by Ron Spence
To understand losing – listen to a player who has lost, overcome adversity, and gone on to become the best at his game.
Cal Ripken Jr. was a two time American League MVP (1983, 1991) and a two time MVP selection at the All-Star Games (1991, 2001).
Magic Johnson was a three time NBA MVP (1987, 1989, 1990), a three time Finals MVP (1980, 1982, 1987), and a two time All-Star Game MVP (1990, 1992).
I talked to both athletes in 1989 – Ripken in Toronto, when the Orioles were playing the Blue Jays, and Johnson in Seattle, when the Lakers were playing the Super Sonics during the Western Semi-Finals.
The Orioles had started their 1988 campaign with a 0-21 record. Their first win came 25 days into the season, when they beat the Chicago White Sox on April 28th.
“So, how did you deal with it?” I asked Ripkin, as he sat with his brother, Billy and catcher Mickey Tettleton (Mickey was smoking with a coffee can placed between his feet.).
“We played it one game at a time,” he shrugged, “and when that didn’t work, one inning at a time, one pitch, one at bat. Anything to break the game down. To make it manageable. It was the only thing we could do.”
CAL AND BILLY RIPKEN
courtesy of baltimoresun.com
“You become very numb,” Ripken later told Larry Fine. “Emotionally you’re affected. I tried to focus on positive things, take care of my job. We had team meetings ad nauseam. I think everybody was desperate. We didn’t know how to deal with it. Very few teams have gone through this kind of despair.”
Ripken had already been an MVP, but this adversity helped him to raise his game to another level.
“A losing streak like that is one of those things you’d prefer to suppress,” he said while promoting his book, The Longest Season. “Reliving it is painful. It was really a miserable time. But in first talking about the concept for a book, I thought it’s a lesson worth repeating. A lot of people think I had such a rosy career, but I wanted to identify that one of the things that helps you have a long career is learning how to deal with adversity, how to get past it. Once I learned how to get through that, others things didn’t seem so hard.”
That adversity helped Cal Ripken Jr. during his “Iron Man” quest. He played in a record 2632 consecutive games over 16 seasons – from May 30, 1982 to September 20, 1998 – sometimes dogged by minor injuries.
“…you can get through something like that [the 0-21 losses], and once you do, you know you can get through just about anything.”
As well as starting to win, the Orioles benefitted in other ways.
The fans loved them even more.
“There was an outpouring of love from the fans. They came out in numbers and said, ‘It’s okay. Now let’s move on’.”
Also, the team became closer.
“The real value of this is we became better team mates, more supportive,” Ripken said. “We came together in ways that showed in the very next year. We contended for the pennant. We had more of a team attitude as a result of this negative experience.”
“We were basically the same core group of people,” he told the Washington Post. “I think we all learned how to be better teammates as a result of losing all of those games. It felt like it was us against the world and we learned to look to and trust each other.”
courtesy of sportsillustrated.cnn.com
Magic Johnson’s losing situation was the opposite of Ripken’s, but it took the same thought process to overcome the adversity.
It was during the NBA Western Semi-finals, and the Lakers were leading the series 3-0.
At the start of Game 4, the Supersonics came out with a boom and were ahead of the Lakers by 23 points at the end of the 1st quarter. The Lakers wittled away at the lead, and won the game 97-95 – and thus swept the series.
|21||1989||West C. Semis||G.4||May 14, 1989||LAL||@||Seattle Supersonics||W||97||–||95||Lakers||win 4-0||14||–||7||won 12|
|20||1989||West C. Semis||G.3||May 12, 1989||LAL||@||Seattle Supersonics||W||91||–||86||Lakers||lead 3-0||13||–||7||won 11|
|19||1989||West C. Semis||G.2||May 10, 1989||LAL||vs.||Seattle Supersonics||W||130||–||108||Lakers||lead 2-0||12||–||7||won 10|
|18||1989||West C. Semis||G.1||May 07, 1989||LAL||vs.||Seattle Supersonics||W||113||–||102||Lakers||lead 1-0||11||–||7||won 9|
“What did you do to come from behind?” I asked Magic – L.A.’s point guard.
“Well, we talked about reducing their lead to 15 by the half – then down by 5 at the 4th quarter…then we’d go for it.”
So, the Lakers were playing it one game at a time, one inning at a time, one….
Like the Orioles, they were breaking the game into manageable components.
courtesy of ew.com
Movie director – and screenwriter – Ron Sheldon verbalized this same concept in his baseball classic, Bull Durham.
“Know what the difference between hitting .250 and .300 is?” Crash Davis asked. “It’s 25 hits. 25 hits in 500 at bats is 50 points, okay? There’s 6 months in a season, that’s about 25 weeks. That means if you get just one extra flare a week – just one – a gorp… you get a groundball, you get a groundball with eyes… you get a dying quail, just one more dying quail a week… and you’re in Yankee Stadium.”
Ripken and his teammates learned how to win again. But they learned other things as well.
“Winning is easy on a person, but you learn more from losing,” he wrote. “You learn to keep trying, each day a little harder than the day before. You learn how to be a better team mate and how much you need one another to play well as a team.”
“It taught me to reach across the crossroads and get closer to my teammates. How to be a better teammate. It was us against the rest of the world. We had to stick together.”
The Canucks haven’t lost that many games – in the grand scheme of things. They’re still in the playoffs race.
But, they could learn some lessons from these two MVPs – how to change their negatives into positives.
Of further note to the Canucks:
After the first six losses, Cal Ripken’s father – who had been the Orioles’ manager – was fired.
“I think that contributed to the problem, digging you deep in a hole,” Ripken said. “I imagine it was a move they thought would stop the losing streak and instead it propelled it.”
And the media?
“It’s still incredibly fresh in my mind,” Ripken said two years ago. “When things happen to you in the worst way, you live with it, you go over it, you think, ‘What else could I have done?’ We were getting all this attention from the media for all the wrong reasons.”
The ‘Nucks shouldn’t listen to every MVP.
“The day you take complete responsibility for yourself,” one NFL superstar said, “the day you stop making any excuses, thats the day you start to the top.”
Words that O.J. never followed himself.