Five Casey Stengel-isms for the debt debate


Casey Stengel, the wry Yankees manager, could teach Washington a thing or two about solving the debt mess. (AP Photo)
July 27, 2011

The debate over raising the debt ceiling is not about our national debt. It’s not even about the catastrophe that may ensue if the limit is not raised. It is about power—that is, who rules Washington.

Sure, it might be appropriate to cite historic examples of compromise in our history; we are after all a nation built, brokered and developed on compromise. But I would prefer to draw upon the wisdom of one whose insights our elected officials might listen to and actually use.

I offer the words of Casey Stengel, a pretty good ballplayer and exceptional manager who skippered the Yankees to seven World Series championships in twelve years. His nickname was the Old Professor, for his wry and sometimes wacky verbal ramblings. Beyond being a gifted quipster and master storyteller, Stengel was a shrewd baseball manager who knew how to mold a disparate group of men together to win ballgames and championships. Just the kind of person we need in Washington these days.

So without further ado, here are five Stengel-isms—translated for our leaders in Washington.

"Been in this game one-hundred years, but I see new ways to lose 'em I never knew existed before."

There couldn’t be a better description of the gridlock in Washington these days. It’s amazing how many new  ways we seem to be finding to lose our cultural, historic and economic advantages. Our nation may be the world’s only real superpower, but listening to the rhetoric in D.C. you’d think we’re teetering on the verge of catastrophe. Ideologues on both sides seem to be getting more and more creative about destruction.

"The secret of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided."

John Boehner, this one’s for you.  His job right now is to manage the unmanageable, that is, the self-righteous rancor that swirls around him. Boehner needs keep those in his party who care only about their electoral base from rubbing off on those who want to do what is right for the nation.

"Managing is getting paid for home runs someone else hits.”

The president actually has been following this advice well. He has sought compromise with Republicans, so much so that even those in his own party are accusing him of betrayal. Obama seems to understand that, though he’s the leader, he can accomplish very little by himself. Still, for this metaphor to really work, someone’s got to start hitting a few home runs.

"They say some of my stars drink whiskey, but I have found that ones who drink milkshakes don't win many ball games."

Politicians are not saints. Our elected officials are reflections of us – human beings subject to frailties. Remove those who harm their office, but respect those who are trying their best.

"If you're playing baseball and thinking about managing, you're crazy. You'd be better off thinking about being an owner."

Another one here for the president. No one has the authority that you do. Only you can call the make-or-break decisions that guide the nation. No president owns the country, but he does own his legacy. Think ahead, plan for the future, but act in the now. Just like any owner.

Stengel wasn’t all talk. Hall of Fame manager Sparky Anderson put it best when he said, “Casey knew his baseball. He only made it look like he was fooling around. He knew every move that was ever invented and some that we haven't even caught on to yet.”

That’s something Obama might want to keep in mind as he goes forward. Stay above the fray, Mr. President, but keep your eye on good moves—even if they’ve yet to catch on in Washington.

John Baldoni is a leadership consultant and coach, and author of Lead Your Boss: The Subtle Art of Managing Up.

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