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Branch Rickey and Jackie Robinson. (Photo: National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum).

The O’Toole Chronicles: Five Tool Player

By David Wildstein, February 11 2022 9:00 pm

Branch Rickey was a legendary baseball executive who was famous for many break throughs in Major League Baseball.

A former player, with limited success, Branch found his calling as a top executive to several teams including the St. Louis Cardinals – where he won 4 World Series rings.

Perhaps his most lasting legacy was that Branch helped Jackie Robinson break the color barrier by pushing his call up to the Brooklyn Dodgers.  He was also credited with creating a minor league farm system, expanding the number of teams in Major League Baseball, and introduced the batting helmet. Revolutionary.

One relatively little-known discovery by Branch was his developing and coining of the concept – “Five Tool Player.”  What does that mean?

The five tools to evaluate a player were established as:

  • Throwing;
  • Speed;
  • Hitting for average;
  • Hitting for power; and
  • Fielding.

Very few players were gifted with all five and Branch concluded that in his time only two players possessed these precious 5 assets – Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Not bad company to keep.

So how does politics fit into this? With Baseball spring training coming soon (assuming a labor agreement is reached), it got me thinking about how many truly “Five Tool Players” exist in politics?

Let’s take a step back for a moment. We first need to determine what are the five tools to define a successful modern-day politician.  After much thought about this, and a little help from others in the know, I decided to reduce the five political tools to the following:

  • Brains – sheer intelligence and intellectual fire power, with the gift of being able to master complex issues;
  • Instincts – politically nimble and able to see the curve around the curve and read a room;
  • Loyalty – loyal to constituents, as well as allegiance to staffers, allies, supporters – and yes, to the leaders and activists who accorded you the privilege of serving in the first place;
  • Fundraising –  the ability to raise money speaks for itself; and
  • Personality – able to engage effortlessly and have superior communication skills. It’s the charisma factor.

Like Hall of Fame baseball players, no politician has to be a five-tool player to be successful in politics.  In fact, I could point to a few zero-toolers here and there that have done OK for themselves.

Now that we have established the categories in the political thunder-dome, and grading on a 1 to 10 (10 being highest), I ask how many modern day “Five Tool Politicians” do we really know? This sounds like an interesting exercise. As in all things, I would never ask someone to do something that I haven’t first done myself. So, let me begin my own evaluation.

With all modesty and candor, I wouldn’t think for a millisecond that I would ever be considered a “Five Tool Politician.” That, to me, is someone who is proficient and excels in all five categories.  In a moment of honest and painful self-evaluation, I would grade myself as follows:

  • Brains – 6
  • Instincts – 8
  • Loyalty –  10
  • Fundraising – 8
  • Personality – 5

Now that my therapy session is over, it’d be fun to grade our state legislators, mayors, county officials, and federal representatives. Not a bad exercise to pass the time until legislative maps are done.

It’s your turn.  Print out the New Jersey Politician Scouting Report using your favorite people, past and present.  Take a picture with your phone and post it on social media.  #OTOOLESYSTEM

The O’Toole System 2022

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