Within the baseball lexicon, a purpose pitch is a high-and-tight fastball designed to move the hitter off the plate a bit and perhaps intimidate him a bit (or even a lot). But for the very best pitchers, every pitch – every action taken on the field – is purposeful.
I was once able to secure a ticket directly behind home plate and right on the screen to see future Hall-of-Famer Greg Maddux in his prime. It was 1995, a season in which Maddux went 19-2 with a 1.63 ERA (a WHIP of 0.811 for you stats geeks) and unanimously won his fourth consecutive Cy Young Award even though his fastball only averaged 85 MPH (albeit with killer movement and impeccable location). The Braves won the World Series that year too. Maddux beat my Padres that night, 4-1, on a complete game 5-hitter.
To watch Maddux work was amazing. Every pitch was purposeful – to test his command, to challenge the hitter, to test the umpire’s strike zone, to set up the next pitch or some future pitch or situation, to test the hitter’s judgment or patience, to induce a ground ball, etc. He changed speeds. He moved the ball in and out, up and down and utilized all his pitches — even in tough situations (not that there were many). His command of the situation, himself and the game was astonishing. I was mesmerized. It’s no wonder Maddux was called “the Professor.”
Maddux was even acutely aware of what his opponents were doing in order to use it to his advantage. His long-time teammate, Tom Glavine, a Cy Young and 300-game winner himself, explains: “He’s able to notice things in the course of a game that no one else can—the way a hitter may open up a little, move up in the box an inch, change his stance. I’ve tried to be aware of that stuff. I really have. But I’m so focused on what I’m trying to do. I don’t know how he does it.”
He surely gave the Padres a lesson that day (even though Hall-of-Famer Tony Gwynn was able to single and score in the ninth). Shortly after this outing, Maddux was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated (left) as “The Greatest Pitcher You’ll Ever See.” When Maddux retired in 2008, SI writer Tom Verducci wrote: “Greg Maddux is the most fascinating interview, the smartest baseball player and the most highly formed baseball player I have encountered in 27 years covering major league baseball. There is no one alive who ever practiced the craft of pitching better than Maddux.”
Notice too what others said about Maddux.
Mark Lemke: “He’d call me over and say, ‘Move to your left two pitches from now.’ Not on the next pitch, but the pitch after that. He said, ‘I’m going to throw something he’ll foul off, and then I’m going to throw him a slider he’ll ground into the hole.’”
Terry Pendleton: “We were in Cincinnati one night and Bret Boone kept fouling off fastballs, and I went to the mound and said, ‘You could get him with a slider.’ And Doggie said, ‘Yeah, but I want to save that for when runners are in scoring position.’”
The application of this approach to investing and to life in general should be obvious. One of my besetting sins is a failure to pay attention. I miss a lot as a result. But Greg Maddux noticed everything that happened on a baseball diamond. Better still, he interpreted it correctly and then applied it brilliantly. His priorities were spot-on — no wasted effort and no wasted opportunities. Oh that you and I would do the same in our lives and careers.