If you’re a baseball fan like me, it’s a good bet you read the Michael Lewis book “Moneyball” well before it spawned a Brad Pitt movie. The tome is a laugh-out-loud chronicle of how free-thinking general manager Billy Beane brought some respectability to his woebegone, small-market, tiny-budgeted Oakland Athletics.
But linking money and baseball is nothing new, as Lewis would likely be among the first to tell you. Throughout its history, the grand old game has been just as much about greenbacks as it has been about hits, runs and errors. No wonder the cash-rich New York Yankees, summering within a few miles of America’s financial epicenter and traditionally profiting from the game’s fattest television contract, have captured more World Series crowns than any other team.
This baseball season represents the 50th anniversary of my becoming a fan of the American Pastime, way back in that long-ago, star-crossed summer of 1964. And with the 2014 campaign getting underway this week, I thought I’d mark the golden anniversary of my fanaticism in a novel way.
I’m going to swing for the fences and suggest that baseball can teach a lot about personal finance to those of us who’d like to become better money managers. Then I’m going to ask some of you fans out catching some rays in the bleachers to step into the cage and take a few swings yourself at linking money lessons and baseball.
Whether a fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers or the Pawtucket Red Sox, or any major or minor team in between, consider these connections between personal finance and the action on the diamond as you root, root, root for the home team this summer.
Come to play every day
Unlike other professional sports that serve up a contest or three a week, baseball is a day-in, day-out affair that begins in February and isn’t over until the jack-o-lanterns are glowing. When your team crosses the lines on Opening Day, every player knows they’re in for a long grind. It’s the same thing with accumulating financial resources. To land some loot over your lifetime, you have to be in it for the long haul and come to play every day, conserving and banking money along the way.
Get off to a good start
The best center fielders get a good jump on every fly ball, and teams that win pennants often enjoy highly triumphant Aprils. An early start on success is key in baseball — and in growing nest eggs. If you start early, you don’t have to struggle late at putting together funds for a college education or retirement. In other words, you’re not losing the ball in the lights at the crack of the bat only to blow out a hammy trying to make a last-second, miraculous, diving catch.
Hit to all fields
Ask the fans who followed Ishiro Suzuki this century, or Rod Carew and Pete Rose in Bowie Kuhn’s day. Some of the most valuable hitters on any team are those who spray the ball in all directions. They don’t rely solely on pulling the ball but build their batting averages hitting to the opposite field and up the middle as well.
The parallel in money management is diversification. Those great at stockpiling soaring stacks of simoleons don’t place all their money in one asset class. They spread it around between large-, mid- and small-cap stocks, domestic and international equities and funds, bonds and real estate. Sometimes they even drop a bunt down into a certificate of deposit or a money market mutual fund.
Keep ice water in your veins
For years, it’s been acknowledged that baseball’s greatest relief pitchers have a special emotional makeup. They forget the bad games, stay calm, and embrace a cold-blooded detachment. Then they go out and mow down the side for the save.
It’s likely that those who profit as stock market investors are a little like great relief pitchers. It doesn’t matter if the market’s been on a tear or is losing ground faster than the ’72 Philadelphia Phillies. These investors avoid letting daily events get them too high or too low and they dispassionately focus attention on long-term goals.
Be smart on the bases
How often have we all been part of a 30,000-fan collective groan touched off when a promising rally was nipped in the bud?
And why? Because after lining a frozen rope into the right field corner, our guy got thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple. You don’t have to look far to spot analogies in the world of consumer finance. Just think of the folks who got burned in the tech wreck of year 2000, thinking they’d greedily load up on dot.com stocks or the over-reachers who around 2007 were convinced that home prices had nowhere to go but up — straight up, and forever.
Unlike our overambitious base runner, a lot of these people weren’t just called “Out!” They were called out of money.
Get ’em on, over and in
The walk-off home run that sends a stadium full of fans home with ear-to-ear grins is among the most thrilling events in all sports. But let’s face it. If a team is going to mount a late-inning, come-from-behind uprising, it’s more likely going to do it by means of a couple walks, a seeing-eye single or two, an error and a double. In baseball parlance, the team will get ’em on, get ’em over, and get ’em in.
By now, you probably see where I’m going. The walk-off is like the lottery ticket that pays big one time in a hundred thousand. Most people who get rich don’t do it in one giant blast. They do it over time, with discipline and tenacity, by seeking out the best savings account and best credit cards, getting money into investments, enjoying the gains, letting gains compound, reaping additional gains on principal and past gains, and eventually cashing in.
But they enjoy their largess just as much as someone whose scheme paid off big. Kind of like the team that forsakes the long ball for a grind-it-out win.
So here’s the takeaway: I know it’s out of left field, but if you want to enjoy wealth someday, look beyond currency and coins, and glimpse the wisdom in diamonds as well. Ready to take your cuts?