By Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D.
On Sunday, October 1, at Comerica Park, the baseball season came to an end for the home team, the Detroit Tigers, and the visiting team, the Cleveland Guardians. It was an unremarkable season for both teams; both finished with losing records, and neither made the playoffs. For several people, this was their last major league baseball game. In this case, I’m focusing on the manager of the Cleveland Guardians, Terry Francona.
Francona himself had an unremarkable career in MLB as a player; he batted .274 with 16 home runs and 143 runs-batted-in while playing for five different teams over ten years throughout the 1980s. He returned to baseball in 1996, coaching for the Detroit Tigers, and perhaps is best known for being the manager for the Red Sox when they broke “The Curse” and won the World Series in 2004. He was also their manager for their win in 2007. As a die-hard New York Yankees fan, that particular run in 2004 was painful, as the Sox became the first team ever – EVER – to overcome a 3-0 series deficit by beating my New York Yankees in the American League Championship Series.
Needless to say, I was aware of Francona’s managerial talents but really grew to admire him after I heard an interview with Joe Torre. Torre was the manager of my Yankees during their run of the late ’90s and was at the helm when the Sox defeated the Yankees in 2004. When Torre and the Yankees parted ways in 2007, he did an interview on ESPN. As part of the interview, Torre was asked about the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry and the 2004 playoffs.
Torre was the consummate baseball professional, describing what it was like to make baseball history, albeit on the wrong side of it. He talked about how when the Yankees/Red Sox rivalry is at its best, that is good for baseball. But then Torre pivoted to his perspective on Francona, and he shared something I was unaware of. Torre said that outside of the games, when the Yankees played the Red Sox, Torre would often call Francona after the Yankees game was over and pick Francona’s brain about Torre’s own managerial decisions. The two of them would replay situations from that evening’s game and the decisions they both made throughout. To say the least, I was a little skeptical.
That skepticism was erased when Francona was interviewed a few months later about Torre’s departure from the Yankees. They played the clip from Torre’s interview, hoping that Francona would deny it. Not only did he not deny it, he leaned into it. The deep respect these two managers had for each other was palpable, despite the contention of the rivalry. Indeed they did reach out and connect after games, as long as they weren’t playing each other. At one point, one of them mentioned they’d hug at home plate exchanging lineup cards, if they thought the fans would accept it. This validation from Francona led me to read his book. And I’m proud to admit, I loved it and my admiration for Francona grew even further!
These two men were the leaders of two teams that, to put it mildly, don’t get along. There have been bench clearing brawls, bean balls, and a history of bad blood. Yet their mutual admiration allowed them to rise above their differences for the love of the game. If the managers of one of the most heated rivalries in all of professional sports can find mutual respect, we can too.
More often than not, we are choosing to identify with the differences we see in others. More often than not, we are focusing on what others are doing (or not doing), and judging that. More often than not, we are finding all the ways that others have flaws, rather than honoring and celebrating their strengths. This doesn’t mean we can’t have hard conversations about values that are integral to who we are, because those are important and critical to our humanity. But that’s the key word, humanity.
We don’t have to identify with whom we voted for in the last election. We don’t have to identify with our political party. We don’t have to identify with polarized partisan politics. We can choose to identify with the humanity in others. We can choose to see the value of those humans. We can choose to be decent (and dare I say kind) to others.
Choose carefully and wisely.
Brian G. Ricca, Ed.D., is the superintendent of East Greenwich Public Schools.
Photos courtesy of Wikipedia