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Winning by Playing Small Ball

Ichiro Suzuki is about to break Pete Rose’s all-time hits record of 4,256.¹ To understand how incredible this record is, just think that Derek Jeter is the only player in the last 20 years to come close to approaching the record. And he finished almost 800 hits shy!

The admirable thing about Ichiro is his ability to play the small game. Ichiro has been known to have tremendous power. People often flock to the ballpark early to see him crush home runs. And then in the games he slaps nothing but beautiful opposite field singles and doubles. To Ichiro it’s the small things that matter.

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden once said:

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.

This is true in most things in life whether it’s personal relationships, sports, education and even investing. Yes, investing. Investing is often thought of as this sexy get rich quick sort of endeavour.² But the truth is, investing is all about getting rich slowly. It’s about doing lots of little things that add up to make big things happen. It’s not about hitting home runs and getting rich quick. It’s about slapping opposite field singles all day every day. And lots of little hits add up to big records.

In the world of investing the little things often add up to big problems. We try to do big things like “beat the market” and end up striking out a lot. Along the way we end up paying lots of fees, invest in tax inefficient portfolios, make lots of small short-term changes, etc. Mastering these little things add up into huge compounded returns in the long-run. Investors could all learn a little bit about investing from the baseball career of Ichiro. After all, it’s the little things that that make big things happen.

¹ – This includes Ichiro’s 1,278 hits in Japan before he moved to the USA. Some people (like Pete Rose) don’t want to count these numbers claiming the talent levels don’t translate, but if anything, Ichiro’s numbers from Japan are deflated because the Nippon league only played a 130 game season when Ichiro played in Japan. Had he played full 162 games seasons in the USA his whole career this record would have fallen years ago.  

² – As many of you know, I hate the word “investing” because it’s technically incorrect. When we allocate our assets on a secondary market we are not technically investing, we are saving. The concept of “investing” implies high risk and high reward while the concept of “saving” implies prudence and care. If more people thought of their “investments” as their “savings” I suspect many of us would avoid the little mistakes that add up into big mistakes.