Tag Archives: NLCS

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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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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