Tag Archives: baseball

Being Really, Really Good…

…over the long haul.  It is brutally hard to do, and especially so in our world of immediate reward.  However there are some organizations that have proven to be at the very top of their industry.  Being good every now and again is one thing, but to do it more often than not for over 100 years, well that is the St. Louis Cardinals.

11 World Series Championships, 18 National League Pennants, 20 League MVP’s, 4 Triple Crown Winners, 3 Cy Young winners, 6 Rookie of the Year winners, countless Hall of Famers, and tops in league attendance for decades…all in a small market.  The only franchise with a more extensive history and record…the Yankees.

 A few years ago we looked at the Steelers, and with the NLCS starting tonight, it only seemed logical to spend a few minutes looking at the Cardinals.

Vision.  The organization has a history of excellence and remains committed to the pursuit of excellence…over the long haul.  To that end, the Cardinals under Branch Rickey pioneered the farm system,   were leaders in leveraging radio to expand their brand in the 1930’s, embracing integration in the 50’s and 60’s, playing “Whiteyball” in the AstroTurf era of the 80’s, to building power hitting teams in the 90’s “longball” era.  They see the trends, get ahead of the competition, adapt to the market, and lead change.  They evolve but do not lose sight of the core principles of excellence throughout the organization.

Winning Attitude.  Not necessarily just about winning, but certainly about always being committed to being the best possible team.   Winning is an attitude, just as the pursuit of excellence is an attitude.

Organization.  Though it is the team on the field, the reality is that there is a massive organization that enables the team to perform.  The talent scouts, the minor league system, the ball park, the trainers, the managers, coaches, front office and players, they are all part of the organization and they all matter.  It is about the sum of the parts, not the individual parts.

Leadership.  From the very top of the organization, to the field and into the locker room…leadership matters.  The Cardinals have maintained very steady ownership and leadership throughout their history.  As with any organization, things change, but a quick look at the organizational history reveals consistent leadership and ownership.

Culture and Consistency.  It is not about flash.  It is not about the individual.  It is all about the team.  The name on the front of the jersey, not the name on the back (the Cardinals logo has barely changed in the last 100 years).  It is about the profession and the game.  The individual is subordinated to the team, to the sport and even the community.  The Cardinals have a long history of never allowing one person to become greater than the team.  Sometimes it was rough (Curt Flood), unpopular (trading Albert), but always it was done for the best of the team.

Clearly no organization is perfect, and both the Cardinals and Steelers have had their issues, but there is no denying they are both at the top of their industry.  Like any business, they have periods of great success as well as periods of struggle, but their overall trajectory has always been up.  Their achievements are undeniable, and a great part of their success rests with consistency.  They have a system, a culture, an organization and a leadership team that is consistent in message and vision.

They know who they are, they know what works for them, and they hold to their core values.  They do not chase the latest fad, the hot candidate, the latest leadership trend or pop culture phenomena.  Though they stand at the top of their respective industries, neither organization is known as spendthrifts.   In the end, both the Steelers and Cardinals reflect their towns, their fans, and their values.  Interesting really…Pittsburgh and St. Louis are sort of “old school, basic” cities…seems those ideas are fundamental to long-term success.

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If You Build It (and advertise it)…

…they will come, or so goes the line from that classic movie Field of Dreams.  The actual quote is “if you build it, he will come”, but for many of us it is often quoted as “they”.  It is something we hear quite often in business, someone, some company, some product, or some service is absolutely perfect, yet the desired end result is unfortunately never reached.  The person does not find the job, the company does not find the right candidate, the product or service does not sell.  The issue is not that it was built, the issue is that no one came.

The closing scene of Field of Dreams shows cars lined up to the horizon, coming to the baseball diamond in the corn fields of Iowa.  Not only did “he come”, but “they came”.  The main character and his father are re-united for that game of catch, and the struggling farm is saved thanks to all the people coming to visit what was built.  It is pure hollywood and pure fantasy.  A great movie, but pure fiction.  Yet we have all heard “if you build it, they will come” not just as a cliché, but pointed to as a strategy for success.

Creating something is half the battle, the other half is advertising and marketing, sales and messaging.  The world’s greatest mouse trap is useless if no one knows of it.  Yet, so often all the efforts are placed on the front end, the creation phase.  Though some businesses drop the ball on the marketing front, where we do see the disconnect quite often is with those folks who are in transition.

“My LinkedIn profile is updated”, “I have applied online”, “I created an online profile”, “I have a great social media page”, “I am on The Ladders”, or whatever the website du jour might be, are refrains we hear often.  Are those actions appropriate – sure.  However, they are all, to one degree or another, passive behaviors.  Real success is much more likely if one actively markets what they have created.  Relying on the fortunes of luck, of someone “finding you” is completely passive and completely arbitrary.  Yes, it can work, but the odds are certainly improved if one is actively promoting what they have created.

Opening Day, well at this point Opening Week, always has my mind turning back to baseball.  It is another of those baseball related sayings “hope springs eternal” that tends to get batted around during this week.  It is ironic in a way, the classic baseball related quotes: “if you build it, he/they will come” and “hope springs eternal” are both passive phrases.  They are wonderful and make you feel all warm and fuzzy, but they are completely built on faith and hope of what might happen to or for you.  They do not reflect the reality – playoff baseball teams and World Series winners are not created by hope, they are created through work, planning, practice and grinding through the season, along with a bit of luck.  Just like successful business and just like successfully finding opportunities.

Bull Durham, Major League and Field of Dreams.  Three movies I can, and certainly have, watched over and over.  With it being opening week, or weekend, I can hope they will be on TV at some point, or I can take positive action and ensure I see them.

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Lance and Big Mac

What an interesting and telling day.   Nike severs ties with (read that as stops paying) Lance Armstrong; Lance steps down from LiveStrong; National League Championship Series comes to St. Louis for a three game stretch. There in lies the irony: sitting on the Cardinals bench as their hitting coach – Mark McQwire.

I so love irony. It just flat-out makes my day.  With the game on in the background, I could not help but smile again about Big Mac being with the Cardinals, not to mention back in baseball. I remember well a few years ago when he joined the team as the hitting coach (clearly he is good at hitting – look at his career and the teams production since 2010 – impressive numbers both). It was a painful press conference as he admitted to using steroids during his career.  Yet, after a few weeks the story of his return to baseball faded and is now not even noticed.

There are things I will remember well, as in “I was there when” or “you should have seen it” national or world event sort of things.  Moments that live in our collective memory.  And two of them are certainly the 1998 home run race and the 1999-2005 Tours.  Yep, what Mark McQwire and Sammy Sosa did for baseball, Lance did for cycling.  It was an absolute blast to watch it happen.  I was entertained and enjoyed every moment of those events.  It was fun and I would not trade any of it; they were moments in time that were just amazing to experience.

Both guys, by the every definition of the word, cheated.  They lied, were evasive, took advantage of banned substances, and generally did things that were against the rules.  They were also insanely gifted, focused, talented and above all students of their craft.  They practiced and trained.  They literally dedicated themselves to being the best at what they did, and it showed.  Lastly, but above all else, they were athletes and entertainers.

If one expects iron-clad perfection and ethical purity from entertainers, politicians, athletes or pitchmen, then they are living in a fantasy world.  There is no such thing as a perfect person, and certainly not when it comes to public figures.  Those guys were fun to watch do what they do.  I am grateful to them. I paid to watch, and they delivered.

There was a saying we had back in my Navy days:  “choose your rate, choose your fate”.  I often think of that as it applies to life in general, and to careers specifically: “choose your profession, choose your concession”.  Mark McQwire said “I wish I had never played in the steroid era“.  I do not know Lance, but I can see him sharing a similar thought when reflecting on his career…someday.  Maybe.

You see, they both made for themselves, their families, their sponsors, their teams, their peers, their industries and even their foundations, a ton of money.  They were literally responsible for the economic well-being of hundreds, if not thousands of others.  The culture of steroids in baseball and dope in cycling was real, known and ignored.  No one said a word, yet we expect something special from an athlete?

Speeding, office supplies, “helping” with your kids homework, chatting at the water cooler; white lies, victimless crimes, corner-cutting.  It literally happens everywhere, all the time.  There is no perfection.  Humans are naturally imperfect.  Embrace what is real, realize the faults in all, and accept that nothing is as it appears in public.  Family and friends are one thing, but realize no one every really sees behind the curtain, and frankly most never really want to anyway.  Athletes are entertainers, not role models.

Doing what everybody else is doing does not make something right, but when it is all around, especially in your professional world; in the place that generates your income, well it has to be hard to take the absolutely pure high road.  All I do know is that I am enjoying the Cardinals playing in another post season series, that I rode my bike earlier today, and that I will watch cycling again in the spring.  It is all just entertainment.

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Red Sox – Rays and Packaged Meals

Down to the last game.  161 games down, and here we are tied for the last playoff spot. Major League Baseball has its issues (never-ending season, long, slow-moving games, massive pay differentials, struggling franchises and empty ballparks) but it does teach us valuable lessons. The classics hold true – every game counts, always give it your all, run out every play, focus on one game at a time, concentrate on the task at hand – all those reminders that even the smallest detail can make the difference in the end. 162 games a year is a grind, lose focus and you can blow a comfortable lead in less than a month. Just ask the Red Sox.

But wait, there is one other lesson to glean from this month of baseball, and it is much more than just from the sputtering Red Sox and the surging Devil Rays. You see, the exact same scenario is happening in the National League – the wild card race has also come down to the last game of the season. The Braves have also blown a huge lead in September.  The Cardinals have surged into a tie with only one game to go. Yet, the story is hard to find. It is not the stuff of headlines and SportsCenter clips. It is not the fodder of talk radio, bloggers and columnists. It has been relegated to the “oh by the way” story of the year. Amazing the harsh lesson in reality this teaches. You see, the stories are exactly the same, yet we are constantly fed one and forced to find the other.

One has to ask, if we are what we eat, then it might be wise to stop and think about who is providing said food. Same goes for our news and information – we are shaped by what we are exposed too. Who is providing that information and why is a very wise thing to consider from time to time. Is there an agenda in the media? An East Coast bias in sports? A Red Sox-Yankees conspiracy by ESPN? Who knows, but it is interesting to starkly see how much of our daily infotainment is prepackaged and easily provided for our consumption.  Clearly population centers matter – we all get it – NYC and Boston far outnumber Atlanta and St. Louis.  But still, the difference in coverage is amazing to behold.

Sort of like prepackaged box meals or the fast food that surrounds us. It is all so convenient to have things “served up” in our hectic lives.  Then again, think of what a steady diet of packaged meals and fast food does to your health.  Same thing goes for your mind; feed it prepackaged, sound-bite clips and it turns to mush.  Sometimes it is wise to stop, take a moment and just look around. One never knows what they might be missing.

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Thank You Gil Meche

$12 million. Let that sink in for a minute. $12 million. Now granted, you already have booked $40 million give or take, but still 20% or so of your potential lifetime earnings surrendered…willingly. One interesting story. Surrendered out of principle. Now that’s impressive.

In an era of “everything in the name of a dollar”, we see someone, a professional athlete of all things, willingly leave behind money because they did not feel right taking it.  Seriously?  It is so refreshingly.  His statement of “I was not earning my money” is so honest it is quite literally unbelievable.

By the way, somebody needs to get Gil Meche on the speakers circuit.  Dare I say he could make a couple extra dollars telling his story…maybe it would resonate.  He could start at AIG.  There is quite literally no end to the number of organizations that would benefit from hearing his story.

Yes, it is much easier to be principled when you have $40 million in the bank.  I admit, that was my initial reaction, but that is what makes Gil Meche’s actions all the more impressive.  Who in sports, in entertainment, or in business, takes that sort of principled stand even when they have $40 million in the bank?  Though I am not sure of the actual number, I am confident saying it is damn few.  It is so rare that this story is special.  It should not be, but it is.

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Sports, Life, Barry Bonds and Enron

Sports often serves as a metaphor for life, or so goes the adage. While watching Ken Burns’ latest offering Baseball – The Tenth Inning, it struck me that at times sports is much more than just a metaphor; it is quite literally a direct reflection of life.  1995 to 2005 was a time of excess, of inflated statistics, of false heroes, false securities, and a willingness to not heed the facts.  And I am not talking just about baseball, steroids, and home runs.

It was the video clip of Barry Bonds 70th home run of the 2001 season.  The shot that tied the record set by Mark McGuire during the magical 1998 season.  As the narrator spoke, and the ball flew out of the park I could barely believe what I saw in massive, glowing, neon letters above the scoreboard in right center field:  “Enron Field”.   Classic – I literally laughed at the irony of the moment.  There captured in a 10 second video was the stark reality of that 10 year period.  Sports was not a metaphor – it was a mirror directly reflecting us, our society, and our values.

1995 to 2005 was a time of excess, of inflated statistics, of false heroes, false securities, and a willingness to not heed facts.  The run up in the stock market and in real estate was absolutely unprecedented, producing excesses in greed and money, lifestyles and consumption.  Enron, WorldCom, Arthur Anderson – names forever tied to inflated statistics.  Sports and politics, religion and business – all littered with false heroes.  9/11 – the end of innocence and false security.

Facts are facts, and at times sports can help us see things in life much more clearly.  Sometimes they are the things we do not want to see; that we do not want to acknowledge.  Seriously, Barry Bonds hitting a record tying home run at Enron Field – it was too funny.  I could not have created such wonderful irony.  How I love irony…and baseball.

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Yes, It Can Hurt Worse

Just ask Roger Clemens – indicted for lying to Congress.  Ouch, now that is some pain.  A few months back we pointed to the world of sports and performance enhancing drugs as an example of why admitting mistakes is a far better course of action than unfounded denial.  Thank you again Floyd Landis for the lesson.  And in the event anyone needed additional reinforcement, Mr. Clemens bubbles up in the news today.

Own It…Even When It Hurts seems to be almost naive at this point; folksy in a way.  It is bad enough when your reputation is in tatters and your legacy is tainted.  However couple that with a federal indictment and you have real pain.  As if anyone needed to have the lesson driven home; there is no way around the truth – admit, apologize and move on.  Alex Rodriquez came clean (relatively) once he was caught.  He is fine and his career continues – all is forgiven.  Roger Clemens painted himself into a corner and kept up the charade – he is in a real mess.  Liars pay in the end.  The form of payment might change, but the pain is always real.

Truth be told I fear for what might be coming in the world of sports and high-profile athletes.  There are some very damming accusations and innuendo being bantered about.  I just hope that if there is a truth to be told, the lesson of Roger Clemens is heeded.  It is obvious the Federal Government has taken an interest.  Unfortunately, it should not take the threat of jail to get to the truth, but that is the world in which we live.  Maybe these high-profile “falls from grace” will help bring back that folksy idea of owning it even when it hurts…maybe.

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The Perfect Call

By now everyone has heard the story – the blown call on the final out of the perfect game. Armando Galarraga had faced and retired 26 batters. No walks, no hits. Perfection. Bottom of the ninth, 2 outs and a routine ground ball and a flip to first – it was done – only the 21st perfect game in Major League Baseball history.  Then First Base Umpire Jim Joyce made the call as he saw it – the runner was safe and the perfect game gone.

We live in a world of instant feedback, of constant information, of second guessing and 20/20 hindsight.  It is an instant replay world, and instant replay told the story Wednesday night – a young man had his perfect game taken from him.  Make no mistake, Jim Joyce blew it.  However, from that moment forward, we have seen the best of human nature in both Armando Galarraga and Jim Joyce.

Neither denied what happened, nor did they shy away from the issue.  Armando Galarraga took the high road right off – he accepted the call and moved forward.  He retired the next batter and won the game.  No theatrics, no fits, no drama.  The Tigers won the game, Galarraga notched another victory and everyone moved forward.  He did not attack Jim Joyce for doing his job and making a call as he saw it.  He was mature and professional.  He was also disappointed, but never did he lose his composure.

Thank you Jim Joyce.  You stepped up, owned the call, and more importantly owned the mistake that was made.  Above all you did the hardest thing – you sought out Armando Galarraga and delivered your apology in person, with contrition and heartfelt sincerity.  Jim Joyce went from villan to hero in 24 hours.  There is a massive lesson there for all of us.

They have both been an example of perfection in an imperfect world.  Maybe the game will not go down as a perfect game, but rest assured the behaviour of Jim Joyce and Armando Galaraga will.


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Tigers – Twins. Every Day Matters

After 162 regular season games, 30 odd exhibition games, and 8 months since pitchers and catchers reported for the start of Spring Training, it all comes down to one game.  One tie breaking, winner goes to the play-offs and losers go home, season determining game.  Quite the humbling thought – everything you have worked for is determined in one final game.  Seems almost unfair when taking the long view of an entire season.

Imagine over the course of 162 games if just one game would have turned out differently for either team.  If one player pushed just a touch harder and made the play.  If team focus had never wavered.  If there had never been the all too human desire to take it a little easy just for a couple games – get a little rest in the midst of the long season grind.  Winners never lose focus.  They never take it easy.  They never mail it in and they never “just go through the motions”.  They are able to maintain a constant, steady effort over a long season, a projects life-cycle, or even their own career.  As the saying goes, they “take it one game at a time”.

Whenever that thought creeps up from the depth of our all too human mind.  Whenever motivation waivers in the midst of the day-to-day grind.  When the temptation is there to “mail it in this one time”.  To not give it your personal best.   Think of the Twins and Tigers and their one extra game to determine an entire season.  A body of work is a culmination of every single day, of every single interaction, of every single moment.  Always bring your best.  You owe it to your team, to your family, to yourself  – always.

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