October is an exciting month. It brings crisp, cool mornings, fall colors…and playoff baseball!
As you know, I write about financial topics during most months of the year. But in honor of the season, for this month’s letter, let’s do something a little different by combining finance with our national pastime.
While thinking about baseball, my mind flashed back to an old poem, Casey at the Bat. Published in 1888, it’s one of the classics of American humor…and it’s still a hoot to read today! Chances are, you’ve read the poem before…but you probably don’t know that in addition to celebrating our nation’s sport, it teaches an important financial lesson, too. Here’s the poem in full in case you’ve never read it before:
Casey at the Bat by Ernest Thayer1
The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville nine that day;
the score stood four to two, with but one inning more to play.
And then when Cooney died at first, and Barrows did the same,
a sickly silence fell upon the patrons of the game.
A straggling few got up to go in deep despair. The rest
clung to that hope which springs eternal in the human breast;
they thought, if only Casey could get but a whack at that –
they'd put up even money, now, with Casey at the bat.
But Flynn preceded Casey, as did also Jimmy Pitt,
and the former was playing injured, and the latter couldn’t hit;
so upon that stricken multitude grim melancholy sat,
for there seemed but little chance of Casey's getting to the bat.
But Flynn let drive a single, to the wonderment of all,
and Pitt, the much despised, tore the cover off the ball;
and when the dust had lifted, and the men saw what had occurred,
there was Jimmy safe at second and Flynn a-hugging third.
Then from five thousand throats and more there rose a lusty yell;
it rumbled through the valley, it rattled in the dell;
it knocked upon the mountain and recoiled upon the flat,
for Casey, mighty Casey, was advancing to the bat.
There was ease in Casey's manner as he stepped into his place;
there was pride in Casey's bearing and a smile on Casey's face.
And when, responding to the cheers, he lightly doffed his hat,
no stranger in the crowd could doubt 'twas Casey at the bat.
And now the leather-covered sphere came hurtling through the air,
and Casey stood a-watching it in haughty grandeur there.
Close by the sturdy batsman the ball unheeded sped—
"That ain't my style," said Casey. "Strike one," the umpire said.
From the benches, black with people, there went up a muffled roar,
like the beating of the storm-waves on a stern and distant shore.
"Get him! Get the umpire!" shouted someone on the stand;
and it's likely they'd have got him had not Casey raised his hand.
With a smile of easy charity great Casey's visage shone;
he stilled the rising tumult; he bade the game go on;
he signaled to the pitcher, and once more the spheroid flew;
but Casey still ignored it, and the umpire said: "Strike two."
"Fraud!" cried the maddened thousands, and Echo answered fraud;
but one scornful look from Casey and the audience was awed.
They saw his face grow stern and cold, they saw his muscles strain,
and they knew that Casey wouldn't let that ball go by again.
The sneer is gone from Casey's lip, his teeth are clenched in hate;
he pounds with cruel violence his bat upon the plate.
And now the pitcher holds the ball, and now he lets it go,
and now the air is shattered by the force of Casey's blow.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright;
the band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light,
and somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout;
but there is no joy in Mudville — mighty Casey has struck out.
Ouch! Poor Casey. Still, we can thank him for striking out, because the story serves as a good example of what investors should never do: Don’t try to time the market!
In the poem, Casey calmly – some might say insolently – lets two great opportunities to hit the ball pass him by. Even though his team and all his fans are counting on him to drive in the winning runs, he decides to ignore these opportunities and wait for the “perfect” ball. While this might be a valid baseball strategy, it is most certainly not a sound investment strategy.
Unfortunately, many investors persist in trying anyway. Instead of keeping their money invested for the long-term, they wait for the “perfect” time to enter or exit the market. Thinking that, if they do, they’ll be able to “get in on the ground floor” of a bull market, or “get out” right before a bear market hits.
History shows, however, that this is almost impossible to do. That’s because no one, no matter how sophisticated they are or how much experience they have, can tell when a bull market has peaked, or when a bear market has bottomed out. As a result, these investors tend to buy high and sell low…which is the exact opposite of what they wanted. In other words, they’re like Casey: Always waiting for the perfect pitch, but then striking out when the time comes.
What investors should do instead is have a long-term investment strategy that helps them gradually save the funds they need to reach their long-term goals. That’s because savvy investors know it’s not timing the market, but time in the market, which tends to yield the best results.
This is an especially important lesson to remember right now. There’s been a lot of volatility in the markets this year, and the volatility may well continue for some time. Too many people will try to guess at the perfect time to start investing again…but in all likelihood, they will get their timing wrong. So, as 2022 winds down and 2023 rolls in – or as you settle down on the couch to watch your favorite baseball team – my advice is to remember Casey at the Bat. Make sure you have a long-term investment strategy in place for markets both good and bad…so that the real opportunities to score a run never pass you by.
“Casey at the Bat,” Ernest Thayer, published 1888 in The San Francisco Examiner. Public domain.