by Michael Sansolo
Even casual readers of MNB know this one truth: the Content Guy and I may disagree on some things, but we share the common burden of rooting for the baseball team in our hometown that has not won 27 World Championships.
And yet, we are both proud of our affection for the New York Mets.
Sadly, the Mets rarely provide useful and positive business lessons because they manage to do so many things wrong. They spend on players who, thanks to bad luck or bad execution, seem to decline once they join the team. They trade away players who flourish wherever they go. The team’s owners get embroiled in the Bernie Madoff fiasco and even the new stadium’s corporate name, Citi Field, became linked to the nation’s financial mess.
But this year there’s a story that’s all good news and just drips with business lessons. It all comes in the person of R.A. Dickey.
Dickey currently owns one of the best pitching records in baseball, having won 11 of his first 12 decisions. He’s the rare professional athlete who is a student of literature, both as a reader and writer. His personal story - he was sexually abused as a child - is compelling.
The business lesson is about finding a way to succeed when everything seems to work against you. It’s about the importance of honest feedback, both giving it and getting it. (Let’s be honest here, that’s something that many managers dread because, frankly, it’s rarely well received.) And it’s about taking that honest feedback and using it productively to learn and grow.
Early in his career, Dickey was a pitcher with modest skills and the meritocracy that is sports was working against him. The Texas Rangers, his team at the time, made it clear that he needed a new path and suggested he become a knuckleball pitcher.
For those of you who don’t follow baseball, some explanation is required. Most pitchers grip the ball with two fingers and the thumb and throw it ridiculously hard. Knuckleballers hold the ball with two fingernails and thumb, releasing it in a way that impedes both speed and rotation. The ball floats, darts and dances, making it hard to hit, catch or control. It is so hard to master, in fact, that Dickey is the only pitcher in the major leagues currently throwing the pitch.
But Dickey made the change, hard as it was. As he told the Washington Post during a recent visit to DC, “It’s important to be honest about what you’re not good at. When the Rangers came to me and said, ‘We don’t think you can do it any more as a conventional pitcher,’ there were 29 other teams out there that I could have taken my chances with. But I identified in myself that I wasn’t good enough. I was very mediocre.”
Dickey’s attitude propelled him to the success he has today. At first, his change to the knuckleball was hard and he was quickly cut by a series of teams. But he continued to study the new pitch, eagerly contacting and learning from the few other pitchers who ever had success with the knuckleball. Even now, in the middle of his most successful season, he continues to work on the pitch, calling it a living thing that he continues to master.
And just like that he reminds of so many important lessons. Honest feedback; the willingness to listen, change and grow; and the dedication to work through new solutions when the old isn’t working—are all lessons every one of us in business can relate to multiple times over with our companies, teams, families and ourselves.
Best of all, they come from a Met. Here’s hoping his success continues for both the success of this unusual athlete, the inspiration it brings and the fate of my favorite team.
Michael Sansolo can be reached via email at email@example.com . His book, “THE BIG PICTURE: Essential Business Lessons From The Movies,” co-authored with Kevin Coupe, is available by clicking here .
Nice to consider a positive story about a Major league Baseball pitcher. As opposed to the story that dominates the headlines today about a retired pitcher who, for legal purposes, has been exonerated of charges that he used performance enhancing drugs, though the court of public opinion may reach a different conclusion.