Today, I am honored to share with you a conversation I recently had with Jeff Idelson, president of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. We discussed the criteria to become a member of the Hall of Fame, what it means to be successful, and much more. Below are some highlights from our discussion, but I encourage you to listen to the full conversation.
Tim Elmore: If you don’t mind Jeff, I’d like to start with your story. Would you mind telling your story, because I think listeners might be intrigued by how it all worked out?
Jeff Idelson: I was fortunate to get an internship with the Red Sox five days after graduating from college. When my internship ended, I couldn’t find anything full-time so I was waiting tables, but also producing Red Sox radio broadcasts because that is where my passion was. This gentleman would come into lunch often and one day he asked me if I had any interest in managing his takeout restaurant. I would have been his second employee. He offered me significantly more money than I was making working for the Red Sox, but I was infinitely happier at Fenway Park. So I thanked the gentleman and told him my plan was actually to work in baseball. Two years later, I got a full-time job in baseball and never looked back. The funny thing is, had I taken that opportunity, I actually would have been the second employee at Boston Market! But I never look back, because I don’t feel like I’ve worked a day in my life.
Tim: How cool that you stuck to your guns and found a career in baseball and are now the President of the Hall of Fame. What is it like to be president of the Hall of Fame?
Jeff: Working at the Hall of Fame has been a Godsend. To rub elbows with the living legends, the Hall of Famers, and to take this museum, which is a great place in American culture, and continue to see it thrive are all very rewarding.
Tim: What is interesting to me is that obviously you look at players’ issues on the field and a player is never going to be inducted if they didn’t have enough homers, hits, RBIs; but then it is just as important what they do off the field. I know that sounds cliché, but for a parent listening here – what your child is doing off the field is ultimately going to come back to haunt or to bless them. You would agree, wouldn’t you?
Jeff: I speak to kids often in Cooperstown, and I tell them that you can be the best athlete you want to be, but character matters. The common thread among our Hall of Famers is character, integrity, and sportsmanship. They all earned their way to Cooperstown in some way on the field but the character, integrity, and sportsmanship are what bond them.
Tim: Let’s talk about the criteria for a Hall of Fame inductee. You mentioned it’s on and off the field, but what is the criteria and why is it important?
Jeff: Basically one percent of those that play baseball end up with a plaque at Cooperstown. That’s how hard it is to make it. Being the best at what you did wrapped around character, integrity, and sportsmanship earns you a plaque at Cooperstown.
Tim: You’ve got to play well and then live well. Our culture says that we are obsessed with being successful and we want our kids to be successful. Are there deeper or core characteristics that many might miss to make an athlete a Hall of Fame caliber player?
Jeff: I think any young man or woman can be successful if they carry the traits of being able to communicate, think, problem solve, and if they are passionate. If you have the common traits of being a good person, being a team player, being part of a collective goal, then you can be part of success and you don’t have to do it alone.
Tim: What are some steps that coaches, teachers, or parents could take to instill those core values?
Jeff: I think whether it’s on the ball field or classroom, it is the example that you set. It is how the kids handle success and failure. I think that making a point of explaining issues broadly is an appropriate practice. How you respect parents, how you respect the umpires, and educating kids on controlling what you can control and not worrying about what you cannot control, are all important steps.
What topic would you like for us to address on the next episode of the Growing Leaders Podcast? Leave a comment.