Volume 38, Issue 5, May 2003
by Lyle R. Hill
Editor’s Note: After numerous requests, we reprint the following article, which first appeared in the June 1995 issue of
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 gotten themselves into one of the toughest softball leagues in the Midwest.
It had 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 were also 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 of the wrong reasons.
In the third inning of the team’s first game, second baseman, “Mad Man O’Malley,” was banned for the rest of the season after punching 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.
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; instead he kicked them back into the infield. When asked why he did this, Hans defended his actions by stating that he had never played softball before, but he had played soccer growing up in Europe. He felt he could kick a ball more accurately.
Although they never lost a fight that 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 the guys sat down to determine what the future of the team would be. The excuses were pitiful.
“We need practice,” said one.
“We need uniforms,” added another.
“Forget the uniforms, we need some talent,” stated 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 did this Franklin play ball for?” asked one of the guys.
“Listen,” Pete continued, “what we need is a plan, a 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 single-minded group, dedicated to doing what it takes to be successful.”
He was immediately elected coach and team manager for life. Bets were also placed on how long he would last. Not as coach … as an employee!
Now, while the Hippachaderms were definitely not winners, they were not quitters either. 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 who 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 eight years than it lost in its two first years. Included in that stretch were four park district championships and four more second-place finishes. At one point, there were so many employees wanting to get involved with the team that a second team was formed. They were not the most talented of teams, but they played smart, capitalizing on their strengths and continually trying to improve themselves.
At a later championship celebration, some of the players were asked why they had become successful.
“Focus,” 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 constantly analyzing ourselves and making adjustments and improvements. Kinda like what you’re supposed to do in business. That Franklin guy was a heck of a coach.”
Lyle R. Hill is president of MTH
Industries of Chicago.
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