Schilling’s Rookie Mistake

Oped by Mike Stenhouse published by the Providence Journal on June 3, 2012

See the ABC-6 interview on this OpEd here …

When All-Star, world champion and potential Hall Of Fame pitcher Curt Schilling stepped from the dugout into the corporate board room, and then into the public-policy arena, he did what most of us did when we first put on our uniforms: He made a rookie mistake.

With the job security of his employees and the investment value of his stakeholders in play, Schilling also took on the public trust of Rhode Islanders when he accepted a $75 million state loan guarantee for funding for his new company, 38 Studios.

While it is now good sport to openly deride Schilling as a hypocrite — or worse — I have a different take on where I think that he may stand to gain a valuable life lesson.

At many points along their athletic journey, most athletes learn the hard way that they must forgo certain activities to be successful in achieving their professional-sports ambitions. At each step along the way, more and more of our energy must be dedicated to our sport if we are to continue to achieve at a higher and higher echelon. This means that such activities as partying, skiing, off-season leisure and hobbies must be curtailed or eliminated to maintain a high level of physical conditioning and emotional focus.

As a rookie in the Major Leagues, I tried to have it all initially: the uniform, on-field success, the night life and the offseason leisure. This formula does not work for most, and it certainly didn’t work for me.

Having experience myself in professional baseball and in the dot-com world as an executive with a $50 million start-up venture, I understand what it takes to succeed. And now, with my experience in public policy, I understand the responsibilities of public officials and publicly financed organizations to taxpayers, it strikes me that Schilling may, likewise, have lost focus and spread himself too thin.

Over the past year, when I saw Schilling regularly at the ESPN studios as a baseball analyst, I kept wondering to myself how he was maintaining focus on growing his company and if he was truly committed to its success. Whether his ESPN gig had anything to do with the problems that 38 Studios now faces we’ll probably never know.

However, when Curt Schilling accepted the loan guarantee by Rhode Island’s taxpayers, he truly stepped into the big leagues. I’m not sure that he understood the commitment required to maintain the public trust. Putting everything that we have into starting a business is the type of entrepreneurship that Americans admire, even if the venture fails. But taking things for granted, especially when that includes acceptance of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, is entirely different.

I disagree with all of those who paint Curt Schilling as some kind of evil or dishonest person. I simply think that he made a rookie mistake and I don’t think he’ll make it again. In the same way that Curt Schilling worked hard to achieve success as a pitcher, I expect that he will re-dedicate himself to making 38 Studios a successful enterprise.

Mike Stenhouse is a former Major League baseball player, a former executive with and now chief executive of the Rhode Island Center for Freedom & Prosperity, a conservative think tank.

©2012, Published by The Providence Journal Co.

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