Baseball Fundamentals and Business Smarts

“At the beginning of every baseball season, I always review the fundamentals of the game,” Rusty said.

Rusty Gordon has been coaching baseball for 35 years. Many of his players have become Division 1 scholarship athletes and professional players. He can call a game almost as well as John Smoltz did the World Series.

Sitting with Rusty while watching a baseball game gave me a view of the game I never thought existed. He sees every batter, every base runner, and every situation as having just one correct next move. And he is almost always right.

Rusty is also an accomplished entrepreneur and professional manager who looks at companies and their strategic options with the same mindset. So when he was about to tell me the three baseball fundamentals he covers with his team at the first practice of each season, I was listening. I knew I could apply it to business.

Compound Errors Threaten Life

We see this all the time in Little League, and sometimes we see it happen in the pros. A ground ball is hit to a player. He bobbles it, gets a handle on the ball and then rushes his throw. The ball sails over the head of the intended player. Runners advance and sometimes score.

Rusty tells his players, “If you make an error, don’t compound it by immediately making another error. This isn’t smart baseball.”

In a conversation this week, I asked an entrepreneur I hadn’t seen in a while how his company was going. He said, “I had to shut it down.”

After he told me that he went through all his savings and almost lost his house, I asked, “When did you know you should shut the company down and cut your losses?”

He said, “Two years before I actually did it.” Sometimes continuing simply continues the errors.

Muffing the Most Challenging Play

Be prepared for the most challenging play of the game. Hint: You’ll never know when it’s coming, Rusty told me.

Many years ago in one of my first startups, this very thing happened. When IBM introduced the PC, we decided it was just a toy. We said it was not ready to be used for real business solutions. We were already working on a small business computer called the DataMaster-System/23. We bet on the wrong machine.

The most challenging play of the game, the PC, developed, and we muffed it. Sales started to crater, and market share was being gobbled up by a new competitor. We had to bet the company.

As the market leader, we froze the market by pre-announcing our PC software. We worked for three solid months to build new software to save the company. We worked 17 hour days. Within two months, we were selling a new PC solution. We were lucky to survive after initially missing the biggest play.

Prepare for the Most Difficult Pitch

Rusty told me that every great player loves to come to the plate with men in scoring position. He knows the pitcher’s “go to” pitch and maybe his pitch sequence. He is anticipating. He is ready.

The most difficult pitch for a pitcher to throw is the one which must be a strike. With the bases loaded with a full count, the batter is in control. This is the very pitch the batter must be ready for. (“Chipper Jones loved this situation,” said Rusty.)

On the way back from an IBM mini-computer announcement, our management team was arguing over when we should announce our software availability. I was in charge of all the development staff, and I pushing for a delayed announcement. I wanted to wait until I knew our software operated on the new machine.

Best Play of the Game

Our CEO, however, said, “If we wait, we lose.” So we took out a full page ad that week and said our software was ready for the new computer. The market demand was amazing, and we got ready, fast. Very fast.

We were ready because we had an organization which was responsive. We were a startup who knew how to market, sell and build software to meet the market need.

Was it stressful? Heck, yeah. But we did it.

Successful entrepreneurs are ready for whatever comes in their market. They anticipate by having plans, and when the unexpected happens, they have an organization which can make the play.