Babe Ruth’s Bat

Babe Ruth is widely considered to be one of the greatest baseball players of all time.  He held numerous career records for athletic feats.  His lifetime batting average was 0.342, an astounding feat.  This number means that when he was at bat, he got a hit about one third of the time.  To say it differently, though, he swung and missed two thirds of the time and was still considered a champion.  We measure him using the correct and fair yardstick given how hard it is to hit a baseball speeding toward you.  We consider him a stunning success even though in reality, he struck out most of the time.  

Picture of Babe Ruth Batting


How do we navigate our way through our own imperfections every day? Our own swings and misses?  If being human implies being imperfect, then we are all very, very human most of the days of our lives.  We fall short of perfection every day.  Given this, why do we idealize perfection as we do? Why do we feel so badly about ourselves when we fail to rise to an unattainable level?  A concert pianist will always hear the one note that was mis-hit and the A student will always focus on the one test where the result was an A-minus.  Wouldn’t it be a lot wiser to expect ourselves to fall short and not castigate ourselves when it occurs?  Why put ourselves through such angst time and time again despite the inevitability of our shortcomings?  This doesn’t make any sense.


Think about this: what yardstick do you use to measure yourself in life? More often than not, one that doesn’t allow you to miss the ball most of the time.  Your expectation is that you’ll swing and hit the ball out of the park almost all the time.  We are not a species that tolerates our human failings. So, we’re not supposed to speak harsh words, to send off angry emails, to mis-hit the piano keys and get that A-minus.  We expect ourselves to be better than one of the greatest legends in the sporting world.  Our batting average is supposed to be 100%.  But what if we were to use a different yardstick to measure ourselves?  What if we used the Babe Ruth yardstick and allowed ourselves lots of swings and misses without self condemnation. A yardstick that allows us to fall short, to reflect upon what we might have done differently but one that doesn’t encourage us to use the bat to beat ourselves up when we are merely human.  Striving to do our best is admirable, perfectionism is corrosive.  

In Life, Choose the Right Bat

So when it’s your turn at the plate in life and you mess up, you have two bats you can pick up to assess who you are.  The perfectionistic bat or the Ruth bat.  Use the Ruth bat. The one that allows you to miss the ball plenty of times without relentless self-condemnation.  If you do this, you’d feel like a champ, babe.

6 thoughts on “Babe Ruth’s Bat

  1. I was forced one summer by my dad to play baseball in Little League, though I had no interest, no talent and little ability in that area. I’ll skip to the part that, even today, in my 62nd year, touches me and resonates with your theme, John. Humiliated through every game (within and without), I further endured my coaches after-game “tough talks”, where he gave the game ball to that day’s “best player.” On the last game of the season, after the other team defeated us and left, our coach gave us a final “pep talk.” Relegated all season to the back of Left Field, I was typically last to walk in and stood at the back of the pack for those talks. Barely listening to his “you gotta try harder,” language, he spoke about a player who tried as hard as anyone could and made a positive difference to the team through sheer persistence. “Though he never got to first, our final game ball goes to the team player who’s been first to try his hardest every time.” He called my name, I accepted it, simultaneously embarrassed by his public announcement of my baseball record, and ten feet tall with pride for his recognition of my actual strength and talent. I kept that ball on my book shelves through university and grad schools, a daily reminder to show up—and try my hardest. 2/3 failure? Score. We’d be batting a thousand.

  2. Thank you Jerry, for sharing that. It brought tears to my eyes, tears of compassion and joy. I’m having a rough patch now, and I needed to hear from someone I could identify with. It was heartwarming.

  3. Oh this is simply priceless, John! As an ex-perfectionist and giver-of-myself-a-hard-time-about absolutely-everything, I can honestly say that the most important change I have made in my life is to stop it. Stop giving myself a hard time, no matter what I have done or not done. This has freed me up to actually look at what I am doing, to be absolutely honest about it, and even to make some changes. But while I was so busy giving myself a hard time, I did not want to look at what I was doing, my self-worth was already so low that I could not bear to see another thing that was ‘wrong’ with me, and in reality very little shifted in that time. Not giving myself a hard time has freed me up to be much more honest and responsible, and even to appreciate myself at times!

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