October 2003

Behind The Counter

The Hippachaderms

by Lyle R. Hill

They were nicknamed the Hippachaderms, and you only needed to be around them for a few minutes to see why. They were big, slow and quite possibly the worst collection of softball players to ever take the field. To make matters worse, they had somehow gotten themselves into one of the toughest softball leagues in the Midwest.

It sounded like a good idea at first. The company had a number of young, athletic-looking guys on the payroll, and there were even a couple of former college-level baseball players who were still in halfway decent shape. There also were a couple of older, experienced players, including one who was legendary in Chicago softball circles.

The season began, and they did become the talk of the league … but for all the wrong reasons.

In the third inning of the team’s very first game, second baseman, “Mad Man” O’Malley, was banned from the league for the rest of the season after punching out an opposing player who had slid into him. It wasn’t that the slide was all that hard, but the guy made the mistake of laughing at O’Malley for dropping the ball after he caught it.

In the second game, the team’s pitcher, an unsavory looking character by the name of Cheyenne, was banned for life after going after the umpire with a bat. He didn’t like some of the calls.

Then there was right fielder, Hans Gunther, who refused to pick up ground balls hit to him and instead, kicked them back into the infield with his feet. When asked why he did this, Hans defended his actions by stating that he had never played softball before but had played a great deal of soccer when growing up in Europe. 

Although they never lost a fight that inaugural season, the hapless Hippachaderms did lose every game, and there was talk of disbanding the team.

A week or two after the last game, a handful of guys sat down to determine what the future of the team would be. The excuses were plentiful.

“We need practice,” said one.

“We need uniforms,” added another.

“Forget the uniforms, we need some talent,” stated another.

“Let’s try bowling,” chimed in yet another.

After several minutes of unproductive banter, Pete, the youngest player, only a few months out of college, stood to speak. He was just young enough and naive enough to say what he thought.

“Ben Franklin once said that a person of tolerable abilities may work great changes if he first forms a good plan and makes the execution of that plan his whole study and business.”

“Yeah, well, who’d this Franklin play ball for?” asked one of the guys.

“Listen,” continued the recent graduate. “What we need is a plan—a formal, well-thought-out plan. We need to admit our weaknesses and correct them. We need to identify our strengths and capitalize on them. There can be no more favoritism in deciding who plays and who doesn’t. If a player can’t produce, he’s got to be replaced no matter what his title or who he may be related to. If we want to be a winning team, then the team and its success must take precedence over any single individual. We’ve got to become a cohesive, single-minded group that dedicates itself to doing whatever it takes to be successful.”

He was immediately elected coach and team manager for life. Bets were also instantly placed on how long he would last. Not as coach … as an employee!

Now while the Hippachaderms were definitely not winners, there was also something else that they were not. They were not quitters. So a plan was drawn up and more importantly, the plan was followed. There were some tough times ahead to be sure. There were players collecting splinters that thought they should be getting more playing time, and once in a while some petty jealousy surfaced. But within three seasons, the team was vying for a championship. In fact, the team lost fewer games in its next eight years than it lost in its first two years.

At one of the later championship celebrations, some of the players were asked why they had become so successful after such a dismal beginning.

“Focus is what made us successful,” one stated.

“Teamwork,” added another.

“I think it was Franklin,” said yet another. “He told us to come up with a plan then follow it by analyzing ourselves constantly and making adjustments and improvements along the way—kinda like what you’re supposed to do in business. I’m telling you, that Franklin guy was a heck of a coach.”

He sure was! 


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