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5 Leadership Lessons from Manager Mistakes in Baseball's Post-Season

Posted on October 6, 2017 at 12:55 AM

Major League Baseball managers have a demanding job. They can make hundreds of decisions in every game, ranging from setting the lineup and batting order to which types of pitches to make. Their good decisions are rarely noted. Their mistakes, however, are visible to be criticized by every fan and pundit. That is most true in Major League Baseball’s post-season playoffs, where a single mistake can end a season. Here are the seven types of mistakes managers often make in the post-season that are most remembered.

 

1. Letting a Weak Performer Stay on too Long – Pitchers wear down with each pitch they make and typically are not asked to throw much more than 100 pitches in a game. Some mistakes in playoff history center on a manager leaving a pitcher in too long when a new pitcher with a fresh arm would potentially give their team a better chance to win. Perhaps the most famous example of this was in Game 7 of the 2003 American League Championship Series. Boston Red Sox manager Grady Little left ace Pedro Martinez in pitching in the eighth inning, longer than critics thought wise. Martinez ended up blowing the lead and the Red Sox lost the game, and the series, to the Yankees. The next year, the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918, distracting Red Sox fans from dwelling on this decision. They did it under a new manager, however.

 

Have you ever seen a manager in your workplace fail to replace a weak performer in a timely manner?

2. Letting a Strong Performer Leave too Early – On the flip side, some other mistakes are taking effective pitchers out too early. In Game 6 of the 2002 World Series, San Francisco Giants Manager Dusty Baker pulled his pitcher Russ Ortiz in the bottom of the 7th inning. Ortiz had shut out the Anaheim Angels through the first six innings and was sitting on a five run lead. After the change, the Angels rallied to score six runs in the next two innings to win the game and force a Game 7, which they won.

 

Have you seen a manager in your workplace let a star performer leave your team too early?

3. Creating a Distraction through a Reorganization – One of the biggest decisions managers make is the order in which the players will bat. The position in the batting order impacts a hitter in many ways, ranging from how many times they are likely to get a chance to bat, how many outs there will be left in the inning, and whether they will have runners on base to hit in. In the 2006 American League Division Series, Yankee Manager Joe Torre made a remarkable, newsworthy change by dropping his superstar slugger Alex Rodriguez to eighth in the batting order – a spot usually reserved for one of the weakest hitters. Rodriguez had not hit well in the first three games in the series, but he was in the middle of a five year streak of winning the AL MVP award three times in five years. The demotion generated a lot of buzz that may have distracted, or disheartened, Rodriguez and the team. Rodriguez made a rare, and costly, fielding error in the game. The Yankees lost that game, ending their season. The reorganization of the batting order may not have directly caused the loss, but it didn’t seem to help their batting.

 

Have you seen your organization distracted by an arbitrary reorganization?

4. Letting a Team Get Too Comfortable with Past Success – Some of the most dramatic stories in World Series history are about an underdog beating a heavily favored opponent. Upsets can be blamed in part on luck, but preparation and focus usually play a role as well, and that is the manager’s responsibility. One of the biggest shocks in World Series history came in 1990 when the Cincinnati Reds swept the heavily-favored Oakland A’s. The A’s, the reigning World Series champions, seemed to be looking past the underdog Reds. Perhaps the biggest World Series upset before that came in 1960, when the Pittsburgh Pirates beat the legendary New York Yankees on a walk-off home run by Bill Mazeroski. The Yankees had thumped the Pirates 16-3, 10-0, and 12-0 in their three wins during the series, but they had let the Pirates squeak by with 6-4, 3-2, and 5-2 wins to reach Game 7. The Yankees had the Pirates down 7-4 in the bottom of the eight inning of Game 7 but failed to close the door for the win.

 

Have you ever seen a manager let their team get too comfortable with past success and not focus and prepare their team for new challenges?

5. Steering through A Potential Crisis – Bad luck happens to teams in baseball games. In the pressure-filled post-season, bad breaks in luck have even higher stakes. Good leaders steer their teams through those to prevent a bad break turning into a crisis. One of the most famous bad breaks in baseball post-season came during Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series. The Chicago Cubs were at home, leading the Florida Marlins 3-0 and just 5 outs away from reaching the World Series for the first time since 1945. Then a fan interfered with a foul ball that potentially could have been caught and put the Cubs one out closer to a win. The resulting confusion and fan furor that play caused rattled the Cubs. When play resumed, the pitcher cratered, throwing a wild pitch and giving up several more hits. The shortstop made a rare fielding error. The Marlins ended up scoring 8 runs in the inning. The Cubs never recovered and lost the game and the series. Critics blamed Cubs Manager Dusty Baker for not making a pitching change and other moves that could have got his team back and focused on closing out the win.

 

Have you ever seen a leader fail to stop a bad break growing into a full-blown crisis?

Baseball managers make many decisions that are subject to intense public scrutiny, especially during the postseason. Perhaps that is why the average baseball manager’s salary – often said to be $1 million a year – is more than the average business manager’s salary.

 

 

Categories: People Leadership, Coaching, Crisis Management