On Getting Life Advice From Famous Dead People

“The secret of managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.” Casey Stengel

Although I mostly write fiction (except for this blog which is 100% factual truth at all times), I tend to alternate my reading between novels and biographies. As it turns out, biographies are very entertaining (depending on the subject, presumably) and give great insight into how some of our leaders and artists and celebrities and heroes became that way, and can greatly contribute to our appreciation of them and the times they lived in.

One of the best things about a good biography is how the author brings out the personality of the subject.  While this is usually the result of intensive research and interviews, often the biographer has to re-create conversations, or even make stuff up altogether.   The successful biography lets the reader experience the real individual behind the words, and the made up stuff is accepted as truth only if the biographer makes us understand that he or she understands, deeply, the subject’s personality, motivation, environment and whatever else makes up the individual.

Casey looked old even when he was young.

Biographies of historical figures like John Adams (for example) must be challenging to write because we don’t have recordings or films of Adams. We have a lot of writings about him and his family and about history surrounding that time, and his writings and what other people wrote about him, etc., etc.

I’m reading Casey Stengel: Baseball’s Greatest Character by Marty Appel.  Casey was born in 1890 (as one reviewer noted, closer to the American Revolution than to 2017 when the book was published) and spent his entire life in baseball and so much of what he did and said was chronicled by sports writers and on radio and television, and many people who knew him had very vivid memories of the man and told these memories to earlier biographers.  Why?  Because he was, literally, baseball’s greatest character. This is undisputed.  (A few people say he was also a racist.  Some say he was not.  Probably like many of his contemporaries, he bought into a few racial stereotypes.)

But any way you slice it, he has some great observations on life, some worth adopting.

“The secret of managing is to keep the five guys who hate you away from the guys who are undecided.”  Wow.  This is like Yogi Berra on steroids. It’s not just funny and self-deprecating, it’s brilliant.  Mr. Appel had an advantage, because Casey says or does something this amazing on almost every page.  Seriously.  The guy was so funny that even the things he said or did that weren’t funny were funny.

Yogi and Casey: boy I wish I could listen in on some of their conversations!

This is great advice for many aspects of life, not just managing a baseball team. Running a company. Being in a family.  And best of all, social relations.  Friends.

I know a few people in LA who are FROM LA, but only a few. Everyone else is from somewhere else. So none of your friends here are like your friends from back home. And there’s kind of an endless jockeying for position that drives me, and many others, crazy.  You end up with a few groups of friends.  It’s like a Venn diagram.

Venn (2)
Sample Venn diagram of my social life. I’m the X. Groups of friends A, B and C. Subgroups a and a2, some liked some not. same with c and b. The danger areas are the shaded parts where good and bad intersect causing stress. I know, this diagram makes no sense. It’s just an example. Deal with it.

You have this one group of friends, and then another, and maybe one other, and some of them cross over and intersect, and sometimes that’s good and sometimes, not so much.

Even within the group, there might be some people you like, some you tolerate but enjoy seeing from time to time, and some you can’t stand but you act nice anyway because some of the people you like like some of the people you don’t like and you want to be polite and make everyone happy so the ones who you like will continue to like you. And inevitably, you are also in all likelihood a person that someone in your group doesn’t like.  I know I am. That’s okay.  Own it.

The key to success here, as Casey points out, is to just keep those who hate you (presumably a small section of the general population), away from those who are undecided (everyone else), so that the haters don’t convince the others to hate you too.  Well maybe not hate, but haters gonna hate right? That’s what they tell me anyway.

Yes, the undecided INCLUDE those you reasonably count as friends, because by now, if you’re an actual adult, you know that we’re all merely one incident or development away from people just (“click”) changing their minds about you.  Like a switch.  It is all impermanent and subject to change at any time without warning, like life.

All you really have is yourself, maybe your partner and immediate family, but this condition is fairly common even within the family unit.  Growing up, we all knew the cousins who were okay and the ones who were pains in the ass, or superior-acting, or whatever.  You have a relative who is beloved, but then something, often an inheritance (First World problem), raises its ugly head and everything changes.

Casey offers a fine strategy for living and we ought to take heed. This is the great reason to read about great people.  You might learn something or get some advice, or even an idea for a blog post.

Novels have good lines too, and Smoking in Bed has a few.  But that’s not for me to decide. If you find one you like, please let me know!

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