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Met/Dogers – Playing Fair When The Stakes Are High

If you’re a baseball fan you know that October is one of the best times of the year. You’ve waited more than 6 months, watched 162 games (and that’s just your own team!), and now can hopefully celebrate 11 more victories (if your team has made the playoffs) on the way to winning the World Series. Sure, baseball is a game of numbers, but it’s also steeped in tradition and an unwritten code of ethics.
Don’t celebrate a homerun if your team is winning by a huge margin. Don’t bean the other team’s pitcher. Don’t bunt to break up a no-hitter. These “unwritten rules,” as baseball fans commonly refer to them, are largely about sportsmanship and keeping the game as competitive as possible while honoring its “code.”
So on Saturday night, during the Mets-Dodgers second game, when I saw the now-infamous play at second base—Chase Utley’s reckless slide on Ruben Tejada to break up a potential double play late in a one-run game—I asked myself, “Is that part of this sport’s historic character?”
We’ve come a long way since white players sliding cleats-up on Jackie Robinson, but that was half a century ago and more about the recently desegregated sport itself. Utley’s slide, though, just seemed aggressive to the point of being against the rules. Tejada broke his leg and is now out for the rest of the postseason. (Sure enough, Major League Baseball agreed and the day after the play, Chase Utley was suspended for two games for illegal actions, a rule meant to protect infield players.  The only caveat is Utlely has the right to an appeal process which is delaying the suspension – stay tuned.)
The play and subsequent discipline has led me to consider what it means to “win at all costs.” In business as in athletics, we must have a well-practiced, team-oriented approach to winning sales and retaining talent. If you don’t have a team willing to work together towards a shared goal, everything goes out the window. As a business owner or chief executive, you will be held responsible for not acting in the best interest of your company.
I think this approach, while good for “numbers” and “future growth,” casts a shadow over ethics and the reputation one hopes to attain. Chase Utley was perhaps acting on his instinct as a ballplayer: go in hard, make the tough play, and do everything possible to win the game. Yet his play, and every similar collision, may be seen as reckless and has no place in the game. Purists will defend the play; “What else could he do,” they might ask.
Throughout my career,  I have espoused the belief that winning isn’t (always) everything. There have been setbacks, lost accounts, disloyal employees. I have tried to minimize these, but never at the loss of my own moral compass and view of right and wrong. It is important to keep your perspective in difficult situations and not be too hasty or undisciplined in your reactions.
Let’s go Mets!
Symmetry because printing isn’t always black and white.