In an address to BYU students in November 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley told students to rise to the high ground of excellence, and said, “Don’t muff the ball. Be excellent.” This week, I saw a connection to that idea as I was listening to his 2004 address to the young women of the Church, in which he also talks about not dropping the ball and invites them to walk the high, if sometimes lonely, road. Given his recent death, I find his comments urging them forward, knowing that many will depend upon them, particularly poignant.
Many years ago I told a story in conference that I think I will repeat. It is a story about a baseball player. I realize that some of you in various parts of the world do not know much about baseball. You do not even care about it. But this story brings with it a tremendous lesson.
The event occurred in 1912. The World Series was being played, and this was the final game to determine the winner of the series. The score was 2-1 in favor of the New York Giants, who were in the field. The Boston Red Sox were at bat. The man at bat knocked a high, arching fly. Two New York players ran for it. Fred Snodgrass in center field signaled to his associate that he would take it. He came squarely under the ball, which fell into his glove. But he did not hold it there. The ball went right through his grasp and fell to the ground. A howl went up in the stands. The fans could not believe that Snodgrass had dropped the ball. He had caught hundreds of fly balls before. But now, at this most crucial moment, he had failed to hold the ball, and the Red Sox went on to win the world championship.
Snodgrass came back the following season and played brilliant ball for nine more years. He lived to be 86 years of age, dying in 1974. But after that one slip, for 62 years, whenever he was introduced to anybody, the expected response was, “Oh, yes, you’re the one who dropped the ball.”
Unfortunately, we see people dropping the ball all the time. There is the student who thinks she is doing well enough and then, under the stress of the final exam, fails. There is the driver who is extremely careful. But, in one single moment of carelessness, he becomes involved in a tragic accident. There is the employee who is trusted and who does well. Then, in an instant, he is faced with a temptation he cannot resist. A mark is placed upon him which never seems entirely to disappear.
There is the outburst of anger that destroys in a single moment a long-standing friendship. There is the little sin that somehow grows and eventually leads to separation from the Church.
There is the life lived with decency; then comes the one destructive, ever-haunting, one-time moral breakdown, the memory of which seems never to fade.
On all such occasions, someone dropped the ball. A person may have had plenty of self-confidence. He or she may have been a bit arrogant, thinking, “I do not really have to try.” But when he or she reached for the ball, it passed through the glove and fell to the ground. There is repentance, yes. There is forgiveness, of course. There is a desire to forget. But somehow, the time the ball was dropped is long remembered.
Now, you dear, wonderful girls, I speak with a father’s love for you. I thank you that you have traveled so well so far. I plead with you to never let down, to establish a purpose and hold to the line and move forward undeterred by any opposing temptation or force that may cross your path.
I pray that your lives will not be wasted but that they may be fruitful of great and everlasting good. The years will pass, and I will not be here to see what you have done with your lives. But there will be many others, oh so many others, who will be counting on you, whose very peace and happiness will depend upon what you do. And above them all will be your Father in Heaven, who will ever love you as His daughter.
I wish to emphasize that if you make a mistake, it can be forgiven, it can be overcome, it can be lived above. You can go on to success and happiness. But I hope that such an experience will not come your way, and I am confident it will not if you will set your mind and pray for the strength to walk the high road, which at times may be lonely but which will lead to peace and happiness and joy supernal in this life and everlastingly hereafter.
Gordon B. Hinckley, “Stay on the High Road,” Liahona, May 2004, 112–15
From an address to the young women of the church, April, 2004.