Be Unstoppable: The Brilliance of Singles

I love baseball. I am not the kind of fan that follows all the trades and statistics, engaging in vigorous debate. In truth, I often don’t even know the names on the full roster of my favorite team.


I know where I was when Joe Carter hit his walk off home run to lead the Toronto Blue Jays to a come from behind victory in the over the visiting Philadelphia Phillies in the 1993 world series, and I know that Jackie Robinson was the first colored ball player and wore number 42 (thanks to the movie), but I couldn’t tell you much more for dates and big events. I just love the game.

I played the game lots as a kid. My coach was a tough old man (to a 10 year old!) by the name of Archie Courtnall. (I played with his kids, but I never knew they played hockey! Geoff / Russ) Archie taught me to love the game in an odd fashion. He had a gruff way about him and a gravelly voice to match. He would actually spin in a quick circle and throw his ball cap to the ground if I made a mistake, but then pick it up and cheer when I recovered. He would run fielding drills like an army sargent. Standing just 20 or so feet away, he would drive ground balls at the team, exhorting us to get keep our body in front of the ball, and suggesting that the ball was too small to hurt us. I remember thinking that a bullet was smaller.

Regardless of his tough mannerisms, as I played for Archie I felt valued. I felt as though, in his own way, he knew I had something to offer and he was bent on calling it out of me. In fact, this is how we met. I arrived at tryouts late. Everyone had gone home and Archie was the last person on the grounds, putting the last of the equipment away in the storage shed. He had me play a bit of catch with him, smiled after just a few throws and said, “Yeah kid, we have a spot for you.” I played on his team for the duration of my Little League experience.

Deeper lessons
Archie taught me a lot about the game, but over the past few weeks I am remembering something of how those lessons apply directly to life and? business as well.

In all the years that I played ball for Archie, I never hit one home run in a game. I did manage to hit one at the very end of my last season, but only during a practice, actually taking a chunk out of the plywood fence to make it past. I hit singles, doubles, even triples…but never the long shot. This sat fine with Archie, and I got the call for many batting assignments, though he celebrated my one home run with a hearty, “Way to go kid! I knew you had it in you.”

I believe that Archie knew the principle behind Moneyball long before the movie and Billy Bean. You cannot stop a team that hits singles. Home runs are sexy, and everyone loves to see them, but any baseball team will crush their opponent by simply getting on base. “A walk is as good as a run,” Courtnall used to shout out from the dugout. In fact, if I swung on a 3-0 pitch count it would drive him to madness!

Hitting singles
You can’t stop a ball team, or a company, if you hit one single after another. When home runs come, we can cheer and get all excited, but home-run hitters often have notoriously low batting averages (not to mention being plagued by character-compromising steroids scandals) . If the batters go up to the plate swinging for the fence and miss, the team forfeits its opportunity for runs that inning. However, if each batter steps to the plate with the goal of getting on base, together the team is unstoppable.

“Slow and steady plodding brings prosperity, hasty speculation, poverty.” Proverb

Wisdom in business suggests an emphasis on singles. Singles ensure adequate cash flow, and stabilizes a base volume that supports a core work force. When home runs happen, enjoy them, but don’t forget to celebrate the singles as well.

I was hired as a turnaround CEO many years ago. The company had one of the worst operating philosophies I have ever encountered. In short, it was entirely built on the expectations of home runs. The results were huge losses, broken relationships, and a reputation in the community as being undependable as an employer.

A team that hits one single after another is unstoppable. Thank you Archie Courtnall

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The world lost Archie Courtnall far too soon. You can find out more about Archie Courtnall, and the heroic undertaking of his sons here.