Where Have You Gone Joe DiMaggio? HR Needs a Hero

Mark Fogel Audacious Ideas, COVID-19, HR & Sports, Mark Fogel, Old School, Sports

Baseball has started again. It is my favorite professional sport and although I am famously a Met fan, I want to talk about Joe DiMaggio, a NY Yankee,  and heroes for a few minutes. HR needs a hero to look up to, I believe.

These are difficult and odd times for all of us. Professional sports led the way with shutting down for COVID in March when the NBA suddenly hit the pause button. And Baseball is now leading the way back by hitting reset and restart this past week. But we are living in a vastly different world only 4 months later. I will not hit you up with my political pointers in this post. But I will dish on baseball, heroes, and you.

The famous line: “Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?” in Simon and Garfunkel’s song , Mrs. Robinson, has been written about for over 50 yrs. I know some of you may have missed it. DiMaggio, also known as the Yankee Clipper, is considered one of the best baseball players of all time. Playing 13 seasons, and serving in the military during World War Two (right square in the middle of his career), he led the Yankees to several championships, was League MVP 3 times, and holds the all-time hit streak record at 56 consecutive games in 1941. He was also briefly married to Marilyn Monroe.

Here are the infamous lines from Paul Simon’s song:

Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?
Our nation turns its lonely eyes to you
Woo, woo, woo
What’s that you say, Mrs. Robinson?
Jolting Joe has left and gone away

Here is the song from Yankee stadium’s tribute to Joe:

DiMaggio actually passed in 1999, 31 yrs. after the song was written and published. Paul Simon wrote an Op Ed in the NY Times a decade later (2009) explaining the lyrics and has been interviewed several times since to discuss DiMaggio and the concept of a hero. For those interested, there is a lot out there on this specific topic.

DiMaggio played his entire career for the Yankees and is one of the last iconic American heroes. In a different era, folks looked for and up to heroes. My childhood was littered with the repeated question, who is your hero? And no, it was not Ferris (he was Cameron’s hero!).

In HR, I have discussed folks to look up to spanning my entire career. There have been a few trailblazers and icons. For me, Libby Sartain and Hung Lee stand out. Libby put HR on the map with business leaders at Southwest two decades ago. She also wrote the first HR book by an HR practitioner (HR from the Heart) that I ever read. Hung Lee is probably the most innovative Talent executive of our current generation. His brainfood is just that! There are a few others that I personally look up to as well, including a couple of current and former folks writing for FOT and my wider HR social network. I also have a few individuals who have mentored and looked out for me throughout my career.

But who is our Joe DiMaggio?

When we look for inspiration in our field, who is that person?

Our stats and benchmarks in HR are a lot different then those in baseball, so we need to define what is profoundly important in our field to take on this exercise. I look to our largest group of HR executives in search for a hero. With approximately 300,000 members, the Society for Human Resource Management is our version of Major League Baseball. Our society (SHRM) has had a few iconic leaders in the past – Losey, Messenger and Gorman come to mind. But our current SHRM leader is constantly embroiled in controversy, the latest being SHRM’s delayed response to social unrest Lightning rod may be a more apt description. Then again, most change agents do not take on hero status.

We do not have many large scale heroes today, in business, HR, or our daily lives. We are fractured in our beliefs and divergent in our approach to business and everyday life in so many ways. Maybe this contributes to not having that one iconic hero. I just don’t know.

Why are heroes important?

People need heroes because heroes are inspiring. But we also need heroes for surprising reasons that go beyond the direct benefits of heroic action. Heroes elevate us emotionally, they heal our psychological ills, they build connections between people, they encourage us to transform ourselves for the better, and they call us to become heroes and help others.

Heroes give us HOPE. They pick us up when we are down. They make us believe. We have heard our healthcare and front line workers referred to as heroes recently too. And appropriately so.

If there was ever a time to have a hero in the world of Human Resources…It is now.

Call me old school, but I believe in heroes. I hope you do to!

Now let’s find one. Maybe it is you….

By the way, LETS GO METS!