The PII Blog

Baseball and the Art of Investigation

By Keith Rohman

I see connections in unusual places sometimes. Baseball and workplace investigations or campus investigations may seem very different. But as a lifelong investigator and a lifelong baseball fan, I see links between these two disparate subjects that can provide lessons and guidance for investigators.

Scope of investigation: Every investigation starts with knowing your scope. The scope defines the playing field on which fact-gathering occurs; while it can be similar in many cases, every case has some unique qualities. This is like every major league ballpark. While they all have four bases and a pitcher’s mound, there can be significant differences; some have shorter outfield fences, while others have a wider foul territory.

Similarly, some investigations are tightly focused on one individual or one set of allegations, while others have a broad mandate to uncover misconduct. Investigators, like baseball players, need to know the playing field/scope very well; if not, they may run into a wall.

Witnesses: Each batter, like each witness, requires a different approach. Some batters are adept at hitting the outside pitch; others hit curve balls well. In many ways, an investigator is like the pitcher throwing the ball/questions to witnesses. While investigators do not want to strike someone out, we know that no two witnesses are alike, and we need to figure out the best approach for each. Success in baseball and investigation involves knowing our own skills and what approach will be most successful with a particular batter or witness.

The rules: Baseball has many written rules, but also many unwritten rules. The unwritten rules have a long history of pattern and practice, and ballplayers violate them at their peril. This is also true at the workplaces where we conduct investigations. In many workplaces, those unwritten rules and practices are vital to understanding the dynamics. A skilled investigator, like a good ballplayer, understands both the written and unwritten rules and uses them to their advantage.

Errors: Errors are part of baseball, investigations, and life in general. Sometimes they are game changers, like Bill Buckner’s infamous error in the 1986 World Series, which led to the Mets’ victory over the Red Sox. But many times, while errors can be upsetting in the moment, they don’t figure in the final score. Experienced investigators know there is no perfect investigation, and they will make some mistakes, but if the fundamental work is good, the resulting investigation will be also.

Timing: Another exhausting similarity is that both baseball games and workplace investigations can take a long time. Sometimes both seem like they will never end. Whether it takes nine innings or nine months, investigators need patience to see it through and look for effective ways to wrap it up.

The seventh-inning stretch: Baseball’s most important lesson comes in the middle of the seventh inning. For a few minutes, everyone in the ballpark stands up, stretches their legs, and sings a silly song. Every long investigation needs a break in the action. It allows us to clear our heads and recharge our batteries. Some of us take a walk outside or go out for a nice lunch; I’ve been known to turn on a baseball game. These breaks reduce stress, clarify thinking, and allow us to do our best work.

And if you want to sing a song, let me suggest, “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” It always works for me.

Keith Rohman, president of Public Interest Investigations, Inc., is an avid Dodgers fan.