Class (noun) 1) elegance, grace, or dignity, as in dress and behavior; social grace and proper behavior --Random House Dictionary
“Class…does not mean wealth, birth or position. It does mean that innate sensitivity to other people, that appreciation of the good, the decent and the fair, and that hunger for the beautiful and the appropriate that distinguishes an individual as a person one can be rewarded to know."
---former U.S. Senator Jacob Javits
For Bostonians and New Yorkers caught up in the rivalry between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, the night of October 20, 2004 was either the best of times or the worst of times. A collapse of epic proportions or the greatest comeback in professional sport history. Diehard baseball fans remember all the details of that amazing night and game. Just four days before the BoSox were down three games to none to the Bronx Bombers and seemed on the brink of yet another heartbreaking defeat at the hands of their arch enemies. It was the same old story. Sox fold. Sox get to the brink and choke. Sox are cursed. But then in just 96 hours the Sox roared back and won four games in a row, ran the table and went on to capture their first world championship in eighty six years.
But a greater and more intimate drama also played out that night, one of grace and dignity and class, true human class. In the victor’s locker room, as most of his teammates sprayed one another with champagne Sox veteran knuckleballer Tim Wakefield sat quietly at his locker, savoring a cold beer and perhaps thinking to himself that he had finally been redeemed. You see it was Wakefield who almost one year ago to that day gave up an eleventh inning walk off home run to Yankee Aaron Boone in the 2003 American League Championship Series, sending the Sox home for another October.
As recounted in “My Life With Baseball’s Most Confounding Pitch”, by Tim Wakefield with Tony Massarotti: “…one of the attendants in the visiting clubhouse at Yankee Stadium leaned in and delivered a message to [Wakefield]. ‘[Yankee manager] Joe Torre’s on the phone,’ he said. ‘He asked to speak with you.’” And then Torre offered this one message to Wakefield, who just moments before had sent Torre’s team to its worst defeat in modern memory. Said Torre to Wakefield,” I’m happy for you. You deserve this. Good things happen to good people.”
Obviously Torre didn’t have to call Wakefield or any Red Sox player. Torre would have been forgiven if all he wanted to do was brood or comfort his own players but amazingly, almost immediately after losing, he felt moved to congratulate and affirm another human being. To go out of his way to compliment a rival. Now that is a class move by a class guy. No doubt about that.
Class: in sports, in life—we know it when we see it. When a winner, instead of puffing herself up, humbly declares it is the team and not the individual who needs to be lauded. When you work with someone you know can be trusted in any social situation to carry himself with care and grace. When you lose a match to another and they go out of their way to make you feel good. When a person in power speaks to you and you feel as if you are the only person in the room. Class: it a rare but oh so precious human trait and is marked by the ability of a person to see themselves as just another “Joe”, not better or worse, but instead equal to those he shares the world with. Class is never flashy. It is quiet. It is confident but not arrogant. It is the kind of human behavior that makes getting along with others in this sometimes contentious world so much easier, whether on the field of play or the field of life
So the next time you’re watching a game or playing in some competition keep your eye out for the classy ones. The home run hitter who slugs it a mile but then keeps his head down as he rounds the bases. No need to shame the pitcher who just threw that losing fastball. The three point artist who makes a “swish” and then quickly runs back down the court: no chest bumps, no childish high fives. The football receiver who dives for a touchdown and then quietly tosses the ball back to the ref and heads for the sidelines: no preening victory dances or pompous fist pumps. Just class.
So thank God for a guy like Joe Torre and for a wonderful lesson about just what it means to have true class. He may have coached “the enemy” but for one night he reminded us that we are all on the same team.