Dear Mr. Berko: California wants to lower the minimum score needed to pass the bar exam. Passing scores on the ACT and the SAT have been lowered. Dayton, Ohio, lowered its requirements for the police exam. Colleges give courses online. States let applicants take physician licensing exams in Spanish. Banks make auto and home loans to people with 550 credit scores. States have lowered requirements to become teachers. I could go on for pages. What do you think? — JS, Charlotte, N.C.
Dear JS: Thanks for your very long letter. The following is a summary of a recent article by Chris Sperry, a prominent baseball consultant.
In 1996, one of the most storied high school and college baseball coaches, John Scolinos, spoke to a convention of more than 4,000 baseball coaches in Nashville, Tennessee. Scolinos, who had retired from coaching in 1991, shuffled to the stage and received a standing ovation. He wore a string around his neck, from which hung a full-size home plate.
Scolinos spoke for 25 minutes before referring to his home plate necklace. He was mindful of the snickering among some of the coaches and then reproachfully said, “You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing home plate on my neck.” He continued, “I may be old, but I’m not crazy. The reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people ... what I’ve learned about home plate in my 78 years.” Then he asked: “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?”
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After a pause, someone said, “17 inches.” Scolinos then asked, “How about in Babe Ruth’s day?” There was a long pause, and another reluctant coach said, “17 inches.”
“Right,” said Scolinos. “Now, how many high school coaches do we have in the room?” Hundreds of hands went up. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?”
“Seventeen inches,” they exclaimed in unison.
“And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college?”
“Any minor league coaches here? How wide is home plate in pro ball?”
“Right!” Scolinos said. And then he asked about the major leagues, confirming that it’s 17 inches there, too. “And what do they do with a big league pitcher who can’t throw the ball over 17 inches?” After a pause, he answered himself: “They send him to Pocatello!” The coaches laughed. “What they don’t do is ... say, ‘Ah, that’s OK, Jimmy. You can’t hit a 17-inch target? ... We’ll make it 20 inches so you have a better chance of hitting it. If you can’t hit that, let us know so we can make it wider still, say 25 inches.”
He continued: “Coaches, what do we do when our best player shows up late to practice? When our team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? ... Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? Do we widen home plate?”
The laughter faded as Scolinos’ message became clear.
Scolinos made a drawing of a house on the home plate around his neck with a marker. “This is the problem in our homes today, with our marriages, with the way we parent our kids, with our discipline. We don’t teach accountability to our kids, and there is no consequence for failing to meet standards. We widen the plate.”
Then he drew an American flag on top of the house. “This is the problem in our schools today. The quality of our education is going downhill fast, and teachers have been stripped of the tools they need to be successful. ... We are allowing others to widen home plate.”
Scolinos concluded: “If I am lucky, 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.” He held home plate in front of his chest and presented its black backside. “Dark days ahead.”
This is what our country has become, and it’s wrong. Go out there and fix it. Don’t widen the plate.
John Scolinos passed away in 2009 at the age of 91.
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.