Baseball and Management

Baseball and Management

I have had this dream for a long time about writing about baseball and management. During one of the most trying periods of my life, baseball saved me, kept me sane, kept me focused, and helped me build some unforgettable memories with my family.

Baseball

According to David McRaney and his clever website You Are Not So Smart, we live two concurrent lives: The current self, and the remembering self. A happy life is achieved when both of our selves are in balance, we enjoy the moment, and we build new memories.

You are Not So Smart

David also wrote the book, You Are Not So Smart, a very entertaining read or listen, if you like audible. His website and book are very entertaining essays on psychology, but very little on “management”. Baseball helped me achieve both goals – enjoying the moment, and building memories.

But what does that have to do with management?

Why A Manager?

From an early age, I wanted to be a “good” manager. I suppose it dated back to when I was very young. My grandmother would watch me while my mom worked. I have this vivid memory of being at Heinz Park in Detroit (it’s a nice place when the drug addicts and thugs are not around). I remember it as a sylvan summer paradise with shallow creek, green lawns and massive trees that stretched to the sky providing the perfect amount of shade.

My grandmother and her sisters were sitting around exchanging horror stories of ex-husbands and terrible bosses. I think I said something like, “I am not going to be like that grandma!” She patted me on the head kindly and said, “I know sweetie.” Perhaps that memory is a bit too idyllic. I do recall that I wanted to be the kind of person my Grandmother would be proud of. Later, after reading Harvey McKay’s Swim with the Sharks, I co-opted his 3 goals: 1. Be a good husband 2. Be a good father 3. Be a good businessman

For me, the operative word here is “good”. What did that mean? What does it mean?

A Good Manager

I find it interesting that the head coach in baseball is called a manager. In his autobiography The Red Sox Years, Terry Francona wrote that it bothered him when sports writers called him “Coach”. He was the Manager of the Red Sox. Not a coach. So a manager is more than a coach.

But what is a coach?

Some have called a coach a teacher…

A Coach Is Different Than a Teacher

In my experience however, while coaching involves some elements of teaching, a coach is different from a teacher in this important aspect. Teachers are expected to train individuals to meet certain prescribed standards of competence, knowledge or skill. We run tests to find out how well students have learned. These tests are often standardized.

Coaches however, need to find a way to get the most out of the players have have, using a variety of techniques and skills that work best for the player. Teachers, at least in todays education system, rarely have that much latitude or freedom. A good coach teaches. A great coach finds out what works for you and helps you get the most out of what you have.

If you don’t believe me, check out Sir Ken Robins Ted Talk. I was fortunate enough to spend a day with Mr. Robins when I was with the Walt Disney company. Creativity and individuality are crucial components of Disney’s extensive and protracted success.

So if a coach gets the most out of a player? What does a manager do?

A Manager is Different Than a Coach

And here we are at the crux of this whole article. A good manager gets the most out of his team. One of the most profound quotes I ever read about management came from Peter Drucker. I paraphase, but he wrote, “A good manager makes the individual team members strengths overlap so their weaknesses are irrelevant.”

That, for me, was the best definition of a manager I had ever see, and it nicely fit with what I had seen in baseball. Coaches improved individual performance. Coaches taugh skills, and worked with players to improve at their craft. But a Manager worked with the whole team. The manager was the one who put the pieces together. The manager was the one who tried to make those strengths overlap so that the weaknesses did not matter.

Good managers, then in short, build winning teams.

But how? I think baseball has a lot to teach us in that regard, which is one of the reasons I love it so.

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Stars and Strikes – Good Read

I just finished reading stars and Strikes by Dan Epstein is an interesting tour through baseball history. Recommended to me by friend and fellow baseball fanatic John Bodow, Stars and Strikes tells the story of Baseball during Americas Bicentenial.

Stars and Strikes

I find it gives me a strange feeling to have lived long enough to read about “historical” events that occurred during my own life time. As I read the book, Dan recounts popular music “I loved Boston!” and popular players – I recallgoing to see The Bird pitch. I realize Mr. Epstein also grew up in Detroit and through his book we are sharing memories of our childhood. Well, I am not sharing mine with him, but he is rekindling mine.

He is also adding more background, flavor, and perspective than I would have had at 10 years old. Yes it is hard to believe the Bicentenial was nearly 40 years ago. I still vivedly remember putting red white and blue crey-paper in the spokes of my bike and hand crafting a long coat. I don’t know where my mom found the triangular hat – but they were every where that year.

She probably found it at K-Mart (No one had heard of Walmart or Target in 76). There were parades, and fireworks, and picnics. That was the summer I learned how to cut through a cheap steak on a paper plate with a plastic fork.

As for the book it is a pleasing blend of baseball and history. I will grant you that it does get a bit tedious when he recounts much of what was happening in some games. I just don’t enjoy reading baseball statistics for players I have never heard of. However, I found it easy to skim those parts and get to the real story – my story, the story of growing up in the mid 70’s.

Seventy Six was important for another reason. This was the last year of the reserve clause, the year before Free agency became a thing. This was the last time baseball players made salaries people could relate to. Personally I am glad for the athletes. There should be no cap on what someone can earn.

However, this book puts a perspective on an era that is otherwise impossible to remember or relate to.
If you are a fan of baseball, and you can recall the Bicentennial then I highly recommend this read.

Stanford Baseball

Stanford is an amazing place to visit and thia weekend Ryan and I travelled to Palo Alto to visit the Cardinal High School baseball camp.

Stanford Baseball Camp Impressions

So the first thing we noticed when we arrived and walked the campus is the pristine state of everything.  The color schemes, the landscaping, nary a blade of glass was out of place nor a spot of dirt appeared on any building.  Stanford is Disney quality presentation in education.  This seems consistent with Palo Alto’s understated wealth.  No SUVs and Big Trucks here – it’s Teslas and McLarens.  It is hard to comprehend the scale of wealth in this tiny community.

Perhaps this puts it in perspective for a Nationally ranked school that just won the Presidents cup for top athletic program in the country for 20 straight years (1994 to 2014), they only admit 1 in 20 applicants.  The total underclass population is just 7,000 compared to ASU’s 98,000.  And yet the campus feels larger, better maintained and everything about the place feels absolutely top notch.

Stanford leaves you with the impression that this is what excellence looks and feels like.  Palo Alto reminds you that the world will pay top dollar for excellence. 

Sunken Diamond

The Sunken Diamond is among the most beautiful baseball facilities I have been in.  Klein field is intimate and understated but don’t let the trees fool you, there are top notch facilities tucked into this park like campus just out of sight.  The coaches here had no problem deploying 260 ball players to fields, and cages around the campus.   What is more they kept them busy.

The Camp

This is a very interesting camp because of the kinds of players it attracts.  Actually, it’s also about the kinds of coaches it attracts.  More than 40 college coaches help with the camp and every ivy league school except Yale is present. 

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I actually was able to ask the coach from Harvard how the “Call Me Maybe” Effected their program.  He explained that it was a bit of a headache for his staff because they played that song everywhere they went.  A group of seniors and juniors scripted the video and put it online and it went viral.  The University and Athletic department loved the exposure it generated, however the rival schools had fun with it too.

Big and Talented

Coach Stots, the former head coach for Stanford Baseball for nearly 4 decades opened the camp with an entertaining and energetic speach.  He pointed out that of the 260 ball players – 11% play college at a D1 level.  Of those, only 6% are drafted into the minors.  Of those, only 3% play ONE DAY on the pros.  Getting a college education from baseball is a fantastic opportunity and well worth it.

And yet, I believe a camp like this sorts for the players that are most likely to attend a D1 school and play.  And wow are these kids big.  Most of them are in the six foot one to six foot two range.  There are a slug of kids over six three and a very few below six foot (guess what?  They are wicked fast and they can hit).  But this is what division one ball players look like.  Big, fast, and talented. 

According to Coach Stots there are two kinds of recruit.  Talent and Technique.  Talent, six foot four.  Hits the ball over the fence with a flick of the wrist, throws the ball 100 miles per hour.  There are very few of those.  The rest are technique.  They have some talent.  They have been well coached, and these coaches are looking for players who can fit their program. 

Summer Baseball

Corona Incoming Freshmen Baseball League.

This summer I was asked to coach my son’s summer high school baseball team. The program is part of the incoming freshmen league, a part of an informal collection of 13 high schools that offer summer camp-like summer leagues. I say camp-like because in our program we do not cut players unless there is an absolute safety issue.

The nice thing about this program and the way it is structured because it is open to all players is that we can rent the school facilities like any community based program and we can put together some outstanding coach and skill clinics.

Education is meant for everyone. Personally I really prefer this format because you never know when someone will step up and grow into their potential. So much emphasis is put on identifying youth talent that we are pushing players younger and younger into choosing a specific sport.

Of course it is fun to coach talented players who can execute at a high level. However, as a coach I believe we should try to help each player achieve the highest potential of which they are capable of achieving. This idea was put forward by John Wooden. Success is about becoming the best you are capable of becoming.

Summer ball has been a chance to practice that again and it is fun.

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Interactive Map Shows Where the Fans Are

Gmail_-_Scott_NovisThis nifty Map from the New York Times shows By Tom Giratikanon, Josh Katz, David Leonhardt and Kevin Quealy. While people do not often respond to surveys, they do post many of their preferences on Facebook. As the Onion once quipped, Facebook is the greatest domestic spying tool ever created.

Sarcasm aside, this map is very clever.

Amazing Anatomy of a PITCH By ESPN

One of the things I often tell players is that one of the great things about baseball is that lots of things work. One of the challenges of baseball? Lots of things work. The trick is to find something that works for you.  Here, ESPN does a fantastic job of illustrating this better than anyone I have ever seen.  They look at 8 different pitchers from my home town team, the Arizona Diamondbacks.  They throw 7 different pitches.  They all use slightly different mechanics to achieve success.

What do I mean by success?  They are all professional baseball players!  That is the dream of most young kids.  Just making it to the “bigs” is a huge achievement.  And as this website shows, there is more than one way.

Anatomy_of_a_Pitch

Scorecard For Mom – Part III

This is the final part and this is Dad’s Game Tracker. When used with Mom’s GameTracker you end up with a pretty flexible scoring system that lets you miss parts of the game and catch up quickly, tracking as much – or as little detail as you want.

Now there is one big drawback to this system. It is very hard to quickly assemble batting statistics for a player. However, when you are scoring summer ball and there are players wearing the same number (once scored a game with three number 13’s!) and coaches substitute freely, this system is really easy.

Okay, so I like to follow every at bat if possible. It keeps me in the game and helps me see the strategy that unfolds. So I use a LIST. I keep this in a Lined moleskin notebook turned sideways so the rules keep my columns in order.

Across the top I write these column headings:
I H V O # P R L

I: For the inning. A small dot at the top or bottom of the first number in a sequence lets me know if it was the TOP or the BOTTOM of that inning.

H: For the home score when this batter came to the plate.

V: For the visitor score when the batter came to the plate. You could easily put the visitor score first and maybe that makes more sense.

O: How many outs when the batter came to the plate.

#: The players uniform number. If they are a repeat number they get a prime (‘) for each duplicate. So 7, 7’, 7” and so on. Ill sort their names out later. Blanks? I assign them a zero. You’d be surprised how many kids come to the plate with no number on their jersey. Finally I will underline or circle the lead off batter.

P: The play. This is what happened during their at bat. I use classic 1B, BB, score card notation here but you can use what ever you want.

R: Result. I put a circle x if they are out, or I start drawing a diamond if they reach base. Every leg of the diamond is another base. If they score I have a complete diamond and I put a solid dot in the center so it stands out.

L: Location. I try to record where they hit the ball if it is not obvious from the play. L6 Out is obvious. 2B is not, so I tend to write a letter for hit type and a position for where it was hit. Two numbers denotes a gap. So L89 is a line drive in the right center gap. C6 is a chopper to short. T1 is a tapper to the pitcher.

Other notes can go here too like pinch runners or sometimes I will track the count.

The count can be tracked on almost any box by designating one side balls and the other strikes, but I often find this makes the cells hard to read later so I only do it for players ( like my son) who I am really trying to track.

I sometimes score with multi function roller ball pen (available from jetpens.com). Then I can use color.
red = out. Blue = score. Green = mark my son so I can quickly scan and see how he is doing.

I have attached a couple cards from games I scored recently.

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Scorecard for Mom – Part II

I guess I should explain how the “Mom card works”

First, the idea is to be able to chat during a game but at the same time to be able to quickly send texts to family and friends as to what is going on.

A lot like the Dad card, it has to be flexible enough to miss some action (or innings!) but quickly catch up.

So the mom card keeps track of three things.

  1. The inning
  2. The number of outs
  3. The score

Basically you draw out 6 (or 7) boxes on a sheet of paper or a card.

ideally you want two lines in each box. One for the visitor half – one for the home half of the inning. Number each box right on the dividing line.

Now then the visiting team is up just mark the outs with an ‘X’. When a run scores add a tally, (a ‘+’, or a ‘/’, or a ‘|’) when you hit three outs add up the runs that inning and add them to to the previous inning score for that team.

Below is a complete 7 inning game I scored. Unfortunately we lost. V means visitor, H means Home.
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Repeat for the bottom half. If you lose you place jump ahead and fill in the info for that inning.

One other useful thing is to leave space for notes so you can record great plays made by your son or his friends. Room to record his at bat or a great play in the field really helps.

Below is another example of a full game. I did not record the great plays like my wife, but it is super quick and easy to keep track of what is going on.

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Scorecard For Mom

This past week I spent most of the time on the road with my oldest son. We were playing high school level baseball tournaments. During the first leg of the trip in Flagstaff my wife said, “I wish there was a scorecard for mom’s.”

I asked to to explain.

“I don’t want to have to pay attention to every play, but I want to keep up.”

I frowned. I may not be a smart man but I have been married for more than 20 years so instead of telling her what I thought her idea I said, “What do you mean?”

“I mean, I just need to know what inning it is and how many outs. Oh yeah, and what the score is.” It was then that I started to realize how truly different watching a baseball game was for her.

For her baseball is a social experience. A time to catch up with friends, share stories, and generally have fun – however, knowing where the game status is very important too because it provides the context for anticipation and drama. Are we way behind late? Be ready to cope with a disappointed child. Are we way ahead early? Lots of excitement, we don’t have to pay much attention (until our kid is up to bat). Close game? Less chit-chat more keeping an eye on the game.

Men on the other hand tend to evaluate every play in the context of how they would have executed either as

  1. A player
  2. A coach
  3. A player-coach (the dream gig)

They tend to complain about umpire calls, discuss strategy and most important of all someone in the tribe knows the count or the obscure interpretation of a rule (tell me again why the catcher hitting the batter in the head with the baseball on the throw to third is not an obstruction?)

So back to me and my wife. What was really important to her was that she could miss a bit of the game then catch up quickly. I have to confess, this was a genius idea that lead me to create TWO simple scorecards that complement each other and work together quite well.

I call them:

  • Mom’s Score Tracker
  • Dad’s Game Tracker

I’ll present each version over the next two posts with templates you can try.

 

Craziest First Pitch Ever

This first pitch was posted on Yahoo Sports, and I am told by an umpire friend that if her foot had been on the rubber it would have been a legal pitch. According to Yahoo Sports:
…This first pitch was thrown out at a Korean Baseball Organization game Friday. This amazing woman is Shin Soo-ji, a rhythmic gymnast, who did the first-pitch honors for theDoosan Bears before their game with the Samsung Lions.