Wednesday, October 29, 2003

Part II: Baseball Evolution--
Project Mangle-ment  

Now that the games are over, a very popular topic for sportswriters, especially those in New York's metro agglomeration, is to start writing about the business angles of baseball. Not a lot of management grist there, mostly just money, which itself does have some impact on management styles and choices, though the stronger the management in an organization, the lower the ratio of management style money dictates.

But the Yanks now-inevitable re-tooling is now a prime focus for ink on paper, blather on blither.

During the Ed Barrow days of Yankee management (Barrow was the Boston manager who "invented" Babe Ruth, taking him out of the starting rotation where he was a all-star caliber pitcher and sticking him in the outfield so he could get his bat in the lineup every day), the Yankee (Barrow, really) theory was to fix a situation before a competitor could identify it as a problem. This is the reason the Yanks were able to trade players for their apparent value, not their real-value-next-season.

This off-season, the Yanks won't be able to do that, because they've already told the world that this 101 win team is a problem. Yeah, I know it isn't, it's a very good team, just a team that had a bad three-game stretch. But even very good teams have to look to the future. The sportwriters are rebuilding this team on paper as though they were the GMs of a team with endless resources (okay, we'll get Vladimir Guerrero & Gary Sheffield, talk Roger Clemens out of retiring, blah, blah, blah). And the Yanks have both lush resources and a controller who's willing to invest or even over-invest to get results, but they're not limitless.

Whatever plan the Yanks put forth, presuming their GM Brian Cashman is still around, will have succession-planning in mind. That is, it's not enough to make moves to fix today's "problems", but to work an overall plan with the future in mind. Who is good now but will be losing mojo in 2005? What teams have a player I need now for a player at a position I don't need now? What guy in the minors can be adequate to be a strong possibility of replacement for this guy another team is demanding for the guy on their team I really want? And how much will I have to pay another team to take Jeff Weaver's contract off my hands?

Beyond baseball, we call this project management, as the high ratio of readers who are professional project managers already know. Very few journalists or jock-talk guys have project management aptitudes, the key one being what I call sequencing. However, trhere is one writer who has touched on this subject (and I hope will continue to), and that's Doug Pappas. On his indispensably fine Doug's Business of Baseball Weblog, he wrote a recent entry that touched on the Yankee retooling subject with a key project management tool, a table of contract commitments to individual players over time. That is to say, of all the ink (and electrons) dedicated to this "analysis", Pappas' alone has started with an actual management approach to the task. Which how John McGraw built the New York Giants dynasty in the late teens and early twenties, which is how Ed Barrow learned to do it and make the Yankees a regular contender from 1920 through the 1950s. Decent succession planning makes problems vaporize before they happen. Management By Wishful Thinking (MBWT) or Management By Just Doing Something Right Now (MBJDSRN) doesn't make problems vaporize before they happen.

It's not enough to throw Vlad the Impaler at this "problem". It's also a question of resources over time.

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