Jimmy Rollins Doesn’t Hustle. I Find That Insulting.

In sports, as in business, giving your all is a requirement for greatness.

A little thing happened during the Phillies-Mets game this past Sunday. You probably didn’t notice it, so watch the video above. Yes, the Phillies lost–but that’s not what I’m talking about. Watch what happens at about the 45-second mark. Did you see it?

The link’s description says “Jimmy Rollins slaps a fly ball just over the right fielder’s head and hustles into second with a double.”  Now watch the replay again. No, that didn’t actually happen. He didn’t hit the ball over the right fielder’s head. The right fielder lost the ball in the sun. And no, he didn’t hustle. He slowed down at first base, even before the ball was caught. He did the opposite of hustle. He gave up.   It was only when the outfielder lost the ball in the sun that Jimmy suddenly woke up and “hustled” into second base. He probably would’ve been out, too, if the second baseman had handled the throw. If Jimmy was hustling out of the box, he may very well have made it to third.

But hey, what’s the difference, right? Lousy season. Last home game of the year. In the middle of a multi-million dollar contract. Whatever. Right? And this is certainly not the first time that Jimmy’s been accused of not hustling. He’s been warned, benched and criticized before.  Whatever.

Of course there’s no question that Jimmy’s a good baseball player. He’s excellent defensively and above average at the plate (even at this late stage in his career). But he’s getting older. And he’s getting slower. His best years are behind him.  And even in his best years (admit it–that magical MVP season was an anomaly) he was at most… well… OK.  Sure, he holds some team records, but mainly out of longevity.  He’s not going to make it to the Hall of Fame. He’s just earning a great living playing baseball. And there’s nothing to be ashamed of in that, is there?

I’m not a big Jimmy Rollins fan. And it’s not because he isn’t a good guy (I’m sure he is) or a good ballplayer. It’s because I get frustrated when talented people don’t give it their all. Yes, we can do the bare minimum at our jobs or while running our businesses. And for the most part, that may be enough to earn a living. Even a decent living. But the guys I know who are most successful do something more. They hustle all the time. They have to, no matter how good they or things are. They are appreciative of what they have but they also know that success is fleeting. And that things are never as good as they appear to be. So you have to be hustling all the time.

A friend of mine, Alan, is a good example of this.  Like me he’s a middle-aged guy.  Alan runs a 50-person company in South Jersey.  Last January he complained to me about the great year his company had in 2012.  Why complain?  “Because now I’ve got to start all over again,” he said.  “And sometimes I wonder if I’ll have the energy.”  Except he has to have the energy. He has to keep hustling. Because if he doesn’t the people who rely on him–his employees, his family, his suppliers, his partners and, yes, even his customers will suffer if he doesn’t keep hustling.

Alan has taught me a few important lessons about life.  He’s taught me that there’s talent and there’s luck, but that neither mean anything unless both are combined with hard work. Any great athlete or actor or scientist will tell you that. Which is why Jimmy is not one of the greats. Alan also told me that no matter how good you are, there are still people better than you. In other words, you’re not that great.  He taught me that because there’s always someone (a competitor, a rival, a younger person) who wants your job and you have to keep hustling to stay ahead. Unfortunately, as you get older and slower and more tired with life, that becomes even more challenging.  But you have to do it.

And I agree with Alan:  Hustling gets harder every year.  No one in their 20s expects to be working this hard when they’re in their 50s.  But here’s a fact: You will be.  You don’t really have the opportunity to slow down.  You can’t take it easy because there’s always some younger guy behind you. There’s always more work that needs to be done. There are always deadlines and requirements and the chance that this next job will be the big money maker (which, of course, it rarely is). Alan starts from scratch every year on Jan. 1, takes a deep breath, and battles his way through the next 12 months–travelling, meeting nice customers, dealing with jerky customers, hiring and firing, explaining, dancing, lying, running, running, running.  This is what we all do.  We, at least the best of us, are all out there hustling our asses off.  Which brings me back to Jimmy Rollins..

Jimmy not hustling is an insult. It’s an insult to make a ton of money and not run out a fly ball. It’s an insult to not play your game–whatever the game is–at your very, very best.  It’s an insult to all those players on the team with him and the countless others who got scratched from the rosters in Allentown and Lakewood who do hustle their brains out hoping for a chance to get their shot in the big leagues.  He’s insulting the fans who expect to see his best effort and he’s insulting his friends and family who are so proud to know him and love watching him do something that they could never do in their wildest dreams.  And most of all, he’s insulting himself.  Because why do something if you’re not going to try your very best all the time?

This is not about baseball.  It’s about how you operate.  It’s about your company and your job.  Your co-workers, your employees.  Your customers, your partners, your suppliers, and your families.  It’s about the kind of person you are.  The really successful people I know, regardless of talent or luck, are hustlers.  The rest are just average.

And I guess for some people there’s nothing wrong with just being average.  Just ask Jimmy Rollins.