One day back in 1996, there were over 4,000 baseball coaches assembled at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville, Tennessee, for the 52nd annual American Baseball Coaches Association (ABCA) convention. The keynote speaker for this event was an old retired baseball coach by the name of John Scolinos, who at the time was 78 years old and five years into retirement from a coaching career that began back in 1948. When he was introduced and strolled to the microphone, he had a most unusual prop hung around his neck -- a full-sized, stark-white home plate.
He spoke for about 25 minutes and never mentioned his unusual prop. Everyone began to wonder where he was going with all this. Then finally he said, “You’re probably all wondering why I’m wearing a home plate around my neck. Well, the reason I stand before you today is to share with you baseball people what I’ve learned in my life, what I have learned about home plate in my 78 years.” When he asked how many Little League coaches were in the room, several hands went up. Then he asked this question, “Do you know how wide home plate is in Little League?” Then someone offered “Seventeen Inches?” more of a question than an answer.
“That’s right,” he said, “How about in Babe Ruth’s day? Any Babe Ruth coaches in the house?” Again more hands. After another long pause a quiet voice said, “Seventeen inches?” a guess from another reluctant coach. “That’s right,” said Scolinos. Then he said, “How many high school coaches in the room?” Hundreds of hands went up after this question, as the pattern began to appear. “How wide is home plate in high school baseball?” “Seventeen inches,” they said, sounding more confident. “You’re right!” Scolinos barked. “And you college coaches, how wide is home plate in college? Seventeen inches!” they said in unison.
He then repeated this process with Minor League, and Major League coaches who were there. The bottom line was always the same -- home plate is exactly 17 inches, no more and no less. And then he asked this question, “What do they do with a Big League pitcher who can’t throw the ball over 17 inches?” Pause. “They send him to Pocatello!,” he hollered, drawing raucous laughter. “What they don’t do is this: they don’t say, ‘Ah, that’s OK, Jimmy, if you can’t hit a 17-inch target, we’ll make it 18 inches or 19 inches, and then keep expanding it all the way to 25 inches, where you can hit it.”
Here is the bottom line, as he asked some very pointed questions, “What do we do when your best player shows up late for practice? Or when your team rules forbid facial hair and a guy shows up unshaven? What if he gets caught drinking? Do we hold him accountable? Or do we change the rules to fit him? In other words, do we widen home plate?”
The old coach went on for another 25 minutes talking about areas in our society where we have now made the plate wider: the Home, the American Flag, the Church, our Government. He laid down the law about what happens when we make home plate wider and what the consequences have been.
In summary he said this: “If we fail to hold ourselves to a higher standard, a standard of what we know to be right; if we also fail to hold our spouses, children, pastors, politicians and others in leadership positions to a higher standard” -- then he turned the home plate on his chest around to reveal its black back side - “we have dark days ahead because we have widened the plate.” That was in 1996. Was he right? Have things drastically changed since then?