Seventeen Inches, Now and Always!

John Scolinos, baseball coach at Pepperdine University and for three decades at Cal State Polytech U., became well known for a speech he once delivered at the Opryland Hotel in 1996 to 4,000 baseball coaches who were meeting in Nashville for the annual American Baseball Coaches Association. Wearing a home plate around his neck, he queried of the Little League coaches present “How many inches is home plate.” Several in the audience responded “Seventeen inches.” He then asked all the Babe Ruth League coaches present “How many inches is home plate?” The same answer was echoed, “Seventeen inches.” He continued asking high school coaches, college coaches, minor league and major league coaches the same question, “How many inches is home plate?” The same response came back from every group present, “Seventeen inches.” He then made his point that it never changes and that some things should never change, things having to do with time-tested character standards, whether in sports, in the home, in the church, in the nation. His conclusion: “Coaches, keep your players, no matter how good they are-your own children and most of all yourself at seventeen inches!” Scolinos applied his principle to the nation, to the schools and the dumbing down of educational norms that were at one time designed to build character, and, finally to the Church. One coach who heard Scolinos speak that day said, “I was amazed. At a baseball convention where I expected to learn something about curveballs and bunting…I learned something far more valuable. From an old man with home plate strung around his neck, I had learned something about life, about myself, about my own weaknesses and about my responsibilities as a leader. I had to hold myself accountable to that which I knew to be right, lest our families, our faith, and our society continue down an undesirable path.”

It’s a matter of character, which is the subject of what I want to share with you today. You will not find the word character in the Bible, but you will note that it bleeds through every person on every page of the Bible.  It is not defined but it is depicted, from the fall of Lucifer to the fall of mankind, from the beginning in the garden to the ending in the New Jerusalem.  Men and women whose lives wrote a story, depicting a character for good or for bad, for time and for eternity. Every person possesses character, some bent, some beautiful, some honest, some crooked; it cannot be camouflaged indefinitely, for at some time or other, in life or in death, it will be on center stage and one’s true character will be on display for a watching world.

Oscar Wilde, Irish poet and playwright, arrived for a visit in the United States in 1882. Asked by officials what he had to declare, he replied “Only my genius.” Fifteen years later, alone and broken in prison, Wilde reflected on his life (character): “I have been a spendthrift of my genius; I forgot that every little action of the common day makes or unmakes character.” (Hillsdale College, Imprimus)

Character’s core:  the inner person that men do not see but that God looks upon: “But the Lord said unto Samuel, look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature, because I have refused him: for the Lord seeth not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the Lord looketh on the heart.” (I Sam.16:7)

Character’s crux: 19th century evangelist D.L. Moody said that character was “what a man is in the dark.” When no one can see you and no one can know what you are doing or thinking, then the crux of your character, known only to God and to you, will be revealed, Moody opined. What a man is in the dark will depend upon what there is inside of him to command and compel him to do right or to fail to answer to the commands of his conscience and of his creator.

Character’s consistency: A scorpion, being a very poor swimmer, asked a turtle to carry him on his back across the river. “Are you mad?” exclaimed the turtle. “You’ll sting me while I’m swimming and I’ll drown.” “My dear turtle,” laughed the scorpion, “if I were to sting you, you would drown and I would go down with you. Now, where is the logic in that?”

“You’re right,” said the turtle. “Hop on!” The scorpion climbed aboard and halfway across the river gave the turtle a mighty sting. As they both sank to the bottom, the turtle resignedly said, “Do you mind if I ask you something? You said there’d be no logic in stinging me. Why did you do it?”

“It has nothing to do with logic,” the drowning scorpion sadly replied. It’s just my character.” (Copied, Horizon)

Character’s course: When James Garfield was president of Hiram College a father brought his son to the school requesting that he be given a shortened course of studies, affirming that his boy could never take in all the required assignments. Garfield, a minister/educator said, “Oh, yes. He can take a shorter course: it all depends upon what you want to make of him. When God wants to make an oak, He takes a hundred years, but when He makes a squash, it only takes a matter of a couple of months.”

Character’s constancy: Charles Lindbergh spoke to the enduring aspect of character when he said that “short-term survival may depend upon the knowledge of nuclear physicists and the performance of supersonic aircraft, but long-term survival depends alone upon the character of man. We must remember that it was not the outer grandeur of the Roman but the inner simplicity of the Christian that lived on through the ages.”

Character’s crumbling: David Brooks in “Road to Character” wrote that our culture, technological and meritocratic, had not made a race of depraved barbarians of us but it “has made us less morally articulate. Many of us have no clear idea how to build character, no rigorous way to think about such things. We are clear about external, professional things, but unclear about internal, moral ones.”

Character’s components: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest…just…pure…lovely…of good report…virtue…praise….” (Phil.4:8)

Character’s conversion: “Therefore, if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are past away; behold, all things are become new.” (2 Cor. 5:17)

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