Journalist Peter Golenbock related this anecdote in his book, Wrigleyville: A Magical History Tour of the Chicago Cubs:
[Rogers] Hornsby, a large man, was a vicious line-drive hitter, and he had power….[A] rookie pitcher for the Brooklyn Dodgers was facing Hornsby for the first time. He asked Jack Fournier, the Dodgers first baseman, how to pitch to him.
“Just feed him inside pitches,” said Fournier.
In his first confrontation the pitcher threw inside as instructed, and Hornsby hit a line drive so hard he almost took off the head of the third baseman.
“I thought you said his weakness was inside pitches,” said the pitcher to the first baseman.
“I said nothing of the kind,” said Fournier. “I just didn’t want him hitting outside pitches on a line at me. I’m a married man with a family.”
I thought this story was pretty amusing until I told it to my wife and she said, referring to the first baseman, of course, “He was mean.” And she was right for two reasons:
- His overriding interest in self-preservation
- His intentional miscommunication
Fournier was clearly more interested in protecting himself than in helping the young pitcher (or the third baseman!). But he could hardly say, “Here’s how to make him hit the ball to someone other than me because I don’t want to get hurt.” So instead, he intentionally misled the pitcher with his answer.
I understand that line drives are scary. It’s reasonable to want to avoid them, and the first baseman’s way of doing that was quite clever. But when his deception became apparent, what impression did it make on his young teammate (or the third baseman!)? Maybe they just shared a chuckle and then went out for a beer together. Or maybe Fournier nipped in the bud any chance of a productive relationship with the rookie.
Furthermore, do you think the pitcher asked Fournier for advice before his next game? Maybe the pitcher was persistent enough—and astute enough—to ask more directly next time, “What’s the best way to get this guy out?” Or maybe he found another teammate who would provide the help he wanted.
Relationships are built on vulnerability and clear communication, and they can be as scary as a line drive. The desire for self-preservation is useful as a slave to higher purposes, but not as a master that shields us from every risk. Having the wisdom to speak clearly, on one hand, and the courage to open up—knowing there will be an occasional line drive—on the other, makes for better relationships. Just be willing to ask enough questions to understand the answers you get, and make sure you keep your glove up.