Determining 'success' in baseball

January, 27, 2009
Below, the beginning, middle and end of Doug Glanville's essay about success:

    OK, you got me. I didn't get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame the other week. A .277 batting average with 60 career home runs is cool, but it won't garner you any votes unless you led the world in some other category.

    But I often wonder whether a player who gets into the Hall should be automatically considered successful. And whether one who doesn't should be seen as unsuccessful.


    Still, somewhere in that internal dialogue you ask yourself, "Was I a success?" I suppose it is safe to say that if you are inducted into the Hall of Fame, you probably would answer "Yes." But I tend to believe that personal success is much more elusive than that.

    Even personal success, however, is hard to define without input from the masses. Baseball has a love affair with numbers; it's how players are measured and, often, how they measure themselves. Their statistics are flipped around, analyzed to the nth degree, placed in boxes of homemade recipes. What did I hit on Astroturf? How many stolen bases did I have in day games? What did I hit against lefties from east of the Mississippi? Before long, it's easy to find an angle that makes you the either the greatest player on the planet or the worst in history. I finished my career with a 293-game errorless streak on defense. I also hit .210 that last season. Still, can I get a vote?


    I will venture to say that gaining awards and accomplishments doesn't always mean you will sleep well at night. The players with the most internal peace are those who know who they are and, as a result, have found personal success more accessible than the players who chase the illusions of the quantifiable.

    My hat goes off to Rickey [Henderson] and Jim [Rice] for a phenomenal run on the game. Hall of Fame inductees are 1 percent of the 1 percent, and unquestionably the best players in our great game. Rare by any standard. But it is even rarer to find players who have the peace of personal success. Then again, when you let other people tell you what success is, you already have no chance of ever finding it.

I was thinking about this very subject last week, upon the news that Sean Casey was retiring. He played in 12 seasons, got into a couple of All-Star Games, and enjoyed one whale of a World Series. But he's nobody's idea of a Hall of Famer. So by that measure, Casey was only moderately successful as a baseball player. Which has been pointed out more than a few times over the years by nerds like me.

Then again, in those 12 years Casey must have delivered a significant number of big hits; hits that made him feel, for just a moment, as if he were the most successful baseball player in the world. Casey also, some years ago, won a poll as the most likable player in the game.

I think if I were Sean Casey or Doug Glanville, I would sleep pretty well at night. I hope they do.



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