Monday, January 31, 2005

Sammy Sosa Done In By Karl Marx:
Steve Yastrow's Observations  

"Every slugger carries within him
the seeds of his own destruction" -- Karl Marx

Sammy Sosa, the slugger, the man-child, the personality, the franchise player, the out-of-favor ex-clean up hitter of the Chicago Cubs, the identifying face of the Cubbies, has gone from Windy City to Charm City. In a weekend trade, he was formally exiled to a better hitting team (the good news...he'll likely see better pitches to hit), the Baltimore Orioles, in the Crucible of Death Division (the bad news, in the AL East, his team has serious challenges getting past tougher contenders).

Steve Yastrow, one of the consortium of elite thinkers at Tom Peters' site (the total capability of that group -- Yastrow, Hansen, Mosca, Peters himself, and others, too, is stunning; it's a lot more than the thoughts of one insightful person, it's a veritable Lumber Company of business-specific management insight), posted yesterday on the events leading up to the trade, events that catapulted the Northside's Dominican Darling into the First Circle of Brand Identity Hell. His entry, titled How Fast a Brand Can Lose Its Power, equates the decay of Sosa's public image and credibility with that people and organizations beyond baseball can face if they mis-play their apparent strengths into weaknesses, or over-play the image they've built up.

Snippets of Yastrow's thoughts (go read the whole thing, though and check out the comments):

Rewind the clock to 1998, the home run race between Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire. {SNIP} Sammy Sosa was just about the biggest, most meaningful brand in Chicago. {SNIP}

Fast forward to today: News of Sammy's trade to Baltimore. Fans interviewed on TV saying they're happy to see him go. The Cubs are paying a big chunk of his $17 million salary next year—for him to play on another team.

Things started to tail off in 2003 when Sammy was caught with a corked bat and suspended for 8 games, after which his performance suffered. This past season he missed a month with back problems. {SNIP}Then he walked out of the clubhouse and left the ballpark before the last game of the season started, because he was unhappy that he was dropped to a lower position in the batting order.

Beyond baseball, what's the lesson here? If the Brand Called Sammy can go from hero to persona non grata, just think what can happen to your company if you stop performing ... or get caught corking your bat!

The 1998 home run race between nice-guy McGwire and nice-guy Sosa had no villains, just two collegial examples of excellence-in-action both of whom acted with a lot of personal grace under the pressure. Sosa hit more homers than any player ever had until that year and still got blown away by McGwire's final number. And no matter that happened, Sammy Sosa just bathed in the glow of both accomplishments and didn't demand that he be the center of attention nor that his rival had somehow cheated by using supplements. Grace and a child-like, endorphin-drenched, sunny disposition made him one of the most popular figures in the Western Hemisphere, even beyond baseball fans. As Yastrow would say, he had established a Brand identity.

He had a troika of great years afterwards, though his trajectory since appears in statistical terms as a steady second line dance towards the graveyard. It is not, though, without significant accomplishment.

 1993 598 92 25 5 33 93 .261 .309 .485 .794  
 1994 426 59 17 6 25 70 .300 .339 .545 .884  
 1995 564 89 17 3 36 119 .268 .340 .500 .840  
 1996 498 84 21 2 40 100 .273 .323 .564 .888  
 1997 642 90 31 4 36 119 .251 .300 .480 .779  
 1998 643 134 20 0 66 158 .308 .377 .647 1.024  
 1999 625 114 24 2 63 141 .288 .367 .635 1.002  
 2000 604 106 38 1 50 138 .320 .406 .634 1.040  
 2001 577 146 34 5 64 160 .328 .437 .737 1.174  
 2002 556 122 19 2 49 108 .288 .399 .594 .993  
 2003 517 99 22 0 40 103 .279 .358 .553 .911  
 2004 478 69 21 0 35 80 .253 .332 .517 .849  
 Career 8021 1383 340 43 574 1530 .277 .348 .545 .892  

From BigLeaguers.Yahoo.Com

His decline was normal, starting with his age 33 season in 2002. It was, perhaps, sharper than average, but if you look up his career line on Baseball Reference, you'll see the player w/a career most similar to Sosa's through his age 35 season is Mickey Mantle...not exactly stale prune-whip. Even in his injury- and emotionally-turbulence filled 2004, his offensive production was 10% better than the league. He still, when he was on the field, ran out to & in from his position. He still tried to put on a show for the fans. His problems, except for the previous season's corked bat incident, were out of the public eye. They were, to some degree, outed by the press, with the press' own interpretation. It's important to remember (Sosa didn't) that the press can tinker with your image/Brand, interpreting events that happen behind closed doors, or at least away from the fans' view, and put their own spin on it. The press guys were tired of Sammy's Schtick. It's hard, year after year, to put up with the childish personality of a grown man. Yes, there's joy, but there's petulence, too.

The bat-corking is one of those things that hyper-competitors do to try to get an edge. Scientifically proven to add no significant distance to the hit ball (the effect is placebo -- all in the head of the batter), bat corking is the desperate act of a man-child who sees his numbers sinking with his aging career. It's incredibly foolish; it doesn't help you, but if you get caught, it can erode your credibility.

The unhelpful physics of bat-corking didn't matter to the public. They turned on him, and then the disputes with his manager made it worse. The childishness that so pleased them before now more commonly disturbed them. He seemed more truculent, moody, stubborn. But these personality traits are all part of the same constellation of behaviors that had won him their joyful adoration earlier. Love the sin, hate the sinner.

Every slugger, at least every childish one, carries within him the seeds of his own destruction, as Karl Marx, fan of the 1880 Cincinnati Reds and personal and ideological friend of the the White brothers (early baseball star, Red pitcher Will White formed a battery on that team with his own brother, liberation theologist Deacon White) said. The very élan and panache that made Sammy Sosa's brand powerful eroded it when his production naturally declined with age. I'm not telling you I would put up with dealing with that every day, but I have some sympathy for a man-child who gave a team 12 years, four of them nothing short of legendary, and changed little in his approach, but found his act no longer played 168 miles NNE of Peoria.

It's worth noting, the more eccentric or challenging you are as a personality, the easier it is to become "a celebrity" if you can produce at a high rate or convince people you can. But, please note, that same eccentricity becomes a lightning rod for vengeful or disturbed or naturally critical people as soon as your performance slips below the line of unquestionable. Donald Trump. Martha Stewart. Newt Gingrich, Danny Bonaduce. People, especially those who are disappointed in where they've gotten to in life, revel in taking down those they feel have gotten there.

You don't need to make excuses for Sosa to feel sorry for the situation he had found/had put himself in. As that well-known Reds fan said so long ago, every slugger, even one as great as Mickey Mantle or as good as Sammy Sosa, carries within him the seeds of his own destruction.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

From 1st to Home on a Single: More on
Survivals from Joe Ely & Lean Manufacturing  

I my last entry I discussed "Survivals", behaviors and practices that are practiced long after they have any use. Ironically, the most stubborn are the ones that were most functional when instituted.

Coincidentally, smart & effective manager Joe Ely posted the same time about a related issue. Joe's background is most useful to us because he works with key elements of 1st Base and Home Plate in the MBB Model: Operational management and Change. Even better, he's a practioner, not merely a theorist. Even best, he works in manufacturing. And he's a baseball fan.

Manufacturing is the crucible for testing and implementing operational ideas because there's almost total accountabilty. No one can come along as they might in finance or marketing or resource extraction or your usual-suspect services organizations and claim quality where it doesn't exist. Things are measurable, people are accountable, outputs are fungible (even Repoz remembers that great Tommy James and Shondells "B"-side hit "Outputs Are Fungible Now, Baby").

Anyway, I mentioned I would write about a tool I use to "flag" survivals. Joe Ely kindly agreed to do the same on his blog, so I'll be pointing to it when he does.

In the meantime, take a look at his weblog for a range of insights from a curious intellect who also works in the trenches. Most likely your management doesn't happen in manufacturing, but most of his insights, with a little parallel thinking, have energy you can put to your own challenges.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

Christy Mathewson, Big Ed Delehanty &
The Notorious BIG's Gregorian Chant Album  

One of the most challenging human tendencies to overcome is also one of the most damaging to management success. That tendency is to rest on a presumption until it's outmoded, but act on it without questioning it.

You sneeze and an acquaintance or stranger says "Bless you" or "Gesundheit", a call-and-response devised centuries ago to prevent evil spirits (or the batting stance of Craig Counsell) from inhabiting your body. The father of American Anthropology Alfred Kroeber named these autonomic, unexamined behaviors "survivals". Like the useless buttons on the end of suit jacket sleeves that clothing makers almost always add, these are things that are done, unquestioned, with motivation invisible to the actor. They just do it because they do it. And they like to repeat these guidelines as advice to newcomers, perpetuating the wierdness.

In baseball the examples are more obvious to an observer than they are in most endeavors, and Christy Mathewson told a great, elucidating story about events early in his career that woke him up to the need for eternal vigilance against missing survivals. In Pitching in a Pinch: Baseball from the Inside, he describes a 1901 game against the heavy hitting Philadelphia Phillies.

Matty is going to refer to six batters in the following story. If you're already familiar with 1901 batters, skip the rest of this paragraph; it merely compares the mentioned with contemporary players who are most-similar based on my normalizing database. Elmer Flick is the early 1900s Brian Giles. Big Ed Delehanty hit like Albert Pujols, but better and could run a little. Roy Thomas has no current similar player -- he had decent but ordinary batting average, no power and walked so much he could contend for league lead in on-base percentage. Hughie Jennings was Derek Jeter with a little more range and a little less power. Harry Wolverton was Jeff Kent in one of Kent's more nice-not-splendiferous seasons. Rip Van Haltren was the late-career Craig Biggio.

Mathewson is a rookie. He describes the series of events as starting with some well-meaning fellow players who came to him to tell him how to handle one of the great hitters of that era and of all time, Ed Delehanty. The scouting report was not to throw him anything high and hard. I quote Mathewson's words:

Being young, I took this advice, and the first time I pitched against Delehanty, I fed him curved balls. He hit these so far the first two times that one of the balls was never found, and everyone felt like shaking hands with Van Haltren, the old Giant outfielder when he returned with the other, as if he had been on a vacation some place far away.

In fact, I had been warned against giving any of this Philadelphia team of sluggers high fast ones, & I had been delivering a diet of curves to all of them, which they had been sending to the limits of the park and further, with great regularity.

At last, when Delehanty came to the bat for the third time in the game, Van Haltren walked into the box from the outfield and handed the ball to me, having come from the fence to fetch it. Elmer Flick had hit it there.

"Matty," he pleaded, "for the love of Mike, slip this fellow a base on balls and give me a chance to get my wind". Instead, I decided to switch my style and fed Delehanty high fast ones, the dangerous dose, and he struck out then, and later.

As it turned out, Mathewson had been temporarily done-in by a survival. Hitting high hard ones is pretty hard, unless you know they're coming and then it's easy and productive. As Mathewson tells it, the Phils in 1899 when playing at home (the Baker Bowl) had an injured veteran player, Morgan Murphy, sit with a pair of binoculars and read catchers' signs. Murphy relayed these to the third base coach through a buzzer system attached to a plank under the coach's box, and the coach relayed it to the hitters. So in 1899 in games at home, Phillies batters teed off on an unusual amount of high cheese and with explosively cheese-eriffic results. So the story got around that they could hit the stuff and to keep it away from them. Pitchers started throwing more off-speed against them, and if you're guessing off-speed and you're a good hitter (the Phillies had a bunch...the already mentioned, plus Roy Thomas, Hughie Jennings and Harry Wolverton) you're going to smack around the twirler who's overusing half his repertoire.

Mathewson continues:

But after the buzzer had been discovered & the delivery of pitchers could not be accurately forecast, this ability to hit the high fast ones vanished but not the tradition. The result was this Philadelphia club was getting a steady diet of curves and hitting them hard, not expecting anything else.

When I first pitched against Delehanty, his reputation as a hitter gave him a big edge on me. Therefore, I was willing to take any kind of advice calculated to help me, but eventually I had to find out for myself. {SNIP} Each pitcher has to find out for himself what a man is going to hit. It's alright to take advice at first, but if this does not prove to be the proper perscription, it's up to him to experiment...

To sum up: Listen to advice especially when you're starting something, but examine the results and experiment to get better results. Don't let survivals (stories, reputations, anything taken for granted) stand in the way of improvement.

I'm going to give you a tool for finding survivals to attack in the next entry, if you're interested.

Automatic behaviors and accepted wisdom enable good things. "Never make the third out at 3rd base". "Don't staple your lips together with an industrial-strength stapler" (a good baseball story on that I'll tell some time). "A guy should never take a first date to a Leonardo DiCaprio movie"."Real estate prices can never go down". "Never buy a big piece of industrial equipment built on a Monday".

But more often than not, these rules are accepted as Truth long after their context has changed so much, the context that made them true has mutated vastly. By the time Leonardo is 60 and playing the rôles Jon Voight does now, it'll be safe again. That big stamper might now be being built in Red China where unions are illegal & the general rule is production-for-export is made by prison labor that works seven days a week, so the concept of "Monday" doesn't affect output quality (if you can attach the word quality to anything that comes out of that facility). But in general, we hear our rules enough to accept them and we don't question them because they simplify our lives by reducing the number of instances where we need to make a decision and because going against them has extra costs in fighting the intertia of everyone else's faith in them.

Survivals can be exhausting to fight.

I work with Turk Farrell, a total Turk of a project manager, all sharp elbows & assertion & determination to get his own way. He's well-trained and experienced so he knows the old school knowledge -- when you roll out a new system, you have to run in parallel (the old, manual system and also the new, automated system both at the same time, comparing results) for a while. In the nineties, if you don't already know this, it became the norm in most organizations to dump that model. Terribly dysfunctional change that came about because the people running the projects didn't have enough experience to realize how many implementations the act of running in parallel had saved; because the "more with less" cult had made paying for the effort and staffing it very difficult; because the vendors and people inside who implemented the projects were marinating themselves in MBWT (Management By Wishful Thinking); and running in parallel tarnished the "brand" by giving off the image of fallibility.

Turk Farrell recently worked on an automated time-keeping and payroll project. The staff wanted the new system but was used to the old and trusted it. The underlying ethos of the group was fear of making a mistake. So Turk didn't have to insist they work in parallel...they bought into it readily. But there was one hand-driven report they had always used, brutally time-consuming and actually a little redundant even before the automated system came along. They won't give up this survival. Long after the parallel runs have worked out the inevitable kinds in the system, they are still holding onto this piece joints-locked, as Charlton Heston would say "In my cold, dead hands", frittering their organization's woman-hours based on the need for buttons on the end of sleeves that will not button because there are no button holes.

Survivals can be incredibly expensive.

One of my first consults was with a savings bank in suburban Seattle. They had bank examiners coming for the first time since about the Great Depression, and they needed about eight years of a couple of specific reports they could no longer produce on new systems. They were confident that they had them somewhere in the thousands of cubic yards of greenbar printed reports stacked up, but couldn't find them, and they asked me to look at the RPG programs that had generated the reports to find how they'd been produced. The code was unenlightening, the deadline rapidly approaching. We literally printed out the programs and used an old-fashioned technique called "walking through the code", being a data object and physically following its path, which we did literally with hundreds of feet of program print out.

With a handful of hours to spare, we found the where the reports were printed. The long-gone programmer had about 12 years earlier realized the reports were never actually needed, but required by regulation to be printed out anyway. The programmer decided to append them to the end of reports people looked at but that weren't vital in day-to-day examination. Adding them to those less-used reports meant the most-used wouldn't suffer the cost of being heavier and less wieldy. There's a limit to how thick you can bind these greenbar reports, both for convenience, and because you don't want the plastic flanges to explode like Mr. Creosote when you're flipping through them or trying to stack them. So the programmer, knowing the limits of binding, spread them out over the back of a bunch of different report sets, each bound volume of which had been carefully labelled and with tables of contents that didn't include the missing-in-action reports (because no-one ever looked at or needed them). Too clever by half, as the bank president told me.

The print-outs of reports-not-needed were apparently themselves survivals. The thought they could be ignored forever, too, was a survival.

To amp up productivity question the unquestioned, examine the unexamined assumptions. You'll find survivals lurking in almost all workplaces. Buttons that don't button are plaque, using up resources that can be better used elsewhere. Oh, and regardless don't make the third out at 3rd base, and never staple your lips together with an industrial-strength stapler.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

Barry Bonds, Marvin Miller, & Babe Ruth
vs. Self-Limiting Observation  

"He clapped the glass to his sightless eye,
And 'I'm damned if I see it', he said.
-- Henry "Mookie" Newbolt

A correspondent reminded me I was to return to the baseball in steroids flap, as I suggested I would in this recent entry. So back to the subject -- specifically around the perception of the supplements & steroids issues and how understanding the way this is affecting Baseball is analagous to the way the same kinds of perceptions affect managerial actions.

Perception touches everything, especially the way one formulates vision. Vision is one necessary fuel that powers innovation. Human cognition is like a batter guessing what pitch she's going to get next -- when it works, you can connect big-time, but when you miss, you look like any St. Louis Cardinal not named Larry Walker or Edgar Renteria in the World Series last year. The working mind wants to find patterns it can re-use, because re-use is efficient, so it pushes us to come to if/then, cause/effect conclusions. Correct conclusions lead to success. Incorrect conclusions based on observation can prevent success.

But phantom conclusions incorrectly based on some valid observations can make it hard for the viewer to give up belief in a dud (two months later, Jim Edmonds is still waiting for Keith Foulke to throw him that 2-0 fastball he expected).


One baseball example of someone who appears to never miss the hidden or come to the phantom conclusion is Marvin Miller, the attorney who not only drove the initial success of the Players' Association, but turned it into that rarest of endeavors, a platform for adaptive success (Home Plate in the MBB Model).

Miller recently spoke out about the baseball in steroids stories in a Boston Globe article. The related highlights:

That new steroid-testing agreement for which both sides, owners and union officials, were taking bows last night? Miller has little use for it.

"If you tell me steroids help you hit major league pitching more often and farther, I see no evidence whatsoever. None," Miller said. "I think if you tell me that using steroids and bulking up like that will help the performance of a football linebacker, maybe. If you tell me it will help a professional wrestler, maybe. If you tell me it will help a beer hall bouncer, maybe. If you tell me it will help somebody become the governor of California, maybe.

"But hitting major league pitching more often and farther is a far cry. You have to have more evidence than we do. I'm not going to say I know. I don't know. I'm going to say neither does anyone in this room nor anyone else know. There never has been any kind of decent testing of the same player. For example, with and without steroids, over a stretch of time so you can judge his performance. None. And until we get some evidence of a concrete nature instead of someone's opinion, that's my view." {SNIP}

Anecdotal evidence that players are bulking up with steroids and other performance-enhancing substances? Miller waves his hand dismissively, especially when someone mentions the evolution of a slender-framed outfielder for the Pittsburgh Pirates to the player with comic-book superhero dimensions today for the San Francisco Giants.

"Did you ever see a picture of Babe Ruth in his youth?" said a man who as a youth had seen Ruth firsthand. "Slender as a rail, with skinny legs, which he maintained always, and [a picture of] Babe Ruth in his prime? People get older. Athletes train differently. This is what I mean by anecdotal evidence. So Barry Bonds is heavier and has more muscle at 41 than he had at 21. OK, that's a fact. Now, link it up with his ability to hit, and I don't see the evidence."

Show him that steroids are harmful to a player's health, Miller said, and he would be on the front lines of those seeking a ban. But he remains unpersuaded. The whole controversy, he said, has been media-driven, a reaction to pressure brought upon the industry by President Bush, who invoked steroids in his State of the Union address a year ago, and John McCain, the Arizona senator who conducted hearings on Capitol Hill.

"You've got a lot of players who say, `I never used [steroids], never touched them. I don't want to be put in the same category with those who did,' " Miller said. "I understand that. What I don't understand, though, is having players come forward, like some prominent players have done, and talk about how they want the testing because they want to maintain their dignity.

"That really throws me. They think it maintains the dignity of a player to be told, on command, when to urinate into a container with witnesses? If that enhances their dignity, I don't understand the word dignity."

Miller predicts both sides will rue the day they reopened the collective bargaining agreement to address the steroid issue, even in the face of public pressure. Much of that pressure was a bluff, he said. "To say that now you're going to reopen that agreement because there are outside pressures is about as unstabilizing as you can imagine," he said. "I say bluffing, because what is there that McCain could do, or what could George Bush do? Government cannot order random testing. Government cannot legislate that way. The Constitution forbids it."

Miller remembers when the use of another drug ran unchecked through major league clubhouses in the 1970s. "In most locker rooms, most clubhouses, amphetamines -- red ones, green ones, etc., were lying out there in the open, in a bowl, as if they were jellybeans," he said. "They were not put there by the players, so of course there was no pressure to test. They were being distributed by ownership. I can't remember ever having a proposal from the owners, that we're going to have random testing or testing of any kind."

Miller correctly, again, observes that people are incorrectly viewing three things, coming to useless conclusions based on valid observations.

The first valid observation that most casual observers can see is that the use of supplements (legal and illegal) and steroids can build up a body's muscle-mass effectively. It's pretty obvious on both sides of the debate that that is valid in the general case (and there will be the normal range of changes that result in individuals human populations -- some people will have no useful build-up and some will go completely Rondo Hatton). But, as Miller contends, there's no evidence that that bulk makes an ineffective player an effective one. There's been no controlled split-testing of individuals with- and without supplements and with a large enough sample to provide a likely-true conclusion.

The observation is valid. The conclusion, that the resulting bulk leads to enhanced performance is a phantom conclusion.

The second valid observation is that Barry Bonds and others are bulkier and, more critical to this thinking, bulkier-looking than they were when they were younger. And since we know that Barry Bonds is the most effective hitter of this generation (and perhaps of all time), many people then decide Bonds must have bulked up using supplements. This appears to have been a correct assumption, but, as Miller points out, Babe Ruth had the exact same pattern younger to older and he was not, as asserted by some, a client of Balco.

It is normal for adult males to gain weight, to become bigger. Every athlete who gains a lot of weight late in her career isn't necessarily a supplements user.

The third valid observation is that the Federal government has the Constitutional right to force drug-testing on some populations. The phantom conclusion Miller points out is that therefore the Constitution allows the Feds to impose random testing on unionized baseball players.

Things we know lead us to valid conclusions, but not automatically. Phantoms are possible, too. And examining the logic trail of how we went from observation to conclusion is an important component of what I'll call applied intelligence.

In management & other work, it's common for someone to come to phantom conclusions based on on small samples of past experiences or unexamined logic trails. This is especially common when an effect has multiple causes (like a hurricane, which requires the simultaneous presence of multiple conditions, and missing any one of them, won't happen). Decision-makers get lazy and look for a single decision factor. Some problems get solved easily this way, but the big ones, where the decision has the most value, don't get solved very often with a single big factor. More often, as with the supplements/steroids outcomes, there are many factors that inter-play to result in a specific outcome.

I recently got a big dose of this. My car clearly had a wierd electrical problem. On damp mornings, it wouldn't start easily (or sometimes at all), and on dry ones, it'd be fine. Every once in a while, it would just conk out and not start up again. But then it would in about five minutes. It might be fine for the rest of the day or it might happen again in a few minutes. I spent a lot of time trying to nail down factors. Once, it had overheated, but not the others. It almost always happened when I was facing slightly (not steeply) uphill. ¿Water in the fuel system? ¿Fuel pump? ¿Clogged fuel line? ¿Cracked spark plug wires? ¿Distributor cap?

There were so many symptoms. I took it to a fancy AAA repair shop with the guys who wear the always-clean jump suits and have the $250,000 worth of machines that go ping and a guy who sits and the front desk and just does paperwork and doesn't actually know more about automotive mechanics than I do (though he's more opinionated about the subject).

I explained the symptoms -- they mostly ignored me. They could find nothing wrong with it, but they were kind enough to give me a list of things I should do for the car, a list of Tolstoy-an length, none of which would address my problem. They could see things that needed doing (valid observations) but had no useful conclusions. Dude at the front desk suggested that if I replaced my axles (one of the listed suggestions), it might somehow fix the problem. But overall, they counted on their machines to tell them waht was wrong, and the machines are designed to tell you one thing at a time.

To make an endless, trivial story short, it was solved at a gas station repair shop by a couple of guys in totally stained jump suits who had very few machines that go ping. They made me open the hood, they messed around, they had me do this and that. And they found the problem. There were two, unrelated, things wrong. There was a pinhole radiator leak that was spraying a small jet of hot water and at certain uphill angles, spraying it directly on my distributor cap's seam and that was shorting out the juice.

Past patterns had no use here except as launching pads for inquiry. It was multiple things, not one thing.

Managers jump to conclusions (or get paralysed and refuse to make any) the way the AAA shop guys did if the data seems to support soemthing they've already decided is right (cognitive dissonance).

People want to think Barry Bonds' accomplishments are the supplements, not him. So they conclude the supplements invalidate his accomplishments, even in the absence of serious data to support it. Wars have been committed to and lost on such processes, and the same with marketing campaigns, new product roll-outs and plans for projects.

Valid observations are wonderful, but they're a means, not an end, to the process of creating wisdom, especially when the situation is based on a number of factors, not just one.

And Marvin Miller, whether you're anti-player or pro-player, belongs in the Hall of Fame. He's especially deserving because of his ability to see those things others don't & his ability to spot phantom conclusions, an ability that allowed him to out-maneuver generations of owners' lawyers.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

Short Follow-Up: Rocket-ing Through a Negotiation  

In the last entry, I discussed Roger Clemens' arbitration and how, because he was in the catbird seat, he & his agents could file an apparently over-the-top figure for their side.

This story from yesterday indicated that at the end of the process, Clemens would have:

  • a $22 million contract, or
  • a $13.5 million contract, or
  • he can retire.

The sides didn't get to the end of the arbitration process. They negotiated a contract with a figure in between the two filed numbers, according to this story.

The negotiation points worth noting are these.

  1. The roughly $18 million, 1-year contract made Clemens the highest-paid pitcher in the game, something he's been before. This had emotional "currency" for the Rocket.

  2. The Astros came in roughly $4 million below what they would have had to pay him if the arbitrator had taken Clemens' number instead of theirs. How likely was that? I don't know, nor did they, but it's somewhere between 10% and 99%, and so when they calculated the probabilities, they took this hedge approach. Most of you don't go through arbitration processes, but it's still worth noting for your own negotiations that when both sides have a stake in the ground that seems unyielding, further exploration is possible and can be fruitful.

  3. The apparent end of the process (end in the "final step" sense and end in the "end goal" sense) isn't always the end in reality. Both sides viewed the arbitration as part of the choreographed spectacle. If both sides are reasonably healthy (and while I have my doubts about Clemens, I think his agents know what they're doing) then postures, "final offers" and ploys are all part of the choreographed steps but ones that lead to further opportunities to finding the goals for one side or both.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Rocket's (Negotiable) Red Glare  

Negotiation when you don't really need to take the offer across the table can be relaxed, it can be playful, it can be win-win...with yourself.

If you have a job you like at a place you like and a recruiter calls you and fishes for your interest in another company's offer, you can interview with no pressure. If it comes to them offering you the position, you can name your own price. It might take a few minutes to get to the number, but I always counsel clients to build themselves a win-win situation with themselves. You do this by asking and then answering a simple question:

What price can I name
that if they say "yes", I have a big smile on my face
and if they say "no", I have a big smile on my face.

It's not a position anyone who wasn't born to great wealth faces all that often, but if you have safely gotten to 3rd Base in the MBB Model, that is, if you're conscious of your own place in the scheme of things, your own needs, you're in the catbird seat...can shoot the moon.

Shooting the moon is exactly what Roger Clemens did this week in a perfect example of this kind of negotiation stance. Clemens, who retired before last season only to unretire in order to play for his home-state Houston Astros, went into arbitration and coming off a good season that was not remotely the best season a pitcher has ever had, or even the best season any National League pitcher had last year, or even the best season he has ever had, put up $22 million as his arbitration proposal for a 2005 salary. The Astros, btw, put up $13.5 million as their side, and, in case you're not familiar with how arbitration works, the simple description of the outcome is the arbitrator will choose from the two proposals. At the end of the process, Clemens will have:

  • a $22 million contract, or
  • a $13.5 million contract, or
  • he can retire.

Clemens, as a multi-millionaire, doesn't need the money. As a 42-year old, he's recognized as one of the greatest pitchers of his own (long) era, and one of the great pitchers of all time. He doesn't have much to prove beyond breaking his own records or setting trivial new marks for, say, most strikeouts by a 42-year old (though I think Nolan Ryan's 301 might be a challenge; it's more than The Rocket ever notched for a season and 38% more than he harvested last year).

He almost walked away from the game on his own terms before the 2004 season, and if that was his last campaign, it was a solid note to end on.

On the other hand, as a hyper-competitive person, winning the largest arbitration award ever would be a feather in his cap. The money wouldn't change his life in a significant material way, but it would feel like an accomplishment, and the award itself would constitute another mark that could hold up for a while.

While some commentators' eyes bugged at the $22 million he and his agent filed for, what does he have to lose? It appears to me he put himself in the situation I was discussing above, with a grin either way: If the arbitrator says "yes", he wins the lottery and continues to play a game he seems to love, and if the arb goes for the team's $13.5, it's still almost twice what he made last year and could take it or leave it (and the game).

NOTE: As I was filing this essay, I read a really insightful note on Baseball Primer by the pseudonymous Srul Itza positing another alternative outcome I hadn't thought of:

I think that Clemens is planning on retiring, and on doing so before the arbitration hearing; and that this number was thrown out there only to keep the process going forward while he fully comes to grips with the fact that he will not be playing professional baseball for the first time in over 20 years.

I think Srul Itza's insight is clearly worth considering. It doesn't belie the point I was making, but it does put another possible motivation behind the move.

In negotiations, people don't always know themselves well enough to gauge the exact homeostatic point where they could grin either way. I've been lucky enough to be there a few times in my life, a couple of times with jobs, a fair number of times with writing assignments.

I've erred, too, most frequently in the past by underestimating the cost of taking on a job I didn't really want but where the money was good. About 1990, before I mastered this technique myself, I was approached to do a white paper for a notorious software company known for being amoral and gratuitously aggressive. I had had run-ins with this company back when I'd been Test Center Director at InfoWorld, one of them a major one where they tried to have me officially reprimanded by my own management for printing something they knew to be true but their marketing department claimed was untrue. In short, they were the kind of client I would find unpleasant.

When they described the job, the content was interesting, but I knew how they operated, so when they asked me to name my price, I took 2.3 seconds, measured the high end of what the market was charging at that time, and then doubled it. I imagined that was my personal win-win moment. If they said "no", I knew I didn't really want to work for them anyway, and if they said "yes" the money was so good it would pay for the pain.

Wrong. They said yes & I did the job. The hourly return was very high, but nowhere near enough to compensate me for the pointless fire drills they put themselves (and me) through.

This software company's native soulessness, like a two-out sacrifice bunt, transcended the measures of any possible win-win. Logan's Law (named after Chris Logan) says that if you know yourself well enough and care about yourself enough, there are jobs that no amount of money can balance out. I think Chris is right -- if the job is intrinsically unappealing.

Some jobs, though, are basically appealing, and that's when you apply Rocket's Razor: if you're in the situation where you can calculate a personal win-win situation, find that most-excellent point and relish every moment.

Even Roger Clemens doesn't get to experience many of them.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

When Juan Pierre Becomes The Hoxton Creeper:
Self-Destructive Competitive Fads  

It's a losing proposition but one you can't refuse,
it's the politics of contraband...-- Lonny Frey

The Atlanta Journal Constitution publishes today a baseball in steroids feature -- yes, not steroids in baseball...it's about supplements, not the game. Thanks to Baseball Think Factory's link, I got a chance to read the (registration req'd.) piece.

Combined with a piece from earlier this week about Players' Association founding father Marvin Miller, and MLB's official line on their new supplements policy, there's a lot of grist about the gravitational fields that tug at non-baseball organizations in the areas of management decisionmaking, strategic trends and competitive fads.

I'm going to start with some of the critical text of these pieces that sheds light on the managerial conundra.

From the Journal Constitution's big steroid feature (emphasis mine):

If Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and the rest of the 1927 New York Yankees were transported through time and lined up beside any current major league team, the "Murderers' Row" boys wouldn't look very mythic. Their average size was 5 feet 11, 176 pounds -- an inch and four pounds smaller than whippet-thin Florida Marlins center fielder Juan Pierre.

While people in general have grown bigger over time, there's been a far more dynamic increase in baseball players' dimensions in recent decades, coinciding with skyrocketing salaries and home run totals.

Smaller players still have a place in the game, mainly middle infielders like the Braves' Marcus Giles and Rafael Furcal. But research by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution demonstrates how Major League Baseball has shifted to larger players and rewarded those players with the biggest slices of the salary pie.

"The game has really changed in that regard, because of the emphasis on run production and the long ball," said Andre Dawson, an eight-time All-Star and 1987 National League MVP. "Supposedly, home runs put more fans in the ballpark."

The majors went from having 75 percent of players in what could be termed a "medium-size" category (measured by body mass index) in the late 1970s, to 45 percent in 2003. The percentage of large players rose from 20 in 1978 to more than 50. The average salary among the large players shot from $600,000 in 1985 to $3.5 million in 2003 (483 percent), while medium players' average rose from $500,000 to $2 million (300 percent).

It shouldn't be surprising that more players are trying to get bigger, some by any means necessary. "You hit 15 home runs, you might be looking at a decrease in pay or trying to win a job in spring training," said Dawson, a special assistant in the Marlins front office. "The players are not stupid, when it comes to what they've got to do in order to get paid. Whatever they feel is going to create a level playing field, those are the options in this day and age they'll look into."

For many, that includes dietary supplements and weight training. For some, it also includes illegal steroids or other banned performance-enhancers that produce similar results, such as human growth hormone or androstenedione. {SNIP}

Since the early 1990s, it has not been uncommon in baseball to see a player add 15-20 pounds or more of muscle in one offseason, raising eyebrows at spring training among teammates and trainers who suspect chemical assistance.

In the pursuit of power and a competitive edge, some players go overboard. "I've seen a lot of guys get too ripped," said 25-year-old Braves first baseman Adam LaRoche, who is trying this winter to add 15 pounds to a 6-3, 190-pound frame -- by eating, drinking protein shakes, and lifting weights. {SNIP}

The quest for strength
Larry Starr was the Cincinnati Reds' trainer who became a pioneer in baseball conditioning in the winter of 1974, when he convinced Reds ownership to invest $10,000 in Nautilus equipment and put players on a new strength program.

There had been baseball taboo against lifting weights, and Reds hitting coach Ted Kluszewski -- famous for his python arms -- strongly resisted Starr's plan. "Ted had 18-inch biceps already," Starr said, "and he was very adamant that if you lifted weights you couldn't swing a bat, because it had been that way for him in college, from lifting improperly."

But the Reds went with the program, taking the equipment to spring training. "And in '75 we won the World Series," Starr said. "I'm sure it had nothing to do with fact we had [Johnny] Bench, [Pete] Rose and [Tony] Perez on that team. But seriously, we did have a lot of bit players who had to fill in at times, and the program kept them in condition and they were ready to go. "The next year, in the winter of '75, the Yankees added a program, and they ended up being in the World Series against us in '76 and winning in '77."

Today, all teams have strength and conditioning programs that include weightlifting, and Starr said some ballplayers take things too far.

"I almost feel guilty in that it's almost gone the other way," said Starr, an assistant athletics director for sports medicine at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, after spending 30 years as a trainer with the Reds and Marlins. "It's gone in a direction I don't want to see, where it's not the use of strength training, but the abuse of strength training. It comes from where guys are getting their information, and from people having success when they get bigger and other people assuming that's the reason for that success.

"A lot of strength and conditioning specialists came up in a football environment, and a lot of that mentality came to the baseball world. A lot of athletes are open to it because it makes them look better in a uniform. One player told me regardless of whether it helped, it gave him confidence to be that big."

The essence of this part of the story is

  1. A player overbuilt his physique, and perhaps in the wrong way.
  2. He projected his failure to be a general cause-effect relationship between weight-training & failure.
  3. He built a rule to stop it from happening to others.


  1. Players were rewarded for hitting homers.
  2. Some players who hit for more homers had built themselves up before doing it.
  3. Jungle-drums communications networks (not rigorous research, but episodic, experiential info transmitted from the initiated to the uninitiated) spread innovations quickly, without pre-deployment analysis, because it "feels right".
  4. Other players presumed the most visually-obvious change (physical bulk) was the factor that had made the difference.

MANAGEMENT TREND #21 - The Unscientific/Personal Origins of Competitive Fads
Beyond baseball, informal networks are great mechanisms for spreading innovations. Executives have institutions such as Junior Presidents' clubs and Rotary at which they can rub elbows with their peers and share information about trends and initiatives. How was outsourcing working? What kind of a stock price uptick might you get from an across the board 10% staff layoff? Is filing the paperwork for a Baldridge Award worth the costs? Should web-surfing at work be controlled and how? Was a non-finance company playing currency markets a way to reduce risk or even the makings of a potential profit center?

Here's the big irony: The more competitive the environment is, the more emotional and less analytical the initiated will be about choosing to pursue and implement an innovation. Moreover, the more competitive the environment is, the less incentive the initiated has in accurately and fully informing the uninitiated.

If Juan Pierre suddenly put on 25 lbs. of hard muscle and started swacking big flies by the bushel, players on his team and others might ask him how he built up. If he said it wasn't intentional, he was merely afflicted with an unfortunate case of acromegaly, but that he was getting treatments for it, players would be pressuring their agents to see what they would have to do to catch it. If it was leprosy, they might go for that, too, even based on a data sample made up entirely of a single Hoxton-Creeper-like Juan Pierre.

Baseball is a bit of an extreme example of a competitive model. There are probably 100,000,000 males in the world who wish they could play in the majors and there are only 750 slots.

But organizations in competitive industries, or organizations struggling in a tough economy in any endeavor, are desperate in the same way to capture any edge that might ease their burden and that desperation makes them more averse to deliberation before action. Additionally, rushing things through the system makes them look more authoritative and prevents any analysis from stopping their idea (which could feel humiliating to the proposer). And of course, there's always Management By Wishful Thinking (MBWT), an endemic feature of American management practice.

There's also pressure to conform, both because most humans are conformists, and because the costs of failure are greater when a decisionmaker is taking a unique or original tack. I can't begin to list all the clients I had who were interested in offshoring but who had absolutely nothing to offshore, or all the executives of understaffed organizations who waste cycles trying to figure out a way to mine that already-tapped out vein because they read about someone else's success with it.

MANAGEMENT TREND #8 - Big Klu's Arms, or the Intensification Trap
Big Klu (Ted Kluszewski) was a remarkable batter. A left-handed power monster, he's almost unique in post-WWII baseball in combining the ability to hit homers while not striking out a lot. During the three season period of 1953-55, he hit 40 or more homers in each year, and had fewer strikeouts than homers.





















Pretty fine performance; 2004's most-excellent hitting league homer champions, in comparison had almost twice as many Ks and HRs (Adrian Beltre, the NL champ) and nearly three times as many Ks as HRs (Manny Ramírez, the AL champ). It's pretty rare that anyone achieves that HR > K feat.

Big Klu was advantaged in some ways. For one thing, Crosley Field (his home park) favored batters over pitchers during those three seasons. But his big advatnage was genetic. As Bruce Springsteen said in his song about Big Klu, "Baby you were born to slug"; he had a massive physique and built muscle easily relative to less-mesomorphic people.

So when Kluszewski worked out he over-built and became muscle-bound...less able to do the thing he'd done "effortlessly" before. Ergo, he was opposed to weight-training in principle. Even among people who didn't have his physique.

This was a short-sigted, personalized prejudice. But he discovered a kernel of truth managers should internalize.

Just because a lot of something is productive doesn't mean more of it will be more useful.

In anthropology, this action is called intensification, the assumption that pursuing a currently-high yield approach can only get better proportionally, the harder you pursue it. If full-page ads increase sales, then two-page spreads ought to double the benefit. If 10% price cuts increase sales 18%, then a 20% price cut oughta increase sales 36%.

Intensification is a trap for lazy managers, just as it is for ambitoous ballplayers. Almost nothing in nature follows a straight line function (nor does it tend to fall into the other pattern favored by American managers, the Bell Curve, a really rare distribution).

In the next entry, I'll throw some high cheese at other general management trends illuminated by these supplement fads and supplement regulation fads.

Monday, January 10, 2005

Marchman's Multiphasic Met MRI
& Measuring Money  

I've written quite a few times in the last six months about Carlos Beltrán's free agency, most recently here. The Manati Manatee, as he's known by his teammates, signed this weekend with the New York Mets, giving that franchise a quinella in attention-getting around free agent acquisition this Winter. Beltrán was the Position Player Most Likely to Foment Fan Frisson available through free agency, and the team had already plopped a big ol' Mr. Met head on the Pitcher Most Likely to Foment Fan Frisson, Pedro Martínez.

There are two worthwhile aspects for managers to observe: a masterpiece of quick metrics, and an important, and often-ignored, strategic trend.

There's a ton of discussion around the 7-year, $119 million contract, & with one exception so far, it's seemed like a waste of ink or electrons or both.

The standout exception was Tim Marchman's analysis over at the New York Sun (pointed at by Larry Mahnken at Baseball Primer). While most commentators in both the uninformed jock press and the informed sabermetric press and the are saying they like it or they don't based on one or two overarching opinions, Marchman synthesized several sabermetric measures that probably captured what the Mets went through themselves to try to value the deal. More than that, he distilled it down so the presentation would be understandable to any interested reader.

Provocatively headlined "Why Mets Overpaid For Beltran," he presents the deal through a thorough set of complementary measures, aiming to assess the value of Beltrán's play in team wins over what the team might otherwise have achieved, not just this coming season, but for the life of the contract. His discussion embraces Beltrán's hitting (results adjusted by the player's home park), his exceptional base-stealing (not a critical element for most teams, but The Manati Manatee is consistently so exceptional in his success ratio that it's actually worth noting), and his defense.

Marchman then taps into Nate Silver, one of the more interesting Sabermetricians, for an insight into a projected value for the player over the life of the contract. He quotes Silver's dollars-per-win number for Beltrán (the bolding is mine):

While the system only projects five years out, Silver's best guess is that Beltran will be worth about 7 WARP over the last two years of the deal, for a total of about 39 WARP over the course of the deal, or a hair above $3 million per win.

"The going rate this winter has been about $2.25 million per win, using the same PECOTA-based method," Silver wrote me in an email, "so he's overpaid even by this winter's lofty standards. It's the sixth and seventh years that do the trick; something like $17 million for 5 years wouldn't have been so out of line."

Now, if Marchman was writing a 3,000-word piece for a scholarly journal instead of a 600-word analysis piece for a newspaper, there would have been room to contextualize a little more and answer some other questions that would provide additional context to what Beltrán is worth to the Mets, specifically.

For example, fielding is not a lone measure. To some degree, Beltrán's fielding dovetails with the players fielding around him. On the Mets, he's going to be playing next to Mike Cameron, perhaps the rangiest outfielder in the majors. (Historically a center-fielder himself, Beltrán will likely move to right field because he has a better arm than Cameron, but it's a position he hasn't played much in the majors. ¿Will that degrade his defense to any degree?). Beltrán has better than average range and this will make for an interesting point to observe, because intuitively, fielding shouldn't be additive beyond a point. That is, Cameron runs down a lot of balls in right-center that an average center-fielder wouldn't, and Beltrán would run down a lot of fly balls in right-center an average RF wouldn't -- but they can't be additive. They can't, because a certain incremental number of the extra fly balls Beltrán will run down would have been incremental extra fly balls Cameron would have run down. If this doesn't seem clear, let's make the case more extreme using an example I used for a young fan sitting next to me at a game a few years back. Imagine the new team in D.C. had The Flash playing centerfield and Supergirl in right. Flash gets to everything in the outfield. But so would Supergirl if she were playing next to anyone who wasn't The Flash -- say, Manny Ramírez (The Outfield's Anti-Flash). But they will still only get to the same number of fly balls whether the team has Supergirl or Ramírez playing next to Superman. Outfield chances are not purely additive, because incremental fly balls that one might get are incremental fly balls the other has already harvested. On the other hand, the effect of harvesting incremental fly balls isn't linear. I'm still working on the numbers, but the effect on the offense of having the outfield harvest more icnremental fly balls doesn't go down consistently with in the percentage of additional fly balls a rangy outfield harvests.

And base-stealing is highly contextual, too. Beltrán's value to the Mets here might be a little higher than it would be to another team. Last year, the team tried to steal more bases than the average team, and had a higher success rate, too. On the other hand, they have a new manager, but, as The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant said to Bruce Dern, on the other other hand, the new manager is Willie Randolph, who was an accomplished base-stealer himself early in his career and who did it with less success when he was Beltrán's age. Managers who were successful base-stealers tend to have their teams steal.

But all additional contextualization aside, Marchman's metrics were easily the best analysis written on the signing. And by using Nate Silver's price-per-win quote and also the phrase I bolded in the quote above, Marchman gave us another point to chew on, which is: ¿What IS Overpaid, and Why Are 2005's Signings "Lofty"?

The answer is "The Plexiglass Principle".

Baseball researcher Bill James explained this natural law in his 1982 Baseball Abstract (I think that's the first Abstract mention). Here's the analogy: If you take a sheet of plexiglass and push in the edges so it bends, when you ease off, the sheet, aiming for its original shape, not only flattens out to its original shape but tends to go past that point to where its shape is curved in the opposite direction. The farther you deform the sheet away from its state, the farther it will overshoot in the oppostie direction. James' Principle posits that trends tend towards their historical mean and will tend to overshoot that mean in the opposite direction.

So Silver thinks this year's free agent signings are "lofty". But they're not lofty by all standards, just by the last couple of years' standards. Alex Rodriguez, Carlos Delgado, Kevin Brown et.al. were signed to bigger current-dollar deals in the 1998-2000 offseasons' period, and the lesser contracts singed during that time were bigger current-dollar deals, too, if you had projected Silver's ratios.

It's just that the League viewed those contracts as a group as untenable, and team owners then controlled their relative spending in the 2001-2003 offseasons' period. The 2004 season looks like the trend is boing-ing back towards the spendy.

And here's the management lesson (and an additional reason why it happens) from those changes: Trends are not linear. Never. And human perception of trends gravitates towards the assumption of linearity. Always.

People assume things will go on the way they've trended. It's the easiest, most passive way to project the future, and mediocre managers most usually go for the easiest, most passive option. In the odd cases when a trend really is linear, it's an exceptional fluke.

This spendy boing-ing is not random, I believe. It's also a natural function of owners' pocketbooks and their competitiveness. By suppressing spending for three off-seasons, owners as a composite built up higher cash reserves, so they didn't view player prices in the same way -- relative to their available cash. The longer they held off ultra-premium contracts, the more moeny they felt they had on hand to pay contracts. That's Plexiglass in action: The farther you deform the sheet away from its state, the farther it will overshoot in the oppostie direction, the more apparently-available cash on hand, the greater the competitive organization's desire to invest it in winning. Shoot, if the owners had held the line for another couple of offseasons, Paul Bako might have been getting one of these Beltrán-sized contracts.

TIP #314
Don't ever assume it's realistic to think a trend will continue on a straight line. And frequently the act of fighting a trend will create more of the force that runs counter to the trend.

Or as The Incredible Two-Headed Transplant said to Casey Kasem: Must sign Giant contracts...NOW.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

The Dodgers, Paul DePodesta
& Monsters From the Id  

Baseball is a wonderfully "transparent" system for analyzing most things related to performance and, as a result, most things related to performance evaluation. The performances are largely visible & measurable in many ways by a broad spectrum of people.

One of the weak links in business, military and academic organizations is the exxxxtreme inability to measure, deliver, or both, the vital core of organizational health: Performance evaluation. Unlike baseball, chains of command or reporting relationships designed to restrict the number of people for whom a manager is directly responsible mean a lot of the quality and quantity of effort a person does is naturally "hidden" from people up the chain. And I'm being generous when I suggest a fifth of all people in work or academic situations might be being measured on a regular basis with the results set aside for evaluation-time.

If you want to see a classic case of how performance evaluation and advocacy is done outside of baseball, look inside baseball for a transparent, informative example.

Today, courtesy BaseballThinkFactory.org, a columnist for the L.A. Times ripped into L.A. Dodger G.M. Paul DePodesta for his moves since last year's trading deadline. The core of his arguments against the pattern of moves is this: You've traded away all the guys I think are nice or fun or are good quotes, and you've gotten guys I don't know and will have to learn to deal with, and I think they won't be nice to me. And you've kept Milton Bradley who scares me.

If you think I'm exaggerating, here are some snippets of his whingeing (emphasis mine):

I might be thousands of miles away, but even down here it's apparent that the Dodgers are becoming a national embarrassment. In fact, do we have to keep referring to them as the Los Angeles Dodgers? (Anaheim might be interested in a small-market team.)

When I read in a New York newspaper that minor league catcher Dioner Navarro had fallen out of favor in the Yankee organization because executives questioned his work ethic and his ability to hit, I knew the Dodgers would do everything they could to land him. As you know, the Dodgers love to play catchers who aren't any good.

And now we're being told that the Dodgers are going to send Shawn Green, probably the nicest athlete in town, a guy who set the Dodger record for most home runs in a season, who also unselfishly made the switch from outfield to first base, to Arizona so they can secure Navarro — who will arrive via New York in the Randy Johnson swap.
It shouldn't be a surprise, of course. That was the media concern raised when the Parking Lot Attendant went cheap and hired a young man who has always been plugged into his computer. Now it has become clear, as the Dodgers make over their roster, that Google Boy's computer makes no allowances for intangibles.

Paul Lo Duca cried when he heard he could no longer play for his beloved Dodgers. Throw in team cheerleader Jose Lima, hero and all-time good guy Steve Finley, a home-reared Adrian Beltre, team players Alex Cora and Dave Roberts, and you've got one Hee-Seop Choi on your hands.

It seems as if every player that I've ever gotten along with in Dodger Blue has been sent packing.

{SNIP}The Dodgers maintained to a man last season that they made it all the way to the playoffs because of team chemistry. It certainly wasn't because of the brilliant moves made by Google Boy. The players even rallied around Milton Bradley — even though they were smart enough not to get too close to him — when Bradley flipped out.

We know this after watching Finley and Lima bring excitement back to Dodger Stadium, that Google Boy obviously doesn't put much stock in team camaraderie, or he wouldn't have added Jeff Kent to the roster.

I WAS kind of happy every time Brown got pounded while he was with the Dodgers, because he was pretty much a jerk, and everyone cheers when the jerk gets pounded in the movies, so why should baseball be any different?

I was thrilled to see Finley hit that dramatic grand slam, although I'll deny it if it's ever brought up again. I had teased Finley about being too old, dismissed his ability to hit home runs anymore, lost a bet as a result, and he not only found it amusing, but played along and came off as a regular guy, which is hard to find in professional sports these days.

They also don't come any more cooperative than Green, or Beltre or Cora, and I can say I wasn't unhappy when the Dodgers made the playoffs. And isn't that the point that Google Boy is missing?
This year, you'll be rooting for 35-year-old Jose Valentin at third base, who can't catch or hit. You'll have Kent at second, and if your kids are interested in getting autographs, be careful, he bites.

In the outfield you have Jayson Werth, and if they remake "Animal House" and need someone to portray your typical, immature, cloddish jock, there'll be no need for anyone else to audition.
I hesitate to mention that two great guys remain, Cesar Izturis and Eric Gagne, because I worry now that Google Boy will program that into his computer. {SNIP}

In sum, DePodesta's moves have undermined the columnist's comfort by removing from his environment people who made his job easier. They introduced a few he doesn't know well who have been unpleasant in the past.

Simers' evaluation, while laughable, is too close to the quality of thinking most managers in non-baseball organizations use in their performance evaluations for me to laugh. Simers gets paid to expose his monsters from the id, so he becomes like one of those Visible Man models...you can see his process through his transparent shell. But this same process gets applied every day in, I believe, close to half of all performance evaluations.

I can empathize plenty. Back when I was working baseball games, I had to interview some self-indulgent, poorly-socialized hominids like Roger Clemens and Kirk Gibson. Once I was close to getting jumped by Dock Ellis on one of his bad-head days. But I didn't let that seep into my evaluation of them as players, only into my evaluation of them as people.

As a rule, managers in non-baseball organizations view doing employee evaluations as though they were a Fear Factor event -- something incredibly obnoxious, nay, exploitative, you gotta go through just to get to hang around.

People who hold management positions who are not good at their jobs usually share an aversion to performance evaluations because it stands to expose their ignorance of what's going on, it forces accountability on them (they have to sign a piece of paper with their judgment/opinion on it), and it makes them go face-to-face with the reality of what's supposed to happen in their work group (like the New Year, the employee evaluation is one of those times to take stock and look at the big picture and use the past to create a contrasted future).

The most frequent, toxic result of this aversion is shallow, emotional evaluation. If the real work of analysis seems too hard, just take a ride on gut and emotion.

  • Who do you like?
  • Who's a crony, who's a "good guy", who's a "team player" and who's a pain?
  • Who dresses well or doesn't make much trouble?

The problem, of course, is that high-performers are almost as likely to be unlikeable as likeable (Barry Bonds, Jeff Kent, Roger Clemens, Ty Cobb), almost as likely to be a pain to work with as your low-performers, and perhaps a little more likely to be making waves that ripple beyond your work group. So even in the small minority of cases outside of baseball when a manager knows enough about the work and employee to execute a useful evaluation, there's a decent chance it'll just come down to who the manager likes and the need to balance out scores so the manager can appear balanced & realistic. Which isn't balanced, and certainly not realistic.

It's a cancer guaranteed to sap productive energy from the organization.

It's fine for T.J. Simers to feel that way, with his id hanging out self-indulgently. It may even sell newspapers. But it's not insightful or useful or destined to make winning decisions.

It's too much like the kinds of performance evaluations most managers in non-baseball organizations usually make.

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