What do newly suspended slugger Manny Ramirez and newly less-senior U.S. Senator Arlen Specter have in common? Nothing you say? Au contraire. I’d suggest that until very recently, perhaps, they both considered themselves to be bigger than the game they played.
For years, Ramirez has gotten away with outrageous behavior while many of those smitten with his hitting have written it off as “Manny being Manny.” The act started getting pretty old when he more or less quit playing for the Red Sox in order to force a trade. This year he’s been a key part of the Dodgers startling .724 winning percentage through May 7. That may be coming to a screeching halt, however, since Manny received a 50 game suspension this week for testing positive for a banned substance connected with steroid use. (For more on Manny, check out this column from Tom Boswell.) Like so many players in the steroid era, Ramirez put his personal interests ahead of his team and the game as a whole.
Of course, that’s not a trait that’s limited to baseball. You at least have to give Arlen Specter credit for candor when he announced he was switching from the R’s to the D’s (Republicans to Democrats, not Red Sox to Dodgers) last week. He came right out and said that he was switching because he had concluded he couldn’t win the Pennsylvania Republican primary in 2010 and that he wasn’t willing to put his 29 year career in the Senate in the hands of the primary voters. Of course, the Democrats were gleeful to get closer to a 60 seat super majority in the Senate. At least they were for a day or two. As reported by David Paul Kuhn of Real Clear Politics, after his switch, Specter promptly voted against the Democrats on the budget bill. A few days later in speaking about his Senate seniority on Meet the Press, Specter said, “That's an entitlement. I've earned the seniority.” And, for good measure, he told the New York Times that he thought Republican Norm Coleman should be seated in the ongoing Senate election drama in Minnesota. Arlen Specter – his own man and bigger than the game. Except when he’s not. He ticked off the wrong people and was stripped of his seniority.
So, what’s the lesson that Ramirez and Specter offer us? Sure, the simple answer is that keeping your ego in check can help you avoid heartache, embarrassment and loss. But that seems like pretty thin gruel. In thinking through this post, I wanted to leave you with more than that. So, I did what I always do when I’m stuck on something. I asked my wife, Diane, for advice. As usual, she asked me a great question that triggered some new thinking, “Who’s a leader that you think does a great job of keeping their ego in check? Maybe there’s something to be learned from them.”
My first thought was Warren Buffet. Through the magic of Google, I pulled up his latest letter to the shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway. I figured that since they had a rare down year (along with everyone else) in 2008 that he might have had something to say about it. With no pun intended, here’s the money quote from Buffet’s letter:
You’d think if anyone might have reason to think that they’re bigger than the game, Warren Buffet would make the short list. Again, au contraire. In simple, plain language the second wealthiest person in the world acknowledged his mistakes and owned up to them. Perhaps that’s one of the traits that’s enabled Berkshire to yield a 362,319% gain over the 44 years that Buffet has been the CEO.