Opportunity vs Security: Baseball’s Best Example

 

It is now an old and treasured story in baseball history.

On the morning of September 28, 1941, young Ted Williams of the Boston Red Sox is waking up to a big decision he soon faces at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. It is the final day of the baseball season and the Red Sox will be facing the Athletics in a quirky final afternoon doubleheader against the home club Athletics.

There’s not much at stake for the two teams getting ready to hum the final bars of the 1941 season in the City of Brotherly Love. The A’s already are death-rattled tied to 8th place and cellar-locked to finish 37 games behind the usual champion New York Yankees. The Boston Sox also have 2nd place cinched, but they will wrap the season a full 17 games back of the Yankees.

So what’s the big deal for young Mr. Williams?

Ted is sitting on a decision that Boston manager Joe Cronin is leaving up to his young star.

Williams goes into the final day double bill with 179 hits in 448 times at bat. That’s good enough to give him a batting average of .39955, one that mathematically rounds into a .400 batting average for the 1941 season. With no other player challenging him on the last day for the batting title, “Teddy Ballgame” can sit out both games and take home the rounded-off rare .400 batting mark as the jewel in the crown of his latest and largest early career batting accomplishment.

There apparently is never any doubt in young Ted Williams’ mind about he wants – and what he doesn’t want. And it is a decision we all have to make about many things in life, albeit, with few exceptions, about large and small choices in which we have to pick between security and opportunity.

The Security<->Opportunity Continuum. What is this thing? Its roots are much deeper in philosophy, but they also are early 20th century ancient to the specialized field of industrial psychology. The Security<->Opportunity Continuum boils down to these simple building blocks:

  1. In life, security and opportunity represent the polar extremes that govern everything we desire from work, home, lifestyle, money, and aspiration.
  2. If we only want security, we will gravitate toward career situations in which our well-being or salary are guaranteed by some form of standardized education or expectation.
  3. If we only want opportunity, we will gravitate toward career situations in which our rewards stem from the opportunity for individual accomplishment.
  4. Security need extremists often become successful as government bureaucrats or corporate 9-5 minions at fixed rate salaries.
  5. Opportunity need extremists incline themselves toward the development of their highly special skills as performers, athletes, entrepreneurs, or inventors.
  6. Most of us find our own balance points of need for security and opportunity somewhere in the middle.
  7. To make our peace with our own balance of needs, however these may shift, one way or the other, over time, we simply have to first make our peace with the fact that we are riding on a continuum that dictates this transient truth as well: If we have to have 100% security, we have to understand that it comes with 0% opportunity – and vice versa.

The Ted Williams Sec<->Opp Assessment for the Morning of September 28, 1941: Ted Williams wasn’t interested in finishing the season with a batting championship that rounded off to a batting average of .400. Had he needed any of that security, he would have stayed in the dugout for both of the two final games.

No. Williams wanted the opportunity to post a legitimately over-the-top .400 batting championship for 1941. And, boy, did he get it!

The following table shows in three rows how totally Williams was committed to opportunity in his last day doubleheader performance. It shows what Williams could have settled for in the first row, had he made his game of 9/27/1941 his last game of the season. Next it illustrates how he elevated things by going 4 for 5 in Game 1 of the 9/28/1941 doubleheader. Then it concludes with how he finished the season in Game 2 on the same date with a 2 for 3 performance:

Ted’s Last Day of the 1941 Season

Game Date AB H TOT AB TOT H EXT BA ROUND BA
9/27/1941 4 1 448 179 .39955 .400
9/28/1941 G1 5 4 453 183 .40397 .404
9/28/1941 G2 3 2 456 185 .405701 .406

As long as we are traveling this profile of Ted Williams as one of the most daring opportunists in baseball history, it’s also interesting to note a bookend irony to the Williams story. Whereas, the young Ted Williams had no interest in ending the 1941 season early in protection of his “rounded up” .400 batting average, the retiring Ted Williams of 1960 actually ended his final season a series early after hitting a home run in his final time at bat in his last game at Fenway Park, exactly nineteen years later, on September 28, 1960.

Once Williams hit his celebrated 8th inning goodbye 29th homer of the season off Orioles reliever Jack Fisher, the Red Sox rallied for two more runs in the bottom of the 9th to defeat Baltimore by 5-4 and send Ted off to a final series in New York with nothing left to gain or lose.

In 1960, Williams elected to quit while he was ahead, and to allow his last shining moment in Boston be everyone’s last memory of his final big league game and home run. He didn’t even make the team trip to New York for the last three games. In 1941, Williams had refused to sit out the last game for the sake of security. This time he would refuse to play for the sake of service to opportunity. He couldn’t tip his cap to the fans, but he definitely wanted them to have their best opportunity for remembering him – as he wanted to be remembered, and not because of some long lurking security need. A security based star would have milked that last home run in Boston like the cash cow it never was for Ted Williams. Even then.

Some ancient baseball stories are like great fine wine. They do get better with age. Especially as the truth clears.

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

 

 

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3 Responses to “Opportunity vs Security: Baseball’s Best Example”

  1. David Munger Says:

    Such a Great Ballplayer and yet he wins two Triple Crowns and the Press doesn’t vote him MVP. The man gave up six years of his playing career and he still doesn’t miss a beat. What a difference 70 years make, he was beloved by all. Honestly, other than in St. Louis, this new found love put Stan Musial on the back burner.

  2. Tom Hunter Says:

    The best treatment of Ted William’s last game on September 28, 1960 is John Updike’s story, “Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu.”

    After Ted William’s home run in his last at bat, he went back out to left field in the ninth inning and was immediately replaced by Carroll Hardy, famous for being the only man ever to pinch hit for Williams eight days earlier.

    Carroll Hardy also played for the Houston Colt .45s.

  3. David Munger Says:

    Carroll Hardy was also was an All Confererence HB at The University of Colorado, MVP of the Hula Bowa, and played one season in the NFL for the San Francisco 49ers. Pretty fair athlete in his own right.

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