28 Days of Inspiration – Day 5

Bhumibol Adulyadej

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from kyotoreview.org

 

King Bhumibol the Great  served for over 70 years as king of Thailand, a reign ending with his passing this week at age 88.  Consider the degree of change occurring in this southeast Asian country over the course of his lifetime and monarchy and realize he held this once remote, impoverished country together through the upheavals of coup d’etats, the Vietnam conflict, the bombings of Cambodia and Laos, Cambodian civil war – all going on around his country, without dragging it into the conflict.

 

Now, it’s hard to know just how genuine the Thai people’s reverence of their monarch is due to the lèse majesté laws in place – it’s illegal to criticize the king – but by most accounts it’s apparently quite genuine. He was seen as a stabilizing force in a country and region notoriously unstable.

When asked how he wanted to be remembered, he said on numerous occasions that he wanted to be seen as “useful,” to have acted for the poorest citizens.  Indeed he spent the 1960’s and 1970’s  deliberately visiting the rural poor, and learning of their needs.

He was born in the United States, educated in Switzerland, spoke English and French, but had no apparent desire to travel – there was too much to do at home. Due to political circumstances early on, he focused his attention on development projects, building away from agrarian to modern industry.

This was an apparently humble man who accidentally became king, and made the best use of his authority for his people as he saw it for more than 70 years.

28 Days of Inspiration – Day 4

James Stockdale

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Rear Admiral Stockdale in full dress uniform; US Navy File Photo  www.navy.mil/iew_image.asp?id+25931

The 1960’s are remembered for high profile assassinations, Beatles, love-ins, and Vietnam War protests. A lot is taught in school about the decade of the 60’s but never once did I learn anything about Admiral James Stockdale.

While young men here in the United States resisted military service, perhaps fled to Canada, Stockdale was imprisoned in North Vietnam.  He spent eight years in captivity from 1965-1973 after being shot down and was the highest ranking officer to be held captive there. To put that in perspective, as it turns out eight years was just about 10% of the man’s life.

On September 9, 1965 he ejected from his disabled plane over North Vietnam, landed in a small village, was beaten and taken prisoner.

He relied on stoicism to keep himself grounded and to keep from being defeated.  He was beaten with his shoulders dislocated, legs and back broken, and his will assaulted.  Yet he never gave an inch.  Consider this: as an admiral, he led prisoner resistance.  According to his Medal of Honor citation, he resisted participating in prisoner exploitation by deliberately disfiguring himself; he did this with a razor to cut his scalp and when the Vietnamese tried to cover that wound with a hat, he literally beat himself in the face until it became so swollen as to be unrecognizable.  He slit his own wrists, a near mortal wound, to demonstrate he would not capitulate. He was kept in solitary confinement in a small cell, lights on 24-hours a day, in leg shackles for the majority of those 8-years in captivity.

In Good to Great author Jim Collins talks about “the Stockdale Paradox.”  Simply put, it boils down to this quote:

“Retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.” — James Stockdale.

Those who didn’t make it out were the “optimists.” The men who retained optimism with the groundless belief that they would be out by Christmas, were continually defeated and eventually lost faith that they would make it out.  The idea was that in order to be able to be resilient and see what may lie beyond, one has to acknowledge the current situation objectively.  He knew how dire his situation was, but he still had the faith to believe he was going to make it through.  More to the point, he had to accept his situation as what he had to endure and what he was fighting through.  This wasn’t a temporary situation that would resolve itself with time, it was a static feature that was only going to change with his action.  And it wasn’t going to be overnight, there were no simple fixes.

He returned home, willed himself to health – presumably via the same force of will demonstrated in the paradox quote – and resumed his military career becoming a university President and scholar.

Whatever hard time you’re going through, I urge you to consider the lessons of James Stockdale.  Honor, integrity, resilience.

 

Why is the World Series “Best of 7”

Today’s World Series – the World Championship of Baseball – is a given. Except for the truncated 1994 season, a championship series has been played between the National League and the American League since 1905, with the first series between the two leagues having been held in 1903. Over the 109 World Series; 105 have been a best-of-7 affair. What of those other 4-series and why are there 7-games in the series?

The first World Series in 1903 was a best of 9-game arrangement between the American League Champion Boston Americans (later the Boston Red Sox) and the “Pittsburg” (sic) Pirates. When the American League (and reigning “World Champion”) Boston Americans could not make an arrangement with the National League Champion New York Giants, the series was not played, as the series was only arranged between clubs. While popular culture points to the interpersonal squabbles between the Boston and New York franchises, there was also a real disagreement over what the rules should be for a World Series – and the reluctance of the Giants to give credence to their in-town rival the Highlanders, who had lead the American League through much of the season before Boston pulled out the best record on the last day of the season.

In the aftermath of the failure to play a series in 1904, both leagues adopted rules for a World Series to begin in 1905, thus removing the possibility a mutually beneficial and lucrative Championship Series would not be played because of animus between people or teams or because of an argument against poorly thought out rules. The rules for the 1905 season included a “best-of-7” World’s Championship Series.

Baseball had played a significant role in the American war effort and at the end of 1918 – a season truncated by the first World War – the good will Major League Baseball had was at a high point. As the largest professional sports league, a war wearied country looked to baseball for enjoyment. According to Richard C. Crepeau in Baseball: America’s Diamond Mind, baseball had experienced a renaissance of sorts during the war as people who had not yet been exposed to the game had been for the first time. These soldiers coming back to the states provided an increased demand for the game.

In the 15-or-so years between the National League representative New York Giants refusing to meet the Boston Americans in what would have been the second World Series, the National League was now not only firmly behind a series, but firmly behind a longer series. Before the winter meetings in 1918, the National League proposed a “best-of-9” series with the idea being to increase revenue and exposure of the game; that motion that was passed at the December, 1918 meetings for the 1919 season.

Under this expansion, the 1919-1921 World Series’ were “best-of-9” series. In that very next World Series,the “Black Sox scandal” erupted and charges of gambling and investigations embroiled baseball for several years thereafter. At the 1921 Major League meetings, while the National League voted to retain the best-of-9, the American League voted to return to a best-of-7 series. When placed in the context of the “black sox” scandal – with it’s squandering of public good will after the first world war and amidst charges the expansion was more about greed than the game – one can easily see how the new Commissioner of Baseball, Kennesaw Mountain Landis, saw fit to cast the deciding vote as one to return to 7 games.

It took Major League Baseball’s expansion and subsequent alignment into divisions in 1969 before there was another expansion of the post season – 50 years with the only post season play being the best-of-7 World Series and when it did expand the post-season, it was the playoffs that expanded, not the World Series; baseball had traded the guarantee of at least one more game in the World Series (to win a best of 9, you must win 5 games) for the guarantee of what was at the time 6-more playoff games – 3 in the American League, 3 in the National League in a best-of-5 League Championship series. The “LCS” is now a best-of-7 series, with an additional layer of playoffs before even that additional round.

Nota bene, while the scandal over performance enhancing drugs and the Mitchell report was beginning to wind down, the then current commissioner of Baseball Allan “Bud” Selig was considering an expansion of the World Series – a proposal presented by player agent Scott Boras – to a best-of-9 format, ostensibly to increase exposure (by playing two games at neutral sites) and, undoubtedly to increase revenue. History does have a tendency to repeat itself.

REFERENCE

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1904_World_Series

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/alltime/worldseries

http://www.baseballlibrary.com/ballplayers/player.php?name=World_Series&page=chronology

http://findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_kmtpi/is_200707/ai_n19334686

http://books.google.com/books?hl=en&lr=&id=YrbYVcb7_xIC&oi=fnd&pg=
PR9&dq=%22Kennesaw+Mountain+Landis%22+world+series+1921&ots=
MFSV6hjUVH&sig=wM_JkVtfxZen_yZpd2xlTHnRpuE#PPA8,M1

September 11, 2001

During the disputed Presidential election of 2000, I registered with CNN for email alerts on breaking news. For about a month between November and into December of that year, I would receive numerous emails from CNN with news alerts. After the Supreme Court decided “Bush vs. Gore,” the email began to peter out and after George W. Bush became the 43rd President of the United States on January 20, 2001, I received close to no alerts going forward.

For me, the morning of Tuesday, September 11 began much the same way Monday, September 10 had. I drove the 20 minutes or so to work, arriving at about 8 AM. I fired up my computer and geared up for my day. At 8:20, maybe 8:30, I drove out to some client sites – pick-ups or deliveries or whatnot – and arrived back at my office at maybe 9:15. As I logged back into my computer, a string of CNN alerts appeared on my screen – the most recent at the top. I remember reading through them in chronological order. At first I was stunned, then shocked, and then scared.

In our small office, we were all glued to our computers – trying to figure out what had happened. A small television was set up in our conference room and we just sat and watched in amazement. Our offices were directly across the street from the Massachusetts State Police headquarters, which in turn was next door to the Massachusetts Emergency Management Authority. Military armored vehicles blocked access to each compound. The air space over the Boston suburb was silent – no incoming or outgoing flights allowed. It seemed like the world had stopped, save for the emergency response going on across the highway. My cell phone provided sporadic availability – the limited cell coverage at the time was clogged from use. The dial-up internet was slow – bandwidth being taxed as millions logged on to find out news.

It was a time of unbridled fear. I wanted my loved ones close – almost irrationally so. I couldn’t keep my 6-year old daughter any more safe than could her school, but I wanted to be the one keeping her safe. I worked for two Sikh gentlemen and with a host of Indian nationals; knowing an attack of this magnitude could not have come from within and realizing quickly that news outlets were speculating on Islamic extremists, I was afraid for their safety. Sikhs have no relation to the Islamic faith, yet they wear turbans as some Muslims do. I was afraid for ignorant retaliation – those who may be inclined to retaliate will not take the time to figure out who is the enemy. I was afraid for my employees, any one of whom could be the target of xenophobia and attack. I was afraid for the wellbeing of the business – if ownership didn’t feel safe making calls, and if clients were reticent about meeting, the company would shortly begin to fail. I remember telling one employee to be careful, not to display his Quran – horrible advice to have to dispense. Last, I was afraid for my country and what direction it would take.

We had assigned spaces in our parking lot: My space was the last in the row of our assigned spots. After September 11, I noticed the car usually parked in the assigned space next to mine had no longer been there. As it happens, the woman who owned that car and the owner of a business located in our building, began a business trip to Los Angeles the morning of September 11 onboard Flight 11 from Logan Airport. She died as the Boeing 767 crashed into the World Trade Center. Less than a month later, her company died without her guidance.

I would watch videos of the planes striking the World Trade Center over and over, and I sometimes felt overcome with this existential angst – but for the grace of God go I – and anger. I couldn’t fathom making the choices some were forced to make, between jumping out a window to certain death or remaining in a building waiting for certain death. I thought about the babies and children aboard those ill-fated flights and could only hope their parents could have somehow controlled their own fears to comfort their children. And I thought about my own child and the world she would be living in going forward. I wondered about my own strength in the face of adversity and how I would respond.

When air traffic resumed, we were subject to more intrusive security checks – and that was okay. We accepted it, the world, after all, had changed. It didn’t take much, though, to realize that it would not be long before we wouldn’t tolerate long security lines at the airport gate. It didn’t take much to realize how woefully unprepared we were as a nation to combat an attack on our own soil, and it didn’t take long to realize that to ramp up our preparedness, the government would have to take a more activist role.

Some ten plus years hence when I can stomach watching those video clips, I still hurt and I still fight back tears. So many innocent people lost because of random chance – they took a flight they just happened to book or went to work the same way they always did, or responded to an emergency call as part of their job. Countless more who made slightly different choices and were spared. The realization not everything is under your control – that the smallest choices can have enormous consequence – is a constant message.

I realize, too, that I cannot remember the slightest thing about my day on September 10, 2001. I was probably upset the Patriots had been smothered by the Bengals the day before, but other than that not one blessed thing. I remember September 11, 2001 in almost scary detail, and I think it sad that I spend so much time going about my business that I don’t take the opportunity to make sure I’m making the most of my time. And much like the rest of us, I resolve to change that, but quickly slide back into the old habits of complacency. I just hope it’s not another 9/11 event that jars me – or anyone else – out of their complacency. God bless the United States of America.

Dents, Dings, Scars, and Things

Every dent, every ding tells a story. I grew up watching the Boston Red Sox on television, and by the time I was 14 years old, I finally had the opportunity to see them play in Fenway Park for the first time. My friend’s dad ran a grocery chain and had tickets from the Coke distributor – my very first game was witnessed two rows back from the visitor’s dugout on the third base line. Those seats are now worth some $85+ dollars. Back in 1984, not so much.

It was the first time I had seen Fenway and the wall up close. The “Green Monster” has dents in it covering decades of baseball games. With each dent, a story is born. The story of each is lost to time, but each one has a story. There’s the September 2, 2001 game at which I sat in the right field bleachers where at the bottom of the 9th inning and 2 out, a perfect game was broken up with a line drive off the wall. To the best of my knowledge, no one ever marked the dent made by Carl Everett’s line drive.

There is no telling what each dent means, but those stories are there.

The same is true in any work of human art, any random encounter one may have. A visit to the Museum reveals a world of story. Certainly, there are visitors who go to see Rodin’s statues and gaze upon the inherent beauty of the man’s work. I, however, wonder what must’ve been going through the artists’ mind and how he controlled his hand in the creation of his work. To know another human’s hands has touched upon a piece of stone, of clay, and scultped a work of art. What was the context, what was the motivation that fed through that artist’s hands to create such a work?

A glance upon the bumper of any random car. A scrape, a dent, a ding. The car next to you held together with duct tape. There’s a story if you’re willing to accept it. The man at the convenience store who can’t find the additional change or the sight of the faded tattoo on his arm. There is a story to each of those things.

The scar from a channel of stitches on the body of a person who has undergone surgery. Certainly, there’s a story to be told if you’re willing to hear it.

Listening is one of the hardest tasks we as humans as asked to do, those who can internalize and appreciate the story behind the marks upon others, understand what it may be like being in the shoes of another.

The world is full of similar examples. Take a look at the car next to you tomorrow morning. Who is driving it? Where are they going? What is the story behind the vanity license plate?

Take a few minutes to observe that which comes from without. There may be great treasure awaiting you.

The Unheralded Unassisted Triple Play

Though relatively unheralded in baseball lore, the unassisted triple play (UTP) is a far more rare occurrence than the perfect game. There have been 23-perfect games in the history of professional baseball – and as anyone who was paying attention to the 2010 baseball season, we know Armando Gallaraga of the Detroit Tigers was hosed of a perfect game on an umpires’ untimely gaff. There have actually been several more games that could in theory be perfect games, but by a 1991 rules redefinition they were written out of the records books. A 12-inning perfect game was wiped out by a 13th inning meltdown in 1959, for instance, as was a 1995 perfect game being thrown by Pedro Martinez only to have the lead off hitter in the 10th inning bring it down.

However there have only been 15-unassisted triple plays in baseball history. Consider this: for the number of possible opportunities for this to occur – generally 17 or 18 times a game multiplied by the 2430 MLB games a year – and you begin to see how truly rare a feat this is. In theory, there would be 4860 opportunities (number of games multiplied by the two pitchers on either side) to throw a perfect game every year, but there would be somewhere in the vicinity of 43,000 innings a year for there to be an unassisted triple play to be executed.

The first unassisted triple play recorded in the history books was having been executed on May 8, 1878 by Paul Hines, but there is some controversy as to whether or not Hines could have executed the “unassisted” portion of the “unassisted triple play” by virtue of where the runners were on the basepaths and how the play is actually described, but under modern rules it would not have been credited as such, and is not included in the list of UTP’s.

And as rare an event as the unassisted triple play is, not unlike the statistical glitch that was the 2010 baseball season for perfect games, they seem to come in clumps. 6 of the first 7 unassisted triple plays occurred in the 1920’s – 2 each in 1923 and 1927 – and the last 5 have occurred in the last decade – there was some 41-years between that last on in 1927 and the next one in 1968 and 24-years before the next one after that. The two 1927 unassisted triple played actually occurred on consecutive days, by two Boston players – one each for the Red Sox and the cross town Braves.

Of the 15-UTP’s, two have happened for the Boston Red Sox and two have happened for thePhiladelphia Phillies – not surprisingly since these are two of the oldest teams in professional baseball. What is somewhat surprising is that two other ancient teams – the Cincinnati Reds, the oldest team in baseball, and the New York Yankees – have never had one executed on their behalf, while one of the newest teams in baseball, the Colorado Rockies, have and only one has happened in the World Series. Most surprising to me is that the World Series UTP did not involve the Yankees, the most prolific representative in the World Series.

NHL’s Original Six

Anyone familiar with the National Hockey League (NHL) knows the “Original Six:” The Boston Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens, New York Rangers, and Toronto Maple Leafs. These 6-franchises are the legacy of the “original” NHL teams before the league doubled in size in 1967 to 12-teams.

Growing up, I had the opportunity to watch the last two active players from the “Original Six” era play –Wayne Cashman and Rogie Vachon – but I missed watching the last player in the NHL until 1967 who played for an NHL team that was not part of the “Original Six,” Ken Mosdell. How could someone have played for an NHL team that was not part of the “Original Six” before the league expanded from the Original Six?

With not so much research, one finds that far from being the “original” six, the NHL began in 1917 with 4-teams only two of which – the Montreal Canadiens, and the Toronto Maple Leafs ‘- remain. The only other member of the “Original Six” with a claim to the mantle of “original” is the Boston Bruins, founded in 1924 as the first US based NHL team and the only other team in existence when the NHL became the only league competing for the Stanley Cup. The remaining members of the “Original Six,” the Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Detroit Red Wings – were formed in 1926 as “expansion teams.” Further, while the name “Ottawa Senators” may sound familiar to modern day NHL fans, the team eventually became the St. Louis Eagles before ceasing operations.

As it happens, then, the “Original Six” turns out to be a matter of a bit of marketing and truly only differentiates between the wave of modern-era expansion teams and the teams that comprised the NHL for the quarter century between 1942 and 1967: Like so much in life, the definition of the word “original” depends on one’s starting point. The “Original Four” were the Canadiens, the Montreal Wanderers, Toronto Arenas, and the Ottawa Senators. A fifth team, the Quebec Bulldogs, was technically a member of the league, but did not compete until 1919 and The Arenas were a “temporary” team created by the owners of the Toronto arena to replace still another team as ownership of that team was in dispute.

For 25-years from the founding of the league, it was in flux with teams folding, moving, withdrawing from competition, forming, and even cancelling competition for the Stanley Cup due to a flu outbreak; From 1917-1942, the league expanded and contracted due to economic forces of the Great Depression and the outbreak of World War II. In this era, the league ranged in size from a low of 3-teams when the Montreal Wanderers withdrew, to a high of 10-teams from 1926-1932.

By 1942, the “Original Six” were the remaining teams, and represented a much different league than that which began operation out of the demise of the National Hockey Association (NHA). For the second 25-years of the NHL’s existence, this stable of teams remained constant and became the basis of the expansion of the league. While not wholly inaccurate – after all, the league is not calling this group “Charter Members” only “Original Members.”

Consider this for a moment: that temporary team without even a proper name, the Toronto Arenas, won the Stanley Cup in the NHL’s first season and evolved into the Toronto Maple Leafs. It is interesting then, that the team created to fill a void, became the first champion and one of the two oldest franchises in the modern league.

Perhaps more interesting is that the NHL itself was created as a temporary solution while the National Hockey Association (NHA) sorted out its business dealings. In the meantime, it has grown into a 30-team league and a history just a few years shy of a century ‘” a longevity surpassed only by the two leagues of Major League Baseball.

REFERENCES:

Do Original Six teams still matter in the NHL: http://sports.espn.go.com/nhl/columns/story?id=2773591
Toronto Arenas: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Toronto_Arenas

Original Six: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Original_Six
History of the National Hockey League (1917-1942):http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_National_Hockey_League_(1917%E2%80%931942)
NHL Expansion History: http://www.rauzulusstreet.com/hockey/nhlhistory/nhlhistory.html