The Lessons that Baseball Can Teach Us

Little things can mean a lot in baseball as well in achieving many of life’s goals, such as financial objectives.

We just had an illustration of the former when a major league team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, in the middle of a playoff elimination game played at Dodgers Stadium, forgot to do a little thing. This bit of sloppy play, this oversight, this little thing, resulted in the Dodgers, in effect, giving the New York Mets an extra run.

But what’s one run?

Charity Begins at Dodgers Stadium

That extra run was the difference in the game. That game was the difference in the series. That little thing meant the Dodgers were finished for the year while the Mets advanced, now hopeful of possibly getting to and maybe winning the World Series. A little thing cost the Dodgers the season. And it might cost the Dodgers manager his job.

What happened?

With one out, and the Dodgers ahead by one run. Met Daniel Murphy was on first base. Most of the Dodger infield—including the third baseman—had overshifted to the right side for a left-handed hitter. This left third base open. The next Met batter walked. So Murphy was pushed to second. Murphy walked slowly to second base and noticed something. None of the Dodgers had gone back to cover third base. In fact, they were gassing around second and seemed to be ignoring him.

Murphy Takes Off

When Murphy, who is anything but a speed demon, arrived at second base he suddenly accelerated and went on to third base. No one was there to take a throw and tag him. Only a startled Mets third base coach was there to greet him. Now Murphy was at third—instead of second—with one out. The next hitter hit a fly ball to the outfield. Murphy tagged and scored. If he had been where he should have been, second base, he might have advanced to third base, but he wouldn’t have scored. All things being equal, the Mets wouldn’t have scored another run. The Dodgers, because they were forgetting a little thing, had gift wrapped a run for the Mets. But what is one run?

One little run turned out to be everything. One run was the difference in the game. And one game was the difference in the series. And for want of a nail….Well, I think you get the point.

Little things often mean a lot. In this case, a whole year of work—of the effort that begins in spring training with every team hoping to make it to the World Series—went down the drain. And the World Series—like the World Cup, the Stanley Cup or the Super Bowl—represents sports immortality. No matter what happens afterwards, those who have won a championship will always have it. It is a moment in the winners’ circle that lasts forever, even though neither you nor your career do.

Very few sports professionals—no matter their talent or the money they make—will win a championship, even if they were the greatest players of their eras. Talent isn’t enough. They also have to have been lucky enough to have played on a great team. For instance, Hall of Famer Ernie Banks was one of the great players of his era. He was a wonderful shortstop and first basemen for the Chicago Cubs in the 1950s and 60s. Unfortunately, Banks played for the Chicago Cubs, usually a sad sack team that never made it to the post-season.

The Reason Why? Keep Asking

What makes the Dodgers blowing a chance at sports immortality worse is that, after the game, no one on the Dodgers was sure who was responsible for covering third. Was it the third baseman’s job to come back over? Or maybe the shortstop’s or possibly the pitcher’s?

Dodgers Manager Don Mattingly and his players weren’t clear in post game comments. (By the way, Mattingly is now rumored to be on the way out). The shortstop Seager said the responsibility probably was his. But then the pitcher, Zach Greinke, said maybe it was his fault.

“Just someone is supposed to be there – either me or Seager or Yas [catcher Yasmani Grandal],” Greinke told the Los Angeles Times. “Someone should be there. A bunch of people made mistakes. It wasn’t any one person.”

The Times reporter said, by the time he was finished discussing it with the Dodgers, he still wasn’t convinced that anyone knew how to prevent the error.

It was only a little thing that had escaped the attention of the Dodger players. Too bad for the Dodgers. Their season is over. It is not even a matter of the better team winning. It is a matter of the sloppier team giving away the game.

Baseball thinkers often talk about players learning the fundamentals: About learning how to play the game the right way. These skills include knowing when and how to cover bases; knowing how to bunt; and understanding what base to throw to in certain situations, among other things.

Learning the Baseball ABCs

These basics are critical to winning, which includes minimizing mistakes as well as doing good things. I’ve heard several managers say they could forgive physical mistakes. Those happen based on the limitations that every human being—no matter how strong—has. However, mental mistakes would drive many of these managers wacky. They must be avoided.

Many of the basic principles of money management, these little things, of which we often speak of here at GregoryBresiger.com., are really based on following consistent policies and avoiding mistakes. These include having a consistent approach to investing—-for example investing over the long term, especially in bad times as well as good—and avoiding outrageous costs. These many seem like “little things.” But little things, in baseball or investing, can mean a lot.

Just ask the Los Angeles Dodgers.

About The Author

Gregory Bresiger

Gregory Bresiger is an independent business journalist from Queens, New York. His Personal Finance articles have appeared in publications such as The New York Post & Financial Advisor Magazine. He is the author of the eBooks “Personal Finance For People Who Hate Personal Finance” and “MoneySense”.