The difference between winning and losing: Part 1

May 10, 2012


The difference between winning and losing usually comes down to the "what ifs." One minor detail that takes you in a different direction (Image credit:


This is part one of a three-part series exploring the mental and cultural aspects behind winning and losing. Starting off with a Royals example. I know, you’re shocked.

It’s the first week of the season, and new Royals closer Jonathon Broxton steps to the mound in the bottom of the 12th inning, trying to protect a 4-3 lead against the weak-hitting Oakland A’s. If he can close out the game, the Royals will close out the season-opening road trip with a winning record and head home for a 10-game homestand.

If you’re a Royals fan or know one, starting off the season with six straight road games and coming home 4-2 would be the equivalent of baseball Christmas.

Broxton strikes out the first batter, Daric Barton, on a 3-2 count. And he gets the next batter to hit a routine grounder to shortstop. Only it isn’t routine, because Royals shortstop Alcides Escobar boots it and the runner reaches on an error. Then, all hell breaks loose.

Seemingly in complete control just moments before, Broxton walks the next two batters to load the bases. He then gives up an RBI ground ball to the cereal man, Coco Crisp. The game is tied, but now there are two outs. So he has a chance to get out of it, which makes what happens next as hard to believe a month later as it was the day I watched it.

Broxton only throws two more pitches. That’s all he needs to hit the next two batters and give the A’s a walkoff win without giving up a hit or a ball out of the infield. Some would call that unreal. Others would call it Royals baseball. Eleven games later, the Royals had posted the first 0-10 homestand since the early 1900s and were finishing up a 12-game losing streak. And fans were left to wonder if Oakland game had been different, would we have seen a different result in the next 11 games as well.

The interesting part about analyzing a loss, whether on the baseball field or in the boardroom, is the what-ifs. What if we had put in a new pitcher? What if we had given a different answer in our new business pitch?

But the biggest if of all tends to be if people can forget about what happened in the past – the things they can’t change – and move on to the next one instead of letting the loss linger. What if we knew what Broxton was thinking when he hit those batters?

Former Royals and Cardinals Manager Whitey Herzog used to tell his teams at the start of the season they were 60-60. What they did with the remaining 40 or so games would determine their success that season. Sure there are variations in talent, but so much of winning or losing is mental.

Give me five ball players or five communications professionals with similar skill sets and their success will undoubtedly come down to one factor – confidence. How do they expect to perform? When adversity hits, how do they rebound? That’s the individual part. And then of course, in both settings, there is a team dynamic as well.

Broxton has rebounded to get a save in all four of his other opportunities this year. But he didn’t get another opportunity for two weeks after that first one. The team dynamic came into play, which I’ll talk about more in part two of this series.

They say baseball is a game of inches. So is winning or losing. Makes those some pretty important inches, doesn’t it? Just ask the Royals players.

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