Fans of American Major League Baseball tuned in last Monday night to watch the San Francisco Giants win the World Series over the Texas Rangers. I like both teams and didn’t have a particular favorite in the contest, but I did grow to appreciate the Giants for how they got into the championship series and especially how they played.
I also noticed a few lessons that I think teams of all kinds can draw from the unexpected success of this year’s Major League Baseball champions.
1. You need fast horses to win a race. The long baseball season tends to wear down teams with limited payrolls and reward teams that invest in talent. But there is a limit to how much success you can buy with your checkbook alone. The table on the right shows the top ten teams in Major League Baseball for 2010 in terms of payroll. The first thing I noticed is that only 3 of the top ten teams even made the playoffs! It’s especially encouraging to see that the Texas Rangers actually had the 27th highest payroll in the league. That’s right – their payroll was 27th out of 30 teams and they were runners-up for the title! (Here’s a link to a list of payrolls for all 30 teams) Let me give you a quick summary of how the open wallet approach worked out this year … of the 30 teams in Major League Baseball, 8 made the playoffs:
- 3 came from the top 10: (New York Yankees, Philadelphia Phillies, the Giants)
- 3 came from the middle 10 (Minnesota Twins, Atlanta Braves, Cincinnati Reds)
- 2 came from the bottom 10 (Texas & the Tampa Bay Rays)
So much for big money buying a Championship… It doesn’t work in baseball and typically doesn’t work in business either.
Giant Lesson Learned: Spend some time and resources getting good players on your roster, but don’t count on talent alone to win.
2. Know What You Have to Work With. The best teams don’t always get the best of the best players, but they routinely get the best results with of the talent they have. Manager Bruce Bochy is not considered a strategic genius or a tactical wizard. But his players deeply trust his instincts and his heart. Bochy has the same opinion of his players and knows what they are best at and where they struggle. He works to put players in a position where they can succeed – then stands out of the way while they do their best for him and the team.
Giants star pitcher Barry Zito was struggling at the end of the season. This presented a problem as the playoffs approached. You see Zito is the highest paid player on the entire team. He makes $18.6 million per year. Salary aside, Bochy opted to keep Zito off the playoff roster in exchange for another young pitcher who he felt could help the team more. He made the announcement this way:
“Barry’s such a good teammate and he’s a standup guy,” Bochy said before Thursday night’s Game 1. “We explained our situation… I think it’s fair to say the other four [pitchers] are throwing a little bit better right now… Believe me, it’s tough when you [decide to leave out] a guy who’s a big reason why you’re here.”
The move obviously worked. But even more remarkable than the success of the roster move was Zito’s gracious attitude and his teammates’ appreciation for the star pitcher’s reaction. To further demonstrate Bochy’s commitment to the team’s best interest; the second-highest paid player on the team ($12 Million Man Aaron Rowand) also sat on the bench while a virtually unknown journeyman named Cody Ross took his spot in right field and tore up opposing pitching throughout the Giants’ playoff run.
- Q: How did Boche know to make these controversial personnel moves?
- A: He knew his players well enough to put them each in a position to perform – and that put the team in a position to win.
Giant Lesson Learned: Invest time and attention in truly getting to know each of your team members and their capabilities
…And pay close attention to their willingness to adapt their personal goals to address team goals.
3. Teams win championships. The best players park their individual goals and corrosive attitudes at the locker room door. It was ironic to note that on the same day that a self-described collection of baseball misfits clinched the world championship, the National Football League’s Minnesota Vikings dumped their infamous All-Star Headcase / Wide Receiver Randy Moss. Moss’s off-field antics and on-field lack of hustle had finally aggravated the coaching staff enough to warrant completely cutting ties with one of the most talented players of all time. They reasoned that the team had a better chance of winning without him.
So for every Reggie Jackson or Rickey Henderson who rides their bombastic personalities to World Series fame… there are 20 more self-centered superstars who drag their entire team down by planting seeds of dissension that grow into dysfunction under the pressure of game conditions. There’s a lesson in there for teams, coaches, Randy Moss and Moss-like players on our teams as well. While horses win races, teams win championships.
Giant Lesson Learned: It’s not only who we have on the team – it’s what we can get them to do for the good of the team that matters.
Congratulations to the Giants on winning their first world championship since 1954. I’m impressed with the accomplishment – but even more impressed by the way they did it.
Questions for Chatter:
- How can you get to know your players’ strengths and weaknesses in the way Bruce Bochy did?
- What can a team leader do with superstars who are so disruptive that they actually get in the way of team success?