“Try Not to Suck” became the rallying cry of the Chicago Cubs during their 2016 World Series Championship run, their first one in 108 years. It started in September 2015 when Javy Baez made his debut with the Cubs. Manager Joe Maddon, in an effort to relax the youngster, set that as his expectation.
I have done previous blogs on striving for excellence and the standard, so why one now on try not to suck? There are times when we need to realize that just getting the job done is sufficient. It can alleviate some of the pressure we put on ourselves. This rudimentary level is also a way of simplifying the task. Plus, we either do or don’t suck, there is no trying, so if it were my quote and not Coach Maddon’s, I would have said “Just Don’t Suck.”
This blog has been sitting in my files for a few years now. Being transparent, a small part of the motivation to complete it was to show the picture of me talking with Coach Maddon on the sidelines of a Lafayette College football game. Coach is a fellow alumnus of Lafayette, and we were even recruited by the same football coach. He stopped playing football after his freshmen year and I would say that was a good long-term decision.
As business professionals, community members, or involved adults; one of the main things we do daily is strive not to embarrass ourselves. We can’t go through life on edge and worried about making mistakes or stressing over expectations. We all aspire to do more than the bare minimum, but we also do not want to fail to do the minimum. After High School, my goal was to get a college degree in Engineering. I did, yet my standing among the graduating Chemical Engineers was 32 out of 36, far from the top of the class. Doing the minimum is another way of doing what is essential. This can motivate us to begin what appears to be overwhelming when taken as a whole, as opposed to foregoing some of the greatest things in life because they seem too daunting.
“Start by doing what is necessary, then what is possible, and suddenly you are doing the impossible.” – St. Francis Of Assisi
The “Mendoza Line” is a baseball expression derived from shortstop Mario Mendoza, whose career batting average of .215 defined the threshold of competent hitting to remain on a Major League Baseball team. The “Mendoza Line” was created as a clubhouse joke in 1979 when teammates were giving Hall of Famer George Brett a hard time because he had a slow start that year and warned him that he was “going to sink down below the Mendoza Line.” ESPN’s Chris Berman starting using that phrase in his broadcasts and it eventually became a common expression. The usage eventually spread to other industries; a sub-$2,000 per theater average was considered the Mendoza Line of box office numbers and when the U.S. 10-year note yield declined below 2% it was declared in the press to be below the Mendoza Line. TV executive Garry Marshall kept a Mario Mendoza’s baseball card in his wallet. When he was shooting a movie, he would take the card out and tell everybody that “we gotta make sure not to drop below the Mendoza Line today.”
In football, it morphed into “The Dalton Line” after quarterback Andy Dalton, the least that should be expected from a franchise quarterback in the National Football League. A Rolling Stone article ranked every cast member to appear on Saturday Night Live and created the Joe Piscopo Line which was the limit to be ranked above. I did a previous blog, “Enough,” which touched on similar points. I shared the story of a football alumnus who summarized his on-the-field achievements as, “I was good enough to be asked to play and played well enough not to be asked to leave.” He just didn’t want to suck.
Maddon feels the simple expression strikes a nice balance between the intensity of the game and players being themselves. It can alleviate unwarranted stress. The Chicago Cubs, Mario Mendoza, Andy Dalton, and Joe Piscopo are all professionals who made it to the top of their vocation because they are highly skilled with a drive for excellence. God given talent, when allowed to blossom without the constraint of self-imposed undue pressure, can achieve the highest level.
This approach works well when we are in uncomfortable situations such as competing challenges or unfamiliar environments. Most of us misfire. The goal of not sucking allows us to make mistakes and learn. GK Chesterton said, “If a thing is worth doing, it is worth doing badly.” This is not an excuse for poor efforts.
Doing the bare minimum actually urges us to do more. Because it’s all about getting started. It’s easier to act if we lower the barrier. The benefit of doing the bare minimum is that it’s not overwhelming. We don’t have to be perfect to be better. Often, we just need to get started. The 10-minute walk we take is better than the intense workout we don’t do. The text we send is better than the card we don’t send. Taking one deep, mindful breath is better than not doing a 20-minute meditation.
Consider the young boy in John’s Gospel (6:9) with his loaves and fish. This was an inadequate offer that didn’t come close to meeting the crowd’s hunger. But Jesus, accepted the offering and used it to satisfy the large crowd. God desires our inadequate offerings of love and that we must not allow perfectionism to paralyze us because we can’t “do it well”. It is better to be a ‘sucky’ Christian than to not be one at all.
We are all created and called to be saints, God’s ‘be holy as I am holy’ as noted in Leviticus 21:8, “because I, the LORD, am holy who make you holy” and again in 1 Peter 1:16, “for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” However, this occurs through a lifetime of faith and perseverance.
St. Paul writes in Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus for the good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” The recipients of Paul’s letter aspire to move above their transgressions and sins. In them, Paul sees a new humanity, newly created people in Christ, fashioned by God for a life of goodness.
In many ways some of us are “Mendoza Line” performers as far as the Christian life goes. We are struggling like the Ephesians to grow in our love for Jesus and others. The gospel of salvation that God created in Jesus, is reiterated in what God’s great love expressed in Jesus, means for us. We aspire to do more than the minimum, but we need to start with what is essential and not suck at loving God and our neighbors.