The start of baseball spring training reminds me of a favorite baseball story with a great sports strategy lesson. It’s been so long since I heard it, who knows if it’s true, but it’s so rich with strategy lessons, it almost doesn’t matter!

The Story

During a Yankee World Series appearance, Joe DiMaggio’s arm was reportedly injured. Scouting reports said opponents could run on anything hit to center since supposedly DiMaggio couldn’t throw. How did DiMaggio deal with this blatant weakness?

Even though hurt, he could make one throw a day. Most people would save that one throw for an important play late in the game. Not DiMaggio. Before the game, with the opposing team on-field, he’d uncork a bullet from center to home plate. Seeing this for themselves, the other team wouldn’t dare try to take advantage of DiMaggio’s arm by attempting to grab an extra base when things really counted.

Strategy Lesson One

Strategy lesson one focuses on the fundamental strategic question, “What matters?” In this case, preventing runners from advancing on balls hit to center was paramount. And since DiMaggio’s physical prowess was failing him, he used an alternative - his mental skill – to accomplish this important objective. His adeptness demonstrates a true strategic perspective. Applying this lesson is relatively clear: understand your desired objective and be open to unconventional ways to accomplish it.

Strategy Lesson Two

The second strategic lesson is you don’t have to display all your capabilities all the time for them to be effective. DiMaggio relied on his "brand" reputation, with only slight real evidence, to create a larger-than-reality perception. Using this strategy lesson is more subtle. Suppose you have a brand capability that’s temporarily weakened or under attack. While it’s fine to not rely on the capability, you may still need to let others know it’s in your repertoire. If that's the case, determine in what ways you can compensate, perhaps by taking advantage of an opportunity to mass resources temporarily and deliver better than typical performance or ward off a competitor.

This two-part sports strategy lesson can help prevent others from taking advantage of you or your brand when it really counts! - Mike Brown