Carmen Ronzonni was soooooo wild.
How wild was he?
He was so wild that he couldn’t throw a strike from 5 feet away. Underhanded. With a beach ball. He was so wild that he
wouldn’t hit the broad side of a Humvee with handful of lug nuts. He was so wild that if he was paddling around a lake in a canoe, and the canoe tipped over, and he fell out of the canoe…
…He’d miss the water.
Ronzonni, the Brooklyn-accented, jeans-with-a-belt wearing pitcher in the 1977 film The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training (the SMH sequel to the LOL original) just couldn’t get the ball over the plate. Inside. Outside. High. Low. Bouncing them like a cricket bowler. Airmailing them like a grenade launcher.
And as the Bears barnstormed their way from the Los Angeles sandlots to the Houston Astrodome, in a psychedelic Scooby Doo van driven by a 13-year-old, to play in the, uh, championship game of something or what not, they needed Ronzonni to get his $#%@—the kids swear a lot in the movie—and his fastball together.
Ronzonni’s malfunction was all in his mind. Because he couldn’t make it up, couldn’t decide which wind-up and which leg kick and which delivery from which big leaguer he should imitate. Ooh, maybe Louis Tiant of the Boston Red Sox. Or Catfish Hunter of the Oakland A’s. Or Warren Spahn of the—wait, didn’t he retire before these kids were even born?
Then, the day before the big game, his coach had had enough.
“Listen,” he says. “Cut out the bull-$#%@ wind-ups.” (The adults swear a lot in this movie, too.) “Forget about Warren Spahn and Catfish Hunter. I want to see you throw the ball like Carmen Ronzonni.”
Which he does.
For a strike.
And then again.
For another strike.
Turns out Carmen Ronzonni wasn’t flashy or flamboyant after all. His style was simple and straightforward, with very few moving parts—the Wankel engine of pitching motions. But it got the job done. And now, thanks to that ass-chewing, Ronzonni was able to be himself, be accurate, and with a little help from his teammates—not to mention the screenwriter—be the winning pitcher in the, uh, championship game of something-or-whatnot.
In business, as in baseball, you must resist the urge to ape (as in mimic), or cat (as in copy). Don’t co-opt someone else’s dress, his or her behavior, speaking affects, mannerisms, etc. Not only does it not work, it backfires. Right in your face.
People think people are dumb. That they don’t notice your pepper hair and your salt goatee. That they don’t see your toupee or your comb-over. That they don’t know that you know that they know that girlfriend half your age looks at you like an ATM.
An ATM with a family history of high blood pressure.
They notice. They see. And they know.
And they do, they do, they do when you start turning into the mini-me of your boss. They’ll roll their eyes when you roll into the parking lot with the same car as her, as if there was some kind of BOGO at BMW. They’ll shake their heads when you start dressing like him or talking like him. And oh, they’ll goof on you right out in the open, but you won’t realize it because your head will be stuffed so far up…
Well, you get the point.
Imitation may indeed be the sincerest form of flattery, but when it goes too far, it becomes the sincerest form of douchery.
To paraphrase Nike, just don’t do it.
GO A LITTLE WILDE
Take some advice from Oscar Wilde, the 19th century London playwright known less for his characters and conflicts than for his quips. “Be yourself,” Wilde said. “Everyone else is already taken.”
Co-workers and customers will forgive you if you’re a little rough around the edges. That you aren’t pitch-perfect in every pitch. That you commit the occasional assault and battery on the King’s English. Yes, they will forgive imperfection, over and over and over.
But what they won’t forgive—not even once—is dishonesty, a counterfeit character. Trying to be something or someone you are not.
People can smell that you-know-what a mile away. And that label, the label of a phony, a poseur, might as well be branded onto your forehead. That’s how obvious it is to detect.
The good news is that being yourself, in some respects, is easy. You do it all the time. Around friends, around family. When you’re alone in the car, belting out the lyrics to some song you’d never admit to actually liking.
It just takes courage to take that person out of the car and into the office.
If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re not, don’t try to be. If you’re a Dockers kind of guy, don’t roll into work in an Armani suit. If you’re a numbers nerd, straighten out that pocket protector and be proud. And if you’re not 100 percent fluent in the language, don’t try to sound like you swallowed a thesaurus. You’ll come across in a manner that’s, paradoxically, diametrically opposed to the true nature of your benevolent intentions.
Uh, see what we mean?
“I y’am what I y’am,” to quote another wise—albeit dead—philosopher, this one with a corn cob pipe and forearms like ham-hocks. Stay true to yourself, and you will become the imitatee rather than the imitator.