Coach John Scolinos was legendary among college baseball coaches. Over his 45-year career he was the head baseball coach at Pepperdine University from 1946 to 1960 and at California State Polytechnic University Pomona from 1962 to 1991, compiling a career college baseball record of 1,070 wins, 954 losses and 13 ties. Scolinos was also the head football coach at Pepperdine from 1955 to 1959.
But those numbers aren’t what define him, or what people probably remember him for. Rather, his most memorable moments are quite possibly a speech he delivered that talked about the importance of seventeen inches.
In January 1996, the 78-year-old Scolinos addressed 4,000 baseball coaches at the 52nd annual American Baseball Coaches Association convention in Nashville, Tenn. For many, his presence alone was worth the cost of attending.
He took the stage to a standing ovation. Dressed in dark pants and a light blue shirt, his outfit was accessorized by a full-sized, bright white home plate hanging from a string around his neck. He spoke for 25 minutes without acknowledging his unusual attire.
And then, he explained. “You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate around my neck. Or maybe you think I escaped from Camarillo State Hospital,” he began. “No, I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about baseball in 78 years.
“Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” he asked the Little League coaches who were there. “Seventeen inches,” someone replied.
“That’s right,” he said. “How about in Babe Ruth’s day?” Another coach hollered out, “Seventeen inches?”
Addressing the high school coaches in the room, “How wide is home plate in high school?” “Seventeen inches,” came the reply.
“You’re right!” Scolinos barked. He repeated the question to the college, minor league and major league coaches in the audience. The answer never varied. Seventeen inches.
“And what do they do with a big league pitcher who can’t throw the ball over 17 inches? They send him to Pocatello (Idaho),” he said.
“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 se we can make it wider still, say 25 inches.
“Coaches, what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice . . . 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?” he challenged the audience.
Scolinos went on to illustrate his points, drawing on the home plate he wore. He outlined the consequences of bending the rules and failing to insist on performing up to standards not only for players, but for themselves, their children, schools, churches and government. The spellbound crowd learned so much more than baseball lessons that day.
His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players – no matter how good they are – your own children, your churches, your government, and most of all, keep yourself, ALL, at 17 inches.”
This lesson applies across all disciplines. We all have superstars in our organizations, and if we are lucky, they hold themselves to the standards we have set for all employees. If they haven’t achieved that discipline, it is up to management to hold them accountable. And management must be up to the task.
Every organization has a metric that can be compared to 17 inches. Figure out what it is and insist on that standard for everyone.
Demanding the best from yourself is a perfect place to start. It doesn’t matter whether you are in the mailroom or the corner office. Be an example for all those around you, regardless of your position.
And then watch what happens. Pride of accomplishment, increased productivity, more job satisfaction. When people know they are performing at their best, the entire organization benefits. And customers notice a difference too. All because you understood the importance of 17 inches.
Coach Scolinos left this world 10 years ago. Perhaps he never knew how many have benefited from his inspired advice. But I know I will never look at home plate the same way again.
Mackay’s Moral: Keeping your standards high is the only way to play the game of life.
Seven-time, New York Times best-selling author of "Swim With The Sharks Without Being Eaten Alive," with two books among the top 15 inspirational business books of all time, according to the New York Times. He is one of America’s most popular and entertaining business speakers, and currently serves as Chairman at the MackayMitchell Envelope Company, one of the nation’s major envelope manufacturers, producing 25 million envelopes a day.
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