Second Inning Business and Baseball: Play All Nine Innings

Baseball Game


You don’t save a pitcher for tomorrow. Tomorrow it may rain.
Leo Durocher, in New York Times, 16 May 1965

Our last business lesson taught us the importance of not letting one bad pitch, catch, inning, call, or game ruin an entire season. This lesson is an extension of that — “Don’t give up too soon… don’t get comfortable in what appears to be an easy win” – we’ve all seen too many games won and lost in the 9th inning.

A nine-inning ball game includes 54 outs, several hundred pitches, and dozens of plays (at least one for each of those outs). If your team gives up several runs in the first, don’t automatically think you don’t have a chance to come from behind and win it… this is a mistake. One Little League team in our town overcame a 13-run deficit in the last of the sixth inning (they play six innings in Little League) to come back and win the game. At the pro level, just a few years ago the Colorado Rockies scored nine runs in the bottom of the ninth for a “walk-off” 12-9 win over the St. Louis Cardinals.

Stories of business comebacks are no less rare and no less impressive. Target came back from near-obscurity to take on discount retailer Wal-Mart. Apple was almost belly-up when Steve Jobs returned to re-invigorate the company. Vans Shoe Company was limping along until it became the footwear of choice for a generation of skateboarders. Comebacks happen, even in the ninth inning — and beyond.

Of course, the reverse is true. For every comeback, there is a losing team. The story of the Rockies’ win could be turned upside-down and told as a cautionary tale of the Cardinals LOSING in the ninth inning. IBM, apparently entrenched as the “safe” choice for computers, couldn’t hold its own, and is now a shadow of its previous self. Companies getting too comfortable in their role as market leader are a dime a dozen — and their stock might be trading for little more than that.

The lesson for small businesses is obvious as the great, ten time World Series Winner, Yogi Berra reminds us, “It ain’t over until it’s over.” Whether you’re struggling mightily to stay afloat or you think your business is set on auto-pilot, take heed. Anything can happen… that’s why the game has nine innings. If the outcome was certain, we could all pack up and go home at the bottom of the first.

Don’t become too discouraged by an apparent loss, and don’t become too comfortable with a certain win. A change of pitcher — or a change in the economy or market conditions — can work in your favor or against you. A new customer can change the whole game, as can a new competitor. You never know what the other team has up its sleeve.

Playing all nine is synonymous with doing your best, even when defeat — or victory — seems certain. It is the mindset of a winner, who knows… losing an inning, a game, or even a season doesn’t mean much when looking ahead to next year.

Fredrick B. Wilcox
said it best,
“Progress always involves risks. You can’t steal second base and keep your foot on first.”

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