Even though our favorite teams (the Cardinals and the Twins) didn’t make it to the World Series this year, we’re still following each game and enjoying the spectacle.
Watching the Kansas City Royals and San Francisco Giants battle it out for the Commissioner’s Trophy this week, I was reminded of one of the classic baseball legends of the past.
The story takes place during the 1948 pennant chase. It’s not just a story about baseball and superstars and heroic efforts. It’s a story about leveraging your best people in clutch situations while avoiding the urge to over-rely on your ace players so much that it places team goals at risk.
Let’s start with a little background.
The Wind-Up…: The 1948 Boston Braves played their home games in cavernous Nickerson Field and cruised to the National League pennant based in large part on their starting pitching.
In addition to a rising young southpaw named Warren Spahn, the Braves had a strong-armed righty named Johnny Sain who was so dominant that he finished as runner-up in the voting for that season’s Most Valuable Player award.
Spahn went on to become one of the greatest left-handed hurlers the game has ever seen.
Sain enjoyed a long career as an active player before becoming one the the game’s premier pitching coaches. He was so good as a coach that talented pitchers openly wished to play on his teams just to receive the benefit of his mentoring.
…And the Pitch: The Braves came down the home stretch needing a handful of victories to clinch the National League title and a spot in the World Series. As luck would have it, a combination of rained out games and scheduled days off allowed Braves Manager Billy Southworth to continually start his talented pair of pitchers through a crucial 12-day period that unfolded like this:
Boston took both games of a Labor Day doubleheader on Septmber 6th…
Spahn tossed a 14-inning, complete game gem to win the opener 2-1, then Sain dominated the second contest by throwing a 4-0 shutout.
The team enjoyed a pair of scheduled off days, before a late-summer rain storm caused their next game to be postponed.
After that long break, Sain started the first game of a double dip against the Phillies on September 11th and won 3-1. Spahn kept pace by winning the nightcap in a blowout 13-2.
Three days later, Sain took his turn – and of course, he won again, beating the Cubs 10-3. Spahn closed the door on the same opponent the next day by a score of 5-2.
After one more day off, Southworth tossed his regular rotation out the window and brought back his two ace pitchers on short rest for yet another double header on Friday September 17th against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Sain won the opener 6-2, then Spahn clinched the second game 2-1 to complete a remarkable run of eight wins with no losses in twelve days!
This amazing performance was immortalized in a poem by Boston Post writer Gerald V. Hern that was published in the middle of the streak on September 14, 1948:
Spahn and Sain, then Pray for Rain
First we’ll use Spahn,
then we’ll use Sain.
Then an off day,
followed by rain.
Back will come Spahn,
followed by Sain.
by two days of rain.
Hern’s clever prose were later shortened to produce the Braves’ playoff rallying cry: “Spahn & Sain – Then Pray for Rain.”
A Few Too Many Trips to the Well? It’s safe to say that such an incredible performance under the pressure of a pennant race will never be repeated in today’s era of pitch counts, sabermetrics and relief specialists.
But as good as they were, Spahn and Sain couldn’t carry the Braves across the finish line. Boston lost the Fall Classic in six games to the Cleveland Indians.
Some say the manager may have over-used his aces, but they both pitched well in the 1948 World Series. Others say it’s not fair to base the results of a team game on the performance of a single player or even a pair of superstars. In either case, there are lessons to be learned by Change Agents from this story.
In my next post, I’ll share ways that you can pace the work of your best Change Agents to avoid burnout and build the change capability of your organization so you don’t have to risk your goals or pray for rain!
Questions for Chatter:
1. The Braves manager knew that Spahn and Sain were his best pitchers and used that knowledge to his advantage. Who are your superstar Change Agents?
2. Have you ever been part of a team that over-relied on a couple strong team members while letting others sit on the bench? How did that impact your team’s success?