Well, both have been in the news this week, and I could not help but think that comparing their attitudes and finding their comfort zones has much to do with how they view the baseball game. Larry Doby passed away Wednesday after a long illness and baseball lost a true pioneer with his passing. You see, it was only 11 weeks after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in 1947 by signing with the Brooklyn Dodgers when the Cleveland Indians signed Doby. The difficulties that Robinson faced as a baseball player have been thoroughly chronicled that baseball has gone out of its way to canonize him...and deservedly so!
Doby's story was one of great courage as he ventured far and outside his comfort zone to pioneer professional baseball for the African American populace. He secured the future by performing quietly, effortlessly and skillfully for 13 years. If Robinson was dash and daring, Doby was steadfast and silent. If Robinson made headlines with his individual brilliance, Doby made them with his cunning to blend talent with some of his more famous teammates, Bob Feller and Lou Boudreau. It must have been challenging for Doby to find his comfort zone, yet, he never complained. He kept in mind what Owner Bill Veeck had told him about his responsibility to the African American of the future. Doby championed the cause of the player outside his comfort zone.
Need proof? Now we're talking. Larry Doby was an outfielder, yet played a bit at first base, second base and shortstop when asked. Larry Doby must have wished to lash out a 1000 times at the unfair treatment he received when he broke the color barrier in the American League, yet always kept his cool and his self-control. Nothing can be more frustrating for a person in a foreign town than to see a "No Vacancy" sign at motel lodging. Doby saw "No Vacancy" signs wherever he went, and rarely was allowed to stay with his teammates on the road. No, not exactly conducive to performing in a good comfort zone.
Ever had to wait an hour for food at a restaurant you frequent? Certainly frustrating and undeniably outside your comfort zone! Doby would gladly wait for hours.... when he would be told to wait an hour past forever. He wasn't welcome to eat at restaurants frequented by his teammates. Ever had to eat alone late at night? Not exactly comfortable, huh? Doby did this on a nightly basis.... always without complaint. Larry Doby, along with Robinson, had every reason to fail in professional baseball, and no one would have pointed a finger. But rather than let their lack of a comfort zone diminish their ability to compete on a professional level, they chose to use this adversity as springboard to stardom.... and oh, how he starred!
Doby hit home runs when they were actually meaningful statistics - over 20 home runs a season for eight years in a row. He helped the Indians to two World Series berths and homered to win a game in the winning ‘48 Series. However, numbers will never do justice to the character of the man. They say you stand tallest when you stand alone. As this is a fact, Larry Doby stood tall, very tall, and the world is a lesser place without him. Fortunately for us, he left a legacy...the game of baseball is better off for his valor in venturing outside his comfort zone.
Comfort zone is a concern that our very own star right fielder, Bobby Abreu, is confronted with. You see, the Phils have a problem, and it appears as though a reluctant Abreu is the solution. There may be no more important spot in the batting order than leadoff hitter, he sets the tone, the table and transmission for everything the rest of the lineup does. And, frankly, the Phils have no real leadoff hitter. Oh, Jimmy Rollins tries his best, and he has had a modicum of success at it, but the fact remains that Rollins is not the superlative option...Abreu is. There are more gifted players in the National League than Abreu - yet not many. Abreu is undoubtedly the most gifted player on the Phillies team, a player who was born to hit .300, slug over 20 home runs, 40 doubles and score over 100 runs. What's more, he has the innate gift of drawing lots and lots of walks...and any statistician will tell you that nothing leads to runs, and rallies...and wins more than a base on balls. This is a gift that makes Abreu a wonderful candidate for the leadoff spot, and when he does it, he performs extremely well. As do the Phillies. Their record when Abreu bats first is very impressive!
But, and here is the rub, Abreu is a reluctant hero, at least where the leadoff role is concerned. He says he is not comfortable there.... he is outside his comfort zone. To his credit, he would give it a try and the results have shown that the Phils offense performs better with him batting first. His ability from the lead off spot is two fold from where I sit. On the one hand, his ability to get on base regularly allows sluggers Jim Thome, Pat Burrell and Mike Lieberthal more RBI opportunities. On the other hand, his magic wand of batting skills allows him the opportunity to drive in speedsters Marlon Byrd and Jimmy Rollins, who now bat at the bottom of the order. Clearly, though Abreu may be outside his comfort zone, he delivers effectively ...and the Phils are better as a team. It does appear, however, that perception and reality are headed on a collision course because Abreu's perception of himself, his comfort zone so to speak, is as a middle of the order hitter. Little does he realize that THIS Phillies team is better with him hitting first.
There has been some consternation among Phillie fans over the recent drafting of speedster Tim Moss from the University of Texas but as I wrote in an earlier article, it is precisely because of Moss's ability as a lead off hitter that he was drafted. Evidently, until such time as the Phils either acquire a legitimate lead off hitter or they wait for Moss to grow into the position, the comfort zone of Abreu will be a continuing dilemma for both he and the Phillies. When Lary Doby chose to play outside his comfort zone, both with skill and grace, the Cleveland Indians became a better team. As Bobby Abreu continues to play outside his comfort zone, with the same skill and grace, the Philadelphia Phillies are a better team.
The beauty and magnificence of baseball is its timelessness, its never-ending story of renewal, and restoration. Stories passed on from generation to generation about the sacrifices and triumphs of players like Doby and Abreu become inspirational cornerstones in due time. There is much to be learned by observing both and how they ultimately confront.... and triumph over their pursuit for a comfort zone.
Oh, and by the way, if you are ever driving in California and you see a guy driving on the right side of the road, exactly at the speed limit, don't honk, its probably me!
Columnist's Note: Mail, I get mail, and it is always appreciated. Comments, questions, or suggestions regarding the preceding article are welcome. Kindly e-mail me at email@example.com and I will respond! CD