Tag Archives: cardinals

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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Filed under Business, Hiring and Interviewing, Interviewing, leadership, Sports

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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Synergies in Business – A $250 Million Example

So Albert took the money. Good for him, good for the Angels, and yes even good for the Cardinals. After a few days to let the dust settle and get the emotion out-of-the-way, it is clear that there were quite literally no losers in this quarter billion dollar deal. Imagine that, a quarter billion dollars for a baseball player, and everyone wins…crazy.  Actually, the word is synergy.

Synergy was one of those words that it takes a bit of life experiences to really grasp. Granted, Stephen Covey did a great job adding “synergy” to the everyday lexicon thanks to “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”.  Thinking win-win is also a factor of maturity and just having the ability to see the bigger picture; of taking the long view.  That is a lot of Covey cliché in a short paragraph.

Clearly Albert won in this deal – to the tune of a quarter billion dollars.  (Note to Charlie Sheen…$250 million is real “winning”).  Granted, Albert was relatively speaking “underpaid” during his time with the Cardinals.  However, even he has to be grateful for the stage and opportunity – he was able to showcase his skills with a great organization, build an amazing track record of success, and frankly set himself up for the massive payout that is his new contract with the Angels.   The real question is, how is it a win-win for everyone else?

The Angels now have the face of the sport, an offensive powerhouse, as well as the marquis Latin American player and role model in a huge and growing Latin American market.  I have been to Angel Stadium in Anaheim…it is a great ballpark and it has a very strong Latin American feel and vibe – Albert fits – he is a huge asset to the team on and off the field.  And yes, the Angels are an American League club – Albert can DH for a lot more years in the American League than he could ever play in the field with a National League team.  The Angels got a good deal.  They will certainly make up the $250 million they have invested in Albert…no question.

But what of the Cardinals – how did they win in this example of synergies?  I have said before, there is such a thing as addition by subtraction, and especially so when it comes to staffing.  Albert Pujols is without question one of the finest baseball players to ever play.  The first 11 years of his career have been absolutely epic.  He is already in the company of DiMaggio, Williams and Ruth when it comes to offensive production.  Add in a Rookie of the Year, 3 League MVP awards, 9 All-Star selections, and two World Series Championships and you have one amazing legacy in St. Louis.  All of that for the relatively low-cost of around $105 million…a screaming good deal in hindsight.  And now the Cardinals save an enormous amount by not paying Pujols massive salary on the back half of his career.  They can sign other, younger players at much lower cost.  In raw business terms, it is a huge advantage.  The Cardinals will add to their team in the long-term by loosing one player in the short-term.  Business is harsh sometimes.

$250 million plus for 10 years of work.  It is a staggering sum.  But if it is that amount of money that is required to teach everyone a lesson in synergy, then I guess it was money well spent…just wish someone would slide me a slice of that pie.

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Lessons of the Fall Classic

Yes its cliché, yes it is a story line that has been over played, but just minutes away from the first pitch, it is a lesson that is worth remembering. And yes, even worth repeating…never give up, never quit, and above all never give up hope. One last tip of the hat to the Cardinals – what a season.

Granted, they have been playing on house money since the end of August, but there is something to be said for that devil-may-care attitude that comes when there is nothing left to lose.  Then again, a franchise with as rich a history as the St. Louis Cardinals knows that they had done it before.  Granted it was 1964, but after closing a 9 1/2 game deficit in September to win the pennant, they bested the vaunted Yankees of Berra, Maris and Mantel in the World Series.  Lessons and confidence, faith and hope can be drawn from what has been done in the past.  It might not have been you, but the success of those that have gone before can be an inspiration; even a validation.

Like many I bash baseball for being a slow game mired in a marathon of a season.  But come the playoffs the boyhood love of the game returns.  And now more than ever I embrace the beauty of the game as it relates to life.  There is no clock, quarters, or arbitrarily imposed limitations.  Each team has an equal number of opportunities.  Each hitter a clean slate when he walks to the plate.  Opportunity abounds.  There are literally no limits to what can be achieved…as long as the game is being played.  It is the ultimate in individual competition and team play.  It takes a team to win, but the batter stands alone.  Squander the opportunity, and you are out.  It is binary, and it is reality.

So thanks to one class organization, one amazing team, a great leader like Larussa, and individuals like David Freese for showing us all what it means to never say die.  Last night was a horrible 7 innings of sloppy baseball, but an epic last 4 innings. And one great call and tribute from Joe Buck…gotta love this video…

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Filed under Coaching, Sports

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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