Enos Slaughter was a dead man.
Red Sox outfielder Leon Culberson knew it, his baby-soft, lollipop throw hitting cutoff man Johnny Pesky with oodles of time to make the relay.
Cardinals third base coach Mike Gonzalez knew it, his arms frantically flashing the hands-up-don’t-score sign from the time Slaughter touched second.
On-deck batter Marty Marion knew it; in fact, he was so stunned his teammate was a’rounding third and headed for home that he stood frozen in the base path, awkwardly jumping out of the way—like someone had thrown a dodge ball at his ankles—to avoid being steamrolled.
And the 36,000 fans in St. Louis knew it, even those in the cheapest of the cheap seats. They could see the physics of this, the algebra of this, the futility of this. It was like an SAT question, where two trains leave the same station at different times and at different speeds, and you have to figure out when the second one collides with the first.
Except this brain teaser was a no-brainer.
Pesky, the Red Sox shortstop, caught the ball with one foot in the outfield grass and the other on the infield dirt, and wheeled around counter-clockwise to funnel all of his momentum towards home plate. True, Slaughter had a 40-foot head start and true, he was running as hard and as fast as he could. But unless he was running 80 miles an hour—about how hard Pesky could accurately throw a baseball from that distance—it was a fait accompli he was T-O-A-S-T.
You’ve heard of “Merkle’s Boner?” (And we certainly hope so; otherwise you’re going to be disappointed when you Google it.) Well, this Alaska-sized miscalculation was sure to go down in baseball history as “Slaughter’s Folly.”
When Enos was hosed at home, the game would still be tied 3-3 and the series would still be tied 3-3. Instead of having runners on second and third with two outs and a chance to blow the Red Sox off the field, the Cardinals would take the field in the top of the ninth inning contemplating the opportunity his recklessness had deprived them of.
But then, putting the WTF into this DOA, Pesky incredibly, unexpectedly, un-freaking-believably, double-clutched. Whether he was caught off guard by Slaughter’s Mad Dash—as it became known thereafter—or simply bobbled the transition, he balked long enough to tilt the physics and the algebra against himself and his team. And by the time his panicked relay throw one-hopped its way to the catcher, dead man Slaughter was alive and well and sliding across home plate with the winning run of the 1946 World Series.
As for Pesky, a man whose accomplishments include a career .307 batting average, his uniform number being retired, being memorialized as a Red Sox Hall of Famer, and for having the right-field foul marker at Fenway Park nicknamed “Pesky Pole,” he is best remembered for this.
For a blunder.
For a brain freeze.
For holding the ball.
Business people—you know the type—especially those selling books or consulting services, yammer on a lot about corporate culture. They talk about teamwork. They talk about coaching. They talk about seven highly effective habits of some and the five dysfunctions of others. They talk about cheese that gets moved, and how what got you here won’t get you there. They talk big-picture stuff.
But if you want to shrink that big picture down to something you can control, every day and in every situation, look no further than to the past, to the lessons of this episode.
In business, as in baseball, we—like Johnny Pesky—are sometimes nothing more than mere cutoff men. Or women. Our only task is to take something from one source and flip it to another. Could be a message. Could be financial data. Could be a sales lead. Could be… Well, it could be just about anything.
And in baseball, as in business, the key to a good cutoff is speed and accuracy. Get rid of what you got as quickly as possible, and get it to exactly who needs it exactly when it’s needed.
Twenty-first century global commerce has no time for you to flinch, to hesitate, to double-clutch. If someone texts, emails or calls you, get right back to that person. You’ve heard of RSVP? Well, how’s about RPDQ, as in pretty darn quick? You all have smartphones and Wi-Fi; there’s no reason short of laziness to not respond. Even if you don’t know the answer, don’t leave them hanging. Let them know you’re working on it.
Tapping into the same vein, just into a different vessel, here’s another tip: If you want a quick answer to an email, don’t send it to more than one person. You wouldn’t have a second cutoff man standing in the same area, would you?
Sure, it’s OK to “cc” or “bcc” someone else, but never, ever, ever put more than one name on the “To” line if you’re in desperate need of a response. Because you won’t get one. At least not right away, as courtesy and deference make everyone wait for the others to reply first.
That email will end up like a pop fly that everyone expects someone else to catch.
Finally, add this to your weekly routine to shore up your skills as a cutoff man: Go through your phone, go through your inbox and reply to any messages you forgot about or didn’t want to deal with. Make that call. Send that e-mail. Thumb-type that text. Monday mornings are a good time for this, in large part because they are a bad time for everything else.
And above all else, don’t hold the damn ball.