Chalk Lines: On Baseball, Groundskeepers, and Compliance


In honor of the end of baseball season, I am recalling (and revising) some thoughts I originally posted last fall
— and adding some pictures. Hope this takes you out to the ball game.

Catcher and field closer1By Wednesday, the Major League season will come to its last glorious inning. And this afternoon, my son will catch the last game of the year for his Babe Ruth League team, ending a long string of seasons and games that began in March. So

Doing what I do, every time I leave the clean white chalk powder on the rusty matte of the base paths, I think to myself, “Even here, even now, I’m leading compliance!”

Does that make me Mister Baseball Buzzkill? Yeah, maybe so. But I think there is a parallel between the Compliance Officer and the Groundskeeper.

I mean, compliance is in large part about winning while staying inside the lines. And for an organization, who paints those lines?

Government? Regulators? An industry Code? Your Code of Conduct? Sure, but not precisely.The Rules of the Game may specify that the foul line extends from the first base line and the third base line. But it is still the compliance team that has to paint the lines precisely.

To push my metaphor way too far, compliance leadership has to decide the slope of the base path, and the tendency of slow grounders to stay in bounds or to roll foul. And to abandon the realism of my metaphor, we have to decide whether to paint the lines on our own field with a little cushion, so minor fouls don’t really cross the legal line… or paint the lines wide, to give our organizations a bigger playing field but also a bigger risk of stumbling out of bounds.

But most of all, as compliance leaders we have to do the painting. The Rules may say where the foul line should be, but the players would be left to just guess what’s foul and what’s not if we didn’t draw an actual line that they can see while they are playing.  Our teammates rely on our education programs, our communications, and our internal enforcement to know where the dividing line falls.

The author's first-base line left something to be desired, but did not ultimately affect the course of play.
The author’s first-base line was visibly imperfect, but did not ultimately affect the course of play.

Frankly, I can think of times when my base lines left something to be desired, straightness-wise. The umpire might have checked to see how I drew the line (or he might not have), but once play began, he relied on the white line I put down in chalk. It’s a big responsibility.

So you can picture me standing out there today, superimposing all these philosophical musings about work onto our national pastime. Then you can picture my son pointedly reminding me that the game is about to begin, and that I need to get my carcass off the field, and help coach my players to success.

Play ball!

1 thought on “Chalk Lines: On Baseball, Groundskeepers, and Compliance

Comments are closed.