By Rabbi Wayne Allen
For Americans, baseball is the “National Pastime.” It is also, I believe, a microcosm of human relations. What happens on the baseball diamond is often useful in looking at life as a whole. Consider the case of Matt Stairs, a Canadian-born player who just announced his retirement after nineteen years in the major leagues. Stairs hold two major league records. In his career he has hit 23 pinch-hit home runs, significantly more than anyone else. This means that he was called upon to come to bat with little preparation time and when his team was usually behind – and he was able to deliver.
The second record he holds is much different and requires interpretation. In his nineteen year career he played on thirteen different teams. The longest tenure he enjoyed was five seasons with the Oakland Athletics, from 1996 – 2000. Otherwise, he spent no more than two seasons (and frequently less) on twelve other teams.
Now there are two ways one can evaluate his career. One perspective – entirely defensible – is that Matt Stairs was simply not good enough to be retained by any one team. He is just counted among those itinerant utility players who fill out many of the team rosters. Another perspective, however, is that his talent was in such demand, that teams went to great lengths to acquire his services. He was, as they say, “the final piece of the puzzle,” that could earn a team a championship. And that was precisely how he was viewed in Philadelphia, for instance. In other words, the vagaries of his career were not a function of questionable skill but of unquestionable skill.
Success and failure in life are deceptive. Often they are measured in contradictory ways. I am reminded of the story of a politician whose resume was long and storied, rising from the ranks of congressional page, to assistant to a city councillor, to councillor, then mayor, governor, and finally to the House of Representatives. But during his senatorial campaign his opponent criticized him on the grounds that he couldn’t hold a job! One man’s experience is another man’s critique. And there are those who can spend an entire career doing one thing in one place and be labled ‘un-ambitious,’ or ‘lazy.’
The fact of the matter is that success and failure can be measured in different ways. And it would be unwise to demand the same judgment in each case.