Thursday, January 7, 2016

It Doesn't Matter Where You Start

On January 6, 2016, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mike Piazza were elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Griffey enters as the only No. 1 overall draft pick ever elected to the Hall. He was the No. 1 overall choice in 1987, drafted by the Seattle Mariners. The son of a successful major league great, and no doubt the top prospect entering the draft, his selection was a surprise to no one.

Piazza enters as the lowest draft pick to ever gain election. He was the 1,390th choice in 1988, going to the Dodgers in the 62nd round. This selection was more a favor to Piazza's dad, who was friends with Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda, than anything related to his ability.

I love to study successful people, to learn more about their path to the top and find nuggets to use in my own life and for those I mentor.

Reaching the Hall of Fame, there is obviously a wealth of lessons in the stories of Griffey and Piazza. A fan of baseball myself, I remember their entry into the major leagues and followed both of their careers. (And of course, I have their rookie cards!) From a baseball perspective, there is no question both are worthy of this honor.

As I begin to reflect on this latest milestone for both, though, I am drawn to their starting point. Drawn to day 1, when they were drafted by their respective teams.

For Griffey, part of the lesson is more in the fact that no other number 1 pick has yet made it to the Hall of Fame than the career of Griffey himself.  I do believe that two years from now, in the 2018 election, first overall pick Chipper Jones will be eligible for the Hall and deserves selection on the first ballot!

But starting with Rick Monday as the first pick in 1965, there were 22 players selected in the number 1 slot prior to Griffey. Each player was deemed the top prospect available to their respective teams that year. For most, you could see at least the potential for a Hall of Fame career.

It’s as if all of these players were put on third base with nobody out, with a myriad of ways to score.

Why, then, was Griffey the first and only to make it home?

For Piazza, I was amazed by his story when he made it to the majors in September of 1992, and into his first full rookie season of 1993. Yes, he had the favor of Tommy Lasorda on his side from the start. But the effort was all his. He had to switch from first base to catcher, learning a whole new position (and in my mind the most difficult) for a better shot at the majors. He needed significant improvements to his hitting.

He had to rise from the obscurity of almost 1400 others selected that year - and a similar number of prospects in the years prior and thereafter - to earn his shot in the major leagues.

Like so many others, it was as if Piazza was constantly at the plate down two strikes against the best of the best. But he took his swings, and no matter the result he learned from each at bat and stepped up to the plate again. And again. And again.

Making it to the majors as a 62nd round pick? Seriously? And then, to have a Hall of Fame career? Who does that?

There are plenty of lessons in the careers of both Griffey and Piazza, and I’ll continue to reflect on each in the days ahead. But given the fact that they were the only two elected this year, as far removed from each other as possible, my first lesson is fairly obvious.

It doesn’t matter where you start – it’s all about what you do with the opportunity you have been given.

(Photo courtesy of Paul Howe/SN Illustration Getty Images)

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