August 2007: What We Can Learn From the New York Yankees…

As I write this column, about a third of the Major League Baseball season has passed.  For Yankees fans, though, the season seems to be just starting.  Sure, the Yankees are 30-31, trailing the Red Sox by 9.5 games, but we’re not worried.  (Of course, by the time you read this; we might be worried then.)

We’re not worried tonight, though, because the Yankees have just won six games in a row and, for the first time since Opening Days, all systems seem “go.”

For those of you who don’t know, the 2007 New York Yankees are the best team in the major leagues.  The starting lineup and pitching staff are replete with All Stars and future Hall of Famers.  For some unknown reason, though, the season got off to a very rocky start for these Bronx Bombers.  So much so, that even fans of other teams spent much of April and May wondering exactly what was going wrong for the Yankees.  On paper, a lot seemed to be going right:  Alex Rodriguez was leading the league in home runs and runs batted in.  Jorge Posada was leading the league in hitting (followed closely be Derek Jeter).  And Andy Pettitte – back in pinstripes where he belongs – boasted a lower earned run average than Boston ace Josh Beckett, who was 8-0 through the end of May.  Yet, all clearly wasn’t right with the Yankees, as punctuated by Pettitte’s 3-4 record in the same time frame.

So what was the problem and why (tonight) does it appear to be fixed?  One theory is that even with all the right parts, a machine simply won’t function correctly if the parts don’t move at the right time.  Put another way, if only four players out of nine are playing well – even extremely well – the imbalance in a team’s performance will not be overcome.  

Here’s what has changed for the Yankees over the past couple of weeks:  Jason Giambi went on the disabled list.  This seemed like a bad thing, because he is an important offensive contributor.  His absence, however, has allowed a couple of key “parts” to shift into alignment.  With Giambi out of the lineup, Johnny Damon can be the Designated Hitter, which allows his ailing legs some much needed rest.  In this role, Damon is hitting and running the bases much better.  With Damon at DH, Melky Cabrera can play Center Field.  Melky is a much better fielder than Damon and with a regular gig in the outfield, he seems to be hitting much better.  Robinson Cano, who had been slumping at the plate, and Bobby Abreu, who seemed asleep at the plate, are both on fire offensively.  And Hideki Matsui is starting to look like his old self too.


The return of Pettitte and Roger Clemens to this team cannot be overlooked either.  With the Rocket’s return, the Yankees now boast four marquee starters in Pettitte, Clemens, Mike Mussina and Chien-Ming Wang.  With some previously absent offensive support, the solid pitching of this group should amount to many, many more wins this season, not to mention a few more save opportunities for Mariano Rivera, who we haven’t seen enough of in this first third of a season.

So what does any of this baseball nonsense have to do with Temple Beth Sholom?  Our Temple, like any other organization, is comprised of a great variety of component parts.  At times, we function like a well-oiled machine.  At other times, we do not.  Sometimes inexplicably.  From time to time over the past year, board members and other congregants have challenged me, asking good questions about why a policy decision has been made, or why a project that seems straightforward has not been completed as quickly as it could have been.  These are good questions and I welcome them.  The fact is that our TBS “team” is as full of talent as the 2007 Yankees, and I truly believe that we are working as hard for success as that team.  We, like them, will stumble from time to time.  Our failings do not, however, reflect a lack of effort or a lack of commitment to our goals.  Sometimes, it just takes a little time to get in sync.

When I became president of Temple Beth Sholom last year, I wrote in this column about the concept of “community.”  Over the past year, I have written a number of columns focusing on different facets of our shul that comprise and reflect our community.  I think we have much to be proud of at Temple Beth Sholom.  Our efforts, though imperfect at times, have clearly yielded fruit.  As I begin my second year as president of Temple Beth Sholom, I hope and expect to see more “wins” by our team than losses.  I also hope that, by the time you read this, the Yankees are 15 games above .500, and that the Red Sox start losing a game every now and then.

Have a great summer!