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The Baseball Metaphor

A Passionate Fan of the Game of Baseball

Growing up in New York in the 1970s, I was a Mets fan.  While it took a while for technology to make it possible, I now have the MLB Package and it’s my biggest kick to see every Mets game as if I were still in New York.  Nonetheless, with the punishment the Mets have provided for the last 40 years, I don’t think of them as my “passion.”  They are my affliction.  Nonetheless, I’m a passionate customer of the game of baseball.

Baseball is best enjoyed from a partisan perspective, not as a passive observer.  My approach has never been to identify the successful team, call them my own, and wallow in their success.  Such an approach puts one in a situation where he can watch the successful team erode into an unsuccessful team as the “fruits of equity” offer the benefits of draft selection to the less successful teams.  Thus, I follow the Mets, and patiently wait for the aforementioned benefits to turn them into a successful team (again).  Aside from the game on the field, it turns into a spectacle of the steps and missteps of the team’s management in the front office (next to the accounting department).

At the moment, the Mets are riding high with an eleven-game winning streak.  Of course, the term “riding high” is as much an illusion of success as is the winning streak.  Yes, winning suggests success, but perhaps we should look a little closer.  On Saturday, they were cruising along with a 5-0 lead until the Marlins effectively brought them to their knees when a timely strikeout ended the game.  On Sunday, they again were “cruising along” with a 7-1 lead only to watch a totally ineffective string of middle relief pitchers allow the score to migrate to 7-6 until the “closer” pitched a quiet ninth inning.

Small Business Compared to Baseball

Doesn’t this sound like a small business?  It has passionate customers; the spectacle of the steps and missteps of management and the marginal success (or failure).  Of course, they make a lot more money – not because they’re good, but because they are such a spectacle.

In a small business, the sense of success or failure can be completely arbitrary.  As in baseball, the final determination comes at the end of the year.  Total failure can happen all at once, but if the business continues to function, the “game” (or perhaps misery) continues.

To the untrained eye, a baseball team winning a game by the score of 1-0 can seem like the picture of success.  Limited offense, offset by perfect pitching.  Conversely, the team losing 1-0 can seem like the picture of failure.  Near perfect pitching, offset by the non-existent offense.   To the trained eye, the only difference is the score.  In fact, a virtually equal performance by Team A is offset by a virtually equal performance by Team B.

The winning team continues forward reassured by the victory, and anxiously awaits the next game.  The losing team reevaluates itself from top to bottom to identify its failures in order to perform “better” in the next game.  Thus, the team not eluded by the indication of success benefits from the introspection while the “better” team migrates toward mediocrity.

In business, making a profit is the initial goal.  Call it winning the game.  At the earliest stage, making an initial profit validates the expectations that brought about the beginning of the business in the first place.  But, as in baseball, nothing stays the same.  With more games (increased volume), comes the need for more players (employees), and through growth, complications abound.  As performance is improved, higher expectations become a natural extension of the hard work that brought the improved performance – and the crescendo continues.

Baseball offers a myriad of statistical measures of performance, both at the team and individual level.  Uniquely, in a world of individuals, business tends to offer its own brand of statistics – at the “team” level.  In baseball, winning and losing are ultimately blamed on the manager.  Success or failure of a business is blamed on the President.  Ultimately, neither can be held fully responsible, but we all need someone to blame.

In business, we don’t assign batting averages to our “players,” but we do have measures of performance.  While not the best measure, one’s salary can be a good indication of an individual’s value or an indication of the failures of management to properly recognize its most valuable assets.  At the corporate level, we have a wholly different set of “benchmarks” that can tell the observer (internal or external) how a company is doing.

Your Survival Depends On It

At the top of the list is “Net Income.”  The input into the business is money.  The output is supposed to be more money.  My own amusement with this measure is the entrepreneur who proudly says he made $100,000 last year.  My answer to such pride is:  How much money were you expecting to make?  Unfortunately, most small businesses don’t have any idea, other than “the same as last year.”  If they are comfortable with last year’s results, there is no introspection this year until someone decides that last year’s profit wasn’t enough.

Most of the perfection in a business is there because survival depends on it.  If you produce oil, it can’t be full of contaminants.  No one would buy it.  For such a company, such perfection typically transcends the organization because it’s a necessary “core philosophy” of the management.  But, for all of the quality standards regarding the gas a gas station sells, the restroom can be a telling footnote. The whole process of delivering gas from the refinery to the pump is all about maintaining the quality of the product.  In fact, no one touches it.  Yet, at the point of delivery, a single person “minds the store.”  He gets paid next to nothing, and generally does nothing.

A polished organization is one where the “polish” is consistent from top to bottom – and the organization “reeks” of success.  Similarly, imperfection can run just as consistently through the organization.  In my gas station reference, one can point to the volume of customers and reflect that how can anyone maintain the cleanliness I seem to be demanding.

So, let’s return to my “baseball metaphor.”  50,000 people attend a sporting event that lasts roughly three hours.  During that three-hour period, the customers consume everything under to sun and inevitably pass through the restroom, 1-3 times.  Uniquely, the restrooms are never offensive.  How can this be?

Don’t ask.  Just understand that such things don’t happen by accident.  Then take your hat off to baseball.

Gary Capolino, The Part-Time CFO

Written by Gary Capolino

I’m Gary Capolino. My clients know me as Gary. I go through life telling people that I am The Part-Time CFO. And I am. If you’re looking for just “…another accountant,” keep looking. If you’re looking for someone who can take your business to the next level, you’ve arrived. For 15 years, I’ve taken clients from no accounting system to bankable financial statements in 1-3 years. Additionally, I’m not shy about providing advice drawn from my 25 years of business experience to assist the entrepreneur in virtually every element of running a business. If I don’t have the required expertise to solve a specific problem, I can draw upon a network of professionals in any chosen field to bring the expertise needed by the client. So, if you are serious about your business, it’s time to step up to the next level and give me a call.
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