I’m not sure when Vince Lombardi ever found time to coach football, given how much he stood around and talked about winning.
Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything ... Winning is a habit ... If winning isn’t everything, why do they keep score? ... Winning is not a some-time thing; it’s an all-time thing ... You don’t win once in a while, you don’t do things right once in a while, you do them right all the time.
Boy, the guy must have been a kick around the Sunday dinner table.
But his also is an attitude that crosses generations and sports alike, this fierce hunger to score more points or runs than opponents and in turn create a culture essential to long-term success.
Not everyone has it.
Not everyone is as hungry as others.
The 51s seem to be this baseball season, a Triple-A franchise famished of late when it comes to postseason life.
Las Vegas is tied for first place in the Pacific Southern Division, the latest it has been atop the standings since 2002. That’s also the last time the 51s made a playoff appearance, the last time they won 80 games in a season, the last time local Triple-A baseball produced meaningful games in September.
Only three times since has Las Vegas owned winning records when a season’s final game ended, having since that playoff series changed affiliations from the Dodgers to the Blue Jays to now the Mets.
It’s an interesting point: At a level at which the main objective is to prepare players for the final and toughest jump to reach a major league clubhouse, how important is winning in the scheme of such a pursuit?
“Developing is winning,” 51s manager Wally Backman said. “A lot of people say, ‘Develop, develop, develop.’ But I believe, and we teach the players this, that winning is a big part of that. You need to learn to win because that’s what is expected at the next level.
“Here, you can suffer some losses, and we do, because you might have to pitch guys in certain situations or play guys in certain situations. But winning is really about teaching fundamentals, and if they do those properly, guys become better players and win more.
“Sure, the (majors) are a different level, but guys need to take winning attitudes up with them. If they don’t, they won’t last very long.”
The 51s on Friday night opened a four-game series at Cashman Field with fellow-first place side Sacramento, and few are the Triple-A franchises that have won more in the past decade than the affiliate of the Oakland Athletics. The River Cats have earned six straight division titles, 11 of the past 13 and four Pacific Coast League championships since 2003.
No one seems to stress winning more than Sacramento at this level. No one seems to be more committed to it, which becomes even more impressive when you consider that roster changes are not probable in Triple A but rather constant.
Las Vegas (56-48) — which lost 9-3 Friday to snap a five-game win streak — already has made more than 100 transactions this season.
You can’t put an exact number on how many fans locally might have been more apt to attend 51s games in the past several years had the team offered Sacramento-type records. You can’t say for certain how much winning translates to a Triple-A gate in Las Vegas.
Minor league baseball is tough to gauge this way. The 51s haven’t sold a playoff ticket for this season because the race could go to the regular season’s final days for one postseason spot, meaning the front office might have just three or four days to prepare for a home playoff game.
But there is new ownership and those plans for a new ballpark in Summerlin. There is more of a positive buzz around the 51s than at any time in years. Don’t kid yourself: Winning helps all of it.
“To get to this point, a player owns the skill level to get to the majors or he wouldn’t be here,” 51s president/COO Don Logan said. “But there are statistics for everything, and the one I like most is late-game pressure situations. Can a pitcher come in and get a big out? Can a guy get a key hit or do something positive offensively? Winning matters in those situations. Winning matters a lot more at this level than people realize.
“You play to win. That’s the whole deal.”
It matters. Lombardi knew of what he spoke.
And he spoke about it a lot.
Las Vegas Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4618. He can be heard from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday through Friday on “Gridlock,” ESPN 1100 and 98.9 FM. Follow him on Twitter: @edgraney.