Friday, October 26, 2012
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice.
In practice there is.-- Yogi Berra
The Wall Street Journal this month wrote an interesting baseball-centered
article that shows off some work by Bill James. To a greater degree the work
shows off what happens in the news business when you have a deadline and a story
idea but no time to develop it properly and the journal ends up with a steaming
train-wreck of trivial trash-thinking.
Aside: I don't regularly point at the Wall Street Journal,
but not because they don't have many great writers, nor because they don't
produce interesting grist -- they do. They have been edging into sports since
they decided to be the advertising host-of-choice by competing with USA Today
to be the national read, but specifically for the tiny minority of people who
(a) make lots of money by brokering OPM (other people's money), or, more
commonly people who (b) fiercely aspire to be part of (a). It's a pitiful
readership, but they either have access to money or want to look like they do
so they'll spend it even if they don't have it, and that excites advertisers.
But the WSJ's baseball editorial, which started out very interesting, is now
done pro-forma, without the kind of editorial skepticism that makes for great
Under the Microscope: The Perils of Postseason Play, writer Matthew
Futterman's lede kicks us off with
¿Don't manage a five- or seven-game series differently than the
One thing is certain this October: There
are going to be moments when managers will have to decide whether they should
make the move that has brought their team to the postseason, or go with their
gut and take a flyer.
Here's some hard-earned advice from folks
who have been there: Don't take the flyer.
Is that true in Baseball, or for other managers Beyond Baseball? Interesting;
For example, Earl Weaver in his book Weaver on Strategy, has an entire chapter dedicated to things you do differently in September and after to take advantage of a different starting pitching rotation to taking advantage of specialists when every game is such a difference-maker. One of the classic blunders I've written about is Phillies manager Jim Fregosi using his closer, Mitch Williams, repeatedly in the World Series; during the regular season, Wild Thing had dug himself many a hole against variety of (mostly weak) teams
and crawled out with few consequences, but Toronto's line-up made him pay
terribly and cost
the Phils a Series they probably could have won if the manager had been
analyzing the situation instead of adhering to his standard operating procedure
from the 162-game marathon (What I call "Pulling
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.
As the article unrolls, it becomes clear Futterman is going to argue both
sides of the issue. He quotes Tony LaRussa
"It's 190 degrees different from the
regular season," said Tony La Russa, who won six league pennants and three
World Series during his 33-year managerial career. "The immediacy of it is
so much more. It's not just this game—it's this inning and this out. You don't
want to give anything away. Everything is so short-term, so focused. You're not
balancing the long-term anymore, and for that reason it's a lot more fun."
But then he uses Grady Little's 2003 one-batter-too-many application of Pedro
Martínez as a CLM (Career-Limiting Move) -- more on that for the moment, a
Futterman insight that tells more about the World View of Plutes than it does
about high-performance management. Discussing Little's October CLM Crisis
Unless, that is, you go off script—the
classic mistake Grady Little made. Little, the former Boston Red Sox manager,
infamously let a tiring Pedro Martinez continue pitching with his team five outs
from making it to the World Series in 2003. Martinez, who had lasted eight
innings only five times all year, coughed up the lead, and the Red Sox lost in
11 innings. The team declined to renew Little's contract despite winning 95
games. He later managed the Los Angeles Dodgers for two seasons, making the
playoffs in 2006, but hasn't held a Major League managing job since.
The reality was that Little generally protected his recently injured
starter during the season, and in this October game did not. Sportswriters
generally assumed Little overrode his in-season protocol for using Pedro, but
Baseball managers and management are a lot more subtle than reporters,
especially those who swim in the corporate universe, realize. The reality was,
Little was going back to the season and pulling out Martínez' most analogous
start...Little had a precedent for a gassed Pedro to kick it out a few more
batters, as described here.
Futterman argues both sides, contrary to his lede, but then returns to the
THE REALITY IS...
...Baseball, as a zero-sum endeavor with much higher competition and
transparency than corporate business, where a manager will virtually every day
make a call that doesn't work out. Most often than not, the greater context of
the immediate October moment SHOULD outweigh the marathon of the 162-game
Further, the guys who build a successful overarching strategy suffer,
relatively, in the short October series (Billy Beane's quote about his crap not
working in the playoffs, the impression that Weaver's October record
underperforming relative to April-September).
In Baseball, you have to contextualize your management choice to succeed in
But Futterman has a strong point that reinforces and describes the Plute world-view...
Because Futterman is absolutely correct in understanding that the sudden,
season-defying innovation IS a CLM. Whichever decision you make, precedent or
innovation, it may or may not work out when you are playing percentages, BUT if
you maintain the season protocol, it's harder for your own management to second
guess you. You just did what you always did. Whereas if you innovate and crash,
you will be second-guessed to death.
In the Plute world, you get to hold on to your money whether you were right
in your decisions or wrong, as long as you can argue you were just working
inside the protocol. It's not about results/outcome. In the Plute
world, it's about accountability-sloughing. So Futterman's lesson for WSJ
readers is pretty apt (equal to the inappropriateness for managers outside the
In your own management, it's easy to ride the best people, the best
processes, the best methods, the best technology, the best ideas, to death. In
any given situation, what is "the best" (overall) might or might not
be the best. It's tempting and pretty immune to second-guessing to stick with
"the best" when things are looking rocky. But nothing is "the
best" in every situation, every context, every moment. Skilled management
is all about knowing, or guessing well, what is, and having the courage to use
all your resources, not even your best ones, to get you to the organization's
If you're just a Plute, you can get away with making all your decisions with
your own paycheck and not
your employer's or your customers in mind. If you're earning your pay as a
manager, you need to be willing to adapt to the context of the moment, make
decisions that work to your employer's benefit.
And remember, as LaRussa says, "It's a lot more fun".
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