Newly elected baseball Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera is known for many things: Holding the all-time career saves record. Winning 5 World Series championships with the New York Yankees. Setting a host of playoff relief records. And last week, those accomplishments made him the first player ever unanimously elected the Baseball Hall of Fame.
I also think of one more thing with Rivera: his cut fastball was the single best pitch of any pitcher in my lifetime. Rivera threw the cutter on around 90% of his pitches; batters knew it was coming, and still couldn’t hit it. Lots of guys have a great pitch, but they use it in favorable situations or when the batter isn’t expecting it, and get great results. Rivera could get the same results even when everyone in the stadium (and everyone watching on TV) knew what was coming.
Where am I going with this? Trust me, it’ll come back around.
Lots of people know about Rivera’s cutter. What many people don’t know is that he didn’t always throw it. When he started his career, he didn’t throw it at all. In 1996, Rivera was the best reliever in baseball, and helped the Yankees win the World Series with a postseason in which he threw 14 innings without allowing a run—all without his famous cutter.
According to Rivera, he first started throwing his signature pitch by accident in the middle of the 1997 season. Some of his fastballs started making unexpected movements—and Rivera spent the summer trying to “fix” the pitch and stop the movement.
That’s right—he stumbled upon the best pitch in recent baseball history, and his first thought was, “How can I stop throwing this?” And in his position, that might make some sense. After all, he was already one of the best pitchers in the league with his old fastball; why should he start throwing a new one? If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!
But he decided to keep the pitch, and started using it regularly in 1998. And the rest, as they say, is history. Lots of relief pitchers can have one great year. Many can have a few great years. But what made Mariano Rivera a legend is that he was able to stay that dominant for 18 years, without ever having a bad season. And it all came down to that unhittable cutter, the pitch he didn’t want to throw at first.
When things aren’t going your way, it’s easier to be open to change. But when you’re having great success, it’s even easier to resist trying something new. Comfort sets in—and the fear that changing might cost you the success you’re already experiencing. Rivera finished 3rd in the Cy Young Award voting in 1996 without his cutter; you might feel really good about the way things are going right now, too.
But you never know when you just might find something that really works. Things might look good for now, but nothing is guaranteed. If you’re doing well with your current approach, you shouldn’t stop that, but you should also stay open to new ideas and new things. Nothing is so good that it can’t be improved upon.
We can’t all be Mariano Rivera; but we can all be open to change and growth.