Quick: name the last 5 (MLB) World Series MVPs (Cole Hamels, Mike Lowell, David Eckstein, Jermaine Dye, Manny Ramirez). Those of you searching on Wikipedia right now hopefully kept reading. Otherwise, you’re probably at a loss. Now, name the last five teams quickly, and that’s probably an easier task (Phillies, Red Sox, Cardinals, White Sox, Red Sox). This is one of the many reasons why I love baseball: the idea that the more people are involved in a game, the more we get to concentrate on the team as a symbiotic entity, joining as one for a common purpose (aside from extracting as much cash as possible from religiously devoted fans of the game like you and me).
Growing up, I liked basketball, because David Stern’s marketing ploy concentrated heavily on the flashy individual or the larger-than-life characters, and society reflects this interest. Whenever we consider “great” series to watch in the NBA, they’re never the team that flows in indiscernible unison like the Spurs of late or the Pistons of 2004. The focus has primarily been on the Lakers with Shaq and / or Kobe, the Heat with Dwayne Wade, the Cavs with LeBron, or Boston with their big 3 superstars. While the models have all proved sustainable for the NBA marketing-wise, the championship teams always found a way to quietly pull their star player back from doing too much and distributing the wealth of stats.
In baseball, making the team feel like a team feels like a much easier task to do. Almost everyone’s on the field for the whole game, and the designated hitter along with the rest of the field position players get 4-5 at-bats a piece. While certain players excel highly at their specific task, baseball demands that those who do well and those that don’t have to put in their share of the work so the whole team can do better. No one can do their at-bat over, nor can anyone come up again in a different spot in the lineup. Therefore, everyone’s gotta do their part to win that game. The teams who strive for the championship can have an abundance of excellent singular players, but the cohesion is so much more important.
I say this because, in my line of duty, there’s a dearth of understanding about how every person’s role in the “assembly line” eventually helps the entire team out. Today, I spoke to a fellow teacher about some of the students in our classes, and how we as teachers are quick to dismiss them as lazy. While I agreed to a certain degree, I also think much of the discipline has to come very early on. We can’t just hope that they’ll “catch on” later on. Every step from classroom 1 to 14 matters in that child’s life, and thus, every teacher that child has should find a means of doing their job as well as possible.
If the 1st and 2nd players up to bat get on base, it’s imperative for the people in the 3rd and 4th spots to do their best to knock those runners in to score. Come to think of it, during any period, a team has at least 3 chances to drive in those runners no matter where the lineup starts from. We as teachers reasonably have around the same chances to ensure that our children all get equitable education. While we may not get paid the same amount of money these professionals do, it’s easily the same mentality and approach we should adopt to our teaching. This isn’t strictly about just the academic skills, but also ingraining study habits and classroom conversation. While too many urban teachers believe the parents are to blame for everything, they’ve yet to look in the mirror and maybe call foul on their own mentalities.
Thinking about my own experiences as a student, almost every teacher I had from pre-k to middle school felt different as teachers. Some were fun; others were strict. Some could come in and create a wonderful learning experience and others only went by the book. Yet, the good teachers far outweighed the faulty teachers, and when one didn’t give me certain material to know, the next year, I picked it right up with a better teacher. Fortunately for me, I never had even 2 consecutive bad teachers in any subject I learned. That may not be the case for too many of our students, and maybe that should make anyone involved in the system of schools think about bridging those gaps and ensuring all runners can come home.
The great teachers couldn’t do it by themselves. They only have a year or two with me at most, much like baseball players may only get that at-bat to make an impact on a player in scoring position. It has to be a line of reliable teachers to keep the line moving. When thought leaders don’t take that holistic approach to child transformation, they end up losing on the back end. Homerun hitters (or in education’s terms, the really effective teacher who made max growth for a student during a year) are cute, but homeruns are truly unreliable. Ask the ’97 Mariners, who scored the most homeruns in the history of the game, but have yet to win a championship in franchise history. Ask the ’04 Yankees who were a collage of some of the greatest individuals players you could find, but lost in ugly fashion to a Red Sox team that also had its share of stars, but became this cohesive unit of indestructibility … like the Yankee teams from ’96 – ’00 they used to hate. That solidarity is rare, but wonderful for any child to have.
Thus, the Yankees had to reform into a model that included the inexperienced but enthusiastic and the veteran and ever-hungry. That’s why they’re back in a big way. Plus, their pitchers make it easier to bridge between innings. Hmm.
To wit, the teams in this World Series have adopted their team mentalities even as they’re filled with perennial All-Stars. Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Jorge Posada, and Andy Pettitte have each won 4 championships together on teams that embraced the team concept, but, as living legends, never won a championship after 2001 because the organization focused too much on individual power. Alex Rodriguez has phenomenal stats and MVPs and already ranks as one of the greatest to ever play the game, but has never played in a World Series. Brad Lidge has become a great pitcher all over again after becoming the scapegoat for the Houston Astros a few years back. Ryan Howard, Jimmy Rollins, and Chase Utley seemed like good teammates, but only when each of those players take a backseat to their team as a whole did they win it all.
Like Cole Hamels taking the World Series MVP last year amongst those three. Or even CC Sabathia getting the ALCS MVP after pitching 2 great games in spite of great offensive games from Alex Rodriguez and Derek Jeter. When you ask those two if they’re happy for CC, they’ll probably say the same thing every other great MVP in baseball has said:
“CC played great, but I don’t care who gets the MVP. We’re just all happy to get to where we are. We all have one goal in mind.”
Are we as teachers just hoping for playoff contention or are we World Champion caliber?
Jose, who’ll be at Game 1 of the World Series tomorrow …
p.s. – This guest post by Jon Becker regarding SABERmetrics illustrates the baseball / education analogy further …