Full disclosure first: this book was sent to me by one of my best friends from college, Randy Thorne. He was one of the group of four that accompanied me to many a Royals game in the muggy heat of Kansas City, the guy who would never consent to leave before the last out was recorded, even when we were getting stomped, and a good friend to this day. His uncle wrote this book.
That being said, you’ll just have to take my word for it when I say that I enjoyed J.D. Thorne’s The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy’s Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life) on its own merits, and not because of a tenuous personal connection to an author I’ve never met.
As the subtitle suggests, this friendly little volume takes the wisdom of Yankees Hall of Fame manager Joe McCarthy and relates his pithy nuggets of sage advice to everyday life. What makes this book particularly appropriate for readers of Bus Leagues is that it’s not all about how super-talented major leaguers used their natural abilities to succeed. While those stories are certainly there, each chapter also delves into the lives of people who applied McCarthy’s commandments to their collegiate, minor league, and even little league efforts. The clear message is that anyone can learn to make the most of what they have and succeed, at any level and in any situation.
The author grew up in Chicago’s suburbs and played collegiately at the University of Wisconsin. His connection to teammates who went on to play professionally, as well as to his baseball-loving midwestern family, provides plenty of fodder for stories that illustrate each commandment.
I’m not giving anything away by showing you the commandments here. McCarthy’s explication of the fundamentals was a well-known document long before this book was written. This is what they say:
- Nobody ever became a ballplayer by walking after a ball.
- You will never become a .300 hitter unless you take the bat off your shoulder.
- An outfielder who throws back of a runner is locking the barn after the horse is stolen.
- Keep your head up and you may not have to keep it down.
- When you start to slide, slide. He who changes his mind may have to change a good leg for a bad one.
- Do not alibi on bad hops. Anybody can field the good ones.
- Always run them out. You can never tell.
- Do not quit.
- Do not find too much fault with the umpires. You cannot expect them to be as perfect as you are.
- A pitcher who hasn’t control, hasn’t anything.
As sports fans know, encoded in game-specific instructions one can often find the seeds of an outlook on how to handle other aspects of daily life. Some, like #8 “Do not quit” are obvious. Others require a little prospecting.
Mr. Thorne sets up a nice flow for each chapter, introducing each commandment and then illustrating it with an example from one or two major-league stars, followed by a more personally accessible demonstration of the principle from his own experience. Then each chapter ends with a brief homily of sorts, in which the author explains what lessons he learned from those examples. This approach works well. We hear about legends of baseball who recognized that they needed more than just talent to succeed, and then we see how people whose talent might more closely approximate our own apply the same principles to become better ballplayers, and more effective people in general.
The book is an easy summer read – it clocks in at just about 170 pages, with plenty of photographs. My copy also came with a baseball commandments bookmark, for easy reference in times of doubt. It is handsomely bound and will look good on my bookshelf as it waits to be consulted again. I can definitely imagine pulling it back out as my own six-year-old son progresses through a lifetime of organized sports and everyday struggles. Sometimes advice just sounds better coming from Joe McCarthy instead of boring old dad, right?
Put this book on your nightstand. It takes a couple of days to read for a career’s worth of insight.
The 10 Commandments of Baseball: An Affectionate Look at Joe McCarthy’s Principles for Success in Baseball (and Life)
Sporting Chance Press