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You really haven’t become an American until you understand baseball. Modern day American culture may have far more in common with the violent, crushing bloodsport of American football or the flashy, exhibitionist nature of basketball, but deep down baseball still reflects some of best characteristics of the nation.
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To an outsider the baseball may appear to be more boring than a month of solitary confinement. It’s a game where the pauses matter much more than the brief intermittent play. It’s as much a game of the mind as of the body where reaction is often much more important than the initial action. Above all baseball is all about controlling failure and in that sense it is very much like trading.
One of the hardest things to do in all of sports is to hit a small hard baseball thrown at you at more than 150 kilometers per hour with a round wooden bat that is not much bigger than a stick. It’s so hard to do that those athletes who fail to do so 7 out of 10 times are considered superstars and are paid millions of dollars per year for their very infrequent success.
The art of hitting a baseball is so hard that its been more than 70 years that anyone has been able to average 4 hits per every 10 times at bat. The last player to do so was Ted Williams – considered almost mythical by today’s standards – when he batted 406 in 1941. In addition to having great hands and almost supernatural vision, Ted Williams also possessed one skill that all of us traders should learn to emulate. He never swung at a pitch unless it was in his hitting zone.
What made Ted Williams so great is that he only acted when the odds were in his favor. He never, ever chased pitches. That one act of discipline is what set Ted Williams apart from every other baseball player since.
When I think about every big loss I’ve ever incurred as a trader, it has almost always been the result of me chasing a trade. The hardest thing to do in both baseball and trading is to stay perfectly still and wait for the right moment. We are all programmed to engage, to jump in, to act because we all associate action with success. But trading like baseball does not reward action it only rewards “efficient” action which means that in order to succeed most of the time we need to do nothing. That’s the lesson of Ted Williams and it is perhaps the hardest one to learn.