It’s October, which means it’s time for the baseball playoffs. Usually at this time of year, I watch with casual interest as the best teams in the game eliminate one another until the World Series champion is crowned. But not this year. This year, my beloved Chicago Cubs are in the playoffs. They have my full attention. And after winning the wild card playoff against the Pirates and taking the divisional playoff series from their rival St. Louis Cardinals, the Cubs are deeper in playoffs than they’ve been in over a decade. Is this year the first time since 1945 that they’ll make it to the World Series?
So I’m feeling a bit nostalgic about baseball right now, which got me thinking about some of the best baseball movies of all time. And while I wouldn’t put For the Love of the Game at the top of my list, there are a couple of scenes in the movie that really stand out.
For the Love of the Game is about an aging Detroit Tigers pitcher, Billy Chapel. He and the team travel to New York for their final series of the year against the Yankees. Both Chapel and the Tigers have losing records and have long been eliminated from playoff contention. And while in New York, Chapel learns that the Tigers are about to be sold and the new owners will be trading him. So as he takes the mound for his final game of the season, it’s also his final game in a Tigers uniform and, quite possibly, the last game he’ll ever pitch.
When Chapel goes back to the mound to pitch in the bottom of the eighth inning, he looks up at the scoreboard, sees nothing but zeroes on the Yankees’ side of the ledger, and realizes that he’s pitching a perfect game. As he stands staring at the scoreboard trying to comprehend what he has achieved through the first seven innings, his catcher, sensing something might be wrong, joins him on the mound.
There Chapel asks his friend and teammate if anyone has been on base. The catcher’s response is a single word, “Nobody.” Chapel then admits, “I don’t know if I have anything left.” Here he is, 19 years into his career, pitching what is certainly his final game of the season and maybe of his career, and through seven innings, he has been perfect. Yet he doesn’t know that he can get through the game. He’s tired, and he’s hurting.
At this point the catcher says, “Chappie, you just throw whatever you’ve got. Whatever’s left. The boys are all here for ya. We’ll back you up. We’ll be there, because Billy, we don’t stink right now. We’re the best team in baseball, right now. Right now, because of you. You’re the reason. We’re not going to screw that up. We’re going to be awesome for you right now. Just throw.”
That’s what being part of a team is all about. Right there in that moment, when someone doesn’t know if he can do the job, doesn’t know if he’s up to the task, his teammates tell him they’ve got his back. He won’t do it; THEY will do it together.
Some people who haven’t experienced team sports or a true team environment at work don’t understand the power of “we” over “me.” In this story, the pitcher is the star. He’s been a great pitcher over the course of his career, and he’s in the latter stages of throwing a perfect game, yet he can’t do it alone. When the stakes are the highest, he needs the support and contributions of the other members of the team. Without them, his pursuit of perfection is futile.
Like I said in the beginning, maybe I’m just feeling a bit sentimental about baseball right now because of my Cubs, but this scene is moving to me because it demonstrates just how much we need those around us if we want to accomplish something great. It demonstrates how important the team is when compared to the individual. We each have our role to play, but every role is critical to our success. The more we realize that truly great accomplishments require the effort and contributions of many, the better the chance we’ll do something great.