Credit this content to Rick Houcek whose free weekly email broadcast has featured this story more than once over the years. It’s worth the read, every time.
In 1996, at a convention of 4,000 baseball coaches in Nashville, a 78-year old keynote speaker stepped to the stage to a standing ovation. Only 5 years had passed since he retired from a storied college coaching career that began in 1948.
The speaker was the legendary John Scolinos, an icon in the baseball coaching profession.
To everyone’s surprise, Scolinos had a real home plate hanging around his neck. His speech went on for 25 minutes with no mention of the plate. With everyone buzzing, curious, and their interest suitably piqued, he finally announced that he now wanted to share life lessons he had learned about home plate in his 78 years.
He first asked the Little League coaches in the room, “How wide is home plate?” Answers shot back from the crowd, “Seventeen inches.”
He then asked the Babe Ruth league coaches “How wide is home plate?” From the floor came shouts of “Seventeen inches”.
He continued with high school coaches. Then college coaches. Then minor league. Then major league coaches.
Same question for each. Same answer: 17 inches.
He then said: “And what do they do with a big league pitcher who can’t throw the ball over 17 inches? They send him to Pocatello!”
This drew raucous laughter. (Pocatello means sending him down to the minor leagues for seasoning, to learn how to throw strikes.)
He went on: “What they don’t do is this: They don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy. You can’t hit a 17-inch target? We’ll make it 18 inches, or 19 inches. We’ll make it 20 inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say 25 inches.”
He paused, then dug into his dramatic point.
“Coaches, what do we do when our best player shows up late for practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?”
The chuckles of 4,000 coaches went silent. He hit a raw nerve. And he wasn’t done.
Scolinos went on to say school teachers have been stripped of tools to educate and discipline students. Others have forced them to widen home plate.
Even church leaders, he said, widened home plate by turning their backs on holding accountable powerful people in positions of authority who took advantage of young children.
His closing words were the most profound yet…
“If I am lucky, you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standard; if we are unwilling or unable to provide consequences when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to…”
At this point, Scolinos turned around home plate to reveal its pitch black back side, and muttered…
“…dark days ahead.”