On September 30, 1927, Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run for the season, breaking his previous record of 59 runs set six years earlier. His record would stand until 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61.
The problem was that Ruth scored his 60 runs in a 154-game season. After 154 games, Maris had hit only 59 home runs. But by 1961, the season had been extended to 162 games, and those eight extra games gave Maris the chance to hit two more homers.
The debate continued for years afterwards as to whether or not Maris had actually broken Ruth’s record. Sure, Maris had done something great, but Yankee traditionalists felt that the extended season was a mitigating circumstance, and Maris hadn’t actually done something as great as the Great Bambino.
Urban legend has it that Baseball commissioner Ford Frick decreed that Maris’ accomplishment would be recorded with an asterisk beside the total, with an accompanying explanation in the footnotes. It didn’t happen, but it reflects the natural feeling we have when we see an asterisk. It’s a red flag. You may not be able to take it at face value. It doesn’t mean what you think it means.
Maris didn’t have any control over the length of the season. The are some things we can’t control, but there’s more that we can control. Don’t do anything that would introduce asterisks into your life, mitigating your accomplishments.
- Play by the rules. I can be pretty competitive, but I’m not going to cheat. Winning may be a great feeling, but it’s not the only thing. If you get caught, it destroys everything you’ve ever done. Even if you don’t get caught, you don’t have the satisfaction and pride of doing something great, and you’ll always be looking over your shoulder. It just isn’t worth it.
- Give credit where it’s due. My director once stopped by to thank me for the great job I had done helping sort out a really bad problem discovered late the night before. Only I hadn’t. I hadn’t even known there was a fire drill until I came in to the office. So I pointed him to my coworker in the next office. “You’re welcome, but that was all him.” Even if you’re not surrounded by people who know what actually happened, only take credit for what you’ve done. Either way you play it, these things have a way of getting found out in the end.
- Similarly, share the credit with others. If the boss stops by to thank you for something you did do, graciously accept and then share any credit you can with others who helped. You don’t have to make a big deal out of it, but your team will appreciate your recognition of team effort.
- Compare apples to apples. If you inflate or underreport your numbers, you’ll have to falsely celebrate the false milestones you report. You won’t be able to publicly celebrate when you really do achieve it. You will discourage others and alienate yourself from those who might be able to help you (and whom you might be able to help).
Focus on being truly great—inner greatness. Be honest in everything you do. Act with integrity. Serve others. Do the right thing, especially when you think no one is watching you–that’s when matters the most.
Who you are on the inside—great or a cheat—will show through. It will be evident in what you do and show in your character. When you look back down the road you’ve travelled, you’ll see more good you’ve done than you realize, and none of it will be detracted by an asterisk.