The Audio Cynic

Humility and Hubris

As a kid in Minnesota during the early to mid-’60s, I was a fan of the Minnesota Twins. In spite of having a cut-rate stadium out in the then-sticks of Bloomington, ‘way south of Minneapolis. and a payroll amongst the smallest in baseball, the team was often a contender, battling what we thought of as “big city” teams like the Yankees and the Dodgers.

When the Twins faced the Dodgers in the 1965 World Series, I was even allowed to lug a black and white portable TV into my school classroom—where we were able to watch Sandy Koufax do a number on my hero, bulky-like-me Harmon Killebrew. After skipping game 1 as it fell on Yom Kippur, Koufax threw in 3 of the remaining 6 games—imagine any major league pitcher being allowed to do that in our pitch-count era….

But I digress.

The Twins’ Metropolitan Stadium out in the boonies was torn down in order to make way for the massive and bewildering Mall of America. The Twins moved to the domed Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome, AKA “Humpdome” near downtown Minneapolis; eventually, the dome was replaced by a shiny new open-air stadium, Target Field.

In the glitzy, megabuck era of professional sports in the 21st century, it’s hard to recall an era in which team players were truly local, part of the community. The Twins’ star outfielder Bob Allison lived near my relatives in the new suburb of Edina; other players lived in the area, and supplemented their fairly meager pay by selling cars or insurance in the off-season. And while they were local heroes, there was a sense of a team effort: showboating or displays of ego were considered crass, bad form. In a word, the players were, mostly, humble.

Moving to southern Illinois in the fall of 1966, the local major league team was the Cardinals. Aside from occasionally following the stunning work of pitcher Bob Gibson, I somehow never really got into following the Cardinals. Friends and I  would occasionally listen and laugh as announcer Harry Caray would become increasingly incoherent during the course of a game—but that was about it.

Having moved south of Tampa around the turn of the century, I became aware of the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays. Perpetual underdogs with a miserly payroll, they reminded me of the Twins of my boyhood. Beyond that, they were not a good team, and their domed stadium was and is probably the worst in the major leagues. Once Joe Maddon appeared as Manager in 2006, things became far more interesting…though the team still lost. A lot. But because there was nothing really to brag about, the team and its players remained…humble.

Things started to click in 2008, and the Rays won their first Eastern Division title, over “big city” teams the Yankees and the Red Sox. They lost the World Series that year, but for the next few years, Maddon’s development of young players and willingness to take a risk kept my attention. Then, in 2015, he moved to the Cubs….and I started following the Cubs, for the first time ever.

Initially, the team’s scrappy attitude and the longtime Cubs curse kept things collegial and upbeat. I was happy to see them compete in division races in 2015 and win the World Series in 2016—admittedly, after a series of high-dollar deals.

My favorite player from the Rays, Ben Zobrist, had been brought from Tampa by Maddon. Despite having won World Series rings from both KC and Chicago, Zobrist was still modest, self-effacing, the ultimate team player. Aside from Zobrist, though—the team changed.

Chicagoans are not known for their humility. Even in the losing years—all 70 or so of them—Chicago fans were know to be loud and boastful. Perhaps the team reflected the character of the fans. Watching the theatrics of Javier Baez and other Cubs during their recent Wild Card game against my now-hometown team the Rockies, I was embarrassed. The Rockies were focused and low-key; they were now the underdogs that reminded me of those long-ago Twins…not the Cubs. Humility in the Cubs had given way to hubris (“excessive pride or self-confidence”).

What’s this got to do with audio? Oh, I think we’ve all seen companies change character once they gain a little success, forget their roots or the values that led them to success. I’ve worked for arrogant individuals as well as companies that have developed a culture of arrogance and self-importance.

I’m happy to work with folks who still put customers first, and who don’t take things for granted.

Meanwhile: go, Rockies!