Friday, October 29, 2004

Hiatus Until November 4  

I've taken on a new client and will be away from my computer through Thursday, November 4. No new entries until then and I won't be able to answer your e-mail messages, either.

In the meantime, let me point you at some classic content you might enjoy:

This year-old entry on Theo Epstein and Boston Red Sox front office.

This shortie (well, for me anyway) on last off-season's Yankee planning.

This one on the pre-2004 season Texas Rangers, a surprise team (w/gratuitous Green Monster reference).

If you'd like pointers to a couple of always-engaging blogs, there's:

Doug Pappas' site. His death earlier this year meant the end of an inexhaustible, original and wise mind, but his works survive thanks to SABR. I love going back and re-reading Pappas' work.

Tom Peters' very active site. Not just a lone management consultant, Peters has a collection of clever people who work with him and post to the blog, too. Not every idea is an earth-shaker, but reading regularly will shake up your thinking (if you let it) and that will lead to better understanding, as well as insights of your own.

Finally, if you read this before Tuesday, I strongly urge you to get out and vote. It's the very smallest contribution a citizen can make back to her country. Vote for somebody. And if you hate every single candidate and issue on the ballot, you haven't invested enough attention, but you can always write in "None of the Above". There is no excuse not to vote, to stand up for your nation's ideal.

Monday, October 25, 2004

Part III - The Carlos Beltrán
You're Missing Out On  

With the benefit of his (a) being on a team that made the playoffs, and (b) totally coming to chew bubble gum and kick ass, Carlos Beltrán, the Houston Astros' center-fielder finally got the national attention his skill level merits. In large organizations, there are usually at least a dozen Carlos Beltráns lurking hidden, performing at a high level but not noticed either because they work in a low-profile area, work for a manager who doesn't realize it, or work for a manager who's keeping their star hidden.


In the 55 playoff plate appearances he notched, Beltrán (The Manati Manatee) hit a Bondsian 8 homers, averaged .435, with a smokin' on-base of .535, a caliente 1.020 slugging percentage and produced an OPS of 1.555. He stole 6 bases, and didn't get caught once.

Sometimes players put up sweet looking numbers in a playoff series or two and while those numbers look good, on occasion the numbers are a little empty of torque delivered because they don't actually help the team score runs. But his hitting actually helped his team, too. His 14 RBI puts him almost in Hack Wilson territory for those 12 games, and the 21 runs he scored are in the stratosphere; that hitting really resulted in run yield all around.

Of course, he's a skilled outfielder with a good throwing arm, too, and for people who value the stolen base, a prolific base thief who gets caught about as often as Seal releases an album of AC/DC covers (he was 42 steals -3 caught this season, improving on his 35-4 lifetime season composite average). A side note here: Steals have become discredited, because on composite average, unless you can succeed more than two-thirds of your attempts, the net benefit of the bases you steal becomes a net-negative. In our current baseball environment, with the juiced ball and lots of extra-base hits, losing a runner to a stolen base becomes even more "expensive". Take this year's Juan "Perhaps Not As Lucky As We Thought" Pierre: Pierre successfully pilfered 45 sacks this season, but was put out trying 24 times, so for all his success, it appears (context plays a part, so we can't be sure from looking at these season numbers) his base-stealing efforts undermined his Florida Marlin team's offense. But this voting the stolen base off the island thing is only reasonable for the composite average. The reality is, if you can steal 42 bases in a season and only get caught 3 times, the net advantage is about like hitting an extra 16 doubles. His level of accomplishment, if he can keep it up another four years or so, would put him among the all-time stolen base percentage leaders, and one of the few players in history who both stole a lot of bases and managed to contribute a lot doing it.

All of a sudden, there are a lot of interesting stories are circulating about Beltrán mostly, now that the Astros are sitting on the sidelines, speculation about where his free agency in the off-season might take him. But he's been discovered after toiling in relative obscurity for five years in Kansas City away from the coasts where national media live and focus, and on a team that has been out of playoff contention for all but six months of his career.

It's brutal that a contributor this talented could be so overlooked by so many. But not uncommon.


In big organizations, the wasting of talent is pandemic. The larger the organization, the more likely someone can be a star performer and be overlooked. ¿Why does this happen?

Most frequently, it's because a contributor works in a low-profile area. Big organizations have their star groups that are showered with resources and praise, and their grunt groups that, while equally necessary, aren't viewed as "sexy" or appealing. It's not universal, but as a rule a successful organization's sales department will be very good at selling themselves as important, and sales-men and -women are likely to rise up in a hierarchy with some success -- their personal skill set benefits them. On the other hand, people who do operations or work in the warehouse in a line or managerial capacity will generally get overlooked relative to their contribution. Again, the skill set required to be successful in operations doesn't include marketing oneself and therefore will exist in a lower ratio of successful contributors. It's not just business: in the military, there are special forces and the Air Force, and these have a lot more star quality than the equally necessary infantry and their slogging and grunt work. In academia, most four-year colleges maintain departments they need to have for a balanced list but that are not well-endowed or treasured, while other departments get most of the gravy and glory.

In under-valued areas, people can be stars, but they're being stars at something that the organization has forgotten one can be a star at. If you work in a big organization, I'll bet you have a number of these floating around, under-recognized or perhaps unrecognized.

Sometimes, the star is hidden because the contributor's manager is afraid to lose her or is just not a promoter. I see this sometimes. The department manager, while valuing the star, is just so focused on inputs and outputs that the manager makes no special effort to promote the star's work outside the department. Frequently, this is part of a personality setting of the manager; he or she is not a people-focused manager, or in the family he grew up in the parents made no effort to praise, assuming "one should just know", and saving feedback for negative situations. Overcoming one's family upbringing and the way that experience can infiltrate one's managerial patterns is Third Base in the Management By Baseball model.

Finally, the nastiest reason. Sometimes the star is hidden because the manager is afraid to share the limelight, either because it might put him or her in the position of having a replacement on hand (making the manager more disposable) or because the manager's ego doesn't sit comfortably with sharing any benefits that might come with glory. This reason is the more neurotic and hardest to overcome. It is more prevalent when then manager's neurotic behavior is fueled by the organization's wider neurosis: a place where employment bulimia (layoffs or restructurings as a normal response to difficulties) is a way of being, there are logical as well as neurotic incentives for this managerial behavior.

It's likely there are Carlos Beltráns in your organization, overlooked, under-appreciated stars. If you find them and promote them, they, and you, can boost your organization's production.

Friday, October 22, 2004

Part II - The Man Who Shopped Liberty Beltrán:
Surviving Ridicule to Try Again  

One of the hottest playoff heroes has been Carlos Beltrán, the Houston Astros' center-fielder. There are a lot of interesting stories circulating about him since the Astros earned their wild card berth, from his home-runs-in-consecutive-games streak to speculation about where his free agency in the off-season might take him.

To a management consultant, though, the three stories about Beltrán, known as the Manati Manatee, that are the most worthwhile haven't been batted about much. One is an instructive lesson in mentoring, this entry is a lesson in managerial courage, and one is about a universal trend all managers would do well to pay attention to.


This year's Houston Astro team has been looking at its last shot, with some aging veterans and some good contributors about to become free agents. After this season, it'll probably be a couple of years before the team is this good again, though it likely will be, with some good young talent and some prime talent already on the roster.

In mid-summer, with the team in contention but not well ahead, Astro G.M. Gerry Hunsicker went shopping for help. He didn't just have this deal in mind. As with any respectable manager, he considered the past and meant to learn from it.

Six years ago at the trade deadline, Hunsicker traded for one of the best pitchers in baseball, Randy Johnson. It was expensive; Johnson was going to become a free agent at the end of the year and Hunsicker knew it was unlikely the Astros would be able to re-sign him, so whatever assets they gave up for him were gone for good with only two months of Johnson's services as the reward (three months if they made the playoffs and won).

The Astros gave the Seattle Mariners the franchise's former #1 ranked pitching prospect no longer at the top of their list (John Halama), a rising AAA pitcher with high upside (Freddy Garcia), and a AAA shortstop considered useful but not exceptional (Carlos Guillén). Without putting the trade in context, it's "clear" Hunsicker got shorn. In exchange for 11 starts from Johnson (the number of regular season starts he would be able to pitch), the G.M. was coughing up three young players, all of whom looked to have major league careers of some value.

You can't make a lot of deals like this, because even when they work out, you are eating your seed grain. But if your team just needs an extra on-field, emotional and fan-excitement jump, a bold move like trading for an exceptional Big Unit like Johnson has rewards that, in this context, can cover the cost in a way that seems improbable if you remove the context. Hunsicker didn't try to get someone pretty-good and better than his least-good everyday player, which has some value, he got one of those rare assets my friend Phil Barber calls a "difference maker".

Hunsicker played "Shoot the Moon", and it paid off in regular season wins and attendance and buzz.

Before the trade, those 1998 Astros were a very good 65-44 (.596 and 3½ games up in their division).
After the trade they were a transcendent 37-16 (.698 and winning their division by 12½ games).
Yes, they were 10-1 during the stretch drive when Johnson started, but they were also 27-15 in games he didn't start (.642).
They were simply playing much better with Johnson. He made a difference in their success even on days he wasn't pitching.

The Astros' momentum did not serve them well in their first round playoff against the San Diego Padres, and they were eliminated. And at that point, much of the punditocracy decided Hunsicker was a fool -- he had mortgaged some bright potential future for a risk that didn't pan out.

Their criticism, on the surface, held much truth. In the immediate accounting, his bold Randy Johnson move didn't get them a World Series trophy and the cost was high. But the rewards appeared through other measures -- attendance, longer-term fan loyalty, a sense among staff, players and fans that the franchise was aggressively committed to success and one that lingered after 1999.

A good risk doesn't always pan out. Acquiring Randy Johnson might not yield a Series trophy, I might buy a tickets to a Johnny Winter concert where he can't play lead anymore, or buy Honda that turns out to be a lemon, Warren Buffet might buy a stock he sells for a below-market return.


Having taken so much heat from so many quarters for the bold deal, a weaker general manager could have frozen up or would likely have avoided making the same kind of deal.

Hunsicker did it again this season.

On June 24, he traded for Beltrán, the disappointed Kansas City Royals' most valuable contributor, scheduled to become the most glittery free agent at the end of the year, and a player the well-heeled New York Yankees both can afford and need. Moreover, the outfielder's agent is the notorious Scott Boras, a brutal negotiator who always pushes his players to take the highest $$ offer (regardless of other factors), meaning the attempt to get the player's services will be simply an auction. Further, Beltrán expressed a desire to play for a team that could get into the playoffs every year (having spent the first five years of his six-year career without experiencing playoffs), and Houston is not clearly going to be there again -- especially if they fling at Beltrán the resources it will probably take, a Kekulé ring because to sign him you need to have a dominant roster, but to have that kind of roster, you need more $$ than you can walk away with after signing him. It's not impossible, but quite unlikely.

So after six years, Hunsicker made the bold mid-season move for the partial season player. He coughed up the best reliever from the Astros' very deep bullpen & a promising (not dominant) young catcher. While the Astros had plenty of hope for other relievers to take over, they will need help at catcher soon. But to all appearances, he didn't hesitate, he didn't let the fear of being ridiculed and second-guessed deter him from the bold move, even though it might not get the team an obvious long-term benefit.

This move did not appear to work out right away. On the day the Astros acquired the Manati Manatee, the team was 38-34, 5 games out of first. By August 14, they were 56-60, 19½ games back, and 7 games behind that day's best wild card record.

Hunsicker had a couple of weeks to shop Beltrán to a team looking for a boost. Apparently, he did but ultimately decided the returns were lower than the rewards of keeping the contributor. At the risk of getting hammered for the same bold move again, the Astros front office kept him.

The bold move worked out this time. The team went 13-3 through the rest of August, and tacked on a blistering 23-7 September, with enough wins to snare the wild card berth & enough adrenaline to get past the Atlanta Braves and win their first-ever playoff series. Again, the off-field benefits accrue to the franchise, especially important because on paper this is a team due for at least a short period of decline. The dollars they will reap from the good will of the 2004 effort, spear-headed in part by Beltrán and the meta-meaning of Hunsicker's willingness to be bold in pursuit of a flag or a trophy, are more valuable than they would be to a team likely to have another roaring season next year. They are more valuable because the fan base now has the marination in good feelings that can potentially nurture another ~3 million ticket season next year (especially if oil prices stay above $45/bbl. and gasoline in the $2.10-$3.50 range) even if the team is scratching around .500.


Most managers fall into to one of two extreme categories: they either (a) won't allow the past or the evidence of real failure deter their internal world views (a failure to achieve 3rd base in the Management by Baseball Model) & continue to repeat past failures, or (b) they allow fear of others' perceptions deflect them from pursuing high returns that might not work out.

The Astros front office is good example of healthy decisionmaking in this area -- six years after a bold move that the pundit class decided was a loser, Gerry Hunsicker did it again, not because he didn't realize the cost, but precisely because he saw both sides of the equation and had enough courage weather the knee-jerk fear that drives much of the criticism.

In your own organization, let Hunsicker and the Astros front office be a beacon. This doesn't mean you don't need to run the numbers, so the algebra, ignore your failures. But just as every random move doesn't result in failure, not every optimal move doesn't result in success. If that immutable fact scares you, management is not a good fit -- there are many careers where it won't make much difference, and a few where it will actually benefit you, but management is not one of them.

So will the Astros pull off another bold mid-season deal? I suggest it's not if but when, and I hope the success of this one doesn't make ownership trigger-happy. I suspect Hunsicker, left to his calculations, will know the "right" time to snare his next Big Unit or Manati Manatee.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Part I: Managing Carlos Beltrán -- Investing in Quality Yields  

One of the hottest playoff contributors is Carlos Beltrán, the Houston Astros' center-fielder. There are a lot of interesting stories circulating about him since the Astros earned their wild card berth, from his home-runs-in-consecutive-games streak to speculation about where his free agency in the off-season might take him.

To a management consultant, though, the three stories about Beltrán that are the most worthwhile haven't been batted about much. One is an instructive lesson in mentoring, one a lesson in courage, and one is about a universal trend all managers would do well to pay attention to.


Second base in the Management by Baseball Model is managing people. You can't just be good at people management and expect to be very good, but once you've mastered first base (operational management), it's the next critical area a manager needs to master.

Allard Baird, the Kansas City Royals' general manager, has shown a good example of a little-known but very rewarding technique that's especially useful in our current rent-a-body climate where the talent doesn't stay in any one job very long.

Baird offers himself up as an active mentor to team players who are willing to take mentoring and maintains the relationship with them once they leave. In baseball, leaving is common, but it's especially pronounced for a franchise like the Royals that more often than average doesn't offer bids for prime-career talent that will match offers made by other teams. Case in point: Beltrán, who is going to be the most-attractive position player in the free agent pile this winter. Beltrán is a skilled hitter who hits for pretty good power and pretty good average, plays a skill position with very good success, has a positive arm and is an excellent base-runner and stealer.

With the Royals' season in a shambles, and with the opportunity to squeeze a little value out of the Royals' investment in Beltrán, Baird traded him in late June to the Houston Astros, a team with a shot (and determination) to make the playoffs.

But, according to The Sporting News' Ken Rosenthal, that was not the end of Baird's relationship with Beltrán.

Royals general manager Allard Baird on Astros CF Carlos Beltran, whom he parted with in a three-team trade earlier this season: "I'm really proud of him. I call him about every 2-2 1/2 weeks. He'll call back and update me on how he's doing. I think a lot of the kid on a personal level and professional level. He's got a chance to be as good as he wants to be. Now he's on a stage where everyone can see that."

Baird is not bitter about losing Beltrán to a wealthier, currently-more successful team. Their relationship, a work relationship not a friendship, continues beyond Beltrán's tenure with Baird and the Royals. Baird (deservedly) chooses to see Beltrán's success as an extension of his own success, without having to dress up in a rabbit suit and jump up & down signalling it to the world.

The reward for Beltrán, who had played his whole major league career in the American League and for the Royals, is an element of continuity, this connection with someone who knows him as a contributor. Like a young person goes off to college but can drive home for the weekend to do laundry and get some emotional support, a contributor who moves on to another department or another organization benefits from some transition time, some additional perspective on her new environment.

The reward for Baird is that, by maintaining his relationship with Beltrán, he gets an extra pair of eyes, possible scouting (so-and-so who you played against is in the trade market...would he fit in here? That manager, what does he tend to do?), and perhaps the chance to re-acquire the contributor later in his career either when Beltrán moves on to another organization or Baird does. Moreover, if Baird is looking for work for himself or another protege, Beltrán might prove to be a reference or a contact or an instigator. And if the contributor participates in some innovation elsewhere, the mentor might get advance insight into it.

Maintaining a long-term work relationship with quality individuals is worthwhile -yes- emotionally, but there are solid business reasons, too.

Be like Allard Baird. Invest a little extra in your charges while they are with you; help build their careers and don't assume that mutual reward should stop when they move on.

In the next entry, I'll elaborate on the second nifty lesson relating to Beltrán -- the courage of a manager in doing the right thing even when that manager has been lambasted for doing it previously.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Cognitive Terrorism: A LaRussa Tactic
You Might Use  

The last entry was about a basic personality duality in managers, a spectrum of "settings" that determine the way a manager will make any important decision and will shade the way the manager will make even small decisions. I used Tony LaRussa as an exemplar for one of the ends of the spectrum.

I used to watch LaRussa in action a lot, back when I lived in Oakland and a company I worked with had season tickets to the As and was very generous with them. But that was hundreds of games ago, & I'd forgotten until Brian at (the insightful and well-written and extraordinarily entertaining...whew) Redbird Nation reminded me a specific LaRussa tactic that some other very good managers have had: What I call Cognitive Terrorism (CT).


In a very competitive situation, CT is the application of a sudden change away from expected behavior when engaged with an antagonist who either pre-plans his path and doesn't like to change (think Gene Mauch) or who takes a lot of time to process alternatives. As Brian noted about LaRussa:

La Russa’s strategy is built on getting in the other team’s head, disrupting them. He’ll often go against book for no other reason than keeping his opponents on their toes. I’ve seen him try almost anything to rattle the other team (or rally his own team): he’ll yell at umps; he’ll get himself thrown out of games; he’ll have the umpires check the opposing pitcher for cheating; he’ll start a war of words with the other teams’ star players (Barry Bonds, twice) or their managers (notably Dusty Baker, several times). He will use any strategy to obtain an edge.

This is within the realm of the behavior I previously wrote about as Seeker behavior, but all managers with the appropriate knack for it can exercise CT, even if they're not a Seeker.

The prerequisites for success as a CT artist are:

  • A good knowledge of The Book (beyond baseball, standard operating procedure, or commonly-accepted standards), its limits, and just how far you can innovate off of it without going into an event horizon,
  • A natural interest in examining and deconstructing competitors' habits and biases,
  • An ability to get to a "good-enough" decision very quickly, that is, quick thinking, which is not the same as intelligence though it can accompany it,
  • An ability to appear calm on the outside even when one doesn't feel that way.

Earl Weaver used to run this game against Gene Mauch. While pundits criticized Earl for being a "push-button" manager, he varied a lot in seasons and adapted his tactics from season to season based on opponents and the basic environment (the liveliness of the ball, etc.). Mauch really was a push-button manager. He simplified his life by mentally charting generically optimal strategies and then before games examined the day's situation and tweaked his settings a little, but went into a game and operated without changes as much as any well-known manager in the 20th Century. Mauch was a real S.O.P. guy who would make any Boeing or Ford Motor or General Electric proud, smart and pre-meditated.

For that reason, Weaver could play him like a drum set. Weaver could put a pinch-hitter in the on-deck circle who would trigger Mauch's autonomic response of putting in a specific pitcher and then Weaver would change hitters getting the exact match-up he was looking for. In at least one case, Mauch changed pitchers before the pinch-hitter was even announced, leaving the original P.H. untapped and available later.

Weaver reveled in these manipulations of the autonomic or slow. Because he enjoyed it, I believe he sometimes did it even when he didn't need to, just for fun. I think LaRussa does, too. There's a certain pursuit-of-knowledge kind of manager who thrives on the edges (this goes specifically to Seeker behavior, as Brian notes). And both of them applied this both in regard to in-game tactics, but also sometimes just to elicit an emotional response. Weaver could not easily out-tactic Billy Martin, for example, because Martin was just as fluid and almost as innovative as Weaver, but Martin behaved as though he had a couple of severe personality disorders, and Weaver knew with almost-perfect certainty how to get Martin to blow his top, and Martin with top blown, a little distracted, yielded a small edge to Weaver.

But even if you're the opposite, a Raver who is managing risk instead of opportunity, you can use this tactic to some degree. If your antagonist/competitor is a by-the-book, very predictable operator, you can give the illusion that you are pursuing a certain line to which you know she'll respond autonomically -- without radically changing your own direction, you can make your antagonist/competitor waste cycles or resources and go off in a direction that undermines the antagonists objectives.


I've used this CT approach with great satisfaction in the past. I once had a staff job with a new department. The already-powerful manager of a related department who had hoped to inherit the sceptre for the new department and fold it into his own empire was very upset at losing this plum. Upper management knew he was not a start-up guy, while he was incredibly intelligent and incredibly ambitious and driven, he just didn't have the skills.

Weasel Boy, as he was known around the organization, set off on a Holy War to prove the new department was badly run and failing. Because the new department was providing services to his existing empire (he was our main customer), he would come to me with a long list of impossible demands. It was our job to service his demands as best we could. Upper management, while strong enough to realize his limitation, wouldn't intercede because it was very very weak-minded and driven by a fellow with severe Billy Martin-like personality disorders.

I had made a choice early on that the way to build the group was to attain a quality unrivalled in the industry, and amp up quantity once we had mastered the process and procedures and research needed for the quality targets. So he saw that as our weakness, and tried to push a quantity of work at us that would break both our quality and our ability to deliver. He would come to our department and engage in debate about what he needed and when (not dialogue, not negotiation, debate), and it became apparent to me he always prepared rigorously, like a presidential candidate for a debate (If she says this, I'll say that). He was the Gene Mauch of antagonists. And because this was a zero-sum game sadly (he could only "win" if I "lost" and vice-versa), it constrained the arguments available to him. He became very predictable.

He would come over for a debate, and I'd know exactly what Weasel Boy was going to say, and I would always have a return that was completely different from anything for which he had prepared. He was very intelligent, far moreso than I am, but Weasel Boy is deliberate, a pre-planner who finds it hard to come to a conclusion, but once he reaches it, finds it hard to change away from it. "But you didn't say that last time!" he'd sputter, his Army Corps of Engineers Master Plan in tatters.

As he lost his composure, I pretended to be totally calm, exhibiting a tranquil, impassive monkish persona (think LaRussa), which only un-nerved the already-agitated Weasel Boy more

I always nailed him in these debates, he always left muttering.

I took great joy in it, and as much for the satisfaction of knowing I was leaving him dazed and confused as for the fact that I knew our group was doing the right thing for the organization, keeping on the path of the most productive approach we could execute given our mission and resources.

A note in Weasel Boy's defense, I should relate that outside of work, he was able to vary. He's a kind-hearted guy, believe it or not, and at a key moment in his life when he needed to be attentive and adaptive, he aced it completely. He and another employee were lured out to a business meeting with a troubled man who had either a bomb or an automatic weapon (I can't remember which anymore) and who intended probably to kill them and other people in the vicinity and then himself. Weasel Boy maintained his cool in this completely unpredictable, original situation and talked the fellow out of it and they disarmed him peacefully. Why he couldn't express even a shadow of a dream of this skill in a work situation, I know not, but when it counted, he was an ace.

The complete master of the Weaver/LaRussa ability outside baseball is Captain Paul Watson of the Sea Shepherd Conservation Foundation. There are volumes about his strategy and tactics, and I recommend them strongly if you're interested in learning how someone who is incomparable at fluid problem-solving plans and executes. You may disagree with his means, his ends, or both, but studying this master will be enlightening regardless.


Either risk-avoider or opportunity-seeker, you can use CT to upset your antagonists, cause them to use up resources worrying about what you might do, get them off their game. If you have the aptitudes for it and you're quick enough to do this without spending more time devising strategies than you cause your opponents to invest trying to overcome it, you win.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

The Cardinals' Tony LaRussa: Relentless
Optimism Co-Exists With Relentless Realism  

In my management coaching consults, one of the first things I try to assess in an individual who's either a manager or about to become one is where they are on the scale of risk-avoidance at one pole and opportunity-driven at the other. Risk-Avoiders ("Ravers") and Opportunity-Seekers ("Seekers") in their purest forms will use their tendency on this scale as their primary filter for what-to-do in a specific situation.

The St. Louis Cardinals organization and their field manager Tony LaRussa are clear examples of Seekers. Something LaRussa allegedly said to TV announcer Tim McCarver this week is a telling indicator of LaRussa's relentless Seeker behavior.

The Cards took two quick games from their 1st round NL playoff opponents, the Dodgers, needing just one more game to win the series. In the third game they faced one of those rare but never surprising José Lima dominating starts and were crushed. The Cards were disappointed at having to play more games, and more challenging they had to use as their starter Jeff Suppan. Suppan had gone into the playoffs with four consecutive sub-standard starts. The last of those bad starts (Sept. 29) synchronized with the schedule so Suppan's spot was "due" to appear as the first playoff starter. LaRussa had used other pitchers in a way to rest his other starters, so Suppan didn't pitch in the last games of the regular season, had days off before the playoffs and didn't appear in the first three playoff games. He had had 11 days rest, and while rest is considered a good thing, many pitching experts agree 11 days is "too much". You'd have to consider Suppan rusty at that point.And LaRussa didn't have a better starter who wasn't rusty to throw in there.

To the punditocracy, LaRussa was stuck in Game 4 with Suppan, a guy with a bad streak at the end of the season who had then gotten rusty on top of it. Not that he was moldy refritos -- the Cards were 21-10 in games Suppan had started; Suppan just wasn't an optimal playoff starter in that situation.

But LaRussa is a Seeker. McCarver reported LaRussa said while he wasn't happy about not having swept the series, the good part of having to play a Game 4 was getting to use Suppan.

That's classic Seeker world-view. Confident it wasn't a dire situation, the manager was taking what good he could out of it. The benefits: getting Suppan some work; if Suppan was okay, knowing he could use him again; if Suppan wasn't okay and still in his late September funk, having an arguable reason to not use him as a starter in the next series. I'm sure he saw other benefits, too.

And, by the way, this situation happened to work out for LaRussa and the Cards:

 Date Opponent Score Dec IP H R ER HR BB K
 Oct 10 @ LOS W 6-2 W 7.0 2 2 2 1 3 2

Suppan pitched effectively, the Cards advanced to the next round, and the team gets to align its starting rotation the way it wanted to even if it hadn't had to play this game.

Baseball is largely a domain of Seekers, especially when the ball is lively and big innings, not one-run innings decide (probabalistically) the outcome of most games. In highly competitive endeavors, A Seeker tends to do better than an equally-gifted Raver.


In my experience, there's no bell curve distribution with a few folk at each end of this continuum and an increasing count as you get towards the middle. In reality, there are a surprising number at the extremes, a big peak on each end about two-thirds out towards each end, and a smaller fruited plain in between. In sum, most organizations' managers are naturally-inclined towards one pole or the other. And because of Angus' First Law (Most human systems are self-amplifying), organizations will trend strongly towards either one pole or the other over time because most managers who exhibit the opposite side will be winnowed out from above or will remove themselves to find a more compatible organization.

Ravers try to win my never erring, by relentless pruning of efforts and behaviors that might generate or proliferate a mistake. Think of those great National League games you get that end 2-1, where the team that won was the better Raver, the team that managed not to walk the fast runner, that had no errors, that wasted no at bat. I worked with Boeing for a couple of years, and the value of "safety", so vital to the manufacture and maintenance of passenger aircraft, permeated the social values of the company that even if you were building something as naturally defect-laden during construction as a computer program, you weren't allowed to use the word "crash". Ravers don't like the future much, because the future is populated with so many chances to make mistakes. There are healthy Ravers and neurotic Ravers: the healthy ones try to predict the future, the neurotic ones try to pretend it doesn't exist or that it won't change the definition of safe behavior.

Seekers exploit, run up the score, try to find the hidden edges, aim for the great côup, and see the future as a set of circumstances that will exist to be exploited. The more treacherous that future, the more advantageous it is to the Seekers. I worked with Fleetfoot Messenger Service for over a decade, and their president is always balancing present behavior with future, projecting economic and demographic and technology trends and aggressively pursuing whatever makes sense, whether it's buying out failing rivals, transforming his business model, tapping into new technologies. Change is his friend. There are neurotic Seekers, as well, unable to be present in the present, ignoring obvious signs that risk is overwhelming any return the opportunity might yield (think Enron or late arrivals at multi-level marketing schemes).

Seekers tend to be more successful in volatile environments, Ravers tend to be successful in static ones.

But the Seeker world view is almost perfectly-described by LaRussa's comment to McCarver. It's looking for the opportunities in each situation, each environment, and not looking back but looking forward. Seeker behavior isn't Pollyanna reflux ("There must be a pony"), it's a realization that no matter how much horse pucky the Fates have dumped in your living room, there are going to be returns from your efforts in this spot.

Unless you're already an extreme Seeker, you can benefit from chanelling a little LaRussa when faced with a less-than-optimal situation. Find the benefits, and squeeze all the positives out of them that you can, while being realistic about the situation itself.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

The Twins Know Defoliating a
Victory Gardenhire Sure Works
Up An Appetite  

This week in the playoffs, Minnesota Twins manager Ron Gardenhire pulled what I call "a Fregosi". If you read this and internalize the lesson, you have a chance to protect yourself from the equivalent in your own non-baseball management arena.

Pulling a Fregosi (maybe I'll call this Defoliating a Gardenhire in the future) is when you find yourself at a decision juncture and are more focused on looking in the rear-view mirror (the past) than on looking forward through the windshield (the future). Doing so guarantees a higher level of emotional response, and a lack of attention to the possibilities of the future.

Gardenhire defoliated himself in this week's Game #2 between his Twins & the Yankees, turning a potential coup de grace into a turning point that buried his team.

This is a five-game series, so you are never in a position of being able to finesse one game (take a loss) to preserve or increase your chances to win a later one.

Play by play is here.

Tied at 5, bottom of the 10th, vast advantage to home team (Yankees). Twins skipper Gardenhire brings in his best reliever, Joe Nathan, at the start of the inning to protect the team's chances. He's already used two of his lesser relievers. Nathan had pitched an inning the night before.

Nathan's perfect in the 10th. The Twins can't score in their half of the 11th.

He comes back for the 11th. He's perfect again.

The Twins score a lone run in the top of the 12th on Torii Hunter's homer.

Gardenhire has a decision point here. On the side of taking his pitcher out, Nathan's not pitched more than two innings in relief this season, plus he'd pitched a (short uneventful) inning the night before. In favor of rolling him out again, Nathan's started in previous seasons. And the following day is a sorta-day off, a travel day, so he can get some recharge. And he's been pitching well this night.

Gardenhire rolls him out. This, imnsho, is a questionable decision but not a bad decision. His alternatives are relievers he'd prefer not to use and bottom-of-the-rotation starters he planned on not using to start in this series

Here's what follows:

-J Olerud struck out swinging.
-M Cairo walked.
{OWW-OOH-GUH. WARNING WILL ROBINSON. Cairo is not a guy you pitch around, and you certainly don't wanna put the winning run at the plate. Nathan is clearly shaky. Time to probably take a chance on a fresher arm even if it's one with lower normal potential. Gardenhire stands by his toast}
-D Jeter walked, M Cairo to second.
{DOH. Okay, dude, winning run on first, tying run in scoring position. Time to act. Really. No slack left. He doesn't}
-A Rodriguez hit a ground rule double to deep center, M Cairo scored, D Jeter to third.
-G Sheffield intentionally walked.
-J Romero relieved J Nathan.
-H Matsui hit sacrifice fly to right, D Jeter scored.
2 runs, 1 hit, 0 errors
Minnesota 6, NY Yankees 7

Game over, series probabalistically over.

The point is not, as some have argued over the last few days, that Nathan shouldn't have come out to start the 12th, his 3rd, inning. The point is, once Nathan had proven he didn't have enough control left to throw strikes to the Yankee line-up's weakest batter, you didn't need to let him throw to the top of their order, that is, Mr. October Junior, The $200 Million Eddie Haskell, and then the best hitter on the team, all with one out and the tying run at the plate. There's no amount of confidence in Nathan, no level of commitment expressed by this act, no warm-fuzzies towards his reliever (who, true, is a big reason the Twins are a successful a team as they are) that's going to get Nathan out of his Own Private Idaho here.

He's toast, a crispy critter, moundkill. At this point even a bottom-of-the-rotation starter you hoped you wouldn't have to use, even possibly Terry "Last Good Season Was In The Last Century" Mulholland (just kidding...I wouldn't bring in a lefty to face Jeter, A-Rod & Sheffield), but definitely any right-handed pitcher who could fog a mirror (perhaps Kyle Lohse, as bad as he'd been recently), would be at least as good as Nathan to the subsequent hitters and you'd be saving some of Nathan's fuel for the next time you needed him with every logical presumption that'd he do better than he was at this moment..


Gardenhire's error was looking at the past, not the future. Nathan had been a veritable St. Christopher, getting a save in 44 of the Twins' 92 victories, "blowing" only three of those save chances. He had appeared in 73 games, allowed a run in only 7 of those 73, and had struck out over 11 batters for each 9 innings.

But that's the past. Now matter how confident you are about someone's abilities, you have to let the present (2-1/3 innings of relief which is not how Nathan had accumulated his accomplishments I mentioned in the previous paragraph) shape the future. As Alvin Dark, a notoriously tart-tongued manager said, you should never go out to the mound to remove a pitcher, you should always go out to put a new pitcher in.

What he meant was you shouldn't be angry about the pitcher's current troubles, and if you honestly think the incumbent has the best chance among your options of stifling the next batter, you shouldn't remove that pitcher. The obverse, though, is you can't let the good emotions around that player's past heroics nor your own fear of seeming to be indecisive by not sticking with your status quo stand in the way of a move for a change. Neither, in a life-or-death moment like a playoff game, can you let your concern for whether the pitcher's feelings will be hurt cast a (Don) pall on the chances your whole team has to succeed.

Obviously, you can make an occasional decision to leave a hurler in as an experimental move during the season if it doesn't matter much, or if you need to line up your pitching for several subsequent games. I suggest that a five-game series against a very tough team is not the time for that.


In my consulting, I've seen too many managers pull a Fregosi by not paying close enough attention to the future by marinating in the past.

I worked as a regional operations manager for an intercity bus company that took passengers around the country. The head man was very passionate about his business, but he had certain routes that had been good for his business over the years. His ridership had evolved, so some of those old routes weren't the winners they once were and some others begged out for a little marketing and yet other possiiblities lay fallow, untried. His unwillingness to face the present wasn't an actual problem for a long time -- his cash flow and margins were both quite good.

But a significant portion of his fleet got old at the same time and he had some bad luck with some of his newer buses. He just didn't have the rolling stock to service all his routes and it was decision time. He needed to borrow to buy more buses, but it was a recession and his lenders wouldn't lend him money. So he needed to trim routes or level of service on each. He chose to trim routes, but pulled a Fregosi, and instead of optimizing his choices based on where the growth was and in which cities he had good maintenance facilities, it was all based on historical profitability. He was unrelentingly loyal to the towns and people and schedule that had made the company rich. The company was gone after about 18 months, and while he walked off with a decent retirement, it was a pittance compared to what the outfit was worth if he'd been paying attention to the future.

I want to be clear; loyalty is a wonderful thing. You can occasionally take a performance hit either out of loyalty to some past contribution or, equally, to give a young contributor experience.

But when a big game or project or product or effort is on the line, focus on the future, not the past. Don't defoliate a Gardenhire.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

MBxpO: Two Management Lessons from
Montreal's Skipper, Frank Robinson  

Reader David Lippman asked:

What is your take on the Expos fiasco? It seems like that team was designed to fail, given their lack of talent, "home" games in Puerto Rico, and the continued uncertainty regarding their future. How good has Frank Robinson been in trying to lead his team through all of that?

Frank Robinson's piloting of the Expos holds a couple of good lessons for managers beyond baseball.

Background on Robinson, if you don't know much about him; if you do skip down to the first sub-head. Frank Robinson was one of the top 20 players of the 20th century, a naturally-gifted all-around player, slugger, baserunner, outfielder. He was MVP in each league. In every single one of his 20 seasons of play (leaving out his final season when he was managing the Indians and appeared only 79 times), his offensive output was no less than 27% above his league's composite; this is extraordinary. Half of all players never have even a single full season where they exceed the league composite by his least good year.

Robbie was not just a lot better than almost all his fellow players, he was born that way, with a combination of size, grace, agility and a good brain in his head. And that, oddly, was his Achilles Heel. As a manager, he was not particularly effective in his first eight years, and in his return to Baltimore, where he had many of his best years as a player, he was very uneven. One indicator, by the way, of his ordinary performance is the set of gaps between his assignments; three seasons between the end of his first gig and starting his second, and the same between his second and third..

Here's his managerial record, from Baseball Reference:

Managerial Record (underlined links not live)

 Year    League   Team       G     W    L    WP   Finish
 1975 AL East     Clevelnd   159   79   80   .497      4
 1976 AL East     Clevelnd   159   81   78   .509      4
 1977 AL East     Clevelnd    57   26   31   .456      5

 1981 NL West     SanFranc    59   27   32   .458      5  1st half
 1981 NL West     SanFranc    52   29   23   .558      3  2nd half
 1982 NL West     SanFranc   162   87   75   .537      3
 1983 NL West     SanFranc   162   79   83   .488      5
 1984 NL West     SanFranc   106   42   64   .396      6

 1988 AL East     Baltmore   155   54  101   .348      7
 1989 AL East     Baltmore   162   87   75   .537      2
 1990 AL East     Baltmore   162   76   85   .472      5
 1991 AL East     Baltmore    37   13   24   .351      6

 2002 NL East     Montreal   162   83   79   .512      2
 2003 NL East     Montreal   162   83   79   .512      4
                  Baltmore   516  230  285   .447
                  Clevelnd   375  186  189   .496
                  Montreal   324  166  158   .512
                  SanFranc   541  264  277   .488
      TOTAL                 1756  846  909   .482


Early in his managerial career, Robbie's Achilles Heel was that he was so much better than any player who ever played for him. Robbie seemed to have a hard time dealing with the mere mortals who were just very good. Like many managers beyond baseball who have come up through the ranks based on their extraordinary skills and not just on being the boss' son or knack for smooth inner-circle politics, being naturally brilliant is not a free pass to being a good manager, and, in fact, is more often a wind-drag.

One of the best players who labored for Robbie on that first manager position in Cleveland was Rico Carty. Carty was one of the very best pure hitters of his time, and bounced back repeatedly from terrible injuries including seven shoulder separations, tuberculosis & an ugly car wreck to continue to hit beautifully. His approach at the plate changed after each body-blow, as he adapted to his new, lesser, body and overcame new limitiations to continue to achieve. Carty told an interviewer Robbie was hell to play for because Robbie couldn't help but feel anyone who couldn't, with practice, do what Robbie had done so effortlessly must be slacking or just not very good.

The early managerial Robinson couldn't imagine what it was like to struggle like heck to acheieve at half the Robbie level. Lots of managers outside of baseball have this challenge. Sometimes it's because they were promoted specifically because they were so good at their position. Sometimes, it's because the new manager is just a super-smart person.

What the Mensa person is missing that perfectly-bright but clearly-lesser folk have is a sense of effort it can take to be effective. The Mensa person can confuse natural ability with accomplishment, can confuse what you come to the table with, with what you can achieve. When I was in junior high and high school, the authorities mistakenly assigned me to honors classes a couple of times - they confused my polymathic set of knowledge and my quickness with actual intelligence. So sometimes there were a few of us lesser-talents in classes with the big heads, and it was there I observed how important the distinction in judgment is between most of the smart-enough performers and most of the naturally exceptional.

The exceptional are used to solving problems by catching them out of thin air. They don't always know how they got there. The smart-enough have to work through problems and build knowledge over time. The working through makes it more likely they will see connections in subsequent problem solving efforts. The exceptional are not used to failure, but in life occasional failure is almost guaranteed, and the exceptional get more frustrated with failure and it affects their judgement and subsequent decisions. And because the exceptional Mensa types are, well, exceptional, they're not as used to interacting as peers, so frequently, it makes efforts that require co-operative efforts more laden with the overhead of struggling through team problem solving. In one chemistry honor class I was in, some of us mistakes (we called ourselves the Pensas, because we had to think harder to get comparable results) would combine to work through experiments together, and we could frequently beat the big heads with better or faster (or both) results. And because you worked through every step (it didn't just come to you in a single, coherent vision like a hanging curve over the plate), you could know how to explain it to someone else because you'd already broken it down to a sequence of steps.

Not having to work through the steps makes it very difficult to coach those who don't know them already. And knowing you have limitations can be the first move towards the ability to empathasize with a report, and if you can't empathize & you're not a good coach, it's almost certain you can't manage.

But over time, Robinson has learned to work with lesser talents. His stay in Whipping-Boy Land, owner-free, resource-starved, existential-anxiety-dream Montreal, has exposed him to the most-cobbled together remnant quilt in the majors. Every year it has gotten more challenging because the relative budget has gone down every year and the team's best players have moved on in trades or directly through free-agency. Past an age by which most people with money have retired, he has taken it on with grace and skill, and mostly with equanimity. He's squeezed some good stretches out of his no-name, designed to lose team, and helped develop some of the better players on it. He's not got any hardware to show for it, but it's a management gig he can be really proud of.

In between, he matured, in part because of his management engagements. The Indians were a .500 type team, the Giants, not that good, and by the time he managed the Orioles, they were in a decline phase. In the multi-year gaps between his manager positions, he held other jobs around baseball, coaching for a few franchises and working for MLB as the discipline czar. He learned to cope with more organizational adversity than he had experienced as a player (which did have its challenges, with a bad arm injury and ugly behavior related to race politics).

Frank Robinson learned to overcome his extraordinary talent and become a good manager. Others can, too, if they can distinguish their own extraordinary talents from the efforts of mere mortals.


Everyone knows managing Montreal to a pennant is impossible. Most believed keeping them out of last place would be impossible. But Robinson got 2nd and 4th place finishes for them before this year's cellar inhabitation. No one in baseball holds that finish against Robbie.

It's a perfect situation in some ways.

Beyond baseball, some of the best management positions you can get are those that come on the heels of others' failures, and in dire situations as long as everyone knows how bad it is. If you succeed in such dark times, everyone thinks you're an ace, and if you fail, well, it was a Montreal Expo situation anyway. If everyone with authority knows it's awful, you are likely to get more latitude to experiment, because none of the little men and women who work hard to block change by feeling and saying "if it's not broken, don't fix it" are taken seriously by those on the fence about change.

That said, it's critical people know just how bad it is. Before you start, you'll need to market accurately (don't exaggerate; that backfires too often) the degree of existing failure. You need to get commitment for levels of resources and co-operation you'll need to turn things around. But inheriting an obvious meltdown is one of the most forgiving situations a career manager can get. Your bosses, if you prepare them properly, will be in a position to perceive whatever you reclaim out of the situation as gravy.

I can recommend this kind of management position to anyone with courage who enters a situation everyone knows is frelled. Like Robbie, you successes will be generally regarded as your own, your failures as beyond your control.

Monday, October 04, 2004

MBxpO: Montreal's Existential Management
Lessons In Which Drucker Rassles Veeck
& the Curse of Pepe Mangual  

I do not think that winning is the most important thing.
  I think winning is the only thing. -- attributed to Bill Veeck

I loved Bill Veeck's creativity and intensity, but his epigram above is not right in all cases. Baseball itself provides a lot of examples where winning games isn't the only thing, and these examples are enlightening about organizations outside baseball, too.

I was drawn to writing about this topic by reader David Lippman when he asked:

What is your take on the Expos fiasco? It seems like that team was designed to fail, given their lack of talent, "home" games in Puerto Rico, and the continued uncertainty regarding their future. How good has Frank Robinson been in trying to lead his team through all of that?

Thank you D. Lippman...the Expos of recent vintage are a tragically wonderful management lesson for a bunch of reasons.


In general, it's safe to say that most baseball organizations in most seasons manage along the Veeck model: winning a World Series or at least a pennant is the primary goal. But in baseball, there are other primary goals.

For a team like the 2003-4 Pittsburgh Pirates, or the 2004 Cleveland Indians, it's a positive trend against the previous year with experience building for promising young talent and a chance for management to battle-test that talent and provide hope for the fans.

For a team like the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, it's finishing above last place.

For the New York Mets, it's competing with a cross-town rival for the hearts and minds of fans...regional popularity. The objectives to support that goal could be to win a lot of games, and certainly that'd be their Plan A to start the season, but there are many ways to compete, and the Mets have found alternate paths in the past.

For the Seattle Mariners, it's operating at at least break-even on the P & L and minimizing perceived risk.

For all of these, a trip to the playoffs is icing, not cake.

In the recent past, for several teams, it was to position themselves to get a subsidized stadium built, though that era seems over, between the glut of new stadia and the now-apparent evidence that if you build it they might, or might not, come.

Beyond Baseball, there are many parallels. Some public companies exist to make their executives a healthy income, while some are obsessed with shareholder value. Some firms exist for the egos of their owners (in this model, the firm is most frequently named after the egotist). Some measure their success in working on or delivering the coolest products or even just getting the recognition for making the coolest products. For some, it's just competing against a particular metric or rival or even themselves. For some, it's just surviving without rocking the boat.

Most organizations set out objectives and manage to them, but in a diverse, competitive endeavor, each will have its own currency. When you work for an organization, especially when you're just starting, it's important to absorb and act recognizing its own currency (and not just your own, or some "standard" model).

Individual employees have their own currencies, too. Some work for money, some for glory, some for recognition, some to please themselves by meeting a standard they set for themselves. As a manager, it's vital to come to understand each associate's currency (or currencies).


For the Expos, as Lippman noted, they were designed to fail. The team is owned by the other Major League team owners as a consortium, bought to enable one of their internally-beloved peers, Jeffrey Loria, to have the assets to buy another team, last year's champion Florida Marlins. So the team is owned, literally, by the men who own the Expos' daily enemies. Game theory quickly describes why the consortium owners would resource-starve the franchise intentionally so it can be a human punching-bag for those rivals -- so it's no surprise the team has the lowest payroll in its division...its closest peer has a payroll 51% higher than the Expos').

If you own 1/29th of a team and all of another team, where do your loyalties lie. And you you do have some portion of decision-making power in the way your minority interest is invested. Ideally, you'd get all the other 28 owners to invest more than you did and do it in a way that was quite bad, so they'd be out their money and yet your own team could beat the victim-franchise senseless at will. The ideal is just about unattainable -- so you have to settle for a game-theory silver medal, which is a low-investment approach that guarantees a losing record (baseball being a zero sum game, for every loss there has to be a win, so a losing team puts more wins on the table for all others to share in), and yet puts some entertainment on the field.

Baseball has not so distant examples of owning part interest in a team designed to fail. In the 1950s, the Yankees' main owner apprently bankrolled in part the man who bought the Philadelphia Athletics and moved them to Kansas City. This wasn't out in the open (the other franchisees would have objected), but the Yankees and Athletics proceeded to become each other's most frequent trading partners, with an extraordinary number of deals that seemed to benefit the Yankees more than the Atheltics (though not always in that one direction). Roger Maris was one of the players the Yanks obtained in a trade with the As.

You see Expo-style objectives in some companies, though ownership isn't usually held by rivals. Companies packaging themselves to be bought or liquidated or where the executives have designs on buying the business for themselves will frequently make moves designed to draw down the orgnaization's apparent (or actual) assets and actual (or apparent) liabilities to dress up its desirability (or lack of it) as an acquisition target. For external buyers, it's usually for simplifying the buyer's analysis, and for internal executives, it's to make the property look like it's worth less (so they can make a lower offer when they try to buy).


That designed to lose plan is quite obvious, almost overt.

But there was another currency that was under the surface, and not made explicit -- teasing more money out of metropolitan Washington D.C., the Expos long-determined next stop.

MLB ownership flogged chunks of the Expos season off to San Juan, Puerto Rico for a couple of reasons. One minor one being to spif the Puertorriquenos for all the wonderful players the continent has received from P.R. over the years. Another minor one is to possibly get some additional attendance from fans in that country for whom even a last place ML team would be a tasty novelty. I know at least a few people thought the weather would be better there than in Quebec.

But the real reason, the coup de main here was to make it appear that MLB had potential suitors that could compete with metro DC, putting MLB in a better negotiating environment. San Juan didn't exactly flood the stands at Hi Bithorn Stadium for the games, but it gave some illusion that it might be a possibility. Canada was out of the question, even if the Majors could find a town with more anglophones, something less Youppified, because Canada's regulations hinder the application of public funds for private gain, making many of the ways teams optimize their take untenable. Cuidad Mexico certainly had the middle-class population to support a major league team, but the political situation there is feared. For all the apparent uncertainty of the Expos situation, and given that MLB had intentionally destroyed what was left of the Montreal market for the product since it allowed a major interest in the team to be sold to Loria in 1999, there was really no high-dollar choice for a metro area that could sustain a team for at least a decade except for DC.

Essentially, to anyone looking at the factors that MLB bases franchise city decisions on, metro DC was by far the most obvious. But that main suitor was so nostalgic, it had been so long since they had had even a tragically-flawed team, they were determined to close the deal, no matter how little room their MLB counterparts had to maneuver.

Call it the Curse of Pepe Mangual -- a major city taken in by the Puerto Rico Gambit that to any outside evaluator, would have been as transparent as the contents of a cup of Wall Drug "coffee".

A quick side note on the Washington deal I haven't seen mentioned much online. As you may know, DC has RFK Stadium, a multi-purpose facility that's over 30 years old, where the Senators had played before they left town. DC agreed to build a new park for the team, but MLB agreed that,m to get the team out of Montreal, they would have them live at RFK for up to three season. Late last week, a movement on the DC city council was pushing to get the team, but once it had moved to DC, to can the new ballpark and have them play in RFK for a while. As the mastermind of this bit of aikido, Council member Adrian Fenty, said "Where else are they going to go? They've already left Montreal. And no one else has a stadium ready."

This Fenty Gambit is a dangerous one, but not a bad one to keep in your tool kit. Negotiating backwards once a deal is made is something you can only do once to someone sitting across the table, and, if it's in the public eye, the way this or the way most public company negotiations are held, you can only do once ever, because everyone is going to know you will let a deal close or get close to it and then shift the terms. In this case, it might work, especially if the MLB owners are tired of their co-ownership of the Expos (a potential distraction that may be tying up capital for some teams' owners). The DC council will probably never have to negotiate a sports franchise import again, so poisoning the well might be worth it to them. Fenty seems to think the $500 million is a loser because it comes from a regressive tax of businesses' gross receipts as aprt of the package. And he thinks big money would go farther on rec centers and libraries. If you're going to poison a well, do it for something you believe in, as it appears Fenty does, rather than just doing it because you can get away with it.


The lessons for organizations outside of baseball are clear.

  • Never fall in love with a deal so much you can't negotiate reasonably over it.
  • Keep in mind that every organization has its own currencies, what it defines as success and how it measures that.
  • Always try to discern the bits of glitter on a deal meant to distract you -- the no-payments-until-St. Francis of Assisi Day package or the free 2-liter bottle of Jolt -- especially if the party across the table has a history of mendacity during negotiations.
  • Don't ever risk the Curse of Pepe Mangual

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