Monday, May 31, 2010

The Rudder Which Guides is Judgment

John Montgomery Ward wrote that of batting, baserunning, fielding and battery work, baserunning "is the most skillful, it calls into play the keenest perception and the soundest judgment, it demands agility and speed, and it requires more daring, courage and enthusiasm than all the others combined." The Dead Ball Era was a time when games were low scoring and home runs were rare therefore skillful base running was crucial to winning games.

The 1910 book, Touching Second: The Science of Baseball co-written by reporter Hugh Fullerton
and the Chicago Cub's Johnny Evers states base-running was "fast becoming one of the lost arts of baseball." The authors believed that since the 1890's players had "subordinated their intelligence to the brains of the manager, and allow one man, or rather, insist upon one man doing the thinking for the entire team, which is an impossibility." Ty Cobb was among a few players of the time that Evers and Fullerton admired for relying on his own judgment and instincts rather than that of managers or coaches.

They recall an example of Cobb using his judgment in a World Series game between the Detroit Tigers and Evers's Cubs. With Cobb on first the batter hit a single to short right center. Rather than stopping at second base, Cobb, in an instant, assessed the throwing ability and positions of his opponents and kept going to third base without pause. When Evers got the ball he turned to second base only to realize Cobb was approaching third. In his haste to make the play, Evers made a wild throw into the stands. Evers and Fullerton claim "no manager could have told Cobb to do that, and because 99 out of every 100 base-runners would have stopped at second to await orders, they would not have made the play."
That is the keen judgment and sound perception of which Ward was speaking. Ward agreed with Evers and Fullerton, "the player must be able to see the play himself and act upon it instantly without waiting to be told."

I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Ward's Base-Ball: How to Be A Player
could be retitled Life:How to Be a A Player and wonder if Ward realized that his baseball wisdom translated so well into advice on life in general. He states,
"A runner who is thoroughly alive to all the possibilities of the game will see a chance and gain a point where another of less ready perception would find no opening. The former has learned to marshal at a glance all the attendant probabilities and possibilities and to estimate, in the same instant, the chances of success or failure."
He goes on to caution,
"Therefore, the most important faculty of all, the pendulum which regulates, and the rudder which guides, is judgment."
Although I would say I have a keen sense of perception and I don't generally question my judgment I would have failed as a baserunner in the Dead Ball Era (and not just because of my tremendous lack of athletic ability). I am not a risk taker and so the probability of success has to be pretty high for me to act. Also, I've recently become frustrated with myself because I seem to be becoming less decisive. I have started wanting several other people's opinions before making a decision. Maybe all of Fullerton, Evers and Ward's advice isn't applicable to today's baserunning situations but I think I could benefit by playing a little more like Cobb, taking more risks and trusting my own perception and judgment. What about you? Do you have the makings of a good Dead Ball Era baserunner?


  1. I'd like to think that most times I express good judgment. But as time goes by and I get a little older I see that many choices I've made could've exercised a little more wisdom. But hey, hindsight is always 20/20 right? I think what's important to consider is the process. Life is all about growth. And I'm hoping that tomorrow my judgment will be a bit keener than it was today. And I hope those who my life impacts will be blessed a bit more as a result. Thanks for the post!

  2. I definitely have my share of what was I thinking moments too, Paul. Some of them I even got away with while others I was "caught stealing" (not literally, ha!). I agree that much can be learned by reflecting and I always say I'm a work in progress!

  3. Myka,

    Once again, great thought-provoking post. I would have to say that the lack of a good internal rudder has been the source of many mistakes in my life.

    Lucky for me, my wife came along threw me a buoy to help me steer through the choppier waters and, in general, am tacking with the wind. As Paul says, with age, comes growth.

    Best, Mark

  4. Hey, thanks for the comment and the Twitter follow. I'm now following you too, and I'm going to add you to my blogroll.

    I like your post and its reference to old sports writing, which tends to be forgotten in the modern ESPN culture. I don't know if I would have made a good Dead Ball Era base runner either, as I live fairly cautiously too, though I think I'm a decent heads-up runner on the softball diamond.

  5. Thanks Graham, I really enjoyed what I've read of your blog I was excited to find it!


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