Seventeen Inches



For those who don’t know much about baseball, home plate is pictured above, and the pitcher has to throw the baseball over the plate in order to get a strike.  Hitters, on the other hand, have to defend home plate by trying to hit the pitch, and if they get three strikes (either by swinging at a pitch, or by letting a ball that is a strike pass them by) they are out and the next hitter comes up.  Not terribly complicated.

John Scolinas was a baseball coach in Southern California who was legendary at the college level.  At a Coaches convention in Nashville in 1996 in front of 4,000 other coaches, the 78-year-old Scolinas gave a speech that is the inspiration for this reflection.  He had a home plate draped around his neck.

He started by asking the coaches in the audience how wide home plate was in little league, then high school baseball, then in college. the minor leagues and finally at the professional level.  The answer was the same:  the plate is seventeen inches wide at all levels of baseball.

He went on to say, that if a pitcher can’t get it over the plate to make a strike, one doesn’t go and widen the plate to make it easier for him.  You don’t make it 20 inches just to help out a pitcher who can’t throw the ball over the regular home plate.

He asked his audience what happens when your star baseball player violates the rules – he shows up late for practice or he violates some other team policy.  Is he held accountable or are the rules changed to fit him?, or “Do we widen home plate?”

On the back side of the plate draped around his neck was a picture of a home.  “This is the problem with our homes today.  With our marriages…with our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there are no consequences for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate!”

He went on to extend the metaphor to our schools where the quality of education has declined and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful to educate and discipline young people.  “We are allowing others to widen home plate.  Where is that getting us.”

He went on to take on the church were powerful people in authority have taken advantage of children, only to have the “atrocity” swept under the rug.  “Our church leaders are widening home plate!”

“If I am lucky,” Coach Scolinos concluded, “you will remember one thing from this old coach today. It is this: if we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we fail to hold our spouses and our children to the same standards, if we are unwilling or unable to provide a consequence when they do not meet the standard; and if our schools and churches and our government fail to hold themselves accountable to those they serve, there is but one thing to look forward to …”

With that, he held home plate in front of his chest, turned it around, and revealed its dark black backside. “… dark days ahead.”

His message was clear: “Coaches, keep your players—no matter how good they are—your own children, and most of all, keep yourself at seventeen inches.”

Coach Scolinos died in 2009 at age 91.  His legacy was the changed lives of countless coaches and players he impacted.

If we are going to realize our full potential as a person, a community, a church, a state or a nation, we have to quit widening the plate.  That’s our challenge for today:  keeping our lives at seventeen inches.

Bill Mann


FURTHER STUDY: You can see his story here:

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