Baseball season is in full swing, but it might be a different game if Pete Browning had not broken his bat in 1884.

The story of how the iconic Louisville Slugger baseball bat came to be began when the 17-year-old son of J.F. Hillerich skipped out of work one day to watch a local baseball game. Browning, the star of the hometown team, broke his bat during the game. Young Bud Hillerich, a woodworking apprentice, invited him to his father’s wood shop and offered to make a new bat for him.

Browning, who was known as the “Louisville Slugger,” used the new bat and had three hits in his next game. Pretty soon, more players started to visit the shop and the Louisville Slugger became more than one hitter’s nickname.

Today, more than 3,000 Louisville Sluggers are manufactured each day, and that number swells to 5,000 during spring training.

Baseball teaches many lessons and offers plenty of inspiration. Many examples of innovation and perseverance come from the sport. And they often relate to business.

We’re often told to work on our weaknesses instead of our strengths, but let me tell you about Jim Kaat, who pitched many years for my hometown Minnesota Twins. Before the 1966 season, Kaat went to talk to his new pitching coach, Johnny Sain, who asked Kaat to name his top four pitches and what he felt he should work on the most.

Kaat said his best pitch was his fastball, followed by his curve, slider and changeup. He thought if he improved on his slider and changeup, he would have a good season.

His coach disagreed. “I want you to take a different approach,” Sain said. “Work on your fastball. I know it’s your favorite pitch, so go out there in practice, warmups and during games and concentrate on your fastball. Throw your fastball 80 to 90 percent of the time all year, and you’ll win a lot of ballgames.”

That season, Kaat threw fastball after fastball and won 25 games, most in the American League that year.

I’m a big believer in continuous improvement. I have a saying: “Good, better, best; never rest until good be better and better, best.”

Then there’s the value of encouragement.

When Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play major league baseball, was signed by the Brooklyn Dodgers, he became a target for racist hate mail and even death threats. Before one game, Robinson received a threatening phone call that left him shaken and unable to concentrate.

Robinson struck out one inning with the bases loaded. He committed a fielding error. The crowd screamed obscenities at him. Then Dodgers shortstop, Pee Wee Reese walked up to Robinson, put his arm around him, and said: “One of these days you are going into the Hall of Fame. So, hold your head up high and play ball like only you can do it.”

Robinson went on to deliver a game-winning hit.

Mackay’s Moral: You’ll knock it out of the park if you learn these baseball lessons.

 

Harvey Mackay is a Minneapolis businessman. Contact him at 612-378-6202 or e-mail harvey@mackay.com.