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Sunday, May 28, 2017

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We can learn a lot from baseball
Harvey Mackay

May, 2011

Baseball and spring go together.  Both seem to create optimism that is contagious. 

Not long ago I stopped by a local playground to watch a Little League baseball game.  To get myself up to speed, I asked one of the youngsters what the score was.

"We're behind 16 to nothing," he answered.

"I must say you don't seem discouraged," I said.  "Why is that?"

"Discouraged?" said the boy, "why should we be discouraged?  We haven't been up to bat yet."

What a lesson in optimism!  As I thought more about this positive attitude, I realized there are a lot of business lessons that we can learn from our national pastime.

Invention.  Babe Ruth is credited with the invention of the modern baseball bat.  He was the first player to order a bat with a knob on the end of the handle, with which he hit 29 home runs in 1919.  The famous name of that bat was Louisville Slugger, which has become synonymous with baseball.

You can overcome faults and be successful.  Can you imagine a major league baseball player leading the league in making the most errors...in striking out the most times...in hitting into the most double plays -- and still being voted Most Valuable Player for that year?  In 1942, Joe Gordon did all those things -- yet still won the MVP award that season in the American League.

There is no "I" in team.  "It is important for sales managers to acknowledge what every baseball manager instinctively knows - that every championship team needs good bunters as well as long ball hitters," said Harry Artinian, former vice president of corporate quality at Colgate-Palmolive Company.  "It is the good sacrifice hitter who can advance the man on base to a position where the long ball hitter can drive him home.  And you know what -- at the end of a successful World Series, the bunters and the long ball hitters all wear the same ring, and they all have the same equal shares in the bonus pool."

Negotiation.  After a poor year pitching for the New York Yankees in the 1930s, legendary pitcher Lefty Gomez was asked to accept a salary cut from $20,000 to $7,500 a year.  Reeling, Gomez asked the Yankees, "How about you keep the salary and pay me the cut."

Little things mean a lot ... Not true.  Little things mean everything.  When the famous baseball player Ty Cobb reached first base, he had what seemed to be a nervous habit of kicking the bag.  It wasn't until he retired from baseball that the secret came out.  By kicking the bag hard several times, Cobb was able to move it a full two inches closer to second base.  A terror on the bases, Cobb figured this tiny advantage was enough to improve his chances of stealing second or making it safely on a hit.  Anything to win the game!  The mark of a real competitor.

Take pride in your work.  Joe DiMaggio of the New York Yankees had a fierce pride about always doing his best.  The Yankees were on the road for a doubleheader against the St. Louis Browns.  The day was not only boiling hot, the Browns were last place in the league.  Despite this, DiMaggio made an off-hand comment that he was looking forward to playing that day.  "In this heat!" said an amazed sportswriter.  "How can you enjoy playing a doubleheader in stifling weather like this?"  Glancing toward the grandstand, DiMaggio said, "Maybe somebody out there has never seen me play before."

Keep your focus.  People who attain success have learned to forget past failures and concentrate on present goals.  Baseball great Babe Ruth was once asked what he thought about after he struck out.  "I think about hitting home runs," the Babe answered.

The importance of attitude.  A winning attitude is critical in competing for business against all-star competition, said Norman R. Augustine, former chairman of Lockheed Martin Corporation.  It's also very much a part of sports.  One baseball manager with an interesting slant on winning said, "You only have to bat 1,000 in two things, flying and heart transplants. Everything else you can go four for five."  Some teams, like some businesses, have attitudes that inevitably guarantee failure.  A Pittsburgh Pirates coach once said, "I managed a team that was so bad, we considered a 2-and-0 count (two balls, no strikes) a rally."

Mackay's Moral:  In the immortal words of Yogi Berra, "You can observe a lot by just watching."

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