Making the Most of a Bad Situation

The smell of freshly cut grass and the crack of a bat typically signal an after-work activity or family outing rather than a chance to look deeper into leadership skill sets. And after this summer’s scandals of bad decision-making by a few baseball players, some people may tend to steer away from “America’s game” for guidance on anything. Yet a story from the early days of baseball caught my attention recently, and it not only revived my hopes about this sport but it also reminded me how the worst of situations can be turned into something full of potential.

In 1901, an unlikely twenty-six-year-old began his baseball career. Mordecai Brown was old, even in those days, for a rookie—and this farmer-turned-miner who’d taught himself how to pitch seemed oddly prepared to be a professional athlete. But what added a third strike to Mordecai’s resume was that he had only three fingers on his pitching hand!

Brown had two injuries in his youth, one of which involved a farm feed chopper, which severed and mangled fingers on his right hand. With limited access to medical assistance, his hand never quite looked the same (for the brave of heart, old photos are available on Wikipedia). Despite this devastating turn of events, Brown was determined to do something special. He taught himself how to pitch like other kids of his day did: by throwing rocks through knot holes! He—and others—were surprised to discover that his handicap actually allowed him to throw most extraordinarily, with an extra topspin on his curve ball and change-up that fooled many batters.

While I could go on and on about my “new” favorite baseball player, for those of you who are savvier about the game than I am, here are a few stats that may impress you:

Pitcher for St. Louis Cardinals (start of career) and Chicago Cubs (end of career at age 40)

Switch hitter, consistently batting near .200

Win-loss record: 239-130

Earned run average: 2.06 (his ERA is the best in MLB history for any pitcher with more

than 200 wins)

Strikeouts: 1,375

Shutouts: 55

20-plus wins in a season: 1906-1911

World Series Championships: 1907, 1908

Baseball Hall of Fame: inducted in 1949

So, other than an encouraging story about baseball during a tumultuous season, what does Mordecai Brown have to do with your leadership today? Here are a few thoughts for you to consider:

1. What one thing have you always believed held you back from what you’d like to achieve? Could it be that this “bad situation” might be able to be turned into something positive?

2. What “unlikely person” on your team might really be a diamond in the rough? Maybe you have been thinking he or she is too old, too young, undereducated, unseasoned, etc. Look again. You might be surprised by talent that’s simply waiting for some extra attention.

3. The Hall of Fame isn’t achieved overnight; rather, it’s attained through daily, intentional effort by someone who is resolved to become something better—perhaps even better than other people may have thought possible. Are you aiming for your personal and professional best? When it’s time for you to hang up your jersey, what legacy do you plan to leave behind?

And finally, when we experience those moments that we think “I can’t” or “This isn’t working” or “What’s the use of trying?”—let’s remember the tale of this former farm-boy. Mordecai “Three Finger” Brown took a bad situation and made it better, and, for most of us, this lesson in leadership couldn’t be timelier.

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