“The bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding, go out to meet it.”

- Thucydides
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Monday, May 31, 2010

Decision Making

EFFECTIVE DECISION MAKING IN MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL

Baseball is a sport. Sports promote competition. Competition promotes winning; someone must be present to "control the chaos." Effective decision making is an art, and the general managers (or GM's) who get the most out of that with which they have to work control the (Major League Baseball) teams which stand out as the most successful in the sport. Major League teams cannot all be run in one, universal way, however. There are many intangibles that dictate how a GM may run his respective team; these intangibles include: economy of city/division/team, the GM's staff, player performance, progression of minor-league talent, etc. This report will offer guidance to building a (consistently) winning team in a respective division (American/National League: East, Central, West), while offering examples of organizations and/or GM's to (possibly) emulate.


Scope

The report offers data, as well as expert witness, to provide evidence- if not proof- of that which constitutes being successful as a general manager regarding effective decision making.


Limitations

The researcher lacked the time to do further research, and also in contacting any current Major League Baseball general managers.


Sources and Methods of Data Collection

This report used both primary and secondary resources. The researcher conducted two phone-interviews with baseball experts, and one face-to-face interview with another baseball expert. The researcher has acquired knowledge that may be considered pertinent, which is justified by seven years of Major League Baseball playing experience. The secondary
sources used are the Web, with two of those sources being obtained from a university (Ashford University) online library.


Report Organization

There are two major sections in this report. The first section will offer an overview of effective decision making in Major League Baseball. Just as fingerprints, no two teams are alike; so, each team must have its own direction in which to be driven. Via three separate interviews, as well as the personal knowledge of the researcher, the second section will explain the importance of this topic to both the researcher and to the organization.

OVERVIEW OF EFFECTIVE DECISION MAKING BY GM'S


The Many Faces of a General Manager

As stated earlier, there is not a specific "textbook" checklist for a GM to follow when putting together a competitive- hopefully successful- team. Mark Shapiro, current GM of the Cleveland Indians, said that there are levels of expertise. These levels require abilities in many areas- scouting, player development, talent assessment, contract negotiations, statistical analysis, and budgets. Shapiro also stated that a good GM that comes with a strong scouting department needs to surround himself with a staff well-versed in business, while a businessman must focus on his front office and stock it with very good talent evaluators. When hiring a staff, Shapiro said he looks for two things: people who are going to make an immediate impact, and people whose background clearly fits a skill set (White, 2007. Baseball's young GM's like to mix it up).

What Teams Look For When Hiring a GM

"You look at who's doing things right," said Chuck Armstrong, President of the Seattle Mariners. "You look at who's doing it best, and the Red Sox have done a great job." When the Mariners had a vacancy to fill for their GM, Armstrong wanted Boston's assistant GM Jed Hoyer, but Hoyer declined, saying that he was happy where he was working (McAdam, 2009. Mariners keen on Red Sox: Intrigued by success of team). A GM who did a lot right was Pat Gillick, who put world championship teams together in Toronto (1992 and 1993), and as recently as Philadelphia in 2008; Gillick retired after the World Series that year.


The Measuring Stick for GM's

When it comes to effective decision making, there is no other gauge to use than John Schuerholz. He is the model by whom all GM's are measured. His framework for success is considered the blueprint for how an organization is to be built. He built two world championship teams, one in each league- Kansas City Royals (1985), Atlanta Braves (1995). He built these teams and brought them from obscurity to being the best; the Braves went from last place in 1990, to participating in the World Series in 1991- a first in Major League Baseball. Schuerholz had a philosophy for building winners: savvy in scouting combined with a solid, productive farm system- which are considered the norm today. When the game evolved, so did Schuerholz; he quickly learned the art of combining statistical analysis with the scouting evaluations into his decisions- traits which have helped Billy Beane (Oakland A's GM) be successful in his style, which is known as "money ball"- also the name of a very popular book about Beane's prowess (Matthews, 2006. 25 for 25: Stars in the Baseball America universe).
COMMON DENOMINATORS


Traits

There are many successful GM's, and each of them possess philosophies which are common among them. Three baseball experts revealed, through interviews, traits which they found necessary for a GM to be successful decision makers. Larry Quirico, a college baseball head coach for 25 years, and a Major League scout for seven years with the Cleveland Indians, found the most important aspect is scouting with regards to player development. He believes that a solid core consisting of "homegrown" talent is the starting point to success (W. Franklin, personal communication, April 23, 2010). Even the New York Yankees, with their enormous payroll every year, agree with the philosophy. 2010 marks the 16th year that Derek Jeter, Jorge Posada, and Mariano Rivera have played together with the Yankees- the longest such tenure of any threesome in baseball history to start their careers. Quirico's thought is also a trait that can be linked with Schuerholz' philosophy. Andy Etchebarren agreed with Quirico. "Etch" played in the majors for 15 years, was a two-time all-star, played on two world championship teams (1966 & 1970), and has been a professional manager or coach for the past 30 years. Etch used the Minnesota Twins as his proof, saying that "they do it right- without buying all of the expensive talent; they develop their own" (Franklin, personal communication, April 18, 2010). Although not a common denominator- as far as the interviews are concerned- an interesting assessment is one from Adam Gladstone, who was an executive in the Atlantic League of Professional Baseball from its infancy in 1996 until 2009. Gladstone feels that the GM's keeping an open relationship with his staff is vital, as it harbors a team atmosphere, and motivates everyone to work toward a common goal (Franklin, personal communication, April 22, 2010). Gladstone's observation is indicative of how Theo Epstein in Boston operates with his staff.


Choice GM's

When all three interview participants were asked to name their choices for those who epitomize effective decision making, the answers were remarkably similar. John Schuerholz, Pat Gillick, and Terry Ryan (Minnesota Twins) were mentioned by all. The former two have been noted greatly, but the latter has not. Terry Ryan created a great tradition of homegrown talent, and the Twins have either been in the plaoffs or contended for many years; this without generous spending on free agents. Terry Ryan is no longer the GM of the Twins, as he has retired, but the core talent from Minnesota's American League Central Champion of 2009 is a lingering effect of his expertise. That core talent includes Joe Mauer (three-time AL batting champion, 2009 AL MVP), and Justin Morneau (2006 AL MVP). Gladstone listed Theo Epstein, which has to be respected; he has won two World Series- one which ended an 86-yr drought. One answer, however, that needs to be added, is Brian Cashman. Cashman, regardless of the money he is allotted, has been excellent. With an open checkbook, Cashman is under tremendous pressure to succeed- by the Steinbrenners, the media, and the fans. Cashman, GM since 1998, has received phenomenal dividends, as the Yankees have been in six World Series in his tenure, winning four. One factor in the Yankees' paying huge amounts on free-agents is an effect of the rivalry with the Red Sox, and vice versa.


Teams That are Most Effective in Decision Making

The interview participants were asked which teams had the “ends to justify the means.” The common teams were the St. Louis Cardinals, Atlanta Braves, and the Minnesota Twins. The Cardinals, until 2008, were headed by Walt Jocketty, who essentially built the team that is in St. Louis today. He is possibly the most respected GM (now with Cincinnati) in baseball. Again, however, the Yankees and the Red Sox must be included; combined, the two teams have been in the World Series six of the last ten years- each winning two. Their rivalry with one another is legendary, and one motivates the other to be the most proactive in every aspect to make their respective team the best.

In this time period, the Red Sox have won three division championships, and have also been a playoff participant via the American League Wild Card. Interestingly, none of those interviewed- Quirico, Etchebarren, or Gladstone- had prior knowledge to any of the findings in this report; however, much of their response epitomizes the approaches of some of the best baseball minds that exist. Quirico actually stressed scouting and player development as much as did John Schuerholz. The researcher, having played for the Atlanta Braves under Schuerholz, can witness fully to this similarity. Another striking similarity is that Quirico and Schuerholz both believe in signing free-agents as a means of filling gaps in a team, as opposed to building the team around the free-agents.

Conclusion and Recommendations

The findings, based on Web-based research and interviews, suggest building a team from the inside-out. Many GM's have emulated the approach of John Schuerholz- no matter the size of the team's budget. Therefore, it is reccommended that any and all baseball organizations should use John Schuerholz as the model executive, and model teams include: Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Minnesota Twins, New York Yankees, Boston Red Sox.



References

Phil Rogers. (2009, November 1). Cards get most bang for bucks: Success on budget makes them sport's franchise of decade. Chicago Tribune,p. 3.6. Retrieved April 5, 2010, from Chicago Tribune. (Document ID: 1890693641).

Paul White. (2007, November 29). Baseball's young guns like to mix it up. USA Today. Retrieved April 19, 2010, from URL http://www.usatoday.com/sports/baseball/2007-11-28-sw-gms_N.htm

Sean McAdam. (17 May). Mariners keen on Red Sox: Intrigued by success of team. McClatchy - Tribune Business News. Retrieved April 5, 2010, from ProQuest Newsstand. (Document ID:1714183771).
Mlb.com

Monday, May 24, 2010

The Most Eventful Day of My Life

INTRODUCTION

I just realized that Fathers' Day is not very far off, and in that realization I decided to post this very important and memorable chapter in my life and baseball career.


IT'S NOT ABOUT ME

AUGUST 18, 2003- That is a date that will go down as the most significant day in my Major-League Baseball career. I was playing for the Milwaukee Brewers at that point in time, and we were playing the Philadelphia Phillies, in Philadelphia, which helped set the stage for the event. I am from the area- I was born in Wilmington, Delaware, and I grew up in a small town in Maryland- both of which are in proximity to Philadelphia. Add in the fact that my mother's entire family is from the Philly-area, while my dad's family is from the same small town in Maryland, and this already could be painted as a memorable event. What made this event so special wasn't because it was, essentially, a “homecoming,” nor was it the fact that I was able to procure 75 tickets for family members- not to mention the fans from my town/county who spent their own money to get in. No, it stemmed from an event that occurred in January of 2002.

I was in Venezuela playing Winter Ball; Venezuela is one of four Caribbean countries (along with the Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, and Mexico) where professionals go, either as free agents, looking to show their talents, or solely to work on certain aspects of their respective games. One balmy January day in 2002- which was a typical day in Valencia (the city in which I was playing)- quickly turned into a nightmare. I received a phone call from my sister, and she informed me that my dad- my immortal, stronger-than-anyone, bigger-than-life dad- had just been diagnosed with throat cancer. At best, he had a 30-40 percent chance of surviving. I called my parents to tell them I was going to come home, but my mother called me back later and said that my dad did not want me to come back. I will probably never know if the reason was because he knew how important baseball was in my life, or if he didn't want me to be around once he started his chemotherapy and radiation treatments. I really wanted to go back and be of help, but how could I possibly go against his wishes? Therefore, I stayed in Venezuela, and I didn't tell anyone who was involved with the team. People on the team could sometimes see a change in my personality, but I played it off. I remember a night, about three nights after I found out about my dad, where I sat up in bed and spontaneously started to cry- no, weep! I have never, before or since, done that.

In the summer of 2002 my father had surgery to remove his tumor, which as it turns out, was much bigger than estimated. Obviously, I was playing baseball at the time (still with Houston) and I couldn't be there- again- but it wasn't supposed to be anything but “part of the process.” My dad spent several days in the hospital, and came home feeling like “a lot less of a man.” Sometime (months) later, my mother finally disclosed to me that my dad was within an inch of losing his life- he had developed an infection after his surgery, and his doctor even telephoned my mother, telling her to get to the hospital because they were “losing” my dad. Somehow (which those of us with faith understand), my dad withstood the infection and fought through it. Someday, I will tell what my dad told me about that night. A month after the surgery, I was traded to Milwaukee, and played there the rest of 2002, and all of 2003- which brings me full-circle in my story.

The first game of the three-game series in Philadelphia was set up perfectly- I was the starting pitcher. I can promise one thing: I have been nervous for every start since little league, but on this day I wasn't. I kept hoping to get nervous, ironically, because I associated it with concentration. No matter what I tried I could not get the butterflies. So, I just embraced the feeling and made myself act “cocky,” but not in the sense where I was a total “ass.” I kept telling myself, “I got this game- in the bag!” The moment that I never saw coming, hence did not realize until it happened, came after I did my twenty-minute warmup routine before the game started. I warmed up in the visitors' bullpen of Veterans' Stadium- which is in the left field corner. After I was ready, I walked out the door of the 'pen, along with Mike Maddux, the pitching coach, and lo and behold, there stood my dad to say “good luck.” Spontaneously, I walked over to him and hugged him- and if anyone knows me, they would be shocked, because I am a little shy about those kinds of emotions in public. Like I said, it was spontaneous. I realized after the game that that game was a culmination of all the baseball I had ever played up to that point, and also of the battle my dad fought with cancer. That hug was truly out of love, respect, and also just to say “we both made it.” That was the first game of my big-league career that my dad had made it to- on hindsight, thank God!!!!

What was just icing on the cake, I pitched six and two-thirds innings, gave up only three runs, and wound up being the winner. Sometimes I wonder if my manager- Ned Yost- took me out of the game during an inning (as opposed to after the inning, when I would be sitting in the dugout already) because he knew of the crowd I had there for me. As I walked off the field I looked up, and there was this huge cheering-section for me, on their feet, giving me an ovation. I looked up at all of them, then at my dad, and I tipped my cap to them to say “thank you.” It was surreal to say the least, but what made it surreal was, stay with me, that it was real.

I love my entire family, but to say I wouldn't change that day for anything is an understatement. The truth is, my dad didn't have a father growing up, and he made a certain promise that if he ever had a son, he would be there for his son. He was challenged by cancer, and he was challenged to meet a promise he had made; he met both challenges head-on. I may have won the game, but my father became the biggest winner that night.

Sad Sunday

It was the first thing I heard on Sunday morning, May 23, 2010. It took me the entire day to process those words. At the end of the day, I couldn't force those words into being some sort of nightmare. Those "words" were that (my friend and ex-teammate) Jose Lima had died on Sunday morning. Jose and I played together for the Houston Astros for two seasons (2000-01), and no matter in what stadium we met up as opponents, there were always smiles and hugs as if we hadn't seen each other in decades. I will always remember how, no matter the issue, nothing negative could happen to him without his having an immediate, positive spin on which to put it. If I know Jose, he would have this to say regarding his own death: "Hey, I get to meet God now." The Bible tells us that God loves when we sing and dance; it certainly would make sense why Jose was taken by God at such a young age. I'm sure that all of us in the baseball fraternity raised our glasses last night to "Lima Time." I will truly miss you, Jose.