UNDER FURTHER REVIEW – Coach’s words of wisdom even truer decades later

In this day of participation awards for everyone on the team, permissive bail policies for most offenders and an emphasis on equity, the following story from the Internet, edited for length, is worth sharing.

At the American Baseball Coaches Association’s 52nd annual convention, a 78-year-old retired college coach spoke to 4,000 coaches representing all levels, who gathered at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville. It was 27 years ago, but his words could have been spoken yesterday.

John Scolinos, who died in 2009 at the age of 91, arrived on stage with a regulation-size home plate dangling from a string around his neck.

“The reason I stand before you today,” he told his audience, “is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.”   

When Scolinos asked how many Little League coaches were in the room, several hands went up.  “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” he posed.

After a pause, someone offered, “Seventeen inches?” It was more question than answer. 

“That’s right,” Scolinos said.  “How about in Babe Ruth’s day?  Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?”  

“Seventeen inches?” came a guess from another hesitant coach. 

“That’s right,” said Scolinos.  “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?”  Hundreds of hands shot up, as the pattern began to appear.  “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?” 

“Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident. 

“You’re right! And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?” 

“Seventeen inches!”  

“Any Minor League coaches here?  How wide is home plate in pro ball?”

Again: “Seventeen inches!” 

“RIGHT!  And in the Major Leagues—how wide is home plate in the Major Leagues? 

“Seventeen inches!” 

“SEV-EN-TEEN INCHES!” he confirmed, his voice bellowing off the walls.  “And what do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over seventeen inches?”  

“They send him to Pocatello !” Scolinos hollered after a pause, drawing raucous laughter.  

“What they don’t do is say, ‘Ah, that’s okay, Jimmy.  If you can’t hit a seventeen-inch target, we’ll make it eighteen inches or nineteen inches.  We’ll make it twenty inches, so you have a better chance of hitting it.  If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say twenty-five inches.’”   

He paused again.  

“Coaches . . . what do we do when your best player shows up late to practice? Or when our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven?  What if he gets caught drinking?  Do we hold him accountable?  Or do we change the rules to fit him?  Do we widen home plate? “ 

The chuckles faded as four thousand coaches grew quiet, the fog lifting as the old coach’s message began to unfold.  He turned the plate toward himself and, using a Sharpie, began to draw.  When he turned it toward the crowd, point up, a house was revealed, complete with a freshly drawn door and two windows.  

“This is the problem in our homes today . . .with our marriages . . . with the way we parent our kids . . . with our discipline. 

“We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards.  We just widen the plate!”

To the point at the top of the house he added a small American flag.  

“This is the problem in our schools today.  The quality of our education is going downhill fast and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful—to educate and discipline our young people.  

“We are allowing others to widen home plate!   Where is that getting us?”

“If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “a standard of what we know to be right . . . if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards . . . if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard . . . and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …” 

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside.  

Denny Dressman is a veteran of 43 years in the newspaper business, including 25 at the Rocky Mountain News, where he began as executive sports editor. He is the author of 15 books, nine of them sports-related. You can write to Denny at dennydressman@comcast.net.