote: “Thomas’s (HOF) speech was easily the emotional highlight of the day. To hear the big man tell it, he wasn’t necessarily planning for that to be the case.” Here is what Thomas told mlb.com: ‘So for me today, to be honest with you, I was Cool Hand Luke sitting there watching everyone’s speeches. As soon as I stood up, my knees started shaking and the first thing I looked at was my mom. It hit me right in my heart. My mom hadn’t left Columbus, Georgia in 15 years. She was here today and I just started crying.’ Thomas, a five time All Star, was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year of eligibility. Thanks to Wikipedia I learned the “Big Hurt” made the All Star team five times, had a lifetime batting average of 301, and was the American League comeback player of the year in 2000. He was born in Columbus, Georgia in 1968.

 

Four years before that I had spent time in his home town receiving infantry officers training at Fort Benning which was located there. Though I cannot remember a lot about Columbus as we did not get off base much, I vividly remember the drive South from my small home town of Easton, Pennsylvania. Seared in my memory from that trip was crossing into Georgia and soon seeing hand painted white signs lettered in red advertising a local Klu Klux Klan meeting. Sadly, they are still at it today- and it’s 2014 not 1963.

After penning this last sentence I simply stopped writing questioning why I was even making this reference to an old but for me significant memory. Wasn’t this something way out of left field in the context of a special Cooperstown weekend? And who cares? The truth is I do. As I age the more I believe the connection an individual makes with people, events, concepts, and time are not by accident. The history of baseball is intertwined and inseparable from the country’s social history. In real time a Jackie Robinson All Star team of eleven and twelve year olds from Chicago’s south side beat a team from Las Vegas while the events of Ferguson are transpiring. They will represent the United States in the 2014 Championship Game against Korea. I know little of the team’s history, how the league got started, what the kids were like, what they think of how and where they’ve come or even if they do. But I know behind each of these kids is a LEADERSHIP STORY – a mother, a father, a sibling, a grandparent, a coach, a teacher, a Boys and Girls Club staffer, or spiritual inspiration. Thinking about the juxtaposition of the two stories- South side Chicago Little League Champs inspires a city; Ferguson, Missouri police shooting of a black teenager depresses country- I wonder what the “culture” was like on the Jackie Robinson team that made them so successful and why the “culture” of police/community relations might have caused rather than prevented this incident.

Several years later rereading the above paragraph about the Jackie Robinson West Little League team based in Washington Heights, Chicago Illinois I had to tell, in Paul Harvey’s words “The Rest of the Story”. The Jackie Robinson team in fact did play in the 2014 Little League World Series and was very successful losing the championship game to a team from South Korea It was the first all-black team to compete in the tournament for several decades and to get to the final was a big deal. And Little League International started an investigation after a coach of a Chicago Little League team who had lost to the Jackie Robinson team by a score of 43-2 during the Chicago City Little League Tournament that four or five of the Jackie Robinson players lived outside of the team’s district boundaries. This ultimately led to Little League stripping Jackie Robinson West of all its 2014 accomplishments February 11, 2015. Sad, and an important life lesson one hopes for both kids and adults.

Aware that I am seven decades along I consciously wanted to end this write up with this excerpt from Cal Ripken’s Hall of Fame Induction speech, July 29, 2007: “While we all work to develop into productive people for our own happiness, it is also vital that we do so for the good of society as a whole. I truly believe there are no endings, just points at which we begin again…Finally as I experience another new beginning with this induction I can only hope that all of us, whether we have played on the field or been fans in the stands, can reflect on how fortunate we are and can see our lives as new beginnings that allow us to leave the world a bit better than when we came into it.”


Cal, as I look at this photo I can only say, “Who Knew”! Thanks for the ride!

 


 

My Favorite Banquet Story From the Induction Ceremony

As a manager, Tony La Russa won 2,728 games. In the history of baseball only John McGraw with 2,763 and Connie Mack with 3,931 ever won more. He started his managerial career in August of 1979 with the Knoxville Sox, a Chicago White Sox Double A team in the Southern League. La Russa recalled for the audience that Sox GM Paul Richards introduced him to the local Chamber of Commerce saying “well, if you are wondering about this boy that’s going to manage this team and you’ve heard that the worst player makes the best manager, this young player has a chance to be an outstanding manager. Then he watched me manage four or five games and came up and I asked, ‘what do you think Paul?’ and he says “I think you may have been a better ball player than I thought you were.”