In the summer of 1863, an amateur baseball player named Arthur “Candy” Cummings was with a group of friends throwing clam shells into the ocean. As he watched the shells curve from left to right through the air, Candy had a thought; what if he could make a baseball have the same movement while pitching?
At that point in baseball, there was no deception involved in pitching. Everyone threw the ball straight and hoped the batter either missed or hit the ball to one of the defenders. Candy Cummings thought if he could throw a ball that started in one location and then curved to another location in mid-air, the batters wouldn’t stand a chance. And so, the idea of the “curveball” was born.
Candy began practicing his new pitch. When he felt it was ready for live game action, he invited all his friends and family to come witness the history he was about to make. But the pitch didn’t go as planned. He couldn’t get the ball to curve as it had in his practice sessions and he walked nearly every batter he faced. He later recalled how embarrassing it was to hear all his invited guests laughing at him from the stands.
Determined that his curveball could work, Candy didn’t give up. He went back to the drawing board and eventually came up with a release that would allow him to curve his pitches in a way that would consistently land as strikes. Three years later, he was ready to release it in live action again.
In an 1867 game, he came on as a relief pitcher for the Brooklyn Stars to face hitter Archie Bush of Harvard. Candy threw his curveball, baffling everyone in the stadium, and striking out Bush on three pitches. Over the next four years, Candy Cummings won every single game he pitched for the Brooklyn Stars by throwing his mysterious curveball.
Exploiting the Rules
Opposing batters and managers immediately began protesting Candy’s new pitch. Surely, they said, attempting to deceive batters with pitches that move in mid-air was against baseball rules. Baseball was an honest sport, America’s pastime, how could such manipulation be allowed?
Managers and league officials began scouring the 30 year old rules of the sport. To their surprise, they could find absolutely nothing outlawing the use of deceptive pitches. Soon other pitchers began developing curveballs. Other deceptive pitches followed, such as the slider, the changeup and the knuckleball.
Candy Cummings went on to have a fantastic baseball career, culminating in an induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He is forever remembered as the man who introduced the baseball world to the curveball.
Overcoming Long Odds
Prior to learning to throwing a curveball, Candy Cummings was an average baseball player. He couldn’t hit at all, and his pitching was mediocre at best. Had he not exploited the rules of the sport and come up with a revolutionary pitch to deceive hitters, it’s likely that Candy would never have made a living playing baseball and he surely wouldn’t be remembered as a legend of the sport today.
As entrepreneurs, we all face the same dilemma Candy faced; if we play by the same rules as the people who are bigger, stronger or more talented than us, we likely have no chance. But if we an exploit the rules, find loopholes others haven’t discovered, we can even the playing field and tip the odds in our favor.
And as small businesses, exploiting the rules and trying new ideas is much easier for us than it is for large companies. We aren’t stuck “doing things the way they have always been done” or falling into the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” trap. We have the freedom to explore every opportunity possible to gain an edge.
Exploiting vs. Breaking Rules
The difference between exploiting and breaking the rules is a very fine line, and crossing that line could mean the difference between success and jail time.
Exploiting rules means finding ways to accomplish things that have never been done before, but are still within the rules. It means innovating and discovering new methods. Exploiting rules means inventing a new pitch that baffles hitters. Early on, exploiting rules will often come with accusations of cheating, but the truth will show it is simply innovation. Just ask Candy Cummings.
Breaking rules, on the other hand, means blatantly going against the rules set in place. It means thinking you are above everyone else and not required to follow the same statutes and legal limitations they are. Breaking rules means lying to the public and your competition to gain an advantage over others. Getting caught breaking the rules will likely end with you paying either serious fines and penalties or serving time behind bars. Just ask the people who ran Enron.
Discover Your Curveball
As a CPA, I’m constantly looking for ways to exploit the tax laws for my clients. Because very few tax laws are black and white, the opportunities to get creative and exploit the rules in place are endless.
I believe every entrepreneur should be doing the same thing in their industry. Stop doing things the way they have always been done. Get creative. By exploiting the rules your competitors are following, you may just discover your own curveball.