The 2010 baseball season has come to an end with the San Francisco Giants winning the World Series.
The way they won it, and in fact, the way the game of baseball is played, from Little League to Major Leagues, contains some life lessons we would all be wise to learn.
I believe the biggest lesson came from Edgar Renteria being named Most Valuable Player of the Series. He had played only 72 regular season games due to various injuries. Some people argue that he never should have been signed by the Giants, and especially not at the lucrative amount $10.5 million--he was given. Yet, at the most dramatic moments of the season ---The World Series the veteran shortstop delivered. Renteria hit .412 (7-for-17) with two homers and six RBIs. His second homer was the game-winning hit in the Series clincher.
The lesson Renteria and many other players one can identify in the history of baseball teach is that you need everybody in order to create success over the long haul. Even the much-maligned Giants pitcher Barry Zito, who had a losing season and did not make the post season roster, was credited with 9 wins in the regular season. The September call-ups and even guys who were traded during the year, like catcher Bengie Molina, who ironically ended up facing the Giants in the World Series as the Texas Rangers' catcher, played roles in the successful Giants season.
Renteria also showed us that you never know who is going to come up big in any moment. Every sport has examples of the phenomenon of the non-star rising to the occasion, but that scenario is particularly common in baseball because of the lineup and the pitching rotation. The Giants were fortunate to have their ace, Tim Lincecum, on the mound for the clincher. But what if he hadn't brought his "A" game that day? The Giants would have had to rely on another pitcher. In fact, closer Brian Wilson pitched the 9th (Actually, that is typical in this day and age in which complete games are a relative rarity. See lesson #1). The ace doesn't pitch every day. The slugger isn't always at the plate when the team needs a run driven in. That leads to the third life lesson of baseball: Everybody gets a turn. In football, basketball, soccer or hockey, it is possible to design a last-second scoring play for the best scorer to try to execute. But in baseball, you've got to work with whomever it is whose turn it is to perform. The on;y alternative is to put in a pinch hitter or a relief pitcher. The irony of that move is that the guys who are making their careers as pinch hitters are players who are deemed not good enough to play everyday. And as for relievers, I don't think boys grow up dreaming of being left-handed specialists.
Try something new rather than give up. Yes, that was Aubrey Huff bunting for the first time in his career to move runners into scoring position shortly before Renteria homered. The home run made "small-ball" unnecessary, but no one knew that as Huff came to the plate. Ranger's ace Cliff Lee was pitching a gem and with the score 0-0 in the 7 th , Giants' manager Bruce Bochy felt something different was needed. Having Huff bunt added another dimension to the game. It also demonstrated a "Carpe Diem" attitude on the part of the Giants, who refused to surrender to Lee's prowess and wait to clinch the next day. As the Giants knew from the 2002 World Series when they lost Games 6 and 7, the next day isn't necessarily easier.
You don't have to have the highest payroll or the biggest names to be a winner. Outfielder Cody Ross was released by the Florida Marlins earlier in the season. He was especially effective in the two post season rounds the Giants needed to get through to make the Series. Catcher Buster Posey was a rookie brought up in June. One can argue that his call up, when the Giants clearly needed more offense, and especially the trade of Bengie Molina, which cemented Posey's position in the everyday lineup, was the beginning of the march to the championship. Twenty-one year-old rookie, Madison Bumgarner, the No. 4 starter, displayed preternatural ice water in his veins during his post season starts.
Great teams are a mix of personalities. The 2010 Giants were a blend of rookies and veterans, the outrageous, like closer Brian "Fear the Beard" Wilson, Aubrey "Huff Daddy" Huff with his red "good luck" thong, and Tim "The Freak" Lincecum, and more reserved types like Edgar Renteria and manager Bruce Bochy. One of Bochy's great assets as a manager is to get they disparate personalities to play as a team while allowing the individuals to be themselves. Great teams are not a roster of cookie-cutter personalities.
I may have just taken a lot of space to say what NY Gov. Mario Cuomo said better in Inning Five of Ken Burns' documentary "Baseball":
The idea of community. The idea of coming together. We're still not good at that in this country. We talk about it a lot. In moments of crisis we're magnificent at it. The Depression, Franklin Roosevelt lifting himself from his wheelchair to lift this nation from its knees. In these moments we understand community, helping one another.
[In] baseball, you do that all the time. You can't win it alone. You can be the best pitcher in baseball, [but] somebody has to get you a run to win the game. It is a community activity. You need all nine people helping one another.
I love bunt plays. I love the idea of the bunt, I love the idea of the sacrifice. Even the word is good -- giving yourself up for the good of the whole. That's Jeremiah, that's thousands of years of wisdom. You find your own good in the good of the whole, you find your own individual fulfillment in the success of the community.
The Bible tried to do that and didn't teach you. Baseball did .
In light of the election that took place just one day after the Giants won the World Series, we would do well to remember the community lessons of baseball.