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Instilling That MVP Attitude

Hey, kids! You, too, can throw (tantrums, that is) like Barry Bonds and hit (back at your bosses, that is) like Rickey Henderson

I TELL THE KIDS I AM THE MANAGER OF THIS TEAM. I make the decisions on their Little League futures. I will say who plays during this coming season. I will say who doesn't play. I will run the game from my seat at the end of the bench. I am in charge.

"What do you say?" I ask.

"Kiss my butt," the kids reply.

I like this.

I have been talking for an hour, maybe an hour and a half, trying to instill greatness in these grade-schoolers I have selected in the annual league draft. The old-timers say that greatness cannot be taught, that it is a gift from the heavens. I disagree. I think every one of these kids can be another Barry Bonds, the Pittsburgh Pirate who was last season's Most Valuable Player in the National League.

"Suppose the owner of the paint store that sponsors our team comes to visit," I say. "This is the man who has bought the uniforms and will pay for the annual end-of-season pizza party, soft drinks included. Suppose he stands here and gives a little pep talk about hustle and team loyalty and always trying to go for the extra base. What do you say?"

"Kiss my butt," the kids reply.


I had opened the meeting by showing some tapes of Bonds on my VCR. I had shots of him running, hitting, fielding, making all sorts of magic moves during his magic 1990 season. I asked the kids if they wanted to play the way he played for Pittsburgh. Of course they all said they did. I then showed the tapes of a week ago, the ones that were on newscasts everywhere as Bonds screamed at photographers, Pirate public relations man Jim Lachimia, coach Bill Virdon and, finally, manager Jim Leyland. I even had the kids count the number of bleeps during the exchanges.

There were considerable snickers and giggles from the kids, which I expected, because most of them are young and new to this great game. I silenced the noise by slamming the blackboard. I said this was serious. On the board I wrote the equation ATTITUDE = GREATNESS. I asked if anyone knew what this meant. One kid said he thought it meant that the better attitude a player had, the better he would be as a player. I winged the eraser at him. Another kid said he thought it meant that if you worked hard every day, ate the right foods, got eight hours of sleep and devoted yourself to baseball, you could become great. Him, I hit with the chalk. No one else answered.

"Put the two tapes together," I said. "Look at Barry Bonds play. Look at Barry Bonds yell. What do you learn?"

"Th-th-th-that you can become great by being mean to people?" one kid answered after a long stretch of silence. "Th-th-th-that the meaner you are, the better you are? That you should be...what's the word? Conceited? Stuck on yourself?"

I shook this child's hand. A start.

I explained that greatness means you can ride over everyone, that you are above the crowd, that what applies to everyone else surely should not apply to you. Why settle for less? Be a star. I told the long story of Bonds's salary negotiations and his arbitration hearing, which he lost. That means he's going to earn only $2.3 million this year, when he thought he deserved $3.25 million. Why should he pretend to be happy if he is not happy? He's a star. He should say what he wants to say. He should do what he wants to do. His dogs should come to him. The Pirates should be laying a path of red velvet from the dugout to the plate for him, maybe sprinkling a few rose petals along the way. Why should he have to do what everyone else does if he is better than everyone else? Think like a star, and you will be a star. That's the baseball lesson that has to be learned. It's more important than trying to hit a curve.

"Anybody bothers you," I said, "you just say, 'Kiss my butt.' "

It was slow going for a while, incorporating this attitude, but I have done a number of drills on this with the kids, and I think we are finally getting somewhere. How would they react if an umpire called them out on a close play at first? What would they say if the local radio station wanted to do an unpaid interview on Opening Day? What would they tell the mayor himself if he tousled their hair after an extra-inning win? The kids now have the right answer every time.

I think they are ready for the stumper.

"O.K., forget Barry Bonds," I say. "We are going to move to the American League. Rickey Henderson of the Oakland A's was that league's Most Valuable Player in 1990. Isn't he great? Suppose you are Rickey and in 1989 you signed a contract that would pay you some $3 million per year through 1993.

Suppose salaries went out of whack after you signed and you didn't think you were making enough money. Suppose spring training rolled around. Suppose the A's expected you to be there for the start since you are such a big part of their team. What would you say to the A's?"

The kids go into a conference. I say I will give them a minute to determine their answer. I can see them arguing among themselves about what it should be. The clock ticks forward. Heads begin to nod.

"Yes?" I say.

"Kiss my butt," the kids reply.

This could be a championship season.