The New York Times report on the Sunday’s baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony included a description of the different elements of the typical speech by the inductees. Some cry, the article said, some over-thank, some mix in some humor, and some pay homage to their cultural heritage. But, the article added, “nearly all preach humility.”
That seemed to be the case this year in the speeches by Chipper Jones, Vladimir Guerrero, Trevor Hoffman, Jim Thome, Jack Morris, and Alan Trammel—all great players who came across as truly humbled by the honor. Trammell, for instance, said his mother taught him to be “as humble as her favorite player, Stan Musial.”
When we read quotes from the inductees about the importance of humility, it might be tempting to dismiss them as standard, boilerplate acceptance speech material. This is a time to appear humble, even if you aren’t particularly humble. So, you talk the talk regardless of how you walked the walk. And some members of the baseball Hall of Fame are, no doubt, arrogant. Humility isn’t an essential ingredient in success.
I’m convinced, however, that most of the people in life who achieve the highest level of success – Hall of Fame success, be it in baseball or business or whatever – ultimately develop and even rely on a sense of humility. I believe some people achieve success despite their arrogance, and that the odds of success increase dramatically for leaders when they lean into humility as a core strength.
Athletics, especially sports such as baseball, are humbling endeavors. Failure is inevitable for those who compete. Jones and Thome, who were elected to the Hall in their first year of eligibility, both failed to get a hit in at least 69 percent of their at-bats. Jones struck out 1,409 times, and Thome struck out 2,548 times – second only to Reggie Jackson (also a Hall of Famer).
Trammell and Morris, meanwhile, were passed over by voters for 15 years. They were elected into the 2018 Class by special committee that considers players who no longer are eligible to get in through the regular voting process. In other words, they failed 15 times to get enough votes to make the Hall of Fame. But, as you might imagine, they said it was worth the wait. They cared more about the one victory that got them in than the 15 that kept them out.
“Whether you voted for me or not,” Morris said to voters, “thank you for keeping my name alive.”
Humility is a deep understanding of who we are in relation to the world around us, and that understanding reminds us that we aren’t perfect and that the world doesn’t revolve around us. It’s an awareness that creates gratitude and respect for others. But it’s also – and this might seem counter-intuitive – a motivation for our excellence and, therefore, a key component for courage and confidence.
Hall of Famers don’t see themselves as intrinsically better than others. And that humility motivates them to work hard, value other people, take risks, learn from mistakes, reap the rewards, and keep working hard. They listen to their coaches, put in hours of practice, and swing the bat. Sometimes they make an out, and sometimes they get a hit. But neither outcome defines them as much as the attitude they bring to the game.