Sunday, July 30, 2006

REPRISE -- Sutter's Mill-Stone: Herman Franks's Fallacious Fable  

Reliever Bruce Sutter received his Cooperstown enshrinement this weekend. When he was elected earlier this year, there was a lot of hair-tearing about it because the memory of Sutter's career was of a fragile 1-inning guy who appeared only as a modern "closer" -- a guy who got to walk onto the field only to begin a 9th inning in a game his team was ahead. The reality was far different. I'm reprinting this piece from January for new readers.

In the U.S. anyway, individuals' childhood life issues too often become pillars of their management practice. Some people are programmed to feel "it's not fair", and if they are proactive, that urge may drive them to try to right wrongs. In the more passive type personalities, that urge frequently drives them to sit on the sidelines and wait for some unfairness to happen, at which point they will point it out or complain or whine about it. Because these people believe cognitively that life is unfair/bad, when they hear info that asserts something unfair happened, they are likely to jump on it because it fits their world view. Sometimes in that particular case that view is false, unsupported by the data or other forms of reality, and since, more often than not, their complaints are supported by data, they don't even bother to check to see if the "news" is true.

This week something happened that was a perfect illustration of the "it's not fair" chorus singing off-key.

Bruce Sutter was elected to Baseball's Hall of Fame. Worse, a better candidate, Rich Gossage, wasn't, falling short again. Amplifying the it's-not-fairness of the whole situation is that at least one person with a vote suggested he's always opposed Gossage but now that Sutter was in, he'd vote for Gossage, which is akin to saying "I've always opposed the froth-at-the-mouth Talibaptist maniacs in Iran, but now that our ally in Baghdad is supporting them, I will, too".

A fair number of people have railed against the Sutter installation citing the apocryphal story spread by Cub ex-manager Herman Franks that:

  1. Franks had developed the method of using Sutter only with a lead and only for an inning.
  2. In earlier seasons, Sutter had failed in the second halves of seasons, probably from overuse, and Franks learned to reserve/preserve the reliever for fewer, more important, situations.
  3. Sutter had therefore been the precursor to the classic "Clean 9th" closer (term mine), coming into games almost exclusively in a save situation, almost exclusively at the beginning of the 9th inning.

There's at least one problem worth noting. Franks' story is false on all three counts.

That apocryphal story is believed by many for good reason. Bill James cites the story in his fine Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers. Paul Votano reinforces it in his book Late and Close: A History of Relief Pitching. In the discussion around Sutter HoF candidacy and his success, many commentators, including my own favorite, Steven Goldman of YES Network, have taken Franks' comments as frank. A small handful support Franks and therefore Sutter (perhaps that really they support Sutter and therefore Franks) while most oppose Sutter cite Franks' alleged invention as an abomination and, therefore, oppose Sutter's induction. Sutter is seen as some fragile couple-of-batters trust fund kid who had decent stuff but lucked into a cushy job.

These kind of problems occur beyond baseball all the time. People hitch their energy to a story, either to support its moral or oppose it, even when the story is a gilded telling of something untrue, or once-true-now-passé. Detaching them from that emotionally-triggered, behavior-shaping story is harder than getting a $2 microbrew at a major league ballpark.

FACT: Franks never used Sutter in a lead situation in a Clean 9th half or more of the time.

Franks managed Sutter in Chicago from 1977-1979. If this evolutionary innovation story was true, the actual pitching lines for their final year together would reflect this. It doesn't.

Here's a key indicator, a chart that shows how many innings Sutter pitched in each of his appearances in 1979:

Innings ~# of 1979 games
< 1 7
1 14
1-1/3 5
1-2/3 10
2 16
> 2 10

Franks was just as likely to use Sutter for more than an inning as an inning or less. The mode average use was 2 innings, the median 1-2/3. Sutter pitched 5 innings once. Bruce Sutter wasn't the Woman of Kleenex, (repoz...you must read that link) the foil to Goose Gossage's Man of Steel. He wasn't Gossage, but neither was he Tony Fossas.

Sutter's effectiveness and swell career stats are not a function of being coddled. In his last serious season of use, closing for Whitey Herzog's 1984 St. Louis Cardinals:

Innings ~# of 1984 games
< 1 5
1 15
1-1/3 or 1-2/3 10
2 29
2-1/3 or 2-2/3 6
3+ 6

Median and mode average for appearance length was 2 innings. If anything, it's possible that he could have had a longer successful career if Herzog hadn't gotten him into 71 games where he notched 122 innings (and I don't know how many times Herzog warmed him up without putting him in a game once warmed).

Someone with better Retrosheet tools who wanted to could build a chart like this for every season Sutter labored, but a quick glance says the others would show a pattern similar to 1979. Sutter was simply not a Clean 9th, quick-in-quick-out guy. Others invented that rôle -- not Franks with Sutter.

FACT: The stats don't indicate Sutter wore down in the second half of his seasons with Franks..except for the last season in which Franks alleged he was using him differently.

The following tables are drawn w/data from Retrosheet.

1977        G  IP     H  BFP  HR   R  BB    ERA
April       8  11.2   7   41   0   1   0   0.77
May        15  29.2  14  103   2   4   2   0.91
June       15  26.2  19  105   0   4   8   0.68
July        8  16.1   9   65   2   6   4   2.20
August      4   3.2   2   16   0   0   3   0.00
September  11  17.1  16   71   1   5   4   2.60
October     1   2     2   10   0   1   2   4.50

1978        G  IP     H  BFP  HR   R  BB    ERA
April       9  13.1  10   59   1   7   8   2.03
May        10  18     9   70   1   3   4   1.50
June       10  17    12   70   2   6   8   2.65
July       12  17    12   64   2   2   1   1.06
August     11  17    20   74   2  11   4   5.82
September  12  16.1  19   77   2  15   9   6.06

Month       G  IP     H  BFP  HR   R  BB    ERA
April       5   7.2   5   29   0   0   2   0.00
May        10  19.1  14   80   2   6   7   2.33
June       10  17     6   62   0   2   5   1.06
July       10  16     3   60   0   3   7   1.12
August     15  21    19   83   0   5   3   1.29
September  12  20.1  20   89   1  13   8   5.75

In 1977, Sutter was flat out fantastic. July and August were brilliant, and even if you pour his crappy October game into September and he still has a Baserunner/9 of 11.2 and an ERA under 3.00.

In 1978, he was truly fine in July and truly poor in both August and September. Franks didn't throw Sutter out there any less. This one season is where he flagged in August and never perked up.

In 1979, the year Franks allegedly managed him for lesser first half use to preserve the reliever, Sutter didn't show up until after the 11th game of the season. In April, Franks used him less than he had the year before (over 11 fewer games, so perhaps no different per game), in May he actually used him more inninings and the same number of games as he had in '78, and then in June, the same number of games and innings both. In the second half of 1979, he used Sutter in more games and more innings than he had in the "lesson learned" 1978.

It's clear that in terms of games, total innings, or length of appearance, Franks never markedly altered his use of Sutter. And again, Sutter was not the poster boy for the "Clean 9th" closer. Sutter has become a lightning rod for the "it's not fair" folk -- the actual career has been distorted by the untrue (probably not malicious, just not verified) claims of a manager, the fact that bullpen use has been dis-optimized by lazy managers and players seeking comfort in highly prescribed rôles, the pursuit of a univerally-accepted as goofy statistic, the save, and finally, the idea that somehow he's being held up to Rich Gossage as an either/or Ahura Mazda Less-Filling-Tastes-Great duality totem on which to beat 5/9ths time. Ridiculous.

I have a research paper on what I believe to be the actual origin of the Clean 9th closer. I'll run that in some form in a different forum later.

The same sort of story distorts non-baseball organizations regularly.

A friend of mine was working with a software company that had their main product upgraded annually, always near the beginning of each year. Technical support demand always went up temporarily as a result. The people who worked in techncial support were going nuts, because even though the company knew they were going to have this predictable demand surge every year, they wouldn't hire temps to sub for people who could do support or hire temp support agents. Morale was rock-bottom in support and in customer service (the people who got to hear the customers complain).

Management wouldn't try to hire any temp help. The "reason", actually a creation myth, was that because the software company had a contract to develop custom add-ons for their main product specifically for a customer that was a defense contractor, that everyone working in the company was required to have a security clearance, and because it routinely took about four months to get one, it was not feasible for the company to hire any temporary staff. Everyone thought this was terribly unfair, one of those insurmountable problems, like Soviet Communism or the IMF that even though everyone knew it was a terrible abusive failure, we somehow just had to learn to live with and say "it's not fair" whenever we thought about it or talked about it.

My friend was skeptical, so he started nosing around trying to find where this draconian regulation was invented. Not, certainly, but the Defense Department. I got to collaborate with my friend on searching out the citation. Here's what we found.

The human resources department had hired an expensive contractor to research what security requirements they needed to apply and to whom once they started developing for the weapons customer. The contractor had called someone at the customer's legal department. The client's paralegal stated a truth, that everyone who worked at the weapons customer had to have a clearance. The contractor took that back to our company as a requirement. They instituted it, and it sat unquestioned for four years.

There was so much instituional inertia and fear of letting this unfairness go ("what if they make the rule that we have to but we've already changed it?") that it took two more years and untold dollars and customer ill-will before they actually changed the requirement.

People who see the world through "it's not fair", if they're passive, can come close to sabotaging the very fairness they crave. The best start to changing that is examining the basis for the unfairness, never with the assumption that it's an insurmountable given, that the story of why it has to be is true, but asking the skeptical questions and following up until, like a good historian or ethnographer, you know enough of the truth to accept or spike the story.

Don't let your cognitive setting affect the way you make decisions or view others. There's plenty of unfairness out there, just not as much as people are programmed to see.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006

White Sox Lesson Part I:
Coaching Your Players, Don Cooper Style  

A big part of both First- and Second Base in the Management by Baseball Model is coaching. That's observing, monitoring and analyzing (OMA) your team members, helping them to refine their skills so that you can apply them to your (and their) advantage.

Major League teams' pitching coaches have primary responsibility for the OMA part of the equation, and depending on the individual team manager, have varying responsibility for the application. The current World Champion Chicago White Sox had the leading bullpen in the majors last year, and top-notch starting pitching as well.

In this decade, it's popular to suggest the coaches and managers don't make much difference in baseball and beyond. As a management consultant, I suggest that's a cynical view fed by episodic thinking -- people tend to focus on good management having failures or more commonly truly craptastic management getting by or even (temporarily) succeeding. The U.S. likes to think of itself as a meritocratic machine, and outside of baseball (which is relentlessly and chronically and perpetually meritocratic and accountable), it's obvious that over the last ~25 years, merit has weighed less and less in the equation of apparent success.

True, if you're the Yankees and you have an well-known star filling most of your individual roster slots, one can argue the good results are indendent of the coaching and managing. That's an exception (and I take exception to it).

The White Sox have Don Cooper as their pitching coach, and while the organization has dozens of people who share responsibility for OMA of developing pitchers and the talent on the big league team's squad, Cooper has lead responsibility for it. And when it comes to application, it looks to me as though manager Ozzie Guillen shares more than an average amount of the authority and responsibility with Cooper. So while Cooper is differnt from most managers beyond baseball in that he carries a higher proportion of coaching burden and less other management load, his winning approach is instructive to managers beyond basbeall, all of whom need to have some coaching methods and skills.

I interviewed Cooper earlier this year when the White Sox were in Seattle for a series. The Chisox staff was very helpful and Cooper was generous with his time -- thanks to both. I had multiple purposes for the interview (I was working on a research paper for the SABR National Convention and wanted to do some fact-checking on motivations I had ascribed to White Sox management decisions), I'd like to share pieces of our conversation and call out some of Cooper's practices that you should think about using yourself.

Don Cooper: So when you talk about Management by Baseball, you're talking about reading numbers and reading numbers only, right?

Jeff A: No. I'm talking about everything. People management, resources…

DC: First of all, I'll say the main thing about my job is people management. And challenging each individual to be to be best…We look at different areas, isolate them. We ask, "how can we improve the lot we have now, no matter where we're at?". So with Buerhle we ask "how can we improve his game", and with Contreras, we look for how can we work to improve his game"?

We set up everybody. We don't have artificial paper-goals but verbally we set goals. And they're not wins and losses. The goals are in how to be successful with the pitching. And it's really simple and we do that with everybody.

Two important points.

1) Coaching plans are customized to each individual, the Chisox don't harbor the delusion that one-size-fits-all.

2) The objectives (what Cooper is calling goals) don't have to be complex, and they certainly aren't based on metrics the generation of which are out of the control of the individual. Pitchers certainly carry statistics called wins and losses, but most sensible people inside baseball realize teams win and lose games, and only sometimes is it the pitcher alone that caused either outcome. While it's almost a norm in American management to attach an employee's performance evaluation to factors outside her control, it's very lazy and ultimately destructive. Measured objectives and accomplishments are great, critical in many jobs, but make sure they're the right ones. Outcomes are not pure indicators of the context in which the work was done

Cooper continued, describing his coaching approach with the team's #1 starter, Mark Buerhle. He talks about "columns". He uses a tool that evaluates pitchers by what they surrender, the frequency with which they give up hits and the frequency they yield walks.

DC: First, there's Buerhle. With Buerhle, there's never any problem in the walk column. I will sacrifice a few more walks to the point of him never giving in to a hitter and saying "here, hit it" because when that happens, it's not just that simple "here hit it" but it's going ahead & trying to make a nasty pitch or a real good pitch. And when he does that, he attacks, he does attack, but sometimes you don't want to attack. What I mean by that is "don't give in 3-1". You don't walk many guys & I always have the confidence that you'll throw strikes. And if now there's a guy on first, you hold runners well and get ground balls. But when you give into the hitter, it turns into doubles and triples and possibly home runs. At the very least there are going to be guys in scoring position.

If you can keep a guy just at first, now it's going to take a couple of hits for them to put it together to put a chink in your armor, or pin one on you, and I believe good pitchers don't allow that many hits in a row. There are times…situations and days, yes, where they do that, but over the long haul, that approach will make him less vulnerable.

And the other thing we're challenging him to do is to get the ball down when he wants to be down and either hit the glove or miss below. And be in when you want to be in, and that eliminates the stuff that you see on Sportscenter, the stuff out over the plate. And remember…he has a good pick off move and gets ground balls so the guy on first base maybe he'll be picked off or doubled up - he has the ability to do that.

So it's subtle. Not really "simple" but relative to the craft, pretty simple. And stochastic. Be aggressive and attack in general but not automatically -- there's a time for alternatives.

Cooper is preparing his starter to make independent decisions, giving him heuristics to follow, not a computer-programmed routine. When you coach your own team members, keep in mind the better you prepare them for exceptions, trends, general rules meant to be riffed off of, the less tied down you are to having to manage sub-tactical chaff better managed by the team member -- he can do it more quickly and less expensively. And he can proliferate these subtleties to his peers.

My next entry will continue the Cooper interview and his important insights you can use in your coaching of your team members.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

A Guest Essay: Innovation to Improvisation in Baseball & Beyond  

One of my most esteemed colleagues ever is Phillip Gordon. He has the uncommon combination of vision and delivery (a minority of managers have either). He has a fairly new weblog, Technology Translations, and he kindly consented to write an MBB piece for me. It has less baseball in it than most of my entries, but it's such an honor for me to have him on my blog, I'm not worried about it. This draws from MIS courses he teaches at Mills Graduate School of Business in Oakland, California.


Innovation V. Improvisation -- Phillip Gordon

Innovation is the new consultant bandwagon, and like so many other consultant bandwagons, is something they all talk about but no one defines, because, of course, when they sell you "innovation methodologies," or "creative thinking," they can claim that whatever results is innovation.

But there is a lot to learn about innovation in the real world, from baseball, for example: what it is, how to do it. In fact, as my colleague Jeff Angus points out, baseball has "The Book" which indicates to managers and players how and when and to what degree they might be flexible; that is, how and when to innovate. In baseball, "The Book" is not a manual…it's tacit, stochastic heuristics. So it's general rules that, if applied universally, don't guarantee success, but if applied with context and investment in the future in mind, yield what you need.

It has become extremely important for companies to be perceived as innovative, however defined.

What was once central to corporations - price, quality, and much of the… analytical work associated with knowledge - is fast being shipped off to lower-paid, highly trained Chinese and Indians… Increasingly, the new core competence is creativity… It's about creativity, imagination, and, above all, innovation. Get Creative!: How to build innovative companies, Bruce Nussbaum, BusinessWeek, 1 Aug 2005

For example, from the CSAA 2005 Annual Report: For many years it [innovation] was something that, frankly, CSAA wasn't so comfortable with. While we could always be counted on for stability, too often we valued caution more than progress - and innovation was something others did. Today we know better. Paula F. Downey, President

For example, from an ad in the 29 May 2006 BusinessWeek: Less than a year ago, Ford Motor Company rededicated itself to American innovation. And by delivering truly innovative products… we're doing just that. Bill Ford, Chairman and CEO

So let's first define innovation, and then talk a bit about one kind of innovation that doesn't require consultants or methodologies.

What is "Innovation?"

The dictionary says, "A new idea, method, or device." The anthropologist who built the groundwork for that discipline's study of innovation, Homer G. Barnett, added a useful distinction in his critical work, Innovation: The Basis of Cultural Change, defined it as "the essence of change... lies in the restructuring of the parts so that a new pattern results, a pattern the distinctness of which cannot be characterized merely in terms of an increase or decrease in the number of its component elements".

It doesn't always mean a new or changed product; it can also mean a new or changed service,

Services now account for around three-quarters of value and employment in the advanced economies, and innovation is increasingly central to the performance of these services in public and private sectors. Service Innovation: Organizational responses to technological opportunities and market imperatives, Joe Tidd and F.M. Hull (Imperial College Press, 2003)

or a new or changed process (method), including whole new types of businesses.

For example, the Toyota production system led to performance advantages of around two to one over other car makers in terms of quality and productivity. Managing Innovation: Integrating Technical, Market and Organizational Change, J. Tidd, J. Bessant and K. Pavitt (Wiley, 2005)

It doesn't always mean something new; it can also mean changing something that already exists.

For example, in the 1970s Xerox lost about half its market share in copiers to a new generation of smaller machines, which were innovative in the application of existing copier technology. Managing Innovation

It isn't always something created by the person, group, or company; it can be something bought or introduced from outside.

Much process innovation is about configuring and adapting what has been developed elsewhere and applying it - for example… adopting world class manufacturing (and increasingly service) practice. Managing Innovation

It doesn't always mean adding something; it can also mean taking something away.

…[airlines] have been slipping another row or two of seats into coach by exploiting stronger, lighter materials developed by seat manufacturers that allow for slimmer seatbacks. The thinner seats theoretically could be used to give passengers more legroom but, in practice, the airlines have been keeping the amount of space between rows the same, to accommodate additional rows. One Day, That Economy Ticket May Buy You a Place to Stand, By Christopher Elliott, NY Times 25 Apr 2006

It isn't always successful; most innovations fail, in baseball, in nature, in society, and in business.

As our understanding of the history of technology increases, it becomes clear that a new device merely opens a door; it does not compel one to enter. The acceptance or rejection of an invention, or the extent to which its implications are realized if it is accepted, depends quite as much upon the condition of a society, and upon the imagination of its leaders, as upon the nature of the technological item itself. Medieval Technology & Social Change, Lynn White, Jr. (Oxford, 1962)

It isn't always the "best" or even "better," and in some cases, it may even make things worse. Microcomputers couldn't do what mainframes did, but they were vastly cheaper to buy and to operate. PCs couldn't do what mainframes or minicomputers did, but they were vastly cheaper to buy and to operate.

It may not be useful until other innovations are available, a systemic innovation as opposed to an autonomous innovation.

…some innovations are fundamentally systemic - that is, their benefits can be realized only in conjunction with related, complementary innovations. To profit from instant photography, Polaroid needed to develop both new film technology and new camera technology. Similarly, lean manufacturing is a systemic innovation because it requires interrelated changes in product design, supplier management, information technology, and so on. When Is Virtual Virtuous?, Henry W. Chesbrough and David J. Teece, Harvard Business Review, Aug 2002, pg. 3

It isn't always radical, leading to a degree of change that many companies, or even whole industries, cannot adopt or adjust to; instead, it can be incremental, leading to a degree of change that may be more easily adopted, within a company or across an industry.

Most organizations are good at incremental innovation and exploitation as they build and develop existing knowledge and capabilities. They are less successful at creating the conditions for radical innovation. Innovation In Organizations From A Complex Adaptive Systems Perspective, Ysanne Carlisle and Elizabeth McMillan, paper presented at Complexity, Science and Society Conference Sep2005, University of Liverpool

It isn't always the work of an isolated genius, or "two guys in a garage;" it can also be the result of "small world" networks, or of deliberate, structured efforts by groups or companies to "manage" innovation.

…tracing the history of key innovations in art, science, and politics in ancient Western and Eastern worlds [shows only two who] fit the loner model, a finding supported by historians and cultural sociologists who have shown in great detail that the creativity of many key figures… all abided by the same pattern of being embedded in a network of artists or scientists who shared ideas and acted as both critics and fans for each other… Collaboration and Creativity: The Small World Problem, Brian Uzzi and Jarrett Spiro, Am J Sociology 111, no. 2 (Sep2005), pg. 448

In fact, even if it starts as the work of one person, an entrepreneur, the development, spread, and adoption of innovation is a process embedded in a social and cultural context, a process that can foster and encourage, or hinder, innovation and its spread and adoption.

Innovations can grow wild, springing up weed-like despite unfavorable circumstances, but they can also be cultivated, blossoming in greater abundance under favorable conditions. When a Thousand Flowers Bloom: Structural, Collective, and Social Conditions for Innovation in Organization, Rosabeth Moss Kanter, Research in Organizational Behavior, 10 (1988)


So it seems that innovation doesn't have to involve expensive high technology or lead to changing business as we know it forever, and doesn't even have to make you uncomfortable.

In fact, innovation can involve improvisation, variations on a theme within a set of governing rules. Baseball, football, cooking, and jazz are examples of improvisation.

Baseball Improvisation
Take Doug Melvin, general manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. He improvised with pitchers, changing the mentality that starters "start" a game, and relievers finish a game. Instead, relievers start a game and then starters come in during the critical late innings. Not a revolution, just an improvisation.

Take Mike Hargrove, manager of the Seattle Mariners. Their pitchers had a terrible start to the season, so Hargrove called several standard mass team meetings where he outlined strategies and players didn't respond. So he improvised with one-on-one meetings, where he laid out the same principles as before. But this time, it worked.

Or most significant, take Billy Beane, general manager of the Oakland A's. Hobbled by lack of cash, he improvised the entire theme of a baseball team by putting together a set of "rejects," focusing on critical stats ignored by everyone else.

Beyond Baseball
Now some people may think, well improvisation is OK for baseball managers, chefs, or jazz musicians, because they're all expert professionals. But I'm just a (fill in the blank with a business function). Well, yes, but you are a business professional. You understand the set of rules, and you've been successful following them. And improvisation is something that any business and business person can do, because you do it every day, often without thinking about it or realizing that is what you're doing.

Business people make decisions every day under pressure with insufficient information. You should use a standardized process to make any decision in life or in business; that will increase the probability you will make the right decision.

The Eight P's: Proper prior planning and preparation prevents piss-poor performance. (A military training maxim).

...combine what was original and daring in conception with what was patient and minute in execution... Little Dorrit, Charles Dickens (Oxford U. Press, 1979)

What happens when you apply a standardized process under pressure with insufficient information?

[Studies of firefighters and other high-pressure decision-makers by cognitive psychologist Gary Klein have shown] that they almost never lay out a set of options before acting. Instead, they spend most of their time trying to understand what's going on… Once they have that, the decision-making process [tends to be] based largely on intuitive analogies to past experience. Cutting through the Fog of War, M. Mitchell Waldrop, Business 2.0, Feb 2002

Sounds like a definition of improvisation, right?

And if you need more evidence, consider that the vast majority of product and service innovations are incremental, another way of saying that they are variations on a theme, improvisations.

Let's agree that innovation is important, and not just because consultants or magazine writers say so. And we can understand what it is, and it isn’t rocket science.  And we can understand how to do it, because as managers it is something we do every day: follow rules of thumb in order to make judgments quickly and efficiently. 

In other words, improvise to stay alive: in a pennant race, in battle, or in business.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

In Which the Cleveland Indians' Mark Shapiro Discovers Strategic Gotcha #3  

The stupid think of the past; 
the wise of the present; the fools of 
the future -- Napoleon Bonaparte

Napoleon is halfway right -- when it comes to strategic planning, you can never count on what was past being prologue. The rapid change in the relative strength of the various divisions engenders a different set of objectives to arrive at the goal.

Most Major League teams' owners (except the monetary-profit-through-losing-baseball Kansas City Wal*Marts & the Pittsburgh McClatcheys) share a common goal: to make the playoffs. Note though, the objectives a management team must attain to get to the goal are different depending on which division the team plays in. And there are a bunch of lessons for non-baseball organizations' strategic planning efforts in baseball's current divisional contexts.

A quick rehash of the American League standings as of this writing illustrates the various contexts.

American League Regular Season Standings
Eastern Division
Team W L Pct. GB East Cent West
New York
Tampa Bay
25 - 19
18 - 11
24 - 17
15 - 23
16 - 28
7 - 7
16 - 7
8 - 8
10 - 8
8 - 6
8 - 8
10 - 10
11 - 7
10 - 11
4 - 13
Central Division
Team W L Pct. GB East Cent West
Kansas City
8 - 8
8 - 11
9 - 4
7 - 9
4 - 17
26 - 12
22 - 13
12 - 21
19 - 21
13 - 25
13 - 8
14 - 6
14 - 13
7 - 11
5 - 11
Western Division
Team W L Pct. GB East Cent West
Los Angeles
11 - 9
12 - 11
18 - 13
8 - 10
12 - 14
14 - 10
11 - 12
12 - 17
17 - 12
14 - 13
12 - 10
10 - 18

Source: STATS Fantasy Advantage

Traditionally, the Eastern was the toughest division...For the last ten seasons, the Eastern has had the winningest team 6 times, The Central 3 times, the Western 2 times (a tie granted two different divisions an increment). To win the Eastern, you have to beat the Yankees, and  to have a chance to beat the Yankees you planned on winning 97 games, super tough to do, and even then you'd pass them about half the time over the last 11 seasons. Though w/97 wins you'd capture an occasional wild card berth, and that's essentially equal for the goal of getting into the playoffs. 97 wins in the Eastern Division would give you 4 divisional titles, 2 wild cards and 3 no-goals over the last nine seasons.

The Central has been more balanced, with most teams closer to .500, so winning 92 games in the Central would have given a team 5 divisional titles, 3 wild cards, and 2 no-goals over the last 10 years. In 1997, 86-75 wins earned the playoff spot.

The Western has been more variable, so planning on any fixed number has a lower confidence return

But last year's winningest AL  team was the Central's Chicago White Sox. And this season, as you can see, the Central has been the toughest again, with Detroit and Chicago both playing well over a 100-win pace so far. So the 92 game win theory for the Central is a complete no-op for other Central teams this season, teams such as Minnesota and Cleveland that have won nine of the last eleven divisional titles between them. 

According to the Chicago Tribune's Phil Rogers wrap on Sunday:

In a long interview done over the break with Jim Ingraham of the Lake County (Ohio) News-Herald, Cleveland GM Mark Shapiro admitted he had been trying to put together teams that could win in a weak division, not the AL Central of the last two years. The White Sox won with 99 victories a year ago and were on track for 105 wins at the break this year, four fewer than Detroit.

"We have to re-invent what's around the core, and we have to set our sights higher to win the division," Shapiro said. "The original goal . . . 88 to 90 was good enough to get us in the running every year. . . . But that's not good enough to get us in the running right now, with the depth of our division. And I don't think the Twins, who won the division three years in a row, would win this division this year or last year."

Shapiro is not even remotely a stupid person, nor, do I think, are any of the front office people of , but the Cleveland organization exhibited functionally stupid behavior if they planned on feeling confident they could compete with 92 wins (or the 89-90 Shapiro stated as getting them "in the running").

The first challenge is that most organizations are constrained to the highest point on the yardstick they aspire to. 

So it's usually true that an organization that makes a primary goal of "good enough" is most likely limited to that result, at best. (This ethic is most common in organizations where accounting or finance people dominate strategy because this is a lesson they're taught in grad school and it dovetails nicely with the cognitive map of most finance people who are usually bookkeepers with power.) Sure, an outfit can get lucky, it's competitors can stumble, but when a "good enough" ethic is strong at the top of an organization, the acceptance of squeaking by almost guarantees that excellence will be unattainable. 

And as "good enough" gets closer to perfect entropy...for example an NL West state circa 2005 when San Diego's Fried Friars had their div's sole winning record, and a peckishly positive one at 82-80 at that...the business' strategic plan for "success" loses its apparent requirement of excellence entirely. The aspiration usually becomes mediocrity because within the system in which they live, mediocrity can achieve the goal. In this case, it's getting to the playoffs, but in Sprint's or Verizon's or Cingular's case, it's delivering phone service no more worthless than anyone else's, and that's awfully close to undiluted entropy.

Even well above that entropic event horizon, though, there are pretty dire consequences.

I worked in the marketing department for a company that had had a long tradition of excellent-or-better marketing and technical support. The customers expected both -- that's how they most identified with the company. As a result, the outfit was able to charge relatively high prices for their goods. When the owners brought in venture capital, the VCs brought in a new management team with finance backgrounds. The president, functionally stupid in Napoleon's (and in my) definition knew marketing and customer service were cost centers ergo, it was important to be just "good enough" to squeak by. He once told me we could stop marketing entirely beyond our contracted commitments because the marketing had been so effective -- he called it Return on Image. The lure of coasting on the past memes implanted in earlier times was an attractive option -- but almost certainly doomed to fail. In this company's case, it failed totally. They've had three profitable quarters in the past 14 quarters, and the combined gains in the three positive quarters are smaller than a single quarter's loss during that time.

Planning for "good enough" can enable you to squeak by but it's more likely to lead to cherry pie time, and very very unlikely to lead to serious success.

The second challenge is that more often than not, if a "good enough" strategy gets any positive feedback (in the case of AL Central teams for ten years, an 80% success rate getting into the playoffs with ~92 wins), if soon ebbs from being a consciously thought-out and measured goal to a habit, an unexamined stance.

After a while the participants can forget why they made that decision -- it becomes standard operating procedure. And if the "good enough" cognitive setting types are still in control (& if they're in Finance, they usually are) the original plan becomes internalized to the organization's autonomic behavior set. They will "forget" the solid underlying reasons why this approach was chosen, and therefore be unable to recognize it isn't appropriate to the present situation. The Cleveland Indians are smart enough to have avoided this particular pitfall (Shapiro's comment makes that plenty clear), but most organizations beyond baseball aren't that smart.

The company I was describing earlier went down the tubes with cutbacks to technical support and laughably awful marketing. They managed to survive with clever financial ledger-de-main, although the SEC did ultimately punish the firm's officers for it. But by the time they could have realized their craptastic efforts were killing them, they'd forgotten that excellent marketing and good customer service can make a difference (and had). It was as lost and incomprehensible to them as the strengths of the script and plot of the original Alien was to the nincompoops who made Alien Vs. Predator

In the end, baseball always adapts. The Indians should have realized that the White Sox' 2005 season, with their GM Ken Williams explicitly telling the world the goal was never a single World Series, but back-to-back ones, was not a fluke they could ride out. The Tigers didn't play it that way. The Indians are already planning for the tougher world, adaptive to a degree to which most non-baseball organizations are incapable.

The Ken Williams model, whatever doesn't make you stronger kills you, the idea that nothing less than back-to-back titles, nothing short of competitive excellence, was "good enough", is the winner's model --  and the only probable escape from Strategic Gotcha #3.

In a future entry, I'll explain Strategic Gotcha #4, closely related to #3, but about style/tendency instead of about the amount of quality required to be considered success.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Dave Kurlan's Sales Wisdom of Baseball  

I think y'all know I make a big effort to get people thinking about great MBB examples of their own. Early this month, my buddy Talmage Boston wrote his own very insightful MBB interpretation for the Dallas Business Journal, using this year's Texas Rangers as his fodder. That was great.

Further, I had a remarkably pleasant surprise late last month when I got to speak with David Kurlan, who wrote a book last year using baseball examples and structures to help sales people sell better. It's called "Baseline Selling: How to Become a Sales Superstar by Using What You Already Know About the Game of Baseball". Kurlan's work had nothing to do w/my encouragement -- he didn't even know I existed or MBB existed until last month. Like the Indian Pachisi and the Aztec game Patolli which are close to identical, there was no transmission of data, but independent creation.

Dave wrote an insightful and cool entry on his weblog called How to Eliminate the Effect of the 80/20 Rule on your Sales Force. The essential lesson is this: while sales pros accept the idea that on a sales staff, 20% are winners, 20% are losers, and 60% are medium, Kurlan's practice (Objective Management Group) has found after testing 250,000 salesfolk that the talent split was 6% great, 20% fine and 74% neither.

In sales, The Talent Is The Product, so it's not surprising that sales people have roughly the same ability distribution as pro ball players. The numbers that follow are from an old Baseball America study, but the numbers are fairly constant. They show of signed players what percent survive to other levels. About 75% never make it past AA, about 11% ever make it to the majors and about 6% ever have a "career", that is at least a few years of part- or full-time duty.





Class A


Class AAA




His prescription for sales people is very similar to that baseball uses for its talent. Just as baseball uses Observe, Measure & Analyse to build a plan to refine skills and to figure out who to keep and who to let go, Kurlan believes:

Next, evaluate your sales force to determine which of your salespeople can become overachievers and what it will take for them to accomplish that.

Then, hire overachievers, using a best practices sales recruiting process and an accurate assessment to predict whether the candidates will succeed in a sales position in your business.

Finally, hold everyone accountable to these loftier expectations.

Details in his article. Nose around his work; I think if you work with Sales, it'll be very enlightening. If you don't work with Sales, take a look anyway; it holds insights for most disciplines where The Talent Is The Product.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

The Rewiring of the Tigers: Jim Leyland Shuts Out Chainsaw Al Dunlap  


These are the best of times for Detroit baseball fans. After enduring twelve consecutive losing years, the Tigers have shocked the baseball world by posting the best record in baseball at mid-season. The fans are more energized than anytime since 1987, the Tigers' last playoff appearance, and tickets are selling fast.

One major difference this year is the change in field manager - the club succeeded in getting 1997 World Series-winning Jim Leyland out of retirement and at the Bengals' helm.

It is difficult to assess Jim Leyland's managing given the phenomenal performance of the 2006 Tigers. Every manager is a genius when everything is going perfectly. But Leyland's actions thus far illustrate two important management lessons that are as valid beyond baseball as they are within it: great managers consistently place their staffs in the best possible position for their organizations to succeed; and a manager can act as a critical leverage point for the organization, having the ability to achieve much different results from the same basic group of employees.

In this article, we'll examine the first of these business lessons, but first, a little background.

Jim Leyland's hiring generated little attention in Detroit last winter, obscured by the NFL Lions' coach Steve Mariucchi's firing, Detroit's hosting of the Super Bowl, and the excellent regular seasons of the Detroit Red Wings and Pistons. Leyland succeeded the two managers with the worst winning percentages in the 105-year history of the Tigers - Luis Pujols (.355) and Alan Trammell (.383). Low expectations made it difficult for Tiger fans to get very angry about the Tigers' futility.

The Tigers hit rock bottom in 2003, fielding arguably the worst team in the history of baseball. (To understand just how bad that team was, this year's Tigers eclipsed the 2003 win total in 68 games.) The 2003 Tigers transformed into the 1927 Yankees during the last week of the season to avoid the embarrassment of losing more games in a single season than any other team in major league history.

After improving in 2004 (after all, it is hard to be THAT bad two years in a row), the 2005 Tigers created some buzz by flirting with .500 in late August. But the Tigers collapsed, losing 24 of their last 32 games. Worse yet, Trammell lost control of the clubhouse. Not even fond memories of 1984 and a career as the Detroit Tigers' best shortstop ever could save Trammell's job. Listeners to Detroit sports talk radio flooded the airwaves as the Trammell Era mercifully drew to a close, complaining about Trammell's poor managing and Mike Illitch's terrible record as an owner. Some even dared to suggest that Illitch was worse as a Tiger owner than William Clay Ford has been for the Lions over the past generation. (The Lions' record was 5-25 for the two seasons prior to Trammell's firing.)

Leyland inherited a Tiger team with a realistic possibility of becoming the franchise's best in the post-Sparky Anderson era. Important position players hampered by injuries during 2005 (Magglio Ondonez and Carlos Guillen) figured to return and contribute. Talented young pitchers including Justin Verlander, Joel Zumaya, and Jason Tada were poised to join newly-acquired free agent Kenny Rogers and Jason Bonderman in the rotation.

Perhaps most importantly, Trammell's departure increased the likelihood that Pudge Rodriguez would bounce back from his terrible season on (and off) the field in 2005. The post-steroids-testing, much-slimmer Pudge batted .276, drove in just 50 RBI in 504 at-bats, and hit into more double plays (19) than his walk total (11) for the season -- far outweighing his tremendous defensive play.

Pudge, in a non-divorce year, would almost certainly contribute more at the plate. For cogent analysis of Pudge's decline in 2005 and why he likely would improve in 2006, see this MotownSports article. And this blog notes some of Pudge's antics last year, as well as the general dysfunction that existed in Tigerland at the end of 2005:

That's the background against which Leyland took over.

I promised you a couple of Leyland lessons. Here's the first.

Lesson 1: Great managers consistently place their players in the best possible position for the organization to succeed.
Except for a handful of situations, the on-the-field strategies of Trammell and Leyland are indistinguishable. While double switches and a squeeze bunt excite analysts and incite labels of "genius", game tactics are vastly overrated in assessing managers.

Virtually all important managerial decisions occur away from the field. This is where managers can have their greatest influence.
Leyland was decisive in selecting his team. He cut Carlos Pena and Franklyn German, two highly-talented, enigmatic players acquired with Jeremy Bonderman in the Jeff Weaver deal. They failed to earn their spots despite several chances, so they had to go. Leyland also cut Nook Logan, the speedy centerfielder, handing the job to promising rookie Curtis Granderson. He kept Marcus Thames, well-respected by his teammates for his hitting ability and his perseverance in the Tigers' minor league system for many years. In 2005, Alan Trammell kept Bobby Higginson over Thames, generating a great deal of frustration within the locker room. Getting the right people on the bus is a critical first step for any successful organization.

Leyland's nuanced handling of several personnel issues provides a lesson for all managers.

He recognized the talents of key young pitchers and provided them the opportunity to contribute right away. Leyland, for example, put 23-year old Justin Verlander in the starting rotation despite limited minor league experience and a major league career consisting of two poor starts. He also moved top pitching prospect, 21-year old Joel Zumaya, to a key role in the bullpen despite never pitching in relief before. Leyland kept 24-year old Jason Tada with the club to start the season to give him a taste of the big leagues, before sending Tada to Toledo to join the starting rotation. Leyland also inserted 24-year old Zack Minor into the starting rotation to replace injured Mike Moroth.

Contrast these decisions with the pressure that Leyland faced early in the season. Chris Shelton channeled Lou Gehrig for the first few weeks of the 2006 season - hitting 9 home runs in the Tigers' first 13 games. Shelton got off to hot start in 2005 as well after replacing a struggling Carlos Pena, hitting .345 before the All-Star break. He hit .272 for the rest of the year. Trammell quickly moved Shelton to the number 3 spot in the lineup, where he remained for the rest of the season.

Leyland kept Shelton hitting sixth despite his early heroics. His reasoning: don't interrupt what was working. Leyland told the media that he also wanted to avoid putting additional pressure on Shelton. Leyland wanted to remove the possibility of having to move Shelton down in the lineup if his bat eventually cooled off - which it has. Interestingly, Pudge Rodriguez has hit third all year despite a number of Tiger hitters with better production. Leyland understands that keeping Pudge happy is top priority, given his critical catcher responsibilities and importance in maintaining clubhouse harmony. Had Pudge not been a Tiger, it is hard to say if Leyland would have moved Shelton up in the lineup earlier in the season.

Leyland's bullpen handling reinforces the first lesson. He put players in the best possible position to help a team succeed in the present, while still looking out for their future development.

Todd "Maalox Moments" Jones started 2006 on the disabled list. In his absence, Fernando Rodney pitched brilliantly - not yielding a single run until his 14th appearance on May 9. Joel Zumaya also has emerged as a fan favorite in relief, routinely throwing 100+ M.P.H., and handling pressure situations well in general. Despite a 1-5 record and an ERA hovering over 6.00 for most of the season, Jones has remained the club's primary closer. Rodney has come back to earth after his hot start, but he has pitched better than Jones overall.

Leyland understands all too well that a reliever's ERA is largely irrelevant. The closer's job is to cement a win, and Jones is 22 of 25 in save situations this year (even if the mere mention of his name causes anxiety among the Tiger faithful.) Jones has a long history of success as a major league closer and the quirky personality needed for the job. He is able to rebound from a bad outing - although rarely without allowing the go-ahead run to get in scoring position and surrendering warning track fly balls.

Rodney held the closer role for parts of 2003 and 2005, and he did not perform exceptionally well. Zumaya, despite his electric arm, has given up several critical home runs, and no one knows what would happen if he blew several consecutive saves, so Leyland uses him carefully in his outings. Down the road, Rodney or Zumaya may become excellent closers. Jones seems destined to retain the closer role until he fails to perform - and Leyland determines that the Tigers have a better chance of winning by switching to a different closer.

Leyland knows that the immediate issue is not who is or will be the best closer on the team, but rather how to use the pitchers on this team to maximize this team's chances to win. He needs all three of his situational relievers to perform if the Tigers are to make the playoffs. Remember that Mariano Rivera spent 1996 setting up John Wetteland for the New York Yankees.
Leyland's personnel decisions demonstrate his willingness to treat each situation on its own merits. Within the span of a few months, Leyland cut two talented players, accelerated the development of important pitching prospects, named another top prospect (who had never pitched in relief) as a key reliever, protected two veterans from difficult situations that may have impeded their development, and carefully resisted disturbing his successful lineup.

This lesson of using employees wisely affects all businesses.

I am a facilitator within General Motors' Standards for Excellence, a voluntary continuous improvement process. A dealership I visit experienced decreasing customer satisfaction results shortly after buying two additional GM brands. After observing the service department for several hours, the reason for the decrease in customer satisfaction was obvious. The service manager, an incredibly talented and dedicated employee, was attempting to manage, supervise employees, dispatch - as well as keeping customers informed and redelivering every vehicle, tasks that the service advisors should do. Under the system as it existed, his service advisors did little after writing the repair orders.

Despite the service manager's talent, he could not fulfill his managerial responsibilities, and supervise the technicians and service clients when the volume of work increased. He needed a Herculean effort to pull this off prior to the expansion, and the added workload simply made it impossible for him to succeed.

Although the service advisors lacked the manager's overall automotive expertise, they had much more time to keep customers informed of the repairs and explain what was done to the vehicles. The improved distribution of work has increased business, raised customer satisfaction significantly, reduced stress on the manager, and greatly improved morale within the service department.

The issue was never who was best at writing up the cars, but rather how could the service department best use all of its resources to achieve maximum benefit for the organization and its clients. The ability of a manager to make sure that the right person is performing the right job - establishing processes that lead to success - is an undervalued, yet vital, skill.

As Leyland has done with the Tiger bullpen, we did for our dealership. Now everyone is contributing to the success of the service department.

In Part II of this entry, I'll describe how Jim Leyland has used his management position to act as a critical leverage point for the organization, achieving much different results from essentially the same group of employees.

Bill Peper is an attorney, writer, and professional facilitator. He is a die-hard Detroit sports fanatic. You may contact him at wlpeper at comcast dot net

Monday, July 03, 2006

Part II -- Dontrelle as a Magic Crystal : How Are the '06 Marlins Doing It?  

In Part I, I talked about how people had underestimated this year's Florida Marlins and how researcher Don Malcolm had used dead reckoning to calmly ascertain that while they would likely not be good enough to play .500, they were very unlikely to lose the 100 games most experts expected. The cause for the general panic was that the 2006 Marlins, like the 1998 Florida Marlins, were undergoing a serious strip-down of known talent and using as replacements mostly rookies. While most promising rookies have a chance to succeed, most won't actually have a good career. And as a rule, a team that's mostly inexperienced struggles to escape long losing streaks and the poor morale that surpresses achievement.

So while we had Malcolm to describe to us how the experts failed to measure actual run potential, it's still worth knowing how the Marlins are succeeding at their higher-than-expected accomplishment (35-43 through today, with a 24-12 record since May 21).

I think a description of one key factor is a New York Times article from June 23 by Lee Jenkins, Money Talks, but Sometimes It Doesn't.

The Florida Marlins' latest makeover started the day that pitcher Dontrelle Willis walked into the clubhouse with a boxful of hand-me-downs.

When Willis opened the box, revealing a pile of colorful vintage jerseys from different sports and different teams, he kept at least one baseball tradition alive in South Florida.

"I had to tell the guys about Throwback Fridays," Willis said. "Everybody here wears throwback jerseys to the stadium on Fridays. That's been our thing for years."

Most players on the current roster did not know Throwback Fridays from Two-Dollar Tuesdays.

So there's a critical alarm, something that should be a problem. Dontrelle Willis is 24 years old, one of two young star-quality players the Fish kept, the other being 23 year old Miguel Cabrera.

In the practice of knowledge management (KM) it's a common observation that the amount of institutional memory (unwritten and written rules about how things are done in general and what the exceptions are and why and how to react to those) that is clear and actionable provides a ceiling on how successful an organization can be. And it's clear from that little article opener that it's close to zero. As Chicago White Sox pitching coach Don Cooper told me this Spring, "You always would like the players to come to you knowing everything they need to, but you can't count on it". And that's just the baseball on-field part of their knowledge. The subtle codes of behavior, to each other, with the coaching staff and front office, with the fans, with opponents, little of that is the same in the minors. So as a rule it's the veterans who pass this on to the youngsters, in baseball and in non-baseball endeavors.

So knowledge management should be a fluster-cluck in Florida.

Even though Willis is a World Series champion and a Cy Young award runner-up, he blends into the romper room. In the dugout, he keeps up a running commentary about batters. On the mound, he acts as if he is a hyperactive point guard. After someone makes an error, Willis provides a pep talk. After someone makes a diving play, Willis showers him with praise.

Fortunately, Dontrelle Willis is a hyper-extrovert. He would be even if he was the only young player on a team of veterans. He's very loose and puts himself on familiar terms with everyone he can. Off and on the field, he exceeds by a handful of standard deviations the norm of cheerleading for his team and his fellow players.

And he's a very good pitcher, not a scrub. Cabrera, while an introvert, is 3rd in the National League in Baseball Prospectus' table for Equivalent Average (a one-number measure for a player's batting quality), and that alone give him a small amount of leadership potential.

Why does there seem to not be a KM problem? I invite other KM practicioners or people who invest thinking in these issues to ante up their own ideas. The Marlins have opened my eyes to a possibility I haven't seen or considered before: That if the level of knowledge is typically low, it's a problem, but if it goes so far below a threshold that anyone would consider "normal" or "acceptable" and if you have a staff of individuals committed to competing (and virtually all ballplayers who get to AA or higher are very committed to competing), that the team will make itself committed to building process and method and working with other team members to do what it takes to succeed.

The Marlins are like a college team that gets living expenses. They play soccer with a water bottle. They give each other piggyback rides. They fight over copies of Baseball America. When catcher Matt Treanor hit his first career home run here Tuesday, he sprinted around the bases, because he said that was what his high school coach taught him to do.

I'm suggesting that a strip-down of the magnitude the 2006 Marlins are facing is so extreme, they may be capable of missing out on the inefficiencies you'd get with a half-way purge. In the more usual half-way model, there is enough institutional knowledge to do some things well, most things not, and it's net-negative. But the newbies don't know which is which, so they just follow. The cost can be compounded if the surviving veterans are suffering from any bad morale (and in a normal purge, bad morale is more common than not), because they can teach the newcomers that "spit happens" or "¿so what?", and might even make only a desultory effort to socialize the newcomers into the system.

These Kid Fish know there's not much model to follow, so they are stable in the knowledge they have to find it out or invent it. And beyond Willis and Cabrera, there's not much hierarchy, so this lack of social development leads to a pretty democratic openness to participation and a minimum of the destructive side of rookie-hazing (how much harder is it for two guys to haze 23 than the reverse?).

It's not intuitively logical, but I think it's possible that an organization can fall below a low-point of knowledge that it's so obvious you are insufficient that people pull together to make things work where if it was just a little short, those same individuals might figure "it's someone else's problem, someone who's been here longer".

There is another factor of which I'm more confident, which is when you're an individual who wants to win and you're playing for an organization expected to win, it's hard to lose. But that same person playing for an organization no-one expects to win is released from the effort of resisting self-flagellation.

''If you're the only rookie on a team and you get shelled, you worry about what everyone thinks of you,'' (pitcher Josh) Johnson said. ''Here, with so many rookies, we don't worry much about anything.''

In a mediocratic organization, on which has internalized that mediocrity is the norm, freedom from expectation might be a limiting force, but in one where no one has yet poisoned the staff with expectation of mediocracy, it can be liberating.

The Marlins have some promsing young talent...not enough that it's likely they will be able to make it to .500 this year. But these players and their coaches are in the midst of creating their own social norms by following a couple of players who are totally successful performaers and one who is a connector and energizer. They could surprise again (well, not Don Malcolm) with another "unprecendented" jump up in 2008.

It never ceases to impress me how much a good staff can overcome adversity if not stopped from doing so by fearful or protocol-bound management.

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