A Catcher In the Wry

A Catcher in the Wry

A Catcher in the Wry

The baseball playoffs are in full swing.  The Fall Classic is almost upon us once again.  However, it is difficult to find anyone who genuinely cares other than die hard sports fanatics.  The casual fan has left behind baseball and its 162 game, feels like never ending, 8 month long season.  In this day where e-mail is not fast enough so that we must communicate by instant messages, we have been conditioned to demand resolution and finality quickly.  Instead of listening to Red Barber stories between pitches, we send and receive multiple tweets on a variety of topics.

I generally followed baseball when I was young.  In the shadows of New York City where I grew up, the only argument among school kids was whether you should root for the Yankees or Mets.  Fast forward to my law school years in Boston in the mid-1980s.  I lived but a well hit foul ball away from Fenway Park where the Red Sox hold court.  I became swept up in the rejoicing of a community where The Curse of the Bambino would finally be lifted in the 1986 World Series as the Red Sox battled the Mets.  The Red Sox had not returned to the World Series since 1918.  In 1919, the Red Sox sold the contract rights for Babe Ruth, or the Bambino, to the New York Yankees.  Trading away perhaps the greatest baseball player in history resulted in The Curse which held that the Red Sox would not win another World Series.

With Sox up 3 games to 2 in the best of seven World Series, I watched game 6 at a bar adjacent to Fenway Park with hundreds of my fellow fans.  In the 10th inning with Sox leading and one out away from clinching the championship, you not only heard the collective groan, but also felt the collective pain, when Mookie Wilson’s harmless ground ball to first base rolled between Bill Buckner’s legs thereby providing victory for the Mets.  While game 7 was back in Boston, the Red Sox Faithful (or Fateful) knew The Curse would continue.  The Mets won game 7, but I was hooked as a Red Sox fan and their historic suffering.

Even with this emotional tie to one baseball team, like so many, I cannot follow baseball.  Perhaps it is the length of the season.  Perhaps it is the length of the games.  Perhaps it is the amazingly slow pace of the games.  Perhaps we now have so many alternatives competing for our limited free time as opposed to just one generation back.  Regardless of the reasons, it remains too laborious to remain engaged.

What, then, recently served to remind me of more fond memories of baseball and inspire this post?  Surely it was not the baseball playoffs as I cold not tell you which teams remain in contention.  Surely it was not local excitement as no sport exists here in the Fall beyond the Saturday religion otherwise known as college football.  Instead, I overhead a simple conversation while in line to checkout at a store.

In response to his child’s complaint, a father said, “It ain’t over till it’s over.”  The child looked perplexed and I immediately thought of Lawrence Peter Berra.  Of course, he is better known as Yogi Berra and this quote is one of his best known Yogiisms.  Yogi Berra, a Hall of Famer, played for the Yankees from the 1940s through the 1960s.  Yogi was a ferocious hitter, best known as a catcher, but also played other positions for the Bronx Bombers.  In addition to his baseball skills, Yogi became a beloved figure beyond sports due to his positive approach, good nature, and simplistic, if not confusing, shorthand way to state things.  These quaint assertions became known as Yogiisms.

Spurred on by this reminder of Yogi Berra, I researched Yogiisms as I could only recall a few of the most famous quotes.  As I considered the Yogiisms, it struck me that many of these statements can be applied to so much more than baseball.  In part, in his simple manner, Yogi provided advice for getting through life.  Remarkably, many of the Yogiisms apply well to negotiations, mediation and resolution dispute efforts.

Regardless whether you are enjoying the baseball playoffs, simply making your way through life pleasantly unaware that baseball is still being played, or are involved with mediation and alternative dispute resolution, here are some timeless Yogiisms and how they may apply to you.

It Ain’t Over Till It’s Over

Some Yogiisms appear difficult to understand at first glance.  Here is perhaps the most straightforward of all Yogiisms.  You never know how the ball will bounce until the last out.  Just ask the 1986 Red Sox.  Keep playing and keep trying.  Subtly, this Yogiism encourages positive thought and approach as you need to believe that a chance still exists.

In mediation and negotiations, we should remind ourselves of this Yogiism when one or more of the parties want to claim “Impasse”.  In countless mediations, negotiations continue after one or even all parties assert that they have presented their best and final offer.  At those stages, I remind the parties that “We are still talking”.  The game goes on and as long as we do not reach that final out, there remains the opportunity for agreement.  The parties can also be reminded of the costly litigation alternative to shutting down the mediation process.  The litigation process and its attendant costs never seems to have an ending.

If You Can’t Imitate Him, Don’t Copy Him

Be yourself.  Understand your own abilities and skills and improve them.  Sports teams fall victim to this Yogiism all the time.  A team wins a championship in a sport with a certain style or approach (e.g., see the Golden State Warriors who appear almost exclusively to shoot 3 point shots in basketball).  The next season, more than half the teams adopt that style.  But quite often the talents and skills of the players on the roster do not fit that particular style.  The team fails miserably and management wonders why the new approach did not work well for them.  Do not be something you are not.

In mediation, I often see lawyers on all sides and insurance representatives with cookie cutter approaches.  You can almost script out how they will act.  Admittedly, these approaches worked in other cases and worked for others who used them.  If the style is imitated, success should follow, correct?  However, every litigation in which I have been involved has been unique based on its facts and people.  In some circumstances, a projection of sympathy or empathy may be needed to move parties forward.  In other cases, only a discussion of cash matters.  In still other cases, a party may need a process to vent or to be heard before compromise can begin.  Cases, simple or complex, present a myriad of factors and issues to which the participants and mediators need to be attuned.  Mere imitation of one style will rarely work well.

I Knew the Record Would Stand Until It Was Broken

The origination of some Yogiisms remain in dispute.  No question remains for this Yogiism as Yogi himself sent this message in a telegram congratulating another ballplayer who broke one of Yogi’s longstanding baseball records.  Change is inevitable even if it is long in coming.  

Parties so often get hung up on how things used to be and they want to go back.  Aggrieved plaintiffs with employment claims so often just want to have their old jobs back.  Companies in business disputes just want to return to the mutually beneficial business relationships.  It is incumbent upon lawyers representing these parties and the mediators to carefully explain that change has already happened and the old way can be no more.  In other words, expectations need to be properly managed by all involved in the processes.  Even where that former relationship lasted a lengthy period as did Yogi’s record, change forces a new paradigm.  

Always Go to Other People’s Funerals, Otherwise They Won’t Go to Yours

Show respect along the way and you will receive respect in return.  Do the right thing.  It will be noticed by others.  

In mediation, I almost always require an initial joint session even if it includes nothing more than participants greeting each other and going over ground rules.  Personalize the process.  Respect for each other as individuals and as people begins to flow from this simple step.  In trying to close a gap to conclude a negotiation, I have heard comments along the lines that the adversary does not appear to be such a bad guy after all so a little more would be offered or a little less would be accepted.  

If You Don’t Know Where You Are Going, You Might Not Get There

Have a goal.  Have a plan to achieve that goal.  Anticipate that there will be challenges and unforeseen changes along the way.  As long as the goal stays within focus, you can set a course to achieve it.

In mediation and negotiations, I often encounter participants with a clear goal (I will not settle this case below $100,000).  The parties have deeply thought about the goal, studied other case values involving similar claims, factored in the likelihood of recovery in that jurisdiction, and carefully considered their own circumstances.  These same participants who prepared on this issue show up with no plan to achieve that goal.  Take the time to think through the case from the perspective of the adversary who starts with a very different goal.  Identify those factors to be used to move the adversary toward your analysis.  Listen to the positions presented and be flexible to incorporate new or different points in response knowing where you are going.

When You Get to a Fork in the Road, Take It

I have personal knowledge about this Yogiism.  Yogi lived in Montclair, New Jersey.  I grew up one town over.  The fork referenced by Yogi is on the main road of Bloomfield Avenue.  If you take the right side of the fork, the next right turn will be on Pompton Avenue.  If you take the left side of the fork, the next right turn will be on Pompton Avenue.  Just “take the fork” and then turn right on Pompton Avenue.  These directions actually make sense to anyone who lives in that area.

In addition to driving directions, this Yogiism reminds us that different journeys can get you to the same destination.  One journey may be longer.  One journey may have more challenges.  During mediation, do not be distraught getting stuck on one point or veering off on what appear to be a tangent.  Trust the mediator who understands the dynamics involving the parties in each separate room.  The mediator’s eyes remain focused on the destination.  Go on the journey on either side of the fork if the mediator signals that such a path is important in the process.

Baseball became enormous business over the past generation.  Maybe personalities such as Yogi Berra could not break through the current corporate structure surrounding the business of baseball.  Maybe Yogi simply remains terribly unique.  In any event, it is clear that baseball and the shrinking interest in the sport could only benefit with a few more personalities like Yogi Berra.  In closing, whether in life or in mediation, we should all heed Yogi’s advice to not make “too many of the wrong mistakes.”

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