Scott Hatteberg Pickin’ Machine

This is my time of year. I love baseball.  The attraction is strong: the tradition, the elegance of the double play, the devotion of Cub fans.   What’s not to like? The game’s character is captured in an endless series of numbers recorded for more than a century that reveal the essence of success. Small differences accumulate over time to reveal greatness: if a hitter consistently averages two hits in every ten at-bats, he is quickly out of a job. If he learns the nuances of hitting and averages just one more hit in every ten at-bats over several seasons, he is a serious candidate for the Hall of Fame.  Average four hits in ten over a career and he would be the greatest hitter ever. Baseball’s numbers also reveal a game of failure:  That potential Hall of Famer I just mentioned failed to get a hit 70% of the time.  And, its not just hitters: 25% of pitchers in the Hall of Fame led their league in losses at least once in their career: even the greatest struggle, sometimes mightily.  Success is not about avoiding failure, it is about how you respond to it.

Baseball also provides insight into the nature of business.  Here’s your problem: You are a low revenue club that has to compete for high-priced talent. Talent is everything in baseball—there is no technological advantage to be had: everyone plays with the same ball, glove and bat.  You can change the contours of your ballpark a bit to suit your team, but basically the club that identifies, develops, and retains the best talent wins.  That takes money: the New York Yankees have buckets full, you don’t.

This month, Brad Pitt stars in Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game. It’s the story of how theOakland A’s and Billy Beane revolutionized baseball by capitalizing on the fact that the players’ market undervalued certain aspects of talent.  While ESPN features home run hitters and power pitchers –the players who get the highest salaries– the most precious things in baseball are runs and outs.  In short, you want guys who don’t get out, who keep the inning going by getting on base any way they can.  And you want guys who get hits when others are on base and can score.  You don’t need Mark McGuire to compete. You can do it with Scott Hatteberg. Scott isn’t a big home run hitter. He just gets on base- a lot.  Scott is a good buy, and as long as you understand this and the competition doesn’t, you can compete and win.  The A’s won by being different: they recognized value others missed. They didn’t compete head to head with the New York Yankees in the player market, but they did on the field.

So, what if you’re a Scott Hatteberg, a guy with a talent most people don’t recognize or at least undervalue?  How do you ensure that you get what you deserve?  Shining a very bright light on your unique skills (or having your agent do it, if you have one) may help get you a little more, but your employer is going to have to be convinced that you contribute to the bottom line in the ways that you claim.  This means you are going to have to prove it before being rewarded. This is the classic situation for entering into a contingency contract—one that pays you more when you reach some threshold level of performance.  Your employer doesn’t think you will reach the target, but you do.  The boss won’t pay for it up front, but should consider letting you share in the wealth if you are right.   You take less now, in the belief that you will get more later; perhaps a big bonus when your team wins the World Series.

Speaking of the Series, forget the odds-makers, the Fall Classic is headed toDetroit.  Go Tigers.

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