When not at work, I like to do many things, and one of my favorites is to watch New York Mets baseball. Since moving to New York I’ve grown to love the team and I make common cause with the many Mets fans I run into (even in my Bronx neighborhood just a few stops from Yankee Stadium).[1]

Keith Hernandez, 1986: Barry Colla Photography, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

One benefit of watching the Mets is that our team has what many consider to be the finest broadcasters calling their games. The radio team led by Howie Rose is unmatched for its knowledge of the game and willingness to criticize the home team if that’s merited. Most of my intake is via the TV broadcasters, often rated the best in the game. Included in most of these games is Mets alumnus Keith Hernandez, who provides an education on hitting each and every time he sits down in the booth. [2]

Some of what I’ve learned watching Mets baseball turns out to be applicable to my work life.

  1. Not everything is under your control. If your umpire that day is a “pitcher’s umpire” (one who calls a generously-large strike zone), then some close pitches are, in the words of Hernandez, “too close to take.” You had better try to hit them or foul them off. Passivity can send you back to the dugout. Hernandez doesn’t criticize umpires for large or small strike zones, and goes out of his way to praise the umpires who keep their zones consistent. If an umpire is calling inside strikes all day long, shame on you for watching as a close one goes by you for strike three.

Our “umpires’ are the circumstances in which we find ourselves. If we are investigating on a tight deadline and need to get records in a county that does not permit on-site searching in the courthouse, we prefer to over-order any record that could be relevant so we can sort them out later. If someone is going to rule out a document as being irrelevant, we want control of that process. If we get too many documents and need to discard some as being of no use, that’s like a two-strike foul. Better that than to fail to order the document that could turn out to be the one we need. That would be looking at strike-three.

On the other hand, if we’re in a county that has a nice full set of records online, we can be much more selective up front because we can read the dockets ourselves and sometimes figure out whether the case relates to “our” John Smith or someone else with the same name.

Overseas, some countries have nice public record systems that permit searching and unambiguous reporting. Other nations have no concept of a public record. All the information you get in these places is unofficial, even if highly informative. It’s no good cursing your bad luck that the investigation takes you to a difficult location. You’re at bat and you make the best of it.

  1. You may need to change your approach a few pitches in. Hernandez talks all the time about “good two-strike hitting,” which means that you may need to change the way you want to swing when there is a much greater price to pay for being unsuccessful on the next pitch. Instead of trying to hit the ball in the most powerful way (“pulling” toward the right for left-handed hitters and vice-versa), many good hitters just “slap” or “poke” the ball through an opening the other way for a single.

In other words, if you’re not going to hit a home run, better to hit a single than to strike out.

We love investigations that turn out to be “home runs” right away. The million-dollar fraud we discovered being perpetrated by our client’s litigation opponents that forced them to drop their suit; the $60 million in traceable assets we found in even less time during a divorce asset search.

But what if you don’t find that kind of thing that quickly? Two strikes for us can mean we are running out of time (before a court-imposed deadline), running out of budget (you can’t afford to look everywhere); or both. We try to concentrate on the jurisdictions most likely to yield records about our person, rather than all thirty counties he may have lived or worked in over the past 20 years. This is what’s called Bayesian analysis – refining search terms based on what you learn as you go along to increase your odds of success.[3]

If we’re trying to impeach the credibility of a witness, we may find no prior conviction for fraud (a home run), but the omission of a job on his resume eight years ago could turn out to be valuable if it leads to evidence that he was fired for incompetence there (long single or double).

  1. Analytics are helpful, but you also have to trust your eye and what the pitcher is doing today. The data may tell you that with two strikes a pitcher is x% likely to throw a breaking ball, but what if the third time through the batting order you notice he has started “tipping” his pitches (involuntarily signaling what he will throw next)? That won’t be in the data, but it will be obvious if you’re watching.

We too have access to lots of data. Databases give us nice head starts on where people have lived, what companies they’ve associated with, some criminal convictions, and names of relatives. But we still subject all of that data to verification by checking it ourselves. It’s often right, but it’s wrong often enough that you can’t just trust it blindly.

One database thinks I still live in the home we sold 12 years ago, based on a grocery store discount card I obtained while living in the old house and which I continue to use today. The grocery store continues to sell my data to aggregators, who continue to report that I live where I don’t. Anyone checking the county record at the old place can see it was sold, but if they don’t check they’ll get it wrong.

Along with his equally brilliant commentators Ron Darling and Gary Cohen, Hernandez is also brimming with tips about fielding, especially regarding the placement of infielders given the situation (the hitter at bat, the score, the count). These tips also pertain to investigation. That article will be appearing before the Mets next win the World Series.[4]

[1] There are many Yankee fans around too, and I also count them among my friends. There is even, for some reason, a lifelong Bronx resident who roots for the Phillies. It only took him two years to admit it.

[2] Hernandez will have his number retired by the Mets on July 9. He has not been elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, though his career on-base percentage of .384  is close to that of Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera, often referred to as a shoo-in for Cooperstown. His WAR (wins above replacement) of 60.3 is better than those of Yogi Berra, Willie Stargell or Vladimir Guerrero, and just 0.1 below Harmon Killebrew’s. He was also famous for revolutionizing play at first base, where he won eleven consecutive Gold Gloves.

[3] I discuss this further in Legal Jobs and the Age of Artificial Intelligence, Savannah Law Review Vol. 5, No. 1 (2018).

[4] Date to be determined.